The ability to put a child down to sleep for the night is one of the most important skills one can attain as a parent or babysitter. It is also the most elusive one.
Let's start with bathroom stuff. First up: go to the bathroom. No, not you, though with the amount of time this operation will take, you may want to consider it first.
Get the child to go potty. Plan to run water in the sink for the child to spur her imagination -- at least enough water to wash a Suburban with. Don't be at all surprised if child announces a secondary plan, for which more time and toilet paper will be necessary.
After the toilet is flushed, the child will attempt to escape, but you must INSIST that the child first wash her hands. This usually involves at least as much water as you ran to make her tinkle, and about a quarter of that will end up on the counter and floor.
Before the child can run away, grab her by the waist and say, "Time to brush your teeth!" as brightly yet firmly as you are able with a squirmy, uncooperative and toothbrush-hating child in your grasp. You must let go long enough to uncap the toothpaste. After you've experienced once or twice chasing your child through the house while forgetting you have uncapped toothpaste in hand, you'll be smarter and have the toothbrush loaded and ready to go while she's washing her hands. This works even better once she has become territorial about the toothpaste, insisting upon doing the squeezing herself. (Don't sweat the mess; you have to mop up after the hand-washing anyway.)
I like to allow the child to brush her own teeth, emphasizing "Don't swallow the toothpaste -- spit it!" about every five seconds. Plan to be spat upon. It also helps to pick a funny little tune to la-la while you brush her teeth -- a personal favorite is the theme music to the old Benny Hill show, Yakkety Sax. This will not be your child's favorite, however.
Once the bathroom is staged for a hose-out, it's time to go back to your child's room to get her dressed. "Clean fresh undies first!" is the rule at our house. Selecting the perfect pair of Cinderella or Barbie panties will take your child about as long as an act of Congress. If your child is still in diapers, thank your lucky stars . . . unless, of course, the diapers have cute cartoons on them, which the child will want to pick from. In that case, Congress is in session again.
Jammies are next. We keep ours under the pillow, but I warn you that the child will NEVER remember this fact. She will empty her jammie drawer if you're not paying attention, digging through to find her favorites.
Once the child is in bed -- FINALLY -- it's time for the entertainment portion of our show. We usually have one book per child, and, of course, each child gets to pick her book. Expect tears. If it's too late for reading, we at least have songs. Lights out, and each girl gets to pick two, three, or four songs, depending upon available time. We have a large and varied catalogue from which to select our songs, but they rarely fail to include at least two Christmas songs. All year round. Get used to it -- they will NOT be dissuaded.
Goodnight hugs are next, but don't be surprised if over time you develop a ritual from which there must be no deviation. For instance, we start with a Big Fat Hug, then a Big Fat Kiss. Then there must be a Pat-Pat-Pat on the head (Pat-Pat-Patent Pending). On silly nights I may throw in a Zrrbbtt or two, which is just a tummy raspberry. Then a Nose-Nose-Nose, which I called an Eskimo kiss when I was little. Then a One Big Eye, for which you place foreheads and noses together so you are each staring at a cyclops up close. You must chant "ONE BIG EYE!" as you do this, or it doesn't count. If there's really a lot of time, you can throw in a Reach For The Sky, which is really just underarm tickling. Then the ritual closes with a Hardware Store, which Uncle Mantel Man invented. Place the palm of your hand on the child's head, and vibrate it like a paint can shaker at Home Depot. Hardware Store. Oh, and you have to yell, "Hardware Store!" as you do this.
Plan for several extra hugs and kisses. Say goodnight and leave the room.
But you're not done yet. Oh no -- now comes the litany of complaints. "Mama, you forgot to turn on the night light!" After this faux pas is corrected and you're comfortably engaged in your next activity, you'll hear, "Mama! I want a drink of water. You forgot my drink of water!" So you trudge to the kitchen to wash out some cups, taking care to drop in an ice cube because you don't want to forget the ice cube. Trudge trudge trudge. "Thank you, Mama. Mama? Did you remember the ice cube?"
So you think you're home free? Well, you're not. Not unless your child has a better memory than my two girls'. "Mama? I want a toy." Now, it's best to establish strict rules about the number of toys your child is allowed to sleep with. When I get lax they climb all over me, so I have to hold firm at TWO TOYS. Find a number and stick to it. 25 is a number, but unless you have endowed your child with a California king bed, sleeping with 25 toys is not realistic. No, our rule is two toys. And nothing with sharp edges. As fun as it may be, you just can't sleep with that school bus, Sparky.
I didn't address bath time, which has its own set of joys and sorrows. These are the basics, but I'm sure you'll find your own variations. You'll find yourself yelling sentences you couldn't even have composed BK (Before Kids). Sentences like, "If you kick the wall ONE MORE TIME I'm gonna CLOSE THIS DOOR TIGHT!" or "Stop singing or I'll CLOSE THIS DOOR TIGHT!" and even "Santa Claus is DONE watching you! He's SICK AND TIRED OF THIS and he recommended that I CLOSE THIS DOOR TIGHT!" Find the threat that works and stick to it.
Some variations we've gone through include "Pretend To Sleep On Me, Mama," "I'm Scared That The Owl Will Get Me, Mama" and the current "Please Play 'Route 66' And 'Mona Lisa,' Mama."
That's all. It's a cinch, right? Oh, excuse me; gotta go. Someone needs to go to potty again.