Bedtime and the Chain Distraction


When gas prices got really high you heard all the experts suggest that you save up all your errands for one day and map out the most efficient route so you don’t backtrack and use up unnecessary gas. It was all about efficiency.

I wish someone had explained that to Joey. A perfect example is bedtime. As much as we’d like to have a routine, we haven’t been able to get one to stick. It’s hard in the summer too. I like to use the sun going down as proof that it’s time for bed. Works great when they’re tucked in before dinner during the winter and then blows up in my face when it’s twilight at quarter to ten in July.

Anyways, the “if all goes well” plan for bed basically involves pajamas, teeth brushing, a trip to the potty and some variation of tucking-in/laying with them. Followed by sleep. If that last part doesn’t happen, the whole event is a failure.

On one particular night recently, I was changing Joey into his pajamas and tucked him in. He was pretty receptive to the whole idea, so I didn’t push my luck with the teeth brushing and the potty trip. He asked me to lay with him. So I did, for about five minutes. He was relatively still so I tried getting up. He wasn’t asleep. And that’s when the chain distraction started…

“Daddy, where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m going to bed.”
“Oh. Can I come?”
“No, you have to go to sleep.”
“Oh, OK. Will you come back in?”
“Sure.” (translation: I’m going to brush my teeth and tiptoe into my room. As long as you’re quiet, I won’t be back in here tonight.)

So I got up and went into the bathroom to start my own bedtime routine, which is just like any other man’s. Brush teeth, wash face, take off shirt and flex in front of mirror for 3-5 minutes. Feel disgusted and swear off the chips and beer…starting tomorrow.

While I was getting my toothbrush ready, I heard those familiar tiny footsteps. Joey popped open the door and said he wanted to brush his teeth. As badly as I just wanted him to go to bed, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror (flexing or not) the next day if I refused his request at personal hygiene and sent him back to bed. So I got out his tooth brush and put some of his sister’s princess bubble gum toothpaste on it. Nine out of ten tooth-brushings he’s perfectly OK with the princess bubble gum paste. But this is the chain distraction and it doesn’t work if things go smoothly.

“I don’t want that toothpaste. I want daddy’s toothpaste.”

I took the toothbrush back, rinsed it off and put the adult toothpaste on his brush. I handed it to him.

“I wanted to do it.”

I took the toothbrush back, rinsed it off and handed it and the adult toothpaste to him.

Thirteen minutes and half a tube of toothpaste later he was kneeling on the sink with his lips around the faucet.

“Now are you ready for bed?” I asked him.

“No, not yet. I need a towel.”

I handed him a towel.

“Ready, now?”

“No, I need to put my toothbrush away.” He put his toothbrush away.

“Why don’t you insist on putting your toys away?”

“Toothpaste?” He made one of those squeezing gestures with his hand. I gave him the toothpaste and he put it away.

“OK, I’m ready for bed.”

“Do you want to pee, now that you’re up?”

“No, I don’t have to go.”

We walked back into his bedroom and I told him he had to stay there and go to sleep. He said OK. I went back into the bathroom to brush my teeth, and before I could get the toothpaste on the brush, I heard him calling for me.

“Daddy, I want some milk.”

“Joey, go to sleep.”

“No, I want some milk because I need it for my yummy belly.” Don’t ask me what that means, because I have no idea. I do know that there was no way he was going to go to sleep unless I got him the milk.

I went downstairs and got him the milk. I went back into his room and gave it to him.

“Joey, you have to go to sleep now.”


I went in to our bed and laid down. I flipped on the TV and rearranged my pillow. I got comfortable and just started a movie on Netflix when I looked down and Joey was standing jumping around holding himself in our doorway.

“I think I have to go potty.”

Of course you do. I got up and ran him into the bathroom where he let loose like a fireman in a barn fire.

Now can you go to bed?”


I followed him back into his bedroom and tucked him in. I gave him a kiss and walked out.

Everyday, usually when I’m on my last nerve and about to break my head on the counter, I remind myself of how much I’ll miss this stage when they no longer need (or want) to be tucked in. When they care more about what’s in my wallet than what’s in my heart, I’ll wish I had one more night of the chain distraction. When their sweet little voices turn into teenage screams, I’ll long for bedtime struggles.

But those days are a long way off. And this crap drives me nuts.

I finally got back into bed, and held my breath for the next few minutes waiting to see what the next stage of bedtime procrastination would be. And I had a thought.

It would be hypocritical of me to be mad at Joey. He’s just doing everything he can to put off the crappy thing (in this case going to bed) that he doesn’t want to do. And unless I had my shit completely together myself (I don’t), and unless I was not guilty of procrastination myself (I’m not not guilty), then he’s not doing anything different than what I’m doing.

Then something else occurred to me, too. If I’m doing the same thing as him, procrastinating and putting off the things I should but would rather not do, and I’m getting frustrated with his refusal to do what needs to be done, then someone is probably getting frustrated with my lack of execution as well. My friends, my family, my co-workers are all obvious choices. And they probably all are from time to time. But what about me? What about the part of me that knows I can’t put those things off forever? It must be tired of my behavior the same way I tire of the chain distraction.

I was just about to apologize to my ambitious, responsible self on behalf of the procrastinatory side when I realized that the whole thought was pretty deep. Maybe a little strange. But definitely deep. I was feeling good, proud that I’d made this connection. I rolled over and rearranged my pillow, satisfied with ending my day on that note, and committed to starting fresh tomorrow. I finally got comfortable and felt my body relax when one last thought crossed my mind…

I still hadn’t brushed my teeth.

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