Like a lot of parents, I suppose, we have a bedtime ritual. Before Dormouse was born, a friend of mine had a child and read one article about sleep and became convinced that she knew everything there was to know about putting a child to bed and that there was only one way to do it. Don't let him/her sleep with you or he'll grow up unloved with no friends and only qualified for the job holding the SLOW sign on the side of the road. (We are obsessed with the SLOW Sign Job in my house.) You must have a ritual that you follow to. the. letter. every. night. If you don't, all will be lost and the world will implode. The child should never be allowed to cry so pick it up the moment it begins crying or it will feel unloved. The child should never be picked up when it's crying or you're teacing it to manipulate you. Don't hold your child to sleep or they won't learn to sleep on their own. The list of do's and don't about sleep - and contradictory information - go on and on... and you know what? None of them work.

One day early on I was talking to my neighbor (who has grown grand-children now and successfully raised her children to be mothers and fathers without the aid of six subscriptions to parenting magazines) about all the do's and dont's about sleep and I mentioned that I really liked to hold my daughter until she drops off to sleep and how I know that's wrong and I'm probably being selfish so I should stop immediately because all the experts say so, and she practically yelled this at me:

"You will have precious little time to hold your child over the span of your life. If you want to hold her until she falls asleep now, then do it! You know your child and what she needs more than anyone else. Damn what the books say."

To date, this is the best advice I've ever received from anyone about parenting.

I decided she was right and continued to hold her and sing to her every night. And you know what? I learned more than just whether or not to rock my kid to sleep. What I learned was this: every child has unique needs, preferences, and requirements. It worked for me to hold her to sleep each night. And guess what: she didn't develop any sleep disorders because of it. What we got out of it was our own routine. One that didn't conform to all the books, but one that grew into and out of what worked and continues to work for our child.

Now bedtime is a kind of family time for us, she has a bath, roughhouses with Daddy a bit, gets ready for bed, we read some stories together, say prayers, and then she chooses which parent will "get" to "rock" her (it's a competition, which I'm much less into but more often win... that's probably why I can say that), which means, hold her in a chair and sing 2-4 songs of her choice to her before she climbs in bed and gets kissed goodnight and left with one CD of lullaby songs to fall asleep to. That's generally how it goes, but sometimes there are variations in the routine and she is mature enough to handle them because we've never been crazy fanatic obsesso's about doing in that exact order or exactly at the appointed time. I still read a ton of parenting articles and websites because I'm still never sure what bit of brilliance will work in my situation with my child at this particular point in time. However, although I'll admit that what I've read and what I think has probably shaped what we do and when we do it somewhat, what stays in the routine is much more defined by what she needs and asks for than what requirements I've independently placed on the process.

And so... all this time later, we still have this routine. And no matter how bad of a day we've had, how much I've yelled at her for being willful and not minding, or how much I simply haven't been there on the days when she's in preschool, we have this together time where all gets forgiven, forgotten and resolved to do better the next day.

Last night this song was added to the list:

"Momma, please sing the cheese song."

"Baby, I don't know the cheese song. What are you talking about?"

"The one that goes 'get out the cheese and smile'."

Huh?!? "I don't know that one. You sing it for me."

And then in a perfect variation of a Haydn trumpet fanfare, complete with broken chords, she sang:

"Get out the cheese,
get out the cheeeeese and smiiiiiillllle."

I repeated exactly what she sang, which pleased her enough to crawl into her bed and almost immediately drop off to sleep. Apparently that'll be a part of our routine now too.