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6 Ways to Streamline Bedtime

The last page of the perennial bedtime story "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" is a crowd-pleaser around here: "'Thank goodness,' said the mama. 'Now I can go to bed!'"

My kids love this part because the mama, who has just spent 34 pages yelling, "No more monkeys jumping on the bed!" is now pictured -- har, har -- jumping for joy on her own mattress.

I can relate -- to the words. Thank goodness, said the mama! Thank goodness, my monkeys are in bed. Thank goodness, another bedtime routine is over.

I adore my kids. It's their bedtime I hate.

Okay, "hate" is a strong word, but the nightly tuck-in is surely overrated: The endless routine of it, the 5,948th reading of Goodnight Moon, the procrastinations, the miles to go before I sleep. Goodnight nobody, goodnight mush. And goodnight to the old lady whispering, Okaythat'sitnomoregettingoutofbedIsaidgotosleep!

Moms are served a lot of mush about bedtime. It's supposed to be this golden time together, with your cherub so darling in footed pj's, sweet toothpasty breath bestowing a sleepy good-night kiss. Yes, it's delicious. But the magical moment doesn't come until the tail end of the interminable saga.

At 7 p.m. my heart sinks. For the next 60 to 90 minutes, I'm bathing, pj finding, toothbrushing, book reading, etc. Times four, since I have four closely spaced children.

On a good night, I finish my rounds merely exhausted. On a typical night, I'm exhausted and responding to one child or another's complaint about thirst, wet pants, lost blankies, or bad dreams. Or to what appear to be miscellaneous creative stall tactics. ("I lost count of the sheep. What comes after 49?" Or "I wanted to tell you that you have beautiful eyelashes, Mommy.")

The upside to ten years spent doing this is that I have become something of an efficiency expert on the subject. Bedtime can be sweet and cuddly -- and over in under an hour.

Start earlier than you'd think

I usually get the ball rolling at 7 p.m. Don't wait for the official "bedtime" if your goal is those golden minutes -- or even hours -- to yourself at day's end.

Actually, the bedtime routine kicks off long before first yawn -- about 12 hours before. Kids are like windup toys -- they start each day with a set number of revolutions. And that energy must be expended before their bodies are sufficiently wound down for the night. Woe to the mother who hasn't provided enough opportunities for running, jumping, and wriggling. Rainy day? Too-long nap? It happens. But by evening they'll be more likely to keep going and going.

On those days, try to resist the marathon-video solution, and keep them busy -- whether it's building a fort out of blankets, cooking with you, a treasure hunt -- as long as their bodies are moving and their minds are engaged.