It was 9pm, one hour after my five-year-old’s bed time, and she was still up, running down the hallway in a white dress, a black skirt, and a long sleeve shirt. She’d recently started picking out her outfits, giving her a cute Punkie Brewster look. But I wasn’t in the mood to think about how cute she was; rather, I was in the mood for the day to be done. I wanted her in bed, so I could get my lunch packed, take a shower, and get myself to bed by 10pm.
Most evenings are like this.
Mel was in the living room, feeding the baby. Tristan, our seven-year-old, was already in bed. He’s old enough that he can do the majority of the getting ready for bed stuff himself. He’s easy. Getting Norah to bed, on the other hand, is like getting a drunken cat to brush its own teeth, climb into some PJ’s, and settle down for the night.
“Hey,” I said, snapping my fingers. “Get undressed and brush your teeth.”
Norah was in her room. “Just a minute, Daddy.” She said it in a stop bothering me, I’m doing something important, tone. “I’m putting my baby to bed.”
I came into her room. Norah was naked, her clothing piled on the floor. She had a pterodactyl puppet in her arms, swaddled in a baby blanket. I was happy that she was undressed; it was a start. But at the same time, it was strange to see her wandering around naked with a baby dinosaur.
“Norah, it’s way past your bed time, and I have to be to work early in the morning. Please get into your PJ’s.”
Norah put her finger over her mouth. “Shhhhh!!!!! You are going to wake my baby!”
“I’m gong to wake your baby? You’re the one screaming. Why am I even calling it a baby? It’s a dinosaur. Listen, I’m tired.” I went on, trying to explain to her how I’d like to get to bed, but I still have a lot to do, and none of that can be done before she gets to bed.
Norah stomped her foot, cutting me off mid-sentence, and said, “Stop being mean to my baby!”
I was tired. I was getting frustrated. Finally I ripped the baby dinosaur out of her arms, and replaced it with PJ’s and a pair of underwear.
Sometimes, when my kids get me really frustrated, I make rash decisions. The best thing to do would’ve been to tell her to put down her baby and then hand her the PJ’s. But I didn’t because it was late and I was tired, and because, frankly, I’m human. I wasn’t thinking logically as a father, I was thinking about how badly I wanted to be done with the kids and work and everything, and between me and the end of the day was a baby dinosaur wrapped in a blanket.
Norah fell to the ground, placed her face in her hands, and said, “You are making me cry!”
I looked at my daughter, naked and crying on the floor. In my arms was a swaddled dinosaur, and I suddenly I felt like an asshole. Sometimes I just want to be the boss. I want to be the dad with the strong hand because to me, it often seems like the best way to get things done at a timely pace. But 90% of the time, it just results in fits and my kids hating me, and yet, when I’m weary and ready to be done, I often fall into this default state of being demanding and brutish rather than taking a moment to reason with my children.
“Ok. Ok. I’m sorry,” I said. I let out a deep breath. “Check it out. Let’s put your baby to bed together. Then you need to get into your PJ’s. Deal?”
Norah didn’t respond at first, and I knew she wanted to negotiate. Her brother had recently taught her the skill of negotiation, and I could tell that she felt the fact that I said I was sorry was a good time to ask for something more.
“And I get a cookie,” she said.
“No way…” I said.
She started crying again.
“What about this, I wasn’t going to give you a story because it was so late. But if you hurry up, I will help you put down your baby, and I will read you a really, really, really, short story. Deal?”
“Short story and a cookie,” she said.
Suddenly I got frustrated again. It was almost 9:30 by now, and these negotiations were going nowhere.
“Wow, Norah. No. In fact, I’m done. You can just sleep naked on the floor. I’m putting your baby outside because dinosaurs don’t belong in the house.”
Ever since Norah turned five, our evenings are a mix of negotiations, frustration, fake crying, and compromise. I seem to bounce between the brutish unreasonable father, and the father who is willing to negotiate. In my mind, I try to formulate ways to cut corners so I can still get to bed on time: skip the shower, eat out for lunch so I don’t have to pack one, wear the same clothes as the day before… At the same time, my emotions and disposition swing up. I find it exhausting, and yet I never seem to be able to get her to bed before 9pm anymore.
I hate it.
I turned off her light, and she came running to the door. “Ok, daddy,” she said in a I’ve given up, you win, voice. “Put down my baby and a story.”
“Deal,” I said.
Together, we placed the pterodactyl puppet down in Norah’s play basinet. Then she got dressed, brushed her teeth, and I read her an abbreviated copy of “Hop on Pop.”
By the time things were said and done, it was after ten before I finally turned off her light.
And around 10:30, when I was just about to get in the shower, and I assumed Norah was fast asleep, she cried from her room.
“What?” I asked.
“I want another story,” she said.
I told her no. I tried to reason with her. Finally, I just closed her door and told her good night.
She must have been too tired to throw a fit. I didn’t hear from her until morning.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.