Bedtime Book Stew

I’m proud of my four-year-old son’s library. He has about 200 books on his shelf plus a rotating allotment of 15-30 library books at a time. These range from board to picture books. So I was livid when every volume was piled into a stew of toys and art supplies. The topping was his full-sized bedding layered on the heap, mattress protector included.

After an already 30 minute negotiation to put pajamas on so the bedtime reading could commence, I saw the pile and could have lashed into obscenities and even a swat or two. Except I’m working to better myself and model character only God could bring to the table. I expressed my disappointment and exited the room.

Five days ago we brought our newborn  daughter home. I’ve heard the transition out of being the only child can be difficult, but I survived, quite alright and even prideful if I do say so myself. The first night we went home my son did this same empty-the-book-shelves stunt. Last time, grandma and I jumped in quickly to rescue the situation and shelve the abandoned material. This time, I didn’t have it in me. And I wanted to take this opportunity to teach.

First, I enlisted the help of a Power greater than myself and knocked on his closed door to offer a water bottle. As I entered he humorously launched a woven basket onto the pile. I last my hand out and caught the folded baskets and told him, “I don’t want you throwing these around.” I added that his action showed me that he can’t keep such toys and books in his room.

I exited again.

I had to regain myself before I really did loose it. This was too much for a tired dad whose exhausted wife was was dozing in bed with the infant. I sat on the couch and surrendered. I closed my eyes and asked for help. Then my son came down and asked me for help. I firmly said no. “You took the books off the shelf, and now you can put them back.” He was crushed when I followed it up with the fact that we weren’t going to be reading books tonight. Bedtime stories are our bond, our nightly relaxation and time of discussion. I was crushed, too. But the lesson needed to be learned. There are consequences to every action.

I told him I’d help with the sheets but that he was on his own with the books and toys. The task was overwhelming even for an adult. I slowly gathered the sheets and made his bed, and then asked him to find me once the books were back on the shelf. To my surprise, he started applying himself to the task, one book at a time. Sure, after about 15 minutes of working, he became distracted and started finding “new” toys to play with. So I entered, redirected and kept trudging the road of fatherly coaching, rather than fatherly scolding, giving him a hand to move things along.

Eventually, the books were in organized enough–sure there were sections of the bookshelf stacked vertically–to commence the bedtime routine. He asked if we could pick out books, and I told him a firm but disappointing sounding, “no.” Anger erupted in him again with kicks thrown in. I held firm and asked him if he remembered why there would be no books, and that I was sad about not being able to read to him, too.

We commenced with prayer, and “cuddling” which involves me laying in bed next to him. There are consequences to every action. Although he may have succeeded in stretching the bedtime routine beyond two hours, I feel that he will think twice about piling the books and blankets into a stew to stall again next time. Or at least will understand that a consequence comes with every action.

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