When I went to check on my daughters last night before I went to sleep, I found J’s Kindle lying on top of the covers. It should have been under her pillow. I sought out her 8-year-old twin M’s bedtime reading and found her book under the pillow, but on the opposite side from where I’d seen her put it at lights out.
When it was time to get up for school, J was the first to wake.
Me: J, have you guys been reading after I turn the lights out?
There was a long, pregnant pause. J sighed.
J: Yes. Yes, we have.
Me: By flashlight?
J: How did you know?
I had to laugh, loudly enough to wake M.
Me: Because I used to do the same thing. Thanks for being honest with me. I know you were tempted not to.
J: You did it too?
Me: I did.
J: What did your mommy say?
Me: She never caught me, but my Nanu (maternal grandmother) did.
J: What’d she say?
Me: That she used to do it too, but by candlelight or moonlight. And that sleep is important.
We shared a laugh. This time, M wanted to know what we were laughing about.
Me: M, I know about your reading by flashlight.
M: Am I in trouble?
Me: Do I look mad?
She studied me.
M: No, I don’t think so. Why not?
J: Because she did it too!
M: You DID?
Me: I did.
Me: I know. But here’s the thing. Sleep is important. Sleep is when you form your memories and…
J: What memories?
Me: All your memories you’ll keep forever. Everything you’ve learned and everything you’ve seen and your friends and silly things M says. Your brain needs time to rest and recuperate, and so does your body. A lot of the chemical in your body that tells you to grow is made while you sleep.
M: Did you have to stop?
Me: Well, my Nanu didn’t tell, but she made sure that I got more sleep, because I was tired.
M: Do we have to stop?
J: (disappointed) Okay.
Me: You have plenty of reading time. We can try to adjust things to give you more reading time. But you need all the sleep time too.
M handed me the flashlight she’d just dug out from under her pillow.
I’m not sure I handled this the right way. Perhaps I should have been harder on the children for actively misleading me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have confessed my own childhood disobedience. Maybe the consequence of not respecting bedtime should have been the loss of reading privileges.
I really didn’t want to punish the children for loving literature. I didn’t want to make them afraid to admit their mistakes to me. I didn’t want them to feel that it was safer to build lies upon lies instead of coming clean.
Our bedtime check-in seems to indicate that I made the right choice. When I asked J what she’d learned today, she answered, “I learned that I can’t get anything past my Mommy. I have lots of examples! Like reading… and wearing perfume… and brushing my teeth.”
What would you do if you discovered your kids reading after bedtime?