When my daughters were babies, I really knew how to sleep them. I put them to bed early (and I do mean early) and on a consistent schedule. They slept for 12 (or more!) uninterrupted hours, and napped regularly. I established and followed through on bedtime routines. I successfully encouraged the girls to put themselves to sleep and to stay put in their own beds. Consequently we made it through the early years quite well-rested. Our friends hated us.
Things have changed. Our 4 and almost-6 year old daughters still share the bedroom that Zoe moved into at 6 months, when she left our bedside. But slowly – almost imperceptibly – the art of bedtime has slipped away from me. And now, the peaceful oasis, with its gentle pink nightlight, the whomp-whomp of humpback whales playing softly in the background, and the two children drifting into slumber at an hour when families sit down to dinner, is long gone. Now at 8 pm, after stories and “lights out”, the room transforms a cross between a circus (the beds are in perfect jumping distance of one another) and an orphanage (not a real one, but the one in the movie version of Annie .) There are calls for water, hollers for cuddles, demands for more and more piles of books, and so many trips to the bathroom that the ensuing bedwetting is a true marvel of nature. (Tonight on the Discovery Channel – Bladders that Cannot Empty until after Midnight!)
Where have I strayed? My former bible, Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, is of little help these days. I’m still doing everything “right”; unfortunately Ella and Zoe seem to have their own bible Defying Bedtime Habits, Crazy Mommy. On most nights, I resort to yelling. This works wonders for lulling children to sleep.
So when I recently took a copy of the PJ Library selection Goodnight Sh’ma off the shelf, I thought, maybe – just maybe – in this simple board book lies the secret to restoring peace to our evenings. Maybe the problem is just that we don’t consistently say the shma. Why would that matter? I had a couple of theories. Maybe God is punishing for my lapse by giving my daughters a severe case of jack-in-the-box-itis. (It’s better than smiting me.) Or maybe the shma has a magical, soporiphic effect that cannot be attained by bedtime stories alone. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that The Amazing Bone hasn’t exactly settled them down for the night.)
So after the books, the pottying, the brushing of the teeth, the turning out the lights, the tucking in were over, I came into my daughters’ room with Goodnight, Shma. I read them the simple poem that culminates with the first line of the shma, which we sang together. They were quiet. I showed them the sweet illustrations. They were still quiet. And then I tiptoed out of the room. The quiet continued. For about three seconds. And then I heard a clunk. I went back in the room. My daughters were playing catch with Goodnight, Shma.
Just because saying the Shma isn’t magical, doesn’t mean I’m giving up on the bedtime shma. It’s still something I believe in (or that I’d really, really like to believe in) and having a book like Goodnight Shma is a helpful reminder. But tonight I’ll take the book with me when I leave the room.
The PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age eight. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.