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“Our Bedtime Battles Scorecard”

After tens of thousands of nightly grudge matches, dawdling tactics, and reminders to brush teeth, you’d think I would have the formula figured out for on-time bedtimes. I do not.

bedtime battles - illustration of a parent watching as their child jumps on the bed and plays around

It’s after 11 p.m., and I find Isaac up playing video games on a school night. “Don’t you have football practice at 6 a.m. tomorrow?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

“So why are you still up?”

“Uh,” he says, like this is a trick question.

“Go to bed, son!”

He mutters something under his breath.

”What’s that?” I ask.

“Nothing.”

Most nights, I’m not having this back talk. But for some reason, tonight I start doing the math in my head. Sixteen years equals 5,840 nights I’ve been this boy’s father. And that’s how many nights he’s given me the business about going to bed.

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His 14-year-old sister is close on his heels at 5,110 nightly grudge matches. “My show’s almost over,” she says. “Can I finish it?”

“How much longer?”

She pauses her show. “47 minutes.”

“Go to bed, girl.”

At 13 years, son Number Two is coming in at 4,745 bedtime battles. Twenty minutes after I tell him to shut it down, I find him fussing with papers in his backpack. “What are you doing?”

“Checking on something.”

“Son, is that some homework you forgot to do?”

“Uh,” he says, like this is a trick question.

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And batting clean-up is my baby girl, who is 10 and going for an even 3,650 evenings of dawdle and delay. She has always interpreted bedtime as social hour, where she comes into our bedroom, bumps into the bed every five seconds, and riles up the dogs. “Please stop shaking the bed,” I say.

“Oh sorry,” she says. Then she bumps it again. Then a third time. Then a fourth. And on and on, until I get mad and bark at her to go to bed. She huffs at me and storms out. Then I go back to doing my thing, knowing she’ll be back in a few minutes to restart this whole process.

Now, of course, these are conservative numbers. I’m not including the attitude they give when I tell them to brush their teeth, the second time I tell them to go to bed, when I tell them to shower, or the third time I tell them to go to bed. Still, 20,000 attitude problems should make me the master.

But I’m not.

So I say to Isaac exactly what I say most nights. “Lose the attitude or lose the PlayStation.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes, sir.”

Then I walk away thinking, How many times have I told him to say, “Yes, sir?” Let me do the math on that.

Bedtime Battles: Next Steps


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