Life Update: The Lullaby Master

It’s life update time again, and rather than bore you with all of the tantrums and CIA-level negotiation we’ve been having to do around here, with our three and a four year old, I thought we could talk about bedtime routines and (more specifically) some of the crazy things I’ve done to get the kids to bed over the years.

Because the other day I suddenly realised that I’d almost forgotten the first little baby bedtime routines. The ones that we started right in the beginning. Those halcyon days when you could just plonk them in the cot and they couldn’t get out. Bliss! Now the routines are more like challenges on Crystal Maze; “can YOU get your three year old boy into his racing car bed without cracking a dent into one of your shins and saying F*CK F*CK B*GGER at the top of your voice whilst managing to give him a drink of fresh water and not allow it to spill which would mean changing his duvet? Work it out, release the crystal and I’ll stand here outside the bedroom door tootling away on my flute.”

I’m not saying that the baby days were easier – the crackling of the baby monitor, half an hour after you thought they were asleep! The feeling of utter weariness at having your three hour window of “me time” interrupted again! – it’s just that bedtimes now are so much more demanding. I’m like a court jester crossed with a minimum security prison officer. I love it and treasure the moments, because I know that in the blink of an eye they’ll be teens and I’ll be barred from even entering their rooms, but my God is bedtime intense!

I’ve nearly always done my daughter’s bedtime, mainly because my son, who is eighteen months younger, never used to go to sleep until he had breastfed from me for hours on end, and so when he was about ten months old Mr AMR started to give him a bottle to make things easier. We then inevitably ended up splitting off into our separate teams in the evening – one child each, and each of us with our own little bedtime quirks and (probably inadvisable) habits.

We’re very lucky in that – mostly – both of us are around for bedtime and so we’ve kept up this “girls’ team / boys’ team” sort of split. Trying to put two young children to bed on your own is chaotic and soul-destroying in equal measures, like herding cats, and I absolutely doff my cap to anyone who does it on a regular basis. Or all the time.

But let’s rewind back to the first proper bedtime era that’s still reasonably fresh in my memory: we can call it the Robot Head Cinema Era. I had bought the kids an Early Learning Centre plastic robot that was large enough to house a moon buggy (toy, not real one) and spacemen figurines. I worked out that if I opened up the doors on its head, the resulting space was exactly the right width for gripping my iPhone horizontally.

And so I used to fire up iPlayer, select a trippy programme called In The Night Garden (if you don’t know what this is then I recommend a viewing for research purposes, but only if you’re not taking mind-altering drugs. It would be enough to send you permanently bonkers) and we would watch baby TV from inside a plastic robot’s cranium.

Total madness, really. I would sit there hunched over, watching along with her (I have no idea why we did this on the world’s smallest screen when we had a huge telly directly beneath us, and a comfy sofa, and a roaring fire, etc etc) and I would feel my neck begin to slowly fuse to my shoulders and my lower back go into spasm, but I was always too tired to shift position.

Then there was the “rap song nursery rhyme” phase. I have no idea why I started this, and it’s the sort of thing that really you should take to your grave, not write about to hundreds of thousands of people, but anyway: I used to do this very bad “beat box” thing and then rap out a version of Little Miss Muffet.

Don’t even ask me to do a rendition, it is never happening and so it’s pointless going there. (I can tell you though that after the “whey” I did do a very funky “hey, hey-hey-hey!” I also did a vague form of twerking when the spider “sat down beside her”.)

The rap rhymes started off a new phase, what is now known as “doing the lullaby”, and we’re still going strong a couple of years down the line. Ah, that’s sweet! you might think, especially as my daughter is going to be five in the summer. But no. It’s not sweet. It’s a magnificent feat of poetic improvisation, that’s what it is. Because not only do I have to make up a new song ON THE SPOT every night, the song also has to rhyme and it also has to be relevant to the chapter of the book we’ve just read.

So, for example, we did a great lullaby about George’s Marvellous Medicine and the horrid grandma, although admittedly I did completely crib the tune (and some of the words) from the CBeebies Christmas panto. (Sniff-Sniff, Delicious Children!)

I sang about Grandma’s puckered mouth looking like a dog’s bottom and her face being as hairy as a mole, except that I had to make “bottom” rhyme with “mole” so ended up saying “bottomhole”, which isn’t ideal.

But it’s actually a very good brain workout, making up rhyming songs with no notice. Firstly you have to think of a tune (usually I nick one from an advert or popular song du jour) and then you have to – completely on the hoof mind! – come up with some lyrics.

And it’s not like Baby 1 is a particularly easy customer – she frowns at anything resembling a half-rhyme and definitely picks up on nonsense words that I’ve just thrown in because I’ve gone into panic mode.

George stirred his pot all day and night

Grandma was really in for a fright! 

He stirred it with his wooden spoon 

And even put in some of the moon…

“Mummy what? How did he put in some of the moon? Are you sure he did that?”

Anyway, it’s fun and I wanted to write it down because one day she won’t want the lullaby, she’ll say “ugh, you’re so embarrassing, get OUT OF MY ROOM!” and my heart hurts to think of that so I want proof that it happened.

Mind you, some nights I am totally not up for composing what amounts to an eighth of a low-budget West End musical on the spot. Especially if the chapter we’ve read, the chapter that must (it’s the rules) provide the inspiration and bulk of the content, doesn’t quite lend itself to a lullaby.

Last night I read the bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Grandpa Jo uses his last pennies to buy a chocolate bar for Charlie, in the vain hope that there might be a golden ticket inside. It’s called Chapter 10: The Family Begins To Starve.

Not so jolly.

“Do a lullaby about the chapter, Mummy!”

“Why don’t we do yesterday’s chapter, about Charlie’s walk to school and the smell of the chocolate? Sniff-Sniff, Delicious Chocolate?”

“No, it has to be about the old people in the bed and the cabbage soup and the snow. And don’t sing it in the Oompa Loompa tune again!”

Last night’s lullaby tested my artistic talents to the max, I can tell you. I’m the flipping lullaby master. I know you’re desperate to hear some of these lullabies, but again: not going to happen. Satisfy yourselves with the knowledge that I sang about cabbage soup to the tune of a Les Mis hit and managed to rhyme “cabbage” with “baggage”. That has to be enough.

The current nighttime routine doesn’t end with the lullaby however; I then go into Baby 2’s room, negotiate his floor, which should be called “The Torture Garden” because you can’t go two steps without spearing your foot on the upright plastic ladder of a toy fire engine, or the spines of a toy Stegosaurus, and I have to sing him a lullaby.

He only likes two tunes: the first is Soldier Soldier (won’t you marry me with your musket fife and drum? Oh no sweet maid I cannot marry you for I have no [insert item of clothing] to put on) 

and the second is Five Little Ducks (went swimming one day, over the hills and far away. Mummy duck said “quack quack quack” but only four little ducks came swimming back).

With both songs, I have to think of more and more outlandish versions to keep him satisfied. In terms of the soldier’s clothing, we have moved on from actual items (pants, socks, a gaberdine) to abstract ideas (sadness, time, reluctance); last night the solider had “no happiness to put on” and had to get himself a “loud thunder” from the grandfather’s chest.

In the “five ducks” song, the ducks have become dinosaurs. Which would be find, except that they don’t quack, which totally bollocks up my rhyming pattern. I can’t work like this. The pressure is too immense. Especially now that “five little dinosaurs” have become “five big stegosauruses” and they stomp instead of swim, roar instead of quack. I should be paid for this level of superhuman lullaby effort.

Anyway, I’m sure this is boring you to absolute tears, so I leave you with the comforting fact that the bedtime routine, including fetching dolly from two floors down, then coming back up and going back down to fetch Calpol, then coming back up and going back down to find Batman, Bumblebee transformer and Heat Wave transformer, then going to the bathroom to collect fresh water – cold tap run for forty-five seconds to ensure suitably icy temperature – and then supervising various toilet trips and so on, consumes approximately 2,300kcal, which means that the many chocolate-based “evening snacks” I subsequently devour are completely A-OK and justified.

What’s your bedtime routine? Kids, no kids, dogs, no dogs; I need to know any weird, over-indulging stuff you do. If it involves a robot’s head, all the better.

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  1. Jo.C.
    March 4, 2020 / 9:41 pm

    I was losing the will to live trying to get my two into bed but after watching a few episodes of Supernanny I have now managed to get a fast and easy bedtime. They tidy their rooms and get 10mins on the egg timer to read, then lights out. When they are restless I give them a foot massage (from what I remember from baby massage) with lavender cream and they snooze like babies.

    • Ashley Miranda
      March 5, 2020 / 8:01 pm

      These stories brought me memories of when I had to put my little siblings to sleep bc my parents had divorced and my mum was back in uni. Anyways, I had to make up a story every night which, with time, turned out being a full blown novella about the French revolution and how these kids protagonists were in the middle of it and actually promoting the take of the Bastille!! I have no idea how I did it but it was worthy, great memories. They still remember those times and the stories quite vividly, which is rewarding enough. So thank you.

  2. Caroline Parsons
    March 4, 2020 / 6:46 pm

    Our bedtime routine is getting more and more ridiculous as the weeks go by, so I am glad its not just me. It starts off fairly normally . My 3 year old has a bath, then comes down and watches Blaze whilst i spoon porridge lovingly into his highnesses mouth. Then it gets weird. He is carried upstairs UPSIDE DOWN by my partner who warns him that under no circumstances must he trump, wee, poo or snot. As they ascend the stairs my boy shouts ‘TRUMP’ and partner replies ‘oh so stinky ‘, then ‘WEE’ ‘oh its so wet’, ‘POO’ ‘so disgusting’ and ‘SNOT’ ‘Ew, so sticky’
    Then he does normal things …wee, then teeth.
    Then he insists on reading something really boring like ‘the enormous turnip’, after this he has to burrow in my bed like a mole for 5 minutes. Then to encourage him out of my bed and into his own, he plays a game where he bounces on the bed holding our hands, and every 3rd bounce he fake crashes into the ceiling. I then have to feign shock at the ‘hole’ in the ceiling, and he then gets me some money to pay a man to fix it.
    Once in bed I have to squeeze him so hard his ‘giblets ‘ come out, and the inevitable …need a drink, need the teddy thats at the bottom of the garden, too hot, too cold malarkey starts.
    He eventually settles and I sit crouched on a tiny bean bag just waiting for him to fall asleep.
    I don’t mind…sometimes he falls asleep too quickly, so I just sit for a while …just long enough that the dishwasher has been emptied downstairs….
    Sure my Mum just told me to go to sleep when I was little…..

    • Elesia
      December 1, 2020 / 10:10 pm

      Lol Love this!

  3. Becky
    March 4, 2020 / 2:20 pm

    I have to put my 2 year old and 4 year old to bed, together on my own! It’s like trying to wrangle wild animals!

    Doesn’t matter how tired they are the minute they get in to the bedroom they start leaping and squealing, jumping off the chest of the draws and on to the bed.

    they want 1000 sips of water each then they moan one of them is touching the other one etc (they lay either side of me in my bed then I transfer them to their own beds once asleep) They both want me to tickle / stroke their backs, bellies etc And the youngest needs about 6,000 cuddly toys positioned just so in the bed with us.

    It;s exhausting, by the time I get down stairs all my good intentions for doing xyz are out of the window, and I just end up crashing on the sofa!

  4. Gillian Pidler
    March 4, 2020 / 1:44 pm

    Oh my God this post just makes me A, want to come to yours for bedtime entertainment, and B, makes me want to shrink my 3 very tall and grown up humans back down so I can put them to bed with rap songs!!!
    I feel so boring in comparison for just doing the bath, bed, story thing!!
    I love reading your tales of the kids growing up and all the different stages and am now eagerly awaiting hopefully my chances to be a Nana and do all the fun stuff again, without the sleepless nights, well not as often!
    Saying that my 20 year old daughter still sometimes suffers with insomnia and she can’t sleep unless I get into her bed, thankfully now a very comfy double!! Next time that happens (it hasn’t for a month or so), I’m going to try the rap thing!!!

  5. Sarah
    March 4, 2020 / 1:19 pm

    I do get the baby and toddler down by myself and it basically involves allowing toddler to twit about until the baby is sorted and asleep. Lucy Wolfe The sleep solution makes it all possible though. That book/that woman- I owe her everything!!!

    But with two it is a complete bun fight mainly just because of the co-ordinance of the bloody bath™️

    “Rose stop pouring water on her head”
    “No but she wants a tea mummy”

    Also trademarked is just “one more story™️“

    “Not want owl babies, want shark in the park”
    “We’ve already read it five times”
    Cue rattling through bloody shark in bloody park in record time and sod owl babies

    I’m knackered just thinking about it

    Pass the Merlot

  6. Danni
    March 4, 2020 / 12:03 pm

    Oh my goodness yes – the searching the house to find the specific toy they cannot possibly sleep without. “My black hot wheels Mummy” (which will actually turn out to be fluro orange or purple, not black) and then eventually escapes from his grasp to crash onto the floorboards at 11pm and either wake him up or set the dog off…

    • March 4, 2020 / 9:46 pm

      And has been posted into the dark space beneath the fridge

  7. March 4, 2020 / 11:01 am

    I can so relate to this. I have a 3-year old and a house with two floors.
    I’m going to get myself a slice of chocolate cake because I so deserve it and will probably burn it again tonight.

    You’re always, always hilarious Ruth. Great writing.

  8. Sarah
    March 4, 2020 / 9:31 am

    Can completely relate. We now have to sit on my 3 year old’s floor until she goes to sleep. This started last year, after 2 years of literally being able to put her to bed and leave the room. We also have to sing twinkle twinkle little star. Luckily I’ve managed to establish the rule that I’ll only sing it 3 times, whereas my husband sings until she goes to sleep. Serves him right for starting that habit

  9. Rebecca
    March 4, 2020 / 9:05 am

    Here’s where you are going wrong. You are making bedtime ENTERTAINING. I wouldn’t go to sleep if you were rapping a new song every night. I’d be waiting for the dubious rhymes.

  10. Jenna
    March 4, 2020 / 7:41 am

    This made me laugh and may have terrified me a bit as my daughter is only one. But already incredibly quirky and demanding.
    She likes to rub my hair in her eyes, or scratch my teeth and gums to relax herself. I’m trying to stop this and get her sleeping alone.

    • March 4, 2020 / 10:46 am

      Oh my god, no to the gums, NO!!!! This made me laugh so much

  11. March 4, 2020 / 4:18 am

    Oh, boy, Ruth – this is a long reply. But, well, you asked for it! ;) I hope it is a little entertaining.

    No kids here – human ones, at any rate. I have a fair number of pet fish, a senior dog, and a small herd of horses.

    The fish are easy. Once their lights begin dimming (automatic timers) they all put themselves to sleep. The only thing is, they are located in the dining area of my small home, and once the fish lights go out, you can’t turn on the overhead light abruptly because fish don’t have eyelids, and you would not only startle the daylights out of them, but I imagine that having a bright light all of a sudden really hurts their retinas. These are all small fish, so they don’t really hurt themselves if they get startled, but I have heard some horror stories from people with really big pet fish that got startled and actually broke the tank. Yikes!

    The horses are pretty easy. As long as they have plenty of hay to munch through the night, they settle in and are generally quiet, just the odd whinny here and there, one of them checking in to see who else is still awake and wants to chat. Except for one mare, Ladyhawke. She is the prettiest horse I’ve ever known, but she also has the most devious mind. She likes the cover of darkness for her nefarious schemes, which usually consist of finding the weak spot in the electric fence and busting through into the big pasture so that she can chat up the horses next door. She always has such a smirk and self-satisfied look on her face in the morning when we find her out. And then she tries to look very innocent. Which never quite comes off. Rather like Mr. Bear trying to look innocent, I imagine. (LOVE Mr. Bear stories and pics – wish I could give him a big cuddle!)

    The dog, my darling fur-daughter Indy, is 16+ years old and you’d never know it. She is always ready to leap, chase, and gallop at every opportunity. She has been my beloved shadow for almost 15 years. Our nighttime routine is reasonably simple, but not always easy. Her usual bedtime routine is going out for a tinkle every hour after her dinner at 5pm until I go to bed at 10pm. Every time I get up from the computer or chair where I’m reading or watching a video, she bounces up from her bed, instantly awake and ready for whatever fun may ensue. There’s too much whinnying out at the horses? Oh, boy, fence check in the dark! Tea & toast being made? Oh, boy, crumbs with butter & jam! Indy’s enthusiasm in the cold, dark, or wee (!) hours more than makes up for having to pry myself out from under the warm down comforter to take her out for business. When the last one is done, she gets her warm fleece put on for the night (our bedroom gets down to the 40s Fahrenheit in winter), a night-night cookie, and a kiss, as I tell her how much I love her and I ask God to bless her sleep.

  12. Liz
    March 4, 2020 / 2:34 am

    Nah, nothing unusual here. With my 6 year old twins I just have to shower them, moisturise the girl one, negotiate the boy one into pyjamas that match, play a game called the ‘kissing game’ where I lie on his bed and proclaim in Shakespearean style improv poetry that my prince needs to save me, whereupon he sneaks up and kisses me and I have to pretend I didn’t see him and have ‘at least ‘ 3 rounds of this with associated rhymes ‘oh that last kiss came out of the fog, was it my prince or was it a frog?’ Etc before he presents himself- we celebrate and I negotiate myself out of his small fire engine bed without breaking it… into my girls room to begin the nightly routine of her being hidden in her bedcovers and me having to interview her teddy bears to find out where she is… being careful not to peak too soon and let teddy number 3 give it away- everyone knows teddy 6 or 7 has the answer. Then half an hour later they must come downstairs for ‘one last kiss-cuddle’ where they use the time to grill us on what we are up to in the mystery of the front room with grownup tv on (paused Sopranos) followed by half an hour later ‘can you come and tuck us in’ – then sleep.
    So no, sorry can’t empathise with you on this post I’m afraid as we are just 100% normal here, no quirks, no routines ;) x

  13. Lisa
    March 3, 2020 / 11:41 pm

    I remember having to read the Berenstain bears B book for months on end. Still can’t stand that letter. Just dogs to get to bed nowadays, but the standard poodle won’t sleep unless some part of him is draped on me. These updates are never boring!

    • March 4, 2020 / 10:47 am

      You mean you hate the actual letter B?! This is marvellous!

  14. Sophie
    March 3, 2020 / 10:19 pm

    This brings back sooo many memories. My eldest loved the rhyme ’there was an old woman tossed up in a basket’ which goes ridiculously high and must have been painful to hear. I’ve made up endless rhymes and stories and used to purposely misread there books (no doubt bored stiff of them by then) which then becomes a ‘mum funny’ thing I had to come up with every night! And don’t get me started on writing notes back from fairies – HUGE mistake!

  15. Aliana
    March 3, 2020 / 10:00 pm

    I take care of little ones from time to time. I sing “The Owl & the Pussycat” poem and the the “Goodnight Moon” book – just make up a tune. Sing very slowly, gently masssge their face. They will be asleep in minutes. Also, very warm bath, followed by jumping into bed in a cool room. Affects the brain to put them into sleep mode. Works like a charm.

  16. Ssra
    March 3, 2020 / 9:53 pm

    I am alone with two kids (6 and 1) every other month (don’t marry a sailor, just don’t…). Bedtime is very rarely under 2 hours long and the little one can’t go to sleep without boob and big sister in the bed. So I’m squeezed between all of these elbows and feet. 3 HOURS of me time, that has not happened. Ever. So jealous. I also make up songs, but mostly to give instructions and orders to the 6 yo without disturbing the 1 yo. Lullaby is an old local song that I’ve been singing for 3-4 years now. I get a lot of thinking done, during!

  17. Julia
    March 3, 2020 / 9:48 pm

    You are such a supermom! My (now 12-year-old) daughter also insisted on an original lullaby every night, but the subject matter was up to me (it usually centred thematically on “time to go to sleep”), and she was actually tickled by my very bad rhymes. Angelica sounds much more discerning!

    Now, my younger daughter, who is 19 months, has a bedtime routine that definitely challenges my overtired brain. She will point to each of the little framed posters on her wall and expect me to say what is in the picture (a cat on a bicycle, cartoon airplanes, etc.) IN JAPANESE, which is a language I don’t speak. Her father, who is half-Japanese, started this, and now when he travels for business, I have to text him in a panic: “Quick! What’s ‘giraffe’ in Japanese??” If we don’t do this, she won’t sleep. It’s absurd!

    Eventually, as you wrote, they learn how to take their own baths and turn on their own noise machines and get their own glasses of water . . . But this elaborate, dependent bedtime phase seems very long.

  18. Susan
    March 3, 2020 / 9:25 pm

    Today, I bought a new duvet cover (unicorns/rainbows from Asda, ker-ching) so my 3 yo doesn’t want to get into my bed with the nice duvet (grey/white). Worked a dream, for tonight.

  19. Heather
    March 3, 2020 / 7:38 pm

    This did not bore me at all, it is reassuring to know parents will do ANYTHING to get their children to sleep. My two (aged 7 and 3) have been good sleepers for most of their lives, but terrible sleepers since Halloween last year and my 7 year old developed a fear of clowns. This has resulted in all sorts of crazy sleeping arrangements to stop him being scared, which naturally out 3 year old picked up on, so we have to replicate for her. Sitting on the end of their beds, sitting outside their bedroom doors, sitting next door in our bedroom, sneaking downstairs for a cuppa and chocolate, sneaking upstairs to check they’re actually in bed. That’s never mind requests for milk, water or the toilet. It goes on for hours every single night. My husband and I tell ourselves it’s a phase and won’t last forever, but it doesn’t feel like it. So good luck with your children’s bedtime routine, it can only get better!

    • March 3, 2020 / 9:21 pm

      Clowns have got so much to answer for!

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