A treasured bedtime routine

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''I'm in bed,'' a small voice would call from down the hall. ''I'll be there in a minute,'' I would answer, usually from the kitchen. Then I'd head down the hall for the nightly ''tucking in'' ritual.

Tucking our children into bed was a habit my husband and I continued long after they were big enough to get themselves ready for bed. In fact, as I remember it, we kept it up until our boys stayed up later than we did.

Sometimes other parents would say, ''Are you still tucking your children in?'' Then they would tell us how their Mary Jane was big enough to put herself to bed - as if it were a big accomplishment on the part of their child, such as drinking out of a cup or being toilet trained.

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Continuing to tuck in our children was not a conscious decision on our part. It seemed important enough to perpetuate because often it was the one time during the day when we gave them our individual, undivided attention. We prayed together, recounted the happy events of the day, and sometimes talked over things that were troubling them.

When one of our boys was in his early teens I was tempted to drop the ritual, because it was turning into a complaint session. But I stuck it out - trying not to react in anger to his complaints, which were mostly against me. I felt it was important to keep the lines of communication open, so I always tried to find some subject we could agree upon before saying goodnight.

In my early teens I went away to summer camp for the first time. It was hundreds of miles away from home, and I was to stay for eight weeks. I remember feeling pretty homesick at first. My counselor was the camp bugler, and every night after she played taps she would come into our cabin and say goodnight to each of us individually. She would tuck us in and then sit on the edge of our bunks and talk for a few minutes. That bit of home comfort helped me more than anything else to get over being homesick at camp.

I don't think children ever outgrow their need for the individual attention of parents. When tucking-in time is outgrown, it might be a good idea to find another time for listening and sharing with your child.

Even now when my grown son comes home for a visit, he shadows my steps in the kitchen while I'm preparing supper. When he had passed his tucking-in period, this was his favorite time to be with me. As I cook and we both talk, I'm reminded of the many kitchen conversations we've enjoyed over the years, and of the treasured bedtime routines that preceded them.

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