I’ve never been one to jump at the chance to babysit.  While I quickly learned to follow my instincts with my own babies, someone else’s child is a different matter.  That deep familiarity that comes from being a child’s primary caregiver is absent during babysitting, and thus you follow a few hurried directions from the parents and are thrust into trial and error.  I’m back to that anxious stage when my children were just born.  That moment where you realize the little child in your care is really a stranger to you in most ways and all you don’t know comes crashing down.

Five years into parenting, I’m ready to bite the bullet and offer to sit for friends and family.  Just not at bedtime.

In our home, bedtime is a sacred time of day.  Its a forced slow down.  Its routine that is ritual.

Its snuggles in towels.  Kisses on hair damp from bath.  Chasing naked bums down the hall towards diapers and PJs.  Struggles with brushing teeth.  Hugs while reading with a child heavy in my lap or a child’s head on my shoulder.  More kisses, this time on soft cheeks.  Whispering secret I-love-you songs in small ears.  Chastising Daddy for rowdy tickling.  Searching the house and yard for that one special toy.  Arranging blankets and toys just right in bed.  Turning out the light and seeing a sleepy child snuggling a lovey through the narrowing crack of the closing door.

In a blink of an eye, my children will be upper elementary school kids, and I’ll be thankful for a quick goodnight kiss.  But now, at bedtime, they regress into my babies craving my complete attention.  These nightly rituals encapsulate the love in my family.  They are the opportunity for wrongs to be righted, fears to be aired, and big plans to be made, as we indulge in each other’s physical presence and closeness.

Bedtime is when my husband and I cannot be replaced, and when I feel I cannot replace another parent.  I cannot imitate that intimacy between parent and child, and any time I try, I feel the actions are so awkward and empty in comparison.  How could I ever know all the details in another family’s ritual?  How could I replace that unconditional love?  How can I mimic those comfort soaked moments, even just for one night?

My husband thinks I make too much of it.  Still, I’d much rather babysit during the day.

Let your kids run around my house pulling out every toy, scattering the small pieces in every room.  Let your kids empty all the new sand out of our sandbox into the grass and wadding pool.  Let your kids request all our best snacks, then leave each on their plates with just one bite eaten.  Even, let your kids have diaper blow outs, wail for you at the door, and antagonize my kids.

All this I can handle.

Just don’t ask me to replace your presence, your comfort, your love at bedtime.

(Photo credit: Dana Voss on Flickr.)