If I had a dollar for every anecdote, funny phrase or heartwarming moment that I have wanted to etch into my memory1 over the past seven months of the pandemic, I would be rich enough to hire a personal video crew to save myself the effort and simply document the reality show of my life as a dad.
Alas, I am currently neither rich enough for that nor prudent enough to regularly write the stories down, so I am left to rely on my ever-failing memory, which seems to be getting even worse thanks to the offbeat march of time that comes with the long days and short months of the pandemic.
One parental accomplishment that Theresa and I have been priding ourselves on is the ease of our bedtime routine with a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son sharing a room. We seemed to get it figured out just in time for the arrival of #3, which made it all the more laudable and parentally fulfilling.
We managed to evolve Bedtime™ into a manageable 20-minute process. I’ve done it in far less than that when necessary. They get in their jammies, Charlie drinks a bottle of milk while I change him, we go say night prayers with Theresa, we do push-ups4, we brush their teeth, we pick which Spotify playlist they will listen to on Alexa to fall asleep, I kiss them good night, I shut off the lights and turn on the white noise machine, I listen to and deny their last-minute demands, I blow them kisses, I shut the door, and I leave.
60 percent of the time, it works every time. But when we first started this routine, we noticed a flaw in the design–they would still get out of bed and come running out of their room by inventing an emergency or having an “important” question.
Theresa came up with the idea5 of allowing them to pick a Peanut Butter M&M6 that they can place on their dresser before bed. If they stay in their beds–barring an actual emergency and don’t whine/cry/throw a fit–they can eat the M&M when they wake up. If they don’t maintain the bargain, I come into their room and Daddy eats the M&M. Win-win?
Suffice to say, the bribe worked swimmingly. They get an M&M almost every morning, and we get a relatively peaceful post-Bedtime Routine evening.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Matt, did you bring me here to brag about your bedtime routine or do you actually have a funny story to share?” Relax, I’m setting it up.
Over the past several months, Charlie has been having a really hard7 time with constipation. We’ve consulted his doctor, who recommended that he drink a full water bottle loaded with MiraLAX every day until the situation resolves. We were not great about making sure he drank it after the problem seemed to subside, so it recurred a couple times. We are thankfully in a better place right now, though the regimen continues so we can maintain this status quo.
Point being, the kid now loves to relax his bowels when he gets into his bed. It’s such a part of his routine that he promises/brags to me each night as I’m leaving the room about the poop he’s going to momentarily gift to me. Once he finally completes his work, both kids bolt out of the room to let the joyous news be spread and we all celebrate together as a family.
I recently noticed–without reprimanding him–that he celebrates his fecal domination by indulging in the M&M that is supposed to sit on his dresser until the morning. I’m so happy that he can pass a poop that I really don’t care, plus he never asks me for another M&M, and we haven’t really needed to use it as a behavior modification tool in a while in terms of him staying in his bed.
Cut to tonight.
For whatever reason, the past few nights Charlie has been loathe to go to sleep. Tonight I came back to their room more often than I should have had to, telling him to be quiet. He had already emptied his bowels and was just being obstinate about falling asleep. On what I decided would be my final trip into his room, I realized that I could use the M&M as a threat. Here’s what followed:
[I enter the room]
Charlie: Daddy, it’s daytime.
Me: No, it’s not. It’s nighttime and it’s time to go to sleep.
Charlie: [starts screaming and crying] NO! NOOOOO! I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SLEEP!
Me: Charlie, you have to go to sleep, and if you keep crying, I’m going to eat your M&M and you won’t have one in the morning.
Maddie: [piping up from across the room in an overly dramatic voice] I’m sad….
Me: Maddie, don’t even start. I’ll eat your M&M, too.
[Maddie pulls her blanket up over her head.]
[At this point, I look over at the dresser and see that Charlie’s M&M has already been devoured in celebration of his poop. Oops. Time to play dumb.]
Me: Charlie, where is your M&M? Did you already eat it?
Charlie: [stops crying] Yeah!
Me: Well, then you’re not going to have one in the morning now.
Charlie: Daddy, where’d my M&M go?
Me: You ate it. It went in your mouth and down into your tummy and then it’ll turn into poop and come out in your diaper.
[At this point, I suddenly recall that we have not yet gotten around to explaining the digestive system to our two-year-old.]
Charlie: [alarmed and reaching for his diaper] Daddy, why is my M&M in my diaper?
Me: [stammering] It’s not in your diaper…
Charlie: WHY IS IT IN MY DIAPER? WHY IS IT IN MY BUTT?!
Me: It’s not in your diaper. It’s in your tummy because you ate it.
Charlie: [violently pulling his shirt up and rubbing his stomach and chest] WHERE COULD IT BE?! WHERE COULD IT BE?!
Me: [trying so hard not to laugh] Charlie, you ate it! It went in your mouth!
This is Charlie’s word du jour. “Oh.” If you present him with a fact–“Oh.” If you correct his behavior–“Oh.” If you tell him what we’re about to do or where we’re about to go–“Oh.”
Suffice to say, the mystery of the M&M and the wonders of the digestive tract were somehow enough to defuse the situation. I put on a more desirable Spotify playlist (Charlie’s Favorites), bid them all a good night and walked out.
I didn’t have to go back in again.
Now I just await Charlie’s questions tomorrow…
- or at least into this blog
- a sentence that aptly describes much of my time with him these days, rather than narrowing down a particular incident
- Even if these blog posts–scant as they might be–aren’t someday a treasured artifact for my children and their children, at least I’ll have something cheerful to read in my old age.
- This was a pandemic initiative that guarantees I will do 36 push-ups every night. If you want accountability in your exercising, make it a part of the bedtime routine. Your children will not allow you to skip it.
- Or maybe found it in a parenting Facebook group?
- truly the Rolls Royce of M&Ms
- no stool pun intended