I made a thirteen point picture plan artfully illustrated with hand drawn symbols on yellow card -complimented with stars, and hearts, and triangles - for each stage, so that she'd unequivocally understand the drill...
1. Rubber Duck. (bath time). Little A often plays with Lucy, her blue kitchen fork, whisking up a frothy froth of pretend hot chocolate in a bright orange beaker. She will empty the entire contents of her bath bucket into the foam; ducks, boats, crocodiles, whales, colliding, struggling to keep afloat - it's like the aftermath of titanic, except the water's warmer.
"It's time to wash your hair and face Little A."
"No thank you mummy, you can do it tomorrow instead."
2. Grow Bag. (nappy, pyjamas, grow bag). But all of a sudden I have a little fairy on my hands fluttering and dancing as nature intended with a pair of blue wings and flashing wand.
"I need to do magic and running first mummy."
3. Toothbrush. (brushing teeth). On account of the challenge of brushing those threenager molars, we have three toothbrushes, offering *ahem* choice and partial control. There's Tina Toothbrush (pink and yellow), Timmy Toothbrush (blue), and Tuber Toothbrush (green and blue). Little A keeps her family of denture polishers in a Gruffalo bath bag that's hidden away in her Gruffalo Trunki, which, as a matter of fact, I won for this. Every evening, I head a solemn procession to the bathroom with Little A and Trunki, shuffling and rolling behind. What follows is an exact order of unlock-open-unzip-choose toothbrush-apply toothpaste-open wide-wider-brush-teeth together-brush-good girl-rinse-zip up-close-lock....
"Choose which one please."
"I want Timmy."
"No, Tuber... no mummy... I want... I want Tina."
4. Teddy Bear. (the good night teddy song). This is my favourite bedtime ritual. We veil Little A's kingdom of teddies, dollies, fluffy cuddlies - dumped on the teddy bench - with a red blanket while heartily singing the following verse....
Good night teddies - Good night teddies - Good night teddies,We've had a happy dayHooray
<a calm, charming interlude>Good night teddies - Good night teddies - Good night teddies,We've had a happy dayWe've had a happ-eee dayHip hip hooray
5. Book. (story time). She has one story but somehow manages to flick through the entire book again when I've made it firmly, but kindly clear, it's three pages only. Maybe I should refrain from checking the inbox on my phone.
<annoyed at myself>
6. Dog. (kiss Truffles good night) Truffles is a big, shaggy dog flopped on newly washed carpet at the head end of Little A's cot (yes, she's still behind bars - I'm working on it). She sleeps with a furry ear - yanked lovingly through the cot bars - in her left hand. Don't think the dog appreciates this.
<why is this part of the routine? she goes to kiss Truffles, returning to me on the futon, ergo moving in the wrong direction of the cot.>
7. Mother and child embracing. (cuddle time). (a) Sitting down cuddle - Little A will oft explore my nostrils, kneed my cheeks like stiff dough, and ruthlessly observe my teeth as dirty and yellow. (b) Standing up cuddle where my forehead and chin are raspberried and licked by a pudgy tongue.
<tired - i'm not a fan of saliva>
8. Child behind bars. (in the cot). I.N. T.H.E. C.O.T.
< at last, nearly at the end>
9. Light switch. (lights out). First, I turn the light out. Then it's Little A's turn with either Doggy, Monkey, or Teal - a rag doll - tucked under her arm.
"Mummy, can you turn the torch on? Just one time?"
"Little A, that's not part of the routine. Light's out."
"I can't see..."
"Don't worry, your eyes will get used to it."
<it's so dark, where's the cot...bump>
10. Book. (mummy's story) This is where I play Jack-a-nory, telling Little A a home grown tale. It's her choice.... and it could be Little A and the Octonauts; Little A and the Mermaid; Little A and the Octonauts and the Mermaid; the Dragon visits nursery; Little A, Mummy, Lucy - the fork - and the Dragon fly to Chiswick; Little A and Abney and Teal.....
<ooooh, this is fun, but keep it short, keep it short>
11. Toilet. (a trip to the lavatory). A quick sit on the throne while I check my phone.
<like the appendix, the black and white TV, and Truffles, there is no definable use for this - it doesn't add anything to the routine, save to see if I have any comments>
12. Hand On Child's Back. (gentle back). A back rub, affectionately known as gentle back - for her highness, followed by a cuddle, and a few sips of water.
<hang in there, it's nearly over>
13. Moon and Stars. (sweet everythings). Our final parting gesture as I stand, staring into freedom, from her bedroom door....
.... and she repeats every line after me - heart meltingly wonderful.Night night by far,Sweet dreams by farI love youI love you to the moon and stars and back againAnd I will see you in the morningNight night by farSweet dreams by farLove you - night night.
<huzzah, laptop here I come>
Only, not quite, as here's what usually happens next.....
More gentle back, want a cuddle, want some water; spilt the water mummy - I need a new grow bag, done a poo, need more water, can't get to sleep, want a kiss, done another poo, want to start all over again (the routine), not ready to say night-night by far, want another cuddle, more water, just one more time....
... and the tears and tantrums as boundaries are reluctantly reset.
But like the British winter she persists, and persists, and persists.
How long is your bedtime routine?
How do you manage with two or more children?