Select Page

Poem: Capitulation

I’ve had more bedtime battles with my kids than I can count.

Going to sleep can be such a difficult transition for kids: learning to let go of the togetherness and even the mental consciousness of the waking hours. And as a mom, I’m usually so done by the end of the day, that I’m hardly at my best, parenting-wise.

The following poem is one that I shared last summer, about the difficulties that one of my kids, in particular, has with bedtime. Over the past year, her ability to fall asleep on her own has improved — somewhat. So I say to myself — and you, if you’re facing similar battles — “two steps forward, one step back” still results in forward movement!


I pull her door closed again,
or nearly closed, since I know better,
drawing it toward the jamb with a practiced arm,
pausing at our precise line of compromise —
the angle where her longing for light from the hall
meets my only condition, sufficient shadow
for her to fall asleep.

All is quiet as I tiptoe away, holding my breath
because the act of exhalation might be taken
as a summons — then I settle in bed with a book,
claim my first long breath of the day,
and let my mind sidle into the story.

I have mentally defected when she appears
without warning, knocking me back to the world
where I’m a parent of a child with needs:
this time it’s a drink of water that for some reason
she can’t fetch for herself. That is my clue,
but I am tired and have been listening all day,

so what I hear is that our truce has been breached,
our short-lived ceasefire is over, and now this is war —
I spring out of bed and march her back to her room,
dropping a barrage of explosive rebukes.

By all accounts I seem to have won —
she is restored to her rightful place in bed
and the water is long forgotten — but it’s a paltry win,
if the reward is to retreat to solitude and a novel,
for I am in her space, still talking;
my blood pressure still escalating.

As soon as I fall silent
she produces a new excuse to keep me
in the room, and I see a slight smile surface
at the success of these guerrilla maneuvers.
But then one hand balls up to rub at her eyes
and a yawn escapes her now grinning mouth—

she is tired of fighting sleep single-handed,
and now that I’m there
she can lay down arms
and rest.

© Sarah Dunning Park, 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Lindsay Wilson

    Just love this!! In particular the line ‘claim my first long breath of the day’, that is our house to a tee when the little ones both crash. We’ve got a boy coming up for 3, who just loves to wander out of his room when you were sure he was gone for the night.

  2. Brenda

    You’ve captured it beautifully. If only we could remember that while we see it as war, they see it as security.

    • Elena

      Beautifully put!

  3. NJ @ A Cookie Before Dinner

    This is so sweet. I am not my best self at bedtime either. There are so many times when I want to just loose it at bedtime when they don’t go smoothly. Thanks for the sweet reminder of how precious that time can be!

  4. Sarah M

    Ah, I love this poem. We all know those bedtime battles.

    “pausing at our precise line of compromise —”

    What a great line, and so true!

    Sarah M

  5. Kat

    Ah, I have been in exactly this place before, down to the line of compromise with the door.

  6. Tanya

    I love this! It really does capture every single night here at my home. Why don’t why want any water before they go to bed?

  7. Nicole

    This is a big battle for us right now, too. You so beautifully describe a scene in which I normally fail to see an ounce of beauty. xo

  8. Fiona

    How beautifully put. A scenario I recognize only too well. That security they are longing for versus my need for some peace and quiet. The funny thing is, those days I just lay next to my three year old, give her some extra cuddles and kisses for a few minutes and then leave, are the most peaceful, and I leave feeling a fullness I didn’t have before. Hopefully I can remember that the next time she keeps getting out of bed!

  9. Kris

    Oh it’s lovely. I am a mother of a 3 year old boy. I must say I love what you’ve just written. The lines perfectly speak for every bedtime battle I had with him. Why is water always an excuse? I kind of lose my patience sometimes but my boy simply knew what to do. He’s smile (with twinkling eyes) calms me down. I know I have to cherish those moments because sooner things will change.

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.