I was blessed to grow up in a family with rules. Rules about how we spoke to grown-ups, rules about how we were to treat our siblings, rules about when we could leave the house, and — of course — rules about bedtime.
Bedtime rules changed as we grew up. As the oldest sibling, I felt that my parents did not appreciate that my advanced years merited additional liberty when it came to bedtime. To be honest, I am still not sure why my brother, who is two years younger than I am, always had the same bedtime as I did when we were growing up.
Kids, some of you may be experiencing a similar injustice and, if you are, my best advice is to hold this grudge long enough to write about it when you are grown. Your parents will probably read what you write (especially if you get it published in the newspaper) and they will feel the full shame of their mistake. I expect they will also give you a formal apology and likely an extra gift card in your stocking the next Christmas, as that seems a reasonable way to atone for their mistake.
Now that I have that out of my system, let me get to the real point of this column.
One thing my parents did right was that they were not legalistic about bedtime. Some of my fondest memories come from late nights when Mom and Dad let us stay awake or even pulled us out of our beds to watch ball games and lunar eclipses, or to stay up late when we had company.
Bedtime is, of course, important. Children need to sleep to be healthy and parents need their kids to sleep to be sane. Rhythms of life need to be established in childhood and kids form patterns of healthy discipline when parents enforce rules. But sometimes parents should use their lofty power to dismiss bedtime for greater endeavors.
I have wonderful memories associated with abandoning bedtime.
I remember my Mom telling me to change out of my pajamas so I could ride with her to Columbus well after suppertime. Late night trips to the big city (i.e. somewhere with a Walmart) were necessary for my family during the seasons when both my parents were working and grocery shopping had to be done on the margins of life.
For whatever reason, Mom would sometimes decide that instead of a few hours of much deserved quiet, she would inflict one of her four children on herself for a late-night grocery run. When I went with her I would watch the digital clock in our navy-blue Suburban count far past my bedtime. I remember walking through aisles of near empty grocery stores and making a Krispy Kreme run before we drove home — all in the glorious setting of post-bedtime hours.
Some things are better than sleep and well-disciplined children. What could I possibly have dreamed of during those hours that would have been better than time spent talking with my Mom on those late-night shopping trips?
My parents also understood the value of allowing their children to seize important moments. I was barely 8 years old in October of 1995 when the Braves won their first, and to date only, World Series. Bedtime came by the fourth inning and there was talk of sending me to bed, but my parents decided to allow their baseball crazed son to watch the entire game. So, they gave me the memory of Tom Glavine’s shutout, David Justice’s solo home run, and Mark Wohlers coming on in relief to seal the win.
Bedtimes are important, but they can sometimes be put aside for other, more important events. I am thankful for all the times my parents made me sleep so that I could be a healthy and happy child. I am equally thankful for the nights they put the rules aside and allowed me to make memories late in the night.
I am now the arbiter of bedtime for my own little ones. My wife and I are consistent on bedtime for our two girls, but we also know the joy of bending — or disregarding — bedtime for greater pursuits. I am writing this in the attic room of our home, the room where we keep our books and my desk and the ugly furniture. Stretched across mismatched wingback chairs are my two little girls. They are giggling madly because they know that bedtime has passed. They believe they have beaten the system and so now they read their books and snuggle their stuffed animals with a joy that comes from defying bedtime. They do not know that I am watching the clock — an equal partner with them in this late-night conspiracy.
Now I will go join in the laughter and read a book and tell a story or two. It is 9 o’clock and the night is young. We have memories to make.