Pushing against the clock, always pushing uphill.
As soon as the first child has finished pudding, I whisk them off upstairs and start them on the bedtime routine while waiting for the second child. If it's Jamie, I can usually persuade him to get undressed and put his clothes in the laundry basket quite quickly and then get him into the bathroom to use the toilet, have me brush his teeth (must teach him how to do it for himself, must get round to doing that, but somehow every morning and every evening it's too much of a scramble, never enough time to teach anything), get him into the bath and have me wash him. If it's Katie, it takes rather longer to distract her from wanting to run up and down the upstairs hall/do flumps on the beanbag/defeat Bowser in order to get her clothes off her and get her into the bathroom, whereupon she insists on taking up long-term residence on the toilet. She's going to grow up to be one of those people who take the Sunday Times in there and sit there for half an hour reading the whole thing. Then we have some negotiation around getting her teeth brushed and then I get her into the bath and wash her while she tries to play pouring games and whisking the water with the eggbeater (which she used to call an eggdbeater but can now pronounce properly). Katie gets her hair washed every day; Jamie gets his washed Tuesdays and Saturdays, and rinsed off on the other days when I shower him off, and he's also a bit simpler to wash because I can use the same soap all over him instead of negotiating eczematous areas with medicated lotion.
As you can imagine, I prefer it when I can get Katie upstairs first and at least get Jamie ready for bed while she's sitting on the toilet – the time works out better that way – but she's also the one who usually takes longer over her dinner and pudding, so it's usually Jamie first. At least that means he can use the toilet and get it done without having to compete with Katie. But they'll compete for my attention while Katie sits on the toilet and Jamie in the bath. Apparently the bathroom contains an invisible remote on-switch for Super Mario monologues, because Jamie will invariably start up during the getting-ready-for-bed process with 'Let me tell you about the different worlds in Super Mario 64…' or something similar, and keep going on and on and on and on and on. Katie will promptly start screaming about something random, which is partly because she's learned perfectly well that once Jamie gets started she isn't going to get a chance to get a word in edgeways any time soon and partly because she just plain doesn't like the idea of anyone who isn't her getting my attention. Both of them start screaming at each other and I have to calm them down somehow, make a joke out of it, or try to discuss things. Or just get out of the bathroom for two minutes and leave them to it while I get a bit of space.
When Katie's washed, I try to get her to stand up so that I can lift her out easily – we have a game where she pretends to be a seed and I water her with the blue measuring cup and get her to grow into a plant while chanting "It's growing, it's growing… it's biiiig" (her script). She likes the game when I can get her started on it, but all the other fun things to do in the bath are too much of a distraction and it can be quite difficult to get her to do it. If I really can't, I just lift her out. Jamie has usually got out himself by now and gone into the bedroom to wrap himself up in the towel I hang on the end of his bed and climb up onto his bunk, often with a continued Mario-themed monologue drifting back towards us.
On to what I think of as Phase 2 of getting ready for bed. Jamie needs to have his night-time nappy on (and I get him to go to the toilet one last time beforehand – the nappies are no longer enough for the night and I'll be in his room changing him a couple of hours later before I get to bed myself, in hopes of keeping him from leaking through before morning) and then get into his pyjamas. Katie needs to have her hair brushed and her pyjamas and night-time cream put on her and she wants three stories, so, since Jamie will usually entertain himself with a book or continued Mario monologues, he's unfortunately the one who gets short shrift at this point. (I'd be happy for him to come and join in the stories, but he just isn't that interested.) I go back and forth between children, trying to get the bits done that need to be done and avoid either of them being left alone for long enough to decide to start getting a game out or inventing something exciting to play.
Lights out time. There's a 'so near and yet so far' feeling now. If it's a day when I wasn't working in the afternoon, there's a good chance I'll be sort of kind of vaguely close to on schedule for when they should get to bed. If I was working in the afternoon, there won't be a hope – I always overrun, Barry has to collect the children, and by the time he's finished work and driven to pick them up and got them home and got dinner cooked and the children have eaten it and been through the above, it's going to be later than it should be and that's all there is to it. By then, it's damage limitation, trying to get them to bed as soon as I can, knowing I'm facing the double whammy of losing my evening time and having a struggle to get them woken up in the morning when they haven't had enough sleep. If they could just settle down quickly now, it would help, but they don't want to – Katie is bouncing around and wanting me to watch her hang on the side of the top bunk and then slide down and in to drop onto her own bunk. Jamie may well be on his bunk and ready to settle, but, if he's wandered off and found something he wants to play with, I've got practically no chance of redirecting him. Sometimes it's quicker just to send him to the study down the hall to play while I at least get Katie into bed. But usually, by this stage, both of them are in bed, with Katie insisting that she's not ready for me to put the lights out and me telling her unsympathetically that she can hurry up and get ready then. I count down from five before putting the lights out, but somehow that never seems to work out as planned – instead of the countdown being the warning it's somehow become part of the ritual, and she insists she has to be ready (whatever that means – some arrangement of stuffed animals, herself snuggled under the duvet, and random variations that she comes up with on the spur of the moment) before I can start counting. OK, enough. Five, four, three, two, one, zero. Too bad, Katie, you had plenty of warning and you could have done whatever it takes to get ready more quickly.
I settle down on the ground next to Katie's bunk for a tiny little sleep with her, as she always describes it. (I used to lie on the bunk next to her, but then came the evening I staggered through from the bathroom with Katie in my arms and sat down heavily on the side of the bunk and it cracked under our combined weights landing on it so abruptly – Barry managed to screw the wood back together, but he's forbidden me to put weight on it in future.) It's usually just a matter of waiting now, waiting to make sure they do settle down. They've mostly grown out of the stage of setting each other off into an escalating spiral of overexcitement the way they used to. Mostly. I can't ever quite exclude the possibility that one or other of them will decide to kick off. For two years, I had the cot in our room as backup to put Katie in if she did get too noisy, but by now Barry and I are more than ready to reclaim our room as our own space, and as Katie approached four I felt she was getting too old for a cot anyway – so I've deliberately avoided that fallback for the past couple of months. There's always the spare room – I'm not wild about using that option, but I have put Katie in bed there a couple of times until she settled and it's worked out OK. That's what I had to do tonight.
But mostly by this stage it's just waiting them out, waiting for them to settle. Past a certain point it's OK – tiredness takes over, they can't summon up the energy to start kicking up a fuss or to get out of bed – but it's never very clear when that point's been passed on any given evening, so I just wait and hope. Katie's the wrigglier one, but usually also the quicker one to fall asleep, younger and more tired out by the day. Jamie will usually be quite happy to stay in bed and read or just lie there, turning his hand-held light back and forth in slow hypnotic rhythms that he stares at, but in recent days he's been prone to getting out of bed wanting to know how long it's been since he went to bed and insisting he's not tired – an unwelcome development, I do hope it's just the effect of the bad cold he had last week keeping him awake.
Settled enough that I think I can leave them. I sit on the floor outside their room, ostensibly waiting to be sure neither of them gets up but actually snatching a bit of time to sit and read before having to summon up the energy to face the rest of the evening's jobs – I'm drained. If I'm feeling virtuous, I might tackle some of the eternal journal backlog – more usually, it's whatever piece of fiction is handy.
Finally, finally, they're asleep. I manage to make myself get moving, which takes even longer. Still the lunches and drinks to get ready for tomorrow, the kitchen counters and dining room table to wipe down, laundry to be put in the washing machine/dryer/hung on the clothes horses. A few minutes for myself, time borrowed from my sleep time, knowing the price I'll end up paying in tiredness is probably going to be higher than I want. Browsing the Internet, putting off the final effort to get up and finish the evening. Shower. Bed. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll start earlier, finish earlier, find some extra depth of organisation. Always more days.