From the time LG was a baby, her Daddy has been the one to put her to bed. This started when she was months old, and I returned to work part-time. I would spend my days with her, and my evenings I would go to work and see clients. To keep her routine consistent, even when I was home, Jif would do the honors. I would give my kisses and say my sweet things to her in the living room, and Jif would take her into her room and go through their ritual: tucking, holding hands and praying, a kiss, an "I love you." I have loved that she has had a Daddy who does that.
This routine has only changed slightly over the years. For the last few years, because she's a big girl and stays up later, even on the nights I work, I'm home before she goes to bed. The routine is the same every night -- a hug, a kiss, and this dialogue:
LG: Goodnight, Mama.
Me: Goodnight, baby.
LG: I love you.
Me: I love you, too. Sweet dreams.
Every night, that "'Night-night" part tugs my heartstrings. That's her own little convention, I don't know where it came from. But it seems even if she tries to leave the room and go up to bed without saying that, she can't; she calls from down the hall, around the corner, "'Night-night."
Then Jif follows her up, and they tuck, and pray, and the rest.
Last night, she said goodnight to me as usual. Then, she said goodnight to Jif. And she added, "You don't need to come up, Dad, I can put myself to bed." I still can't describe what happened inside me, except for an acute awareness that I am not ready for that. She may be. I am not. Jif haltingly said, "Okaaay..."
As LG left the room, I spoke to him as though she had said she was taking the car out to 7-11 to get a pack of cigarettes. "No," I said firmly. "It cannot be time for her to start putting herself to bed. Don't let go of that yet. Don't let it go." I think the near desperation in my tone left no room for him to respond in any way other than to follow her up the stairs.
Tonight, she said it again. I didn't have to say anything. When she said, "You don't need to come up, Dad," he said, "I want to," and she shrugged and said, "OK, then." I am thankful that she's not insistent on this new step into the next part of her life. When she was younger, I had vague ideas about when certain things happened -- a sippy cup, a big-girl bed. I've never considered when a little girl stops being tucked in. (Come to think of it, if I go to bed before Jif is ready, I like to be tucked in, perhaps that's why this burst of independence seems so ill-fitting to me!)
I don't want to stunt my kid's growth. I don't want to discourage her independence. But I'm not ready for her to tuck herself in yet. A memory has just floated up . . . . some 7 years ago, Jif and I, and our toddler girl were in a hotel room in Milwaukee. He was there for work and we had tagged along. We three were in the king-sized bed, chatting and giggling before sleep. All was quiet as we began to drift off in the darkness, when LG said, "This is a sacred night, isn't it, Mama?" I don't know how she knew the word "sacred," but she surely appeared to use it properly. And I said, to this baby I'd waited 13 years for, "Every night with you is a sacred night."
Santa is coming soon. At least once more, I want him to see that she's been properly "nestled all snug in her bed." She still believes. If there are some official guidelines, if there is some chart or equation that tells a parent when their child is ready to put herself to bed, I would think that it must include something about "belief in Santa = no self-tucking." Wouldn't you think?