For our first half-dozen years or so, the boys and I read in bed together at night. It helped that the bed was California king-sized (since downsized to a queen), and that they were little-ish kid-sized (since upsized to young men). We would clamber onto the covers and either I would read aloud, or we would take turns reading a page, etc. The list of books we went through this way reads like a greatest hits of kids’ classics: a few Harry Potters, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Hobbit, and on and on (not to mention some considerably less-classics, such as the atrocious one about the fat cat that they insisted on reading over, and over. You’ll notice my brain refuses to try to remember the title.)
As the boys got older, the nightly ritual changed to (more or less) weekly, and instead took place place in the living room. As much as possible, I tried to reserve Sunday nights for an early bedtime to allow for 20 minutes or so of shared reading—definitely taking turns at this point. We hit a couple of Shakespeares this way (all tragedies, all chosen by the kids—make of that what you will). Our last effort, before Daveon very impolitely ended the ritual by taking off for college, was American Gods by Neil Gaiman—which we stumbled through (and never actually completed) for a very, very long time. As you can imagine, free Sunday nights became increasingly hard to come by.
But back to the “bed clambering” phase. The other ritual that accompanied our reading was the nightly check-in. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: We would check in about the day, everyone shared a “big feeling,” we’d make sure we were all on the same page about tomorrow, and we’d say our prayers for folks in need and for anything we might want. To this day Mark will sometimes come into the living room in the evening, plunk himself down in a chair, and begin: “OK, so tomorrow looks like …”
Who says your kids don’t retain stuff?
Anyway: Somewhere during that time, for a period of about a year—this must have been when I was intaking a lot of caffeine—these nightly check-ins had a special bonus feature. Whenever one of the boys said something that reminded me of a song lyric, I would burst into said song. For example:
Son: “Remember when …”
Me: “REMEMBER! REMEMBER! REMEMBER! REMEMBER! Remember my name … Fame!”
Son (most likely during a tickling session): “Daddy, stop!”
Me: “… In the name of love, before you break my heart, think it o – wo –ver.”
Son (this one more of a wrestling session): “Daddy, let go!”
Me: “I like the night life, bay-bay! She said … let’s go!”
These outbursts became known as our bedtime hits, and, me being me, I set out to capture all of them on CD. We ended up with eight volumes’ worth (289 songs, 175 hours). Let’s just say, iTunes loves me—as do some of the local independent record stores, as I sought out and found old CDs with some of the more obscure tunes: You try to legally download the theme song from H.R. Puf’n’Stuf.
It’s a pretty impressive collection, if I do say so myself: Show tunes, old R&B, some hip-hop, lots of schlock hits of the 70s (not sure what this says about me), even “If I Knew You Were Coming, Id’a Baked a Cake.”
I have long since forgotten what most of the “lyrical triggers” were for most of the songs, and the kids have long since lost interest in the bedtime hits—nothing they are playing on “cool stations” KMEL or Wild 94.9. But I like to think that someday, when we are gathered for a holiday or some such, one of them—or who knows, maybe one of their kids—will be rifling through dad/granddad’s old CDs, and the “bedtime hits” title will strike them such that they will pop it in for old times’ sake, or curiosity, or both.
And then we will be able to REMEMBER! REMEMBER! REMEMBER! REMEMBER! the old days, when they were small enough for all of us to fit on dad’s bed.
Next: Christmas at Tilden