When I give talks at home schooling conferences, newly married couples sometimes ask for advice. I’m impressed that these parents care enough about their responsibilities that even before having children, they investigate their educational choices. These parents are planners, and they’re expecting some insightful information they can really use. “What should we do now to prepare for home schooling in a few years?” they ask. They might consider my response somewhat flippant, insofar as it consists of a single word, but it’s actually well thought out. In fact, I consider it profound.
The advice: “sleep.”
Socialist economists are always claiming that wealth is a zero sum game. That is absurd (as if the level of wealth has remained constant since year 1). But you know what is zero-sum? Sleep. It’s the one thing they’re not making more of. There are twenty-four hours in a day, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If you don’t get enough sleep during these 24 hours, that’s just too bad. I used to make fun of old people who fell asleep on the couch watching television. Now I envy them.
Lisa and I have had an infant in the house for pretty much our entire married life. Let me translate what that means. It means that we haven’t slept much. If all goes well, babies sleep in three-hour increments—and it doesn’t always go well. “Slept like a baby” is a saying that was coined by either a madman or an uninformed person. In reality, no adults sleep like babies; or at least, no adults I ever want to know. When you say that you “slept like a baby,” it is supposed to mean you “slept well.” What it literally means is you woke up three times crying—twice because you wanted milk , and once because you needed your diaper changed. That doesn’t describe too many adults I know. The bottom line is this: being the parents of a baby, and getting a good night’s sleep, are mutually exclusive pursuits.
But truth be told, infants are always getting a bad rap when it comes to sleeping habits. Older children can be more difficult. One child of mine went through a six-month stage when she felt compelled to tell me she had to go to the bathroom. She didn’t need help—she just wanted to let me know she was going. Gosh, that’s great to know at 2:30 in the morning. Whatever my schedule for that day, Bonaventure will promptly awake at 6:45 every morning and play with Star Wars toys in his room—complete with sound effects.
Of course, these are the things that happen after they actually go to sleep, which is no easy task. There are certain inevitable laws in life, such as: “The hardness of the butter is directly proportionate to the softness of the bread.” Here’s another, which we can refer to as Clark’s First Law of Narcolepsy: “Your children will be ‘jacked up’ in exact proportion to your tiredness.” On those nights when you are especially tired, your children will be especially restless. I’m not sure why that is the case, but it must have something to do with the fall of man. My wife and I don’t even ask questions like: “Why don’t the kids just fall asleep once they get in bed?” That would be the equivalent of asking a question like: “Why don’t people just knock on our door and hand us gold coins?”
Every family has a different system for bedtimes. Not a single one of them works. My guess is that Cain and Abel had pillow fights as children and endlessly asked their parents for glasses of water. And by the way, why is it that children become so parched at bedtime? I can’t remember the last time I was lying in bed as an adult, dozing off to sleep, and thinking to myself: “Hold on! I forgot to drink a huge glass of water.”
At least Lisa and I have a system for deciding who puts the children to bed. Feel free to use it yourself. Here’s how it works. It all started when we gave Philomena and Dominica a Nintendo Wii a couple of Christmases ago. One of the games that you can play on the Wii console is bowling. Lisa and I compete against one another in Wii bowling, and the loser of the game puts the kids to bed. We call it “Bowling for Bedtimes.” It might be more Biblical to cast lots, but I hate relying on pure chance. It has become a family ritual, and the children stand and cheer on their parents. The children who like to hear their father reading Dr. Seuss stories cheer for her, and the children who like to hear their mother sing to them at bedtime cheer for me. (Without revealing who usually wins, let’s just say that if the kids hear one more reading of “Yertle the Turtle,” I might have a mutiny on my hands.)
It’s not perfect, but at least it’s a system.
So if you do not have children yet, please take my advice to heart: sleep now, or forever hold your peace.