Kelly Van De Walle: Holding the Sandman hostage

When you’re the parent of small children, the most difficult part is…ha…you thought there was just ONE thing? That’s adorable.

The process to get children into bed, however, is its own nightly beast. You might as well scream into the ocean.

There’s no “putting” four-year-old boys to bed. Boys don’t go to sleep as much as they power down after meeting their daily quotas of jumping on the back of or ramming into “dad’s special areas.” It is a nightly battle of wills, one you must be determined to win.

Here is a guide for attempting the impossible.

1. Firmly announce “It’s time for Bed!” Due to how long this process takes it’s recommended you do this approximately 15 minutes after you wake your children up in the morning.

2. Realize your error: you were not standing directly in their eyeline during the time of your proclamation so they can claim they didn’t hear you and you really don’t have proof they did despite your spouse saying, “Did you really have to yell?” You could whisper “I have a chocolate egg” in Urdu in your neighbor’s shed and they’d be assaulting you with hungry puppy eyes before you finished unwrapping it.

3. Remember to put on your lifting belt because as soon as your words finally penetrate, they realize it’s time for bath and they can’t be filthy hillbilly trash children you’ll be pounced upon like the velociraptors on the T-Rex at the end of Jurassic Park. It feels like you’re in some kind of WWE rehearsal production and they decided to improvise by jumping off the top rope while you’re looking for a dropped contact lens. They will refuse to go upstairs unless it’s being carried in some way and, if I’m being honest, that’s the way I’d like to go upstairs, too.

4. Tell your son he needs to get naked. He will counter that he doesn’t know how and will run to his bed and flop face-down, commanding you to strip him while he thrashes about like an electrocuted crocodile. You will soon find is far easier to get a piglet into a tuxedo than to strip a wiggling four-year-old.

5. Be forced to spend 10 minutes watching the production of “This is How I Brush My Teeth: The Naked Musical.” My son is the only human that can be both brushing his teeth and not at the same time. His technique consists of holding the toothbrush slackly in his mouth like he’s James Dean and staring at himself in the mirror for 20 seconds before watching himself drop the toothbrush into the sink before proclaiming that he “can’t do it.”

6. Begin the threats. No more juice. No screens. No smiling, laughter or joy until teeth are brushed. Begin to wonder if you can get horse blinders for children. Be careful what you threaten as it can get out of hand quickly. For example, our son has agreed that, to get out of taking a bath, he won’t get a phone until he’s 63, will buy me a giraffe before he’s 30 and won’t ask for a car. He thinks I won’t remember but I have a document signed and notarized.

7. At this point even though you would prefer to simply hose him off in the yard, your wife won’t let you and unhelpfully call this suggestion “ridiculous.” Consequently you’re forced to try and clean all the necessary areas, being sure to avoid any microscopic “injuries” that render limbs unusable. Also be wary of washing hair because any droplets of water that make their way into your child’s face or ears will be met with eardrum-piercing shrieks. This is why I insist my son bathe wearing a SCUBA mask.

8. Begin the negotiations. Number of books, songs (that you must sing), back-scratches, drinks of water and critical overnight weather forecasts are just a few of the conversations you will have before you can think about leaving. Attempt to leave daughter’s room while she’s telling a story about a poem she’s going to write followed by telling you about the weather and how she solved a math problem, never once breathing because seven-year-old girls are mutants that have lungs the size of hot air balloons and never need to take a breath. You’re essentially a hostage and will be released only when all demands have been met.

9. Watch for escapees. You may think you’re done after you’ve finally shut the door to their room. But like the horror movie monster, they keep coming back. Our son will make several “urgent” trips back downstairs because he has vital concerns that need to be addressed. Some of my favorite urgent questions include:

“When will this house be old?”

“Why do we have knees?”

“Where is dad’s ticklish spot?”

“Will there be a storm?”

“What does nine mean?”

10. Issue more threats. You are now the warden, only in this big house there are fewer guards. I’ve looked into it and Amazon doesn’t sell a life-sized version of the board game Mousetrap that tosses a net around your child when they touch their doorknob.

11. As you look at your spouse, you both slipping into unconsciousness at 8:43 p.m., take solace that you’ve finally won.

12. Get woken up by your son who needs to ask you an urgent question: “Why don’t I have more feet?”


Kelly Van De Walle can be reached at or in his children’s rooms being held hostage. Send help. And vodka. Follow Kelly on Twitter @pancake_bunny.