Slowly but surely, our 3- and 5-year-old have managed to become a pretty solid team. They play as a team. They love on their baby sister as a team. On more than one occasion, they’ve made breakfast as a team, greeting us at 7 a.m. with bowls full of carrot sticks and expired yogurt.
And, because they share a room, they’re now able to pool their powers of persuasion and stall as a team.
While Matt is a certified bedtime ninja, accomplishing his duties, giving hugs and kisses and smoothly exiting the girls’ bedroom without any sort of peep or protest, I am usually at the receiving end of their nightly interrogations.
It happens most nights without fail. I give hugs. I give a second round of hugs. Beckoned by the hallway light, I back towards the door, knowing that in just minutes, I could be peacefully loading the dishwasher and listening to that podcast I’ve been chipping away at in seven-minute increments. I take one more optimistic step, and then bam. The questions start flying.
They usually start off with some softballs. "Can I have bathroom water instead of kitchen water?" "What are we doing tomorrow?" "What are we doing the day after tomorrow?" "What are we having for dinner on Friday?" "Can I wear my favorite pair of impractical shoes to school?"
Next, their inquiries get more complex, philosophical and difficult to answer. "Why is the sun still out if you told me it was past my bedtime?" "Do you still have birthdays in heaven?" "When can we go to Hawaii?" "Do worms throw up?" "How fast do clouds move?" "What would you rather be doing right now?" (Kidding. That’s just what I’m thinking about as I attempt to appease my Professional Distractors. Answer: Netflix, laundry, second dessert.)
And then sometimes, they surprise me.
A few nights ago, as the questions rolled in, fast and furious, Emilia looked up at the ceiling, thought for a second, and asked, “What was your dad like?”
Her question caught me off guard because I was ready to tell her she couldn’t have a bowl of Cheez-Its to keep in her bed. And because it’d been so long since anyone had asked me that.
My dad died in 2008, three years before Emilia was born. His passing has since been somewhat overshadowed by the continued flow of life, the push forward, the daily distractions and the death of my brother two years ago. I think about him every day, but the opportunities to talk about him are rare.
Unless someone asks. It feels so good to be asked.
That night, I leaned against the door frame, settled in and talked about my dad. I told Emilia and Grace that their grandpa was really smart, really funny and really kind. I told them that he was a teacher, that he loved baseball and that he would be so proud of them.
Our discussion gave way to other important questions about the people we’ve loved and lost. I forgot about the dishwasher and my podcast. I felt so lucky to have such a thoughtful discussion with my two big girls.
Bedtime stalling is what it is: clever children making a thinly veiled attempt to stretch out the day, minute by minute, question by question. And 90 percent of the time, my kids care less about the answers they’re getting and more about the fact that they’ve successfully tricked me. But I’ll gladly stick around a little longer to be there for those big questions — for the opportunity to have a good talk in the light of the doorway.
Yes, I’ll stay.
Yes, I’ll listen.
Yes, I’ll get you water from the bathroom.
One more hug, and then it’s lights out.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 4, Grace, 2 and newborn Phoebe. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.