Here's a simple bedtime tip: count your blessings because blessings count when it comes to sleep.
In honor of Father's Day, this post was going to be a collection of memories about how my dad had an impact on my bedtime ritual. It was huge -- for one thing, he got me to stop sucking my thumb by telling me I would end up looking like Bugs Bunny. I trusted him because he said I could keep my blankie -- just don't suck my thumb.
My blankie was my BFF at the time.
I wanted to describe how my grandfather showed up at my hospital bedside when I had my tonsils out at the ridiculously young age of three. I was terrified -- remembering the clinical atmosphere, lights on all night, the cold sheets and flimsy blanket instead of my cozy bed, and the slats on the crib in the shadow of the overhead light made me feel as if I was in prison. The hospital room with my older brother and other children was shared, so I don't know what those others thought when the tall grey-haired man with the Swedish accent told us a story so we could know someone cared, home was waiting for our return. An assurance that life would be okay in a bit.
When I was interviewing parents - well, all moms to be candid - about bedtime, I heard similar memories of fathers participating in tuck-in time and a yearning to share the joy of this lovely ritual.
Then I remembered something else.
I was teaching music at a nursery school outside New York City in 2005. One of the songs I enjoyed singing with the children was the Scottish lullaby "Ally Bally Bee".
Ally Bally, Ally Bally Bee
Sitting on your daddy's knee
Greeting for a wee penny
To buy some Coulter's candy
I would pass out soft toys or scarves for the children to feel the rhythm by rocking and explore their voices by singing softly. In my experience, children enjoy soothing calm activities as much as they enjoy fun with a capital "F".
Kids crave balance in their lives as much as adults.
At the end of the 4-year-old class, the teacher took me aside, asking me gently not to sing that song with the children. Little Maggie - bright, exuberant, whimsical Maggie - had never met her father. Her mother was pregnant when the Twin Towers fell and her dad was in one of them.
How foolish and short-sighted of me. That community lost nine people in September, 2001.
This post was going to be about dads, but then I also remembered my experience as a single mother for the first 5 years of my child's life and all the single moms out there in the world. I remembered that there are people for whom Father's Day - or Mother's Day - is a difficult time.
And then the Irving Berlin song "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" popped into my head. My memory of the song wasn't Bing Crosby singing it in White Christmas but rather attending a closing ceremony at a children's summer camp and hearing the kids sing this classic from the American Songbook.
Count your blessings - what a powerful message to give kids. Particularly in a culture that target markets to children and wants them to yearn for more stuff. Think about the good events of the day - not the future because that creates anxiety.
Gratitude works. Daily we are getting more messages about gratitude as a foundational practice for true happiness.
Gratitude works to turn off the negative motor mind - you know, the inner voice that judges and totals up all the worries that keep you from falling into a deep sleep.
Worry is interest on a loan never taken.
I know this works as a way to get to sleep - I've done it myself. I go through the day and surrender in gratitude for all the blessings during my waking hours.
And I'm grateful for the memories of my dad and grandfather and the other positive male presences in my life. Approaching those memories with gratitude rather than nostalgia can get you through difficult times.
Yes, even charming, funny, and handsome dads like mine can be problematic because relationships are a journey.
Imagine the possibilities for kids - sweet dreams, positive attitude, stress-free - if we taught them the habit of gratitude. Start with tuck-in time, put the day to bed with thanksgiving.
Once you start counting your blessings, you won't want to stop. Get ideas for practicing gratitude below.