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The 4-hour bedtime routine

Circa 1997, the Newell household, Warrensburg, NY.

I spend most of my evenings reading or working on my computer (my first PC). My wife, Diane, spends her evenings working in the kitchen. Well, it’s not just a kitchen. It's a walk-in closet with a washing machine, dryer, and all the cleaning supplies we own. This is our kitchen. It is an erupting volcano of young family life and it’s the first thing you see when you enter our house.

If there’s been a shopping trip in the past hour, we think about cooking dinner rather than heating a frozen one. Every once in a while, I'll cook, but it’s the last job I'll do before sitting down with a glass of wine; thereafter, I'm done working. Diane has a glass of wine with dinner too, but she keeps right on going well past midnight. This secret power, or access to it, is shared by all her Italian ancestors. Maybe it’s because they drink wine standing up. I don't know, whatever it is, I don't have it.

It's 10:00 pm; The kids are in bed, and I'm headed there too. The bedtime routine is over for us. For Diane, the 4-hour routine has just begun.

It's 11:00 pm: The kids and I are asleep. Diane finishes the kitchen work and checks out the school lunch menu. Though the kids will eat anything, she thinks, "Yuck” and begins making boxed lunches. She’ll set out milk money for each kid. Counting nickels reminds her of tomorrow’s weekly bake sale so she preheats the oven and pulls out the cookie mix.

It's midnight: Diane is doing laundry and sewing repairs. She writes a grocery list to be left behind when she goes shopping the next day. She hoists out the trash and boxes up the nightly board games. She feels a hot flash and realizes that the oven has been preheating the kitchen for the past hour. She makes the cookies and between batches writes a heartfelt thank you note to Operation Santa Claus for gifting her a coffee mug in recognition for her 700 hours of volunteer time. They really shouldn’t have, she would have done it for nothing. The small kitchen TV keeps her company as background noise (Animal Planet during winter and Yankees baseball post-game during summer).

It’s 1:00 am. As if it's something easily forgotten, she says to herself' "Oh, I need to go to bed." She sleepwalks upstairs to the bathroom. An hour later, out from the bathroom, she checks on each of the kids. Johnny is awake doing homework that he proclaimed was done during the nightly interrogation. She gives him a little back scratch and tucks him into bed.

It’s 2:00 a.m. Near comatose, Diane wanders around in our bedroom trying to find the basket with her nightclothes. She is cold and the search hopeless. We’ve lived in four houses since being married and not one has ever had heat vented to our bedroom. It's inexplicable. Diane stumbles around in the dark knocking over books and lamps until I wake up and ask; “What the hell are you doing?”

She answers my rhetorical question with a detailed explanation; "I’m trying to find something to put on, but it’s dark in here because you have all the lights turned off, so now I can’t see anything, I can't find the basket with the..." she trips on something again "Ouch! Darn it, that hurt, I can't..." she stops, "Oh, wait… I think I see a spider on the ceiling; you have to kill it or I won't be able to sleep.” I'm up. All the lights go on; it's a leaf on the skylight. Lights out, back to bed.

While the lights were on, she finds her long white nightgown. Exhausted, she flutter-flops into bed like a wounded dove. Her little hen feet are frozen as they twitch. Then, within a minute, she is sound alseep. I'm awake for the next hour wondering how it can take 4 hours to go to bed.

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