She looked at me nervously as she picked up the baby, trying not to make any sudden movements lest she wake her up. "Can you put her in this sleeper?" I asked as I changed my son's diaper. I popped the twins' pacifiers in their mouths and tucked my daughter's green dinosaur blanket and my son's tan bunny blanket under their arms. My son turned his head and closed his eyes, and my daughter raised her legs in the air as she does before going to sleep. I turned off the lights, turned on the nightlight, and took the poet's hand as I led her out of the room. I shut the door quietly.
"That's it?" she whispered.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You just put your kids to bed?"
"It's that easy?"
We sat down at the dinner table as she recounted to her partner that "Get this - they just put their kids in bed and walk out of the room and that's it!"
It became clear that in this era of Attachment Parenting, they had never, ever seen a bedtime with little ones go so smoothly. The female poet described going to friends' homes where there were kids everywhere at dinner and especially bedtime. I cringed to think about how they must have braced themselves before agreeing to spend the evening with us.
My eleven-year old joined the adults for dinner and recounted a book she was reading on Greek mythology. The poets loved it and impressed our daughter with their nuanced understanding of characters and scenes from the Iliad and Odyssey.
"OK, my dear, time for bed," my husband said after giving her a sneak preview of the apple tarte we were having for dessert. My daughter got up good naturedly and went to her room to put on her pajamas and brush her teeth.
Again, the poets were dumbfounded. "Maybe we will have kids after all. We sort of want to hang out with your daughter."
Now that the kids were out of our hair, we settled into adult conversation and uncorked another bottle of wine. Our adult evening had begun.
The next day, my husband and I reflected that putting kids to bed painlessly has become uncommon - so much so, that we have friends whose homes we'd rather avoid at dinnertime and beyond. The children of our friends and family often have bedtimes not much earlier than their parents'. I can't speak for other parents, but our kids have always needed their sleep and benefited from early bedtimes and have appreciated our help enforcing that structure.
Likewise, I can't imagine how depressed I'd be if I had to retire from an evening with friends to put my kids to bed with a long and painful bedtime ritual. When we have guests, our kids (even the babies) seem to understand that it's a special night. Having extra attention, adult conversation, and maybe a special before-dinner drink or dessert takes the place of baths and bedtime stories for one night only.