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Bedtime Stories

by Jubbly 

Posted: 15 February 2004
Word Count: 1051
Summary: An article I sold to a parenting website last year.

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No matter who else offers to read my two year-old Archie his bedtime story, he always wants me. It wouldn't matter if the entire cast of Barney the Dinosaur waltzed into his room wheeling a mobile library full of books, he'd decline. Even if they were supported by Jake and Fizz from the Tweenies with a couple of Teletubbies thrown in for good measure, his answer would still be the same.

"I want my mummy to read to me."

So I do, night after night after night. It’s I who should be on C-Beebies; at least that way I'd get paid for the privilege of sounding like an absolute twit.

Sometimes I perform on auto-pilot. Other times I’m in full command of the wheel, inspired, animated - providing a veritable fleet of regional accents and funny voices for all those little green creatures and talking voles.

Then I'm dazzling, extraordinary, a whole children's theatre, a tour de force of surprises and delights, especially when I get the puppets out. On finally uttering those classic words, 'The End,' I’m surprised when I don't get a deafening round of applause.

It’s my old drama school experience that helps me scale the creative heights, but also raises my expectations too far. Reality clicks in and I realise I am not onstage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, but seated unladylike, legs bent awkwardly under a Rugrat-infested duvet cover in a darkened kiddies’ bedroom. Music from one of the flats and the click-click of high heels on the metal walkway reminds me how the neighboring grown-ups are spending their Saturday night. Oh well, I shall just have to make do with a quick flick through I Want My Potty and my memories of youthful, bawdy nights out.

Sometimes I wonder why kids have to have the dullest favourites in the world. Yes, I know Peter-pigging-Pan is a super children's story full of fairies and villains and magical London night skies, but after the 400th time of reading it aloud, I think it's trite.

Anything that rhymes makes the whole process faster and more fun. Janet and Allan Ahlberg's Peepo is a lovely book, easy to read and a sheer delight. Mind you, it’s so popular that my little angel has decided the characters remind him of just about everyone he's ever met in his short life. Now we can't get through a page without interruptions like:

"There's Hannah, and there's her Mummy, there's her Daddy and her dolly and look, that dog's like the one that pooed near our car, isn't it Mummy?"

The Hungry Caterpillar is another all-time hit. But now junior insists on reading it back to me and try as I might I can't prevent myself from snapping,
"Wednesday, it's Wednesday, and he eats three plums, OK? Try again. "

It has got better. I've got him down from the previously mandatory twelve books to a mere five, all of them with sleepy time themes. No point in reading The Amazing Adventures of Hyperactive Harry or anything about fast cars which will get him all excited. And then there are dreams and nightmares to consider, so that's anything remotely spooky out of the race.

And I am strong when the insistent calls of "One more!" and "Again!" are chanted.
"Sorry, darling. I have to go and cook my dinner now, otherwise I'll starve to death, and when you wake up in the morning I'll be dead and there'll be no one to get your breakfast. Night night, sweet dreams…"

Of course, story time takes on a whole new dimension when we've got people round and I've had a couple of bevvies before the nightime ritual. I slur my words and tend to make gross errors of judgement that don't go unnoticed.

"No Mummy, the hedgehogs don't say ‘meow,’ it's the cats."
"Whoops, silly me! Now move your bottle, please; my wine glass goes there."

Then the pace speeds up somewhat when there's something on the telly I want to watch. There's nothing more frustrating than being half-way through The Big Book of Fairy Tales with the strains of the Eastenders theme crooning up the stairs. When that happens, Jack is up that sodding beanstalk and down again with his bounty before you can say ‘Fee Fi Frigging Fo Fum’. I've now actually developed the ability to read an entire story and still listen out for any plot developments at the same time. I can now confidently walk back into the living room and correctly identify the song that was playing on the radio in the Queen Vic two scenes ago.

Sadly now Archie is getting quite smart, and will jump on me if I make a mistake. Once, while daydreaming, I said ‘answerphone’ instead of ‘alarm clock’.

"Nooooo. Ha ha! Stupid! You said answerphone, it's alarm clock, nggh!"

And heaven help you if you say 'Tommy' instead of 'Thomas', or ‘Bus’ instead of ‘Train’, he'll scweam and scweam and scweam until he turns blue or at the very least you repeat the whole book from the beginning omitting the dreadful blunder.

But there are stories I feel I have to censor as I go along. Anything with Mummy cooking, baking, or doing housework gets changed; we don't want to give a little boy the wrong impression now, do we? Often the word ‘Mummy’ is immediately replaced by ‘Daddy’ and when he asks where Daddy is in the picture I say,
"Oh that‘s daddy: he's wearing a dress. Silly daddy!" Young children generally accept this explanation and having to explain cross-dressing or transvestism doesn't come into it - yet.

Sometimes I wish I'd never introduced the idea of bedtime stories. It was easier when I just plopped him in the cot, turned off the light and shut the door. But I know that deep, deep down in my bad mothering heart, one day I'm going to ask him if he wants a story and he’s going to look at me with those withering, 'Are you for real?' eyes and shake his head.

"No way! The Simpsons are on!"

Until that sad – or happy - day, I'll content myself with our nightly shared precious moment, bloody chore that it is.

The End - Hooray!!

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Comments by other Members

JohnK at 09:15 on 16 February 2004  Report this post
Exactly, Julie,
Bedtime stories are a joy and a pain, perhaps both at once. I get a thrill, some nights, at the rapt attention and quiet appreciation. Other nights I have to tell an extra one to make up for the one that was no good. I've tried making one up, and that is great, when it works, and they both contribute as we go along.

Anyway, congrats on getting this one into print - it really deserves it - full of ideas and feeling.

Very appropriate right now, down under, because the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are promoting reaing bedtime stories - it may soon be compulsory.

All the very best,


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