My dad wasn't often around to tuck us children in at night. His medical school hours were beastly long. But occasionally [and that's a very rare "occasionally"] he came home early. And he put me and Brittany to bed. And this was special. Because he told stories.
His most frequent hero was John Henry Fishamunga. A fish. Duh.
One night, after Dad pulled the covers up to our chins and kissed our foreheads, we begged him for a Fishamunga story. Maybe he was tired from a gruelling day of diagnosing and dissecting. He may have been wishing for his own bedtime. But looking back, for whatever reason, he must have been grumpy.
Because John Henry Fishamunga died that night.
He was eaten by a shark when he swam alone even though his daddy told him not to.
It was like a tragic epiphany where I was hit by the brutal truth of several things at once. Namely, that my parents couldn't fix everything, that my choices could actually lead to a permanent end, that all endings are not happy, and that someday I would die.
All in all, not the best day.
These days Grace's newest favorite activity is telling scary stories. And the following is, word-for-word, the story she told me in the car on our way to church:
"Once upon a time ...
"There was a little boy and a little girl.
"And they hugged.
"And they were buddies.
"And then a bear eated them.
"And they were tasty."
Apparently Grace has no false notions about everything turning out happily ever after. I have no idea how that happened.
We used to read five to ten verses of scriptures each night. I did anything I could to make it interesting. On cue, I had Grace trained to say "For behold." We tried acting out the scriptures as we read them. We even made play-doh figures one night. Something had to capture her interest.
She refused to listen. She jumped, she sang, she squirmed, she screamed.
And she dreaded it. After chasing her down, calming her complaints, and while binding her in a hug to prevent her from bolting, her final plea was always a desperate, "I'm too tired for scriptures. I have to go straight to bed!"
That's serious distaste for scripture time, people.
Something had to change. I could just see Grace's teen years: ditching seminary, avoiding Sunday School, refusing to be "churchy."
Okay. That might be a little over the top.
But I did feel obligated to do something to make scripture time a little more bearable. This was the point that I remembered my mom's old stand-by (how could I forget?): being good should be fun. Otherwise why would anyone do it? And isn't this the reason we have commandments anyway, to make us happy?
This is more popularly known as the "spoonful of sugar" philosophy--courtesy Mary Poppins.
So scripture time is now fun. We choose a scripture story. I display a picture or a prop (rocks for the Jaredite Journey, or a fort for King Benjamin's final speech), and we read a few selected verses scattered through the Book of Mormon. (THE Book of Mormon, not any watered down nonsense.)
And then we test. To make sure Grace learned something. Anything.
I think it's working better if last night is any indication.
After a pleasant 5 minutes of reading and story telling and discussing, I was quizzing Grace on the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.
"Grace, what promise did the people of Ammon make to Heavenly Father?"
"No killing," she simply (and accurately) stated. And then she very thoughtfully added, "Oh! And! And! .... don't waste water."
It's perfect for my workdays. I can feed them, bathe them, dress them and kiss their sweet little cheeks goodbye and watch them wave from the porch.
On weekends it is not perfect. Not a bit.
Long before dawn I can hear Grace tripping up the stairs and slipping past the creaky door. She finds my ever-alternating side of the bed (which happens to be whichever one I collapsed onto) and pulls herself up. And in. And wraps her arms around my neck and draws out a long, "Mo-ommmm.... Wake up! I need some sir-ee-uhl."
I have many excuses to avoid the inevitable:
"Mommy needs to sleep." "Grace needs to sleep." "Oh, but I want to cuddle with you." "There are monsters downstairs eating our cereal. We'd better hide till they're gone."
Okay, I've never actually used the last one. I should though.
But it wouldn't change the outcome.
Because Claire is scheduled to go off in tears at exactly that moment. The moment after the excuse.
And so I always end up dragging my weary self out of that bed. I carry two girls on each hip down the high slippery wooden staircase to the kitchen. I pour Grace a bowl of Lucky Charms, and I fry two eggs for Claire. (she is a fanatic.)
My limbs are floppy and my head is fuzzy and it's easy to get angry.
Motherhood. It's the perpetual cycle of exhaustion.