I’ve had more bedtime battles with my kids than I can count.

Going to sleep can be such a difficult transition for kids: learning to let go of the togetherness and even the mental consciousness of the waking hours. And as a mom, I’m usually so done by the end of the day, that I’m hardly at my best, parenting-wise.

The following poem is one that I shared last summer, about the difficulties that one of my kids, in particular, has with bedtime. Over the past year, her ability to fall asleep on her own has improved — somewhat. So I say to myself — and you, if you’re facing similar battles — “two steps forward, one step back” still results in forward movement!


I pull her door closed again,
or nearly closed, since I know better,
drawing it toward the jamb with a practiced arm,
pausing at our precise line of compromise —
the angle where her longing for light from the hall
meets my only condition, sufficient shadow
for her to fall asleep.

All is quiet as I tiptoe away, holding my breath
because the act of exhalation might be taken
as a summons — then I settle in bed with a book,
claim my first long breath of the day,
and let my mind sidle into the story.

I have mentally defected when she appears
without warning, knocking me back to the world
where I’m a parent of a child with needs:
this time it’s a drink of water that for some reason
she can’t fetch for herself. That is my clue,
but I am tired and have been listening all day,

so what I hear is that our truce has been breached,
our short-lived ceasefire is over, and now this is war —
I spring out of bed and march her back to her room,
dropping a barrage of explosive rebukes.

By all accounts I seem to have won —
she is restored to her rightful place in bed
and the water is long forgotten — but it’s a paltry win,
if the reward is to retreat to solitude and a novel,
for I am in her space, still talking;
my blood pressure still escalating.

As soon as I fall silent
she produces a new excuse to keep me
in the room, and I see a slight smile surface
at the success of these guerrilla maneuvers.
But then one hand balls up to rub at her eyes
and a yawn escapes her now grinning mouth—

she is tired of fighting sleep single-handed,
and now that I’m there
she can lay down arms
and rest.

© Sarah Dunning Park, 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.