One lesson I keep trying to teach myself is: a couple of extra minutes spent with my children can improve the moods of everyone involved. Especially when I'm sleep deprived.
My son discovered my old Palm Pilot yesterday. "Where's the pen that goes with it?" he asked.
"Give me a minute." I answered.
"How do you type on it; where's the keyboard?" he persisted.
"I said, give me a minute, please." I deflected as I futzed with my laptop.
"How do you turn it off?" he continued.
Then I lost it: "Can I PLEASE have 5 minutes to finish what I'm trying to do here?! I'll be with you in a second!"
It worked, for two of the five minutes, but it is definitely not the type of positive interaction a family needs twenty minutes before supper (or any other time for that matter).
Granted, these exchanges are typical of any family wrestling to balance their individual needs with those who depend on them. There isn't a day in the week when a parent doesn't ask their child to 'give me a minute.'
We're always looking for minutes; we're always fighting for space; we're always mommy and daddy.
The difference between how short my fuse is can be directly related to a number of factors, i.e.: how much bickering there has been between my kids throughout the day, how much have I accomplished of what was important to get done, but, most important: how tired am I?
My alarm sounds at 6:30 on weekdays; my son has to be at school by 8. The kids sleep perfectly though the night. This means: if I turn out my light by 10:00, I am guaranteed eight-and-a-half hours of sleep. With that I feel (mostly) refreshed, and much more able to cope with the general tumult which is synonymous with suppertime in our home.
The kids are asleep by eight, which leaves my wife and I two hours of adult time in a quiet house.
Until you do the math.
Even after the kids go to bed, there is still generally some finessing to do: finish his lunch, finish the clean-up, and transfer some laundry from the washer to the dryer, tidy the play area. Let's assume this is done by 8:15: seventy-five minutes before lights-out.
I cannot shift directly from adult-time in the living room to lights-out in the bedroom. I like to read before bed; not to mention usual bedtime grooming.
This means beginning that final stage circa 9:30 or 9:45.
An hour or an hour-and-a-half of childlessness is not enough.
Paul Simon wrote the Sound of Silence for a reason. Silence is golden. I feel myself decompress; that time allows my wife and I to have adult conversations - both as they pertain to our children, and to less important chit-chat which is healthy for any relationship - as well as time not talking together, simply sitting side-by-side staring at some form of useless entertainment.
Despite that, it is not generally difficult to convince one another an early bedtime is sensible; we're generally wiped-out.
The real problem is me, when I'm alone. This is when I'm really selfish. 9:00 movies, playoff football on the PVR, staying up for the big reveal on the reality show which I never planned on watching in the first place. I am selfish with this time, and I have no discipline.
The answer to 'so what' comes every morning at 6:30. There is not one morning when, upon waking, I don't promise myself I will get to bed early that evening...until that evening arrives, and I over-indulge in alone time.
Therapists always say: if it's important enough to you, you make the effort. Obviously, whatever walls I climb at suppertime are not high enough to scare me into falling into bed early that evening. What I am trying to do is to be more aware of my fatigue, as well as to take those extra five minutes to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with my kids, showing them how the Palm Pilot works. Then, maybe, they'll occupy themselves for a while, while I tend to their sustenance in the kitchen.
Until, as the therapists say, it becomes important enough for me to regress to the bedtime I had as an 11-year-old, the balance will have to be struck between a few more minute listening to my kids, a few less in REM sleep, and a greater awareness I am the cause of my own impatience.