Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Hush little baby, dammit

For me, the biggest challenge of a day as a single parent comes at night, when it’s time for the children to go the sleep. The problem is basic math: neither child goes to sleep on their own yet, and so each night both my wife and I spend a little of the evening putting the kids to bed.

My daughter is pretty easy: just put on Disney Princesses CD, hope that the laptop’s fan doesn’t make too much noise, and wait for her to drift off, which she often does in mid-sentence (one usually involving what she wants to be for Halloween, or what kind of birthday she wants– meaning, what fictional character theme she wants). Fortunately, my in-laws volunteered to come over and sit with her, so that I could concentrate on Mr. Fight the Power.

For my son treats going to sleep like an endurance event: the longer he can stay awake, the better. At first, things were going well: we read a story, and he got into bed. Then he remembered he needed his bear. Then, he needed his handy dandy notebook (or "hanny hanny buke" as he calls it). Then, a tractor. (Fortunately the batteries were burned out.) Then he wanted me to set his tool chest (what he decided to call "my happy box") on the bed. All in all, it looked like a Sleep Train ran into a Toys R Us.

And still he wouldn’t go to sleep. He needed a story. Specifically, he needed the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. So I told it to him: "Once upon a time, in the dark woods, there was a cottage with three bears…." He needed it again. And again. And yet again, sometimes with small corrections ("they BIG bears," "there a Daddy Bear, and a Mama Bear, and a Baby Bear," like I was going to forget). By this time, the luscious Arts and Crafts detailing of my earlier tellings had fallen away, and I was down to the Bauhaus version: "Three bears went for a walk while their food cooled down." By what felt like the fifteenth time, I was down to haiku:

Three bears walk in woods
Goldilocks: eats food and sleeps
Bears back; Goldy flees.

Eventually, though, he did fall asleep– more than an hour later than he normally does, granted, but I’m still willing to call it a victory. Not an elegant one. But I’m still awake.


  1. Daniel going to sleep is a victory! Try the Cindarella story, he likes that too.

  2. I keep trying to explain to myself what is going on with sleep and fighting it (and trying to remember if I or my siblings were so tough about sleep). My 3-year old is also somewhat difficult about it. I think for her it’s partly the fear of separation, of being by herself, it’s partly about annoyance because there are so many things to do and be and talk about, and maybe, who knows, it’s a fear of sleep itself, which when you stop to think about it is a very strange state of being–we are alive but unaware, lost in our minds.

  3. I’ve always assumed that my kids are just contrary, and a little strange; but of course, this is true of lots of children, and I tended to resist going to sleep.

    But why do we? That’s actually a good question.

  4. I think that when I have children, I’d like to wake them up early so that they can see the sunrise and play in the garden before school. And then at night they’ll be ready to sleep.

    And I’d talk to them about dreams! How they feel when they’re dreaming where they go! It’s such a great time to start learning about dreaming! Then they’d be excited to get to sleep!

    I think that kids may “resist” being “put to sleep” just like I might resist if someone came to me and said okay you’re going to sleep now while I still felt full of energy!

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