It was summer vacation, so Charlie’s bedtime was a little later than during the school year. After a full day of working in the garden and playing at the park, Charlie was tired and a bit grumpy at bedtime. Unfortunately, as the sun set later and later, Charlie still went to bed while it was light outside.
“It’s not fair. It’s not dark yet. I don’t want to go to bed,” Charlie whined.
“We don’t go to bed by the sun, we go to bed by the clock,” Marianne answered.
Isaac nodded. “If we always went to bed by the sun, think of how early you’d have to go to bed in the winter.”
Charlie folded his arms across his chest and frowned. “I can’t fall asleep when it’s light out, so I may as well stay up.”
“Nice try,” Marianne said. “Go get your pajamas on and brush your teeth.”
Charlie looked at Isaac. Isaac made a shooing motion towards the hall. “Go on. Listen to your mother. You sound tired to me.”
“I’m not tired,” Charlie said loudly. He stomped down the hallway to get ready for bed.
Marianne sighed. “Sometimes I think it would be nice to be a fun parent with no rules, but then I think about what that would really look like, and I change my mind.”
“We are fun parents. We also have rules. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.” Isaac gave her a hug. “I think we’re doing a great job. Charlie is a good kid. He’s just tired. Sending him to bed is what he really needs. He just doesn’t understand that yet. So, as the people with the most life experience, it’s our job to help him out.”
Marianne laughed. “I do wish there was someone around to send me to bed when I’m tired. I guess it’s one of those things you don’t appreciate until you’re older.”
They checked on him and waited as he finished brushing his teeth. Then they said prayers and hugged him and sent him to bed. Isaac sat down to read a bedtime story.
“Now let’s see…” Isaac opened the book to the bookmark and started reading. At the end of the chapter, he closed the book.
Charlie sat up in bed. “Dad, did dinosaurs have rules like bedtimes?”
“Hmmmm.” Isaac put the book on the shelf. “I’m not sure. If they were like the animals around now, then I think so.”
“Remember the geese we saw in the fall?” Isaac glanced at the window and imagined the geese flying in a v-shape across the sky.
“The ones flying south? I guess they had rules. But bedtimes?”
“Animals have times they are awake or asleep. Some are only awake at night, like bats. Some are only awake in the day, like chickens. And some can be awake during both, like cats. I think that cats have to take lots of naps to do that.” Isaac shrugged.
Charlie frowned. “Hey. They go to bed by the sun and not the clock. That’s not fair.”
“They don’t have clocks. And it’s not surprising their rules are different than ours. They have different needs and values. Even people have different rules if they are in different countries or cities or neighborhoods or families.”
“But that’s not fair. I bet all the other kids my age are still up.” He pouted. “Why do I have to have a bedtime in the summer? I don’t have to get up in time for school.”
Isaac smiled. “That’s a good question. Your health is important to your mom and I. You’re still growing and need a lot of sleep. Keeping a routine helps you fall asleep easier and get more restful sleep. Besides, it makes it easier for you to work in the garden early with your mom while it’s still cool outside.”
Charlie flopped back on the bed. “I guess so. I still don’t think it’s fair.”
“When you are older, you can go to bed later if you want to.”
“When I’m a grown up, I’m never going to bed,” Charlie said. “I’ll stay up all night.”
Isaac laughed. “We’ll see.”
Charlie rolled to his side and looked at Isaac. “Dad, it’s hard to fall asleep when it’s light out.”
Isaac thought for a moment. “Have you tried imagining sheep jumping over a fence and counting each one as it jumps?”
Charlie was quiet for a moment. “I can’t do it. Does that really work?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never tried it.”
Isaac paused and tried to imagine sheep jumping over a fence. It was harder than he expected. “Okay, forget about the sheep.”
Charlie rolled his eyes. “So what do you do to fall asleep?”
“I tell myself stories. I imagine that I was there when something amazing happened in history. Or I imagine visiting places in stories I’ve read. Or I imagine what the future will be like.”
Charlie rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. He was quiet for several minutes. “I can do that,” he said at last. “But I still think bedtimes are unfair.”
“Just wait until you’re older,” Isaac said.
“Good night, Dad.”
“Goodnight, Charlie. I love you.”
“I love you too.”