"Mommy, sing me 'Blue Shadows' and paint my face," my 4-year-old son asks every night when I put him to bed. The song from "The Three Amigos" became his lullaby of choice a little while ago, and now it's solidified a spot in his bedtime routine. I "paint" his face (gently stroke his cheeks with the tips of my fingers) before heading into the next boy's room.
"I want you lay 'side me," my 2-year-old son says as I lean in to kiss him goodnight. "OK, but only for one minute," I say, both of us knowing full well I'm not leaving until he's snoring, usually 15-30 minutes later. He plays with my hair and kicks at my back and usually elbows me a time or two in the face before he finally settles down.
"Mommy, say who sleeps," he says drowsily, doing everything he can to keep his eyes open. "Everybody sleeps," I whisper quietly. "Woody sleeps, Buzz Lightyear sleeps, Mickey Mouse sleeps …" I name all the Disney characters I can until he dozes off, and then I groggily climb over the side rail of his little twin bed and sneak out the door.
Next it's my older boys' turn. We pull out the trundle bed in my oldest son's room, and my middle child gets a pillow and blanket and snuggles in while I scrunch up at the foot of the bed. I turn on the audio of the latest book we're listening to (right now it's "Fablehaven") and watch the planet mobile spin around and around above my head as I imagine what it would be like to live on a magical reserve with fairies and monsters. Then I slowly pick up my big first-grader, who has fallen asleep, and carry him to his room, reminding my oldest not to stay up too late, knowing he'll probably keep his constellation lamp on for 30 more minutes while he reads or tinkers around with his Legos and robots. He's a night owl, like me.
That is a typical nightly routine for me, after we all read scriptures and say prayers as a family. After that, Brad usually heads downstairs to relax and watch sports because after work, all they want is Dad, but at night, all they want is me.
A few months ago, I was busy with work obligations. Nighttime was typically the only time I had to work on things, so I would rush the kids off to bed and ignore their requests for one more drink or snuggle, telling myself they'd be OK because I'd been with them all day, and this was my time.
But I noticed over the last year that I didn't feel as connected to my boys. And they stopped opening up to me. I have heard that children are most reflective at nighttime because they are finally able to process the day's activities. But I was rushing them through, hoping to finally get things done that I'd put on hold all day.
After a lot of praying and contemplating how I could become closer to my boys, I felt prompted to cut back on my work responsibilities and instead focus on each of my boys individually, especially to spend time each night letting them open up and talk to me about anything they wanted. I have been amazed at how much I have been able to learn from my boys during those sweet moments each night while giving them my undivided attention.
Former Fox News contributor Megyn Kelly expressed similar feelings when she told People magazine that not being a part of her children's bedtime routines was one of the reasons she left the network.
"Two of my kids were in school during the exact hours that I was at home," she says in the latest issue of People. "They would get back at 3:30 p.m. just as I'd be leaving to do 'The Kelly File.' I hadn't tucked them into bed on a weeknight in three years."
According to the article, after her contract was up, she did some serious thinking about the direction her career was headed and how it affected her family life.
"It was time to do a gut check, to make sure I was happy and doing what I'm supposed to," she says. "The answer was clearly no. It was time to make a change."
Kelly will host a morning show, "Megyn Kelly Today," starting Monday on NBC, her earlier schedule allowing her to finally be able to kiss her children goodnight.
"I feel less stressed, and less distant from the things that matter to me — my husband and my children," she says. "My life."
I have found those "gut checks" are crucial to keep my focus on the right things. Like Kelly, my family is the most important thing, what matters most. I didn't even realize how stressed and overworked I was until I decided that I needed to make my family more of a priority — mentally, emotionally and time-wise.
I think about seasons of life often. Right now, I am in spring. My little blossoms are just beginning to bud. My boys are still green and growing and have their whole lives ahead of them. I know every season brings its own majesty and beauty, but this one in particular doesn't last more than a few breathtaking moments.
I want to be there for them.