To truly get a 3 year old in bed for the night, it's advised you begin 30 minutes after they wake up in the morning. Any longer and you'll be scrambling and you probably shouldn't even bother.
I often feel like those poor Stormtroopers in Star Wars that were searching for the droids, the ones on which Obi-Wan Kenobi used his Jedi Mind Trick to persuade them to let them pass.
"I don't need to go to bed," my daughter says convincingly, waving her princess scepter over my head and kissing me on the cheek.
"You know, you don't need to go to bed right now," I parrot.
"I can stay up late because I want to color with you."
"You can stay up a little longer to color with me."
"I can have cookies."
"Don't push it."
The excuses, when uttered from the mouth of a child, inexplicably transform from procrastination techniques to legit concerns and reasons to stay up.
The simple act of brushing teeth quickly devolves into making toothpaste foam snarls while staring at ourselves in the bathroom mirror. In retrospect, I should've never started that. But, dang it, I'm downright frightening with a green Crest goatee.
It's a five-minute chore that turns into a 10-minute game that I can't help but encourage. Following that is the painstaking Dixie cup selection process from the dispenser. This is a conundrum which proves to be a more difficult decision than which college to attend. It is task that apparently needs a commentary track for those in attendance.
"I like the all pink cup but there's no pink cup. Only the blue one is next. But I can dig for the pink. Green one! You like green. It has pink owls on it. I like pink. I don't want this one, because it's not all pink, just a little pink. Uh-oh, I spilled. I don't want this blue one anymore, because it's not pink. Orange owls! Whaaaat?!!!!"
You have to allow this process because the other option is to deprive your child of water, even though you greatly suspect she's not in the least bit thirsty. As you continue to witness this painstaking process you begin to wonder if Chinese Water Torture could possibly be any worse.
Following this activity, of course, is snack time. I guess. Even though she ate not an hour ago and promised you she was "totally full, daddy" while rubbing her stomach dramatically, apparently your daughter will be as hungry as a famished wolverine. You suppose constant narration of one's life burns a lot of calories. When this procrastination tactic begins, you may do what I did; offer a less-than-ideal "this is your only option" choice: raisins, expecting the child to wrinkle her nose and go to bed instead. Haha! Of course this will backfire and you're now pouring her a bowl full of raisins from now until the day you die.
After wrestling her into bed and reading stories (the selection process from her mountain of books that puts the Library of Congress to shame is too painful to relate here), she will require 10 kisses and 10 hugs, which of COURSE you have to abide. She might as well add: "because there won't be much more time where I'll be doing this and you'll have to bribe hugs from me, so take advantage now otherwise you'll regret it forever."
After the kisses and hugs, you begin the room-leaving procedure, which consists of two songs, IF you're lucky and the little director hasn't added four additional encore audience participation numbers to the program. Once you've exhausted every song she knows, you get to re-tuck her in bed because somehow she passed through the covers and without moving is now on top of them all again.
Once you have her finally tucked in, she will present a finger (sometimes THE finger) and say, "Hangnail!"
You wouldn't let her go to sleep with a hangnail, would you? Of course, when you look, there's no hangnail there, but you know from experience that if you don't at least pretend to clip it, she'll pick at it until there is one. Then you have to come BACK. Once you leave to retrieve the clippers, this somehow has reset the entire process and MORE songs are required before the Cutest Hostage Taker dismisses you. Soon you realize it was easier for Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt.
After you close her door, she will wait until you exhale, thinking you can enjoy the last 15 minutes of your evening. During that exhale, as soon as you begin to de-stress from the day, you'll get this delightful announcement: "I GOTTA GO POTTY!" Because, you know, of all the water you let her drink from those stupid Dixie cups.
You wouldn't deny your child when she is still learning to potty train, would you? One false move could unravel all the work you put in, so you relent. Once you catch her, because she somehow got amnesia during the 30 seconds she was actually in the bed and decided to run the opposite way of the bathroom, and sit her down to do her business, you'll be rewarded by the sound of a single drop of urine hitting the bottom of the bowl.
You finally wrangle her to bed, close the door and sit down on the couch. Just as your eyes begin to close you notice the sun coming up through the window.
The funny part? While you're working during the day, you'll keep looking forward to the hectic, frustrating night to come.
Kelly Van De Walle is the senior creative writer for Briscoe14 Communications (www.briscoe14.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via creepy pumpkin carving message. Follow him on Twitter @pancake_bunny ornothing. What's he going to do? He's exhausted.