Four and a half years ago (give or take a month...or two) our house began to settle into a solid routine. At roughly 7 pm the child would take a bath. At 7:30 we'd read some stories. We'd aim to have the kid asleep around 8 pm. As they moved from infancy to toddlerhood to preschooler we made small adaptations to the routine - gone was the pre-bed feeding, no rocking required, ditched the crib, transitioned to a shower. And yet, with all that change, the meat of the routine remained the same: 7pm, 7:30, 8 o'clock.
Sure once in a while we go a little wild and we let them stay up "late." Bedtime was a bit fluid while we were in Disney this winter. Special nights and occasions sometimes buy the kids 30 extra minutes in their day. It happens. The 'regular', every day routine though has remained in tact and unchanged in every way that actually matters.
Recently, however, my "great" sleeper and bedtime routine observer has gotten into the habit of nudging the routine a tad. He has questions. He needs a drink. The bathroom. Another "I love you." This from a boy that hasn't been a problem since he learned the great skill of "lulling myself to sleep" around his first birthday.
I was lamenting this new phase to Grandma one day and she, being Grandma, presented me with something to consider. "Perhaps the problem is he's not tired yet. Maybe he's ready to stay up a little later. He is almost 5."
Hmmm, ok. Ponder. Ponder. The problem, of course, is the sister. She is NOT ready to stay up later. She may think she is -- but anyone that sees what she's like when overtired would beg to differ. The problem, you see, is that if Logan is up, Megan knows it. If he's being read to, she's in there. If he's not in his room, she's wandering out. The problem is giving him more time without letting her in on the secret.
And then it hit me.
He reads. He can read on his own after "lights out" and she'd be none the wiser.
We talked about this possibility. We talked parent-to-parent. We talked about it parent-to-child. We let Logan know it was a privilege and if he abused it, he could lose it. He reverted back to his best bedtime routine observation habits. He would grin and nod as we said our good nights. He said not another word about this pending change to his routine.
Sunday night I decided to give it a test run. I told him he could stay up a little- but not the full half-hour. He had to be reading, not playing and he had to go bed as soon as one of us went in to tell him it was time. He nodded solemnly and requested his current favorite book for the adventure.
I went in 15 minutes later. He was sitting up half under his covers with his book on his lap and the biggest grin you could imagine bursting across his face. He could barely contain himself. "Did I pass the test? Did I earn the privilege?!" he asked, trying hard to whisper as to not bother his sister.
I nodded...and I realized that that nod was hard for me. I couldn't put a finger on why it was. Instead I pushed the gnawing down and kissed the boy goodnight.
Tonight was his first "official" night of staying up "late." We talked this afternoon about it to review our expectations. "You have to be quiet so Megan can get to sleep. No playing, just reading," I reminded him.
He nodded and then placed his index finger in the center of his forehead. "I'm going to read in my head because that's what you do when you read to yourself. You only read out loud when someone else wants to hear you."
That surprised me. I didn't realize he COULD read to himself in that way before. I thought he was still in the "must read aloud in order to sound out words" stage.
"Right," I said, "But if you get to a word you can't figure out, you can't really be yelling for us to come down and help - that'd wake up Megan. When you get to a word you can't read, use your pencil to underline it and then in the morning you can ask me to help you with it."
He nodded. And I, truth be told, forgot about it.
Logan announced just before story time commenced that he only wanted Daddy to read him one book tonight so he could get started on reading his favorite book, which happens to be a guidebook (of sorts) on the Transformers. He lay stretched out on his stomach with the book open before him intently focused on its pages. I heard him banging around his room at one point but I wrote it off as a trek to his water cup (which actually sits across the room from his bed.)
It wasn't water though. It took me a minute to register the reason even as I started at it. I went in to turn off his lights and say good night at 8:30 and paused to read the word he'd written on his lined pad of paper.
"Hey look at that. You wrote Omnicon very well!" I told him, honestly impressed with how neat his writing of both upper and lowercase letters had gotten recently. It's truly as if fine motor skills arrived one night via express mail or something.
"Oh! THAT's what that word was! I couldn't figure it out," he said. (Oh, d'uh! Yes, I saw the writing on the pad and hadn't connected it to our earlier conversation.)
And that was it. Lights out. Head hit the pillow and he's not made another peep. After nearly 4 1/2 years of the same routine, the boy has gone and outgrown it.
He'll officially be 5 on Saturday. (Until then, he will insist you refer to him as "four-and-eleven-and-half-twelfths.") It's stating the obvious to say that life can change a lot when you hit 5 and yet with all changes that have transpired thus far and all the ones that wait for us in the fall, it seems to be this one I'm feeling a tad morose over.
He was the boy that could read a lot sooner than he *would* read primarily because he was afraid we wouldn't cuddle in close with him and a good story any longer if he embraced the skill. And yet there he was tonight, "I only want one story, Daddy, so I can start reading my other book." With that simple sentence, with that single word written on the pad - one word in a book loaded with words I honestly figured to be a bit too 'tough' for him - that I could hear the door on those 'earliest' years of his life creaking closer to shut.