Amy Choate-Nielsen: Bedtime: My No. 1 enemy

Published: Sunday, Sept. 2 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

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I am a night owl.

I can't help it. All of the most productive, responsible and healthy people I know are early-risers, but I have an addiction to staying up late.

I make resolutions. I write myself reminder notes and tell myself over and over I will go to bed at a decent hour. And then, when the house is quiet and cool and still, I become intoxicated with the idea that late at night, I'm free to do whatever I want, for as long as I want. No matter how tired I am all day long, no matter how much I yawn and yearn to close my eyes and sleep, my circadian rhythm resets when the sun sets and I pay dearly for it the next morning when my kids pop up at the break of dawn, ready for a new day.

They go to bed early.

I did, too, when I was a child. During the summer, I could see the orange rays of the evening sun still shining through the curtains in my bedroom as I tried to fall asleep.

Sometimes I'd sneak down the hallway to my parents' bedroom to spy on them and watch the Cosby Show from the shadows of an unseen corner outside their door. Once or twice I was caught and chased back to bed by one of my parents wielding a fly swatter. (It took me years to realize that for all of the times I was chased by that fly swatter, my parents never intended to actually hit me with it — it was just an incredibly effective scare tactic. I know that now. They must have thought it was hilarious.)

We were all ingrained with the ideal of "early to bed, early to rise." My uncle still remembers the time, decades ago, when my college-aged brother visited the family only to be shocked that his teenage cousins didn't also go to bed before 8 p.m. Their bedtime was around 11 p.m. — unheard of at our house.

Bedtime was sacrosanct, but it seemed to produce good results. All of my siblings turned out to be decent, disciplined people. So when I formulated my own ideas of how to raise my children to be good members of society, a strict bedtime became essential.

I remember worrying when I brought my first baby home because she stayed up all night long and I had those images of myself as a child, staring at the curtains with the sun shining through them at 7 p.m. I was anxious to have an established routine, even though I was simultaneously jealous of my friends who were much more laid back and didn't tie themselves down with a schedule like I did.

As I've learned more about the parenting style of my grandmother, Fleeta, who died before I was born, I've started to think she'd fall more in line with my friends when it comes to discipline.

Born in 1911, my grandmother was part of the Greatest Generation. She lived through World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. She lived during an era that was austere and ethical, or at least, that’s the way I see it. I would expect her to have some thoughts on how to keep my kids from becoming the rapscallions of their generation.

I may not have her words, but I do have her example. When my dad got a button stuck up his nose, she removed it. When my uncle tried to run away in public, she put a harness on him. She let her babies cry because she believed it made their lungs stronger. She was worried about her children getting hurt in sports, so she encouraged them to join the band instead.

She followed her father's example when it came to discipline. She praised, smiled and gushed over the things she was pleased with, and if she was displeased, she turned away. She was purposeful and deliberate in her responses — never spiteful — my dad and uncle tell me.

As for bedtime, she worked the late shift as a nurse and wasn't always around when it was time to go to sleep.

I think she was a night owl.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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