I think that bedtime is particularly hard for teachers.
Not for the teachers who are strict disciplinarians, of course. I know that there are some educators who send their children off to bed and don’t hear another peep from them until the civilized hours of eight or nine in the morning.
No, bedtime is most difficult for those of us who got into teaching because we love the sharing and discussion of knowledge. Bedtime ends this sharing and discussion. Our little ones know of our love of knowledge—and they quickly learn how to exploit it.
Take the other night. I was next to my four-year-old, rubbing his back as he tried to go to sleep. His mind was on other matters. “Where will Zachary go to robot camp?” he asked.
Zachary is my older son. Earlier that day, we’d gotten a letter about a day camp to teach kids how to build Lego robots, and it had been the topic of much discussion. “Zachary will go to robot camp at a school,” I murmured. “Now, no more questions. It’s time for sleeping.”
“At a school?” Aidan asked. He hasn’t yet mastered his initial blends, so it sounds like this: “At a cool?”
Don’t answer, I told myself. Don’t answer.
“Robot camp at a cool?” Aidan repeated. “That’s silly! I thought it would be at a camping place!”
What a great thought! He thought it would be at a camp, and of course he was confused that it was at a school. This would be a neat time to talk about how our ideas can change. I wondered what he was picturing in his mind when he thought of robot camp.
Don’t answer, I reminded myself. It was so hard to keep quiet. But it was past 10:00.
“What is school?” he asked, more thoughtfully. “Why are there schools?”
Oh, the conversation we could have had. What a question. How to explain it to a four-year-old? Where would I begin? The etymology of the word school, and its origin in Greek? The schoolhouses of early America?
I would begin nowhere, I reminded myself. This was not a conversation that we were going to have. It was bedtime.
He decided to take a different approach. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to an electrical outlet.
I could not, could not resist the opportunity for a Safety Talk. “That’s an electrical outlet,” I said. “It has a cover to protect it. You must never, never stick your fingers or anything else in there.”
I had fallen into the trap and answered the question.
“The cover protects it?”
“We’re done with questions.”
“We could plug things in there?” he asked.
“No more questions,” I said
“Like our new vacuum cleaner?”
I didn’t answer.
“Like our new vacuum cleaner?” he repeated.
I still didn’t answer.
“LIKE OUR NEW VACCUUM CLEANER?” he said, a third time.
“Yes,” I said, reflexively.
He was silent for awhile, and I thought that maybe he had fallen asleep. Silly me!
“Mama, what if a little elephant gets into the bedroom?” he asked.
I didn’t say anything, but sighed loudly.
“A cute little elephant who’s blue.”
I sighed again. Where was this coming from? How did he get from the vacuum cleaner to an elephant?
“And then, he goes out the window.” He used the expression that only a four-year-old can. He paused for suspense, and then added, “But he made a mess on the floor!”
I realized then where this was going. And I saw that my resolution to say nothing was pointless. I was going to answer. He knew that I couldn’t resist. He had me.
“Mama, what if that happened?” he asked, insisting on a response. “The little elephant comes in and makes a mess, and then goes out the window?”
I answered reluctantly, knowing that I had been beaten. “Well,” I said at last, “I guess we could plug the vacuum cleaner into that outlet and use it to clean up.”
“That’s right!” he crowed. “You did it, Mama! Good job!” He burst into a little song about how we would use the vacuum cleaner to clean up the mess from the elephant.
There was silence again, followed by yet another question.
“Why did the little elephant come in and make a mess?” I asked.
He didn’t answer.
“What kind of mess was it?” I tried, because I really did want to know what he was picturing in his mind.
“Mama,” he said, “’top asking questions. I am trying to go to sleep.” And then he breathed deeply, snuggled down, and closed his eyes.
I sat there, wide awake, thinking about the little elephant who left a mess on the floor, wondering about the story there. Why would the elephant come into the bedroom? Why would it fly so quickly out the window? What is the lesson to be learned?
Tomorrow night, I resolved, my husband would be in charge of bedtime.