A few months back, Penguin had a nightmare and the following night, he was rather reluctant to go to sleep. He said that he was scared that he would have the same dream again and desired not to spend his most soporific hours thrashing in terror. I’m paraphrasing here, natch.

To quell the anxiety, I offered to tell a very short little tale while we were there in the dark. I made something up and it was bad, but it worked.

Side note: An interesting fact. I feel as though I write fairly well, but when asked to devise an impromptu verbal story, the stammering and banality is astounding. “There was a little boy. He liked cake and so he ate some. Ummmm, a frog was walking by and looked in the window and shouted, ‘Ah, cake! Gimme cake,’ which made the little boy jump. And, uh, he dropped the cake. And cried. No, crap, that’s not a good story. He, well the cake fell, but then he started to pick it up and eat it. No, no, it wasn’t dirty. Yeah, in our house there would be dog hair on it. Yeah, probably cat litter, too. So the frog, I mean the dog, no, the frog jumped through the window and ate the cake. I dunno, pal. Sorry. I got nuthin’.”

But back to the matter at hand. So I told my little story and Penguin settled in and fell asleep. The next night, he convinced me that my tale had done wonders for his nerves, and could I please do another one. So I did. A universal truism unknown to those that have children is this: one time is a lark, two times is a pattern, three times is expectation. When, the following night, I allowed myself to be talked into a “mouth story” (different from “book stories,” mind you), I did it with full recognition that I was now adding another 5 minutes to bedtime routine. Forever. Alright, whatever. I work all day and it’s the least I can do, right?

The problem, though, is that there are one or two nights when Papa Bird takes the lead on bedtime and I go off and stare vacantly at a wall before mustering the energy to clean up the toys, stuck bits of food and my dignity from off of the floor. And Papa Bird, not to be outdone in the mouth stories department, would concoct these magical tall tales filled with faraway kingdoms, gnomes, Army tanks, explosions and everything else that makes a little boy’s heart skip an excited beat. Try as I might to match these, I just could not ever do it. And so mouth story time became an exercise in futility, where I would try to create something fantastical and end up spitting out something flatulent. There was really no competition. Papa Bird wins this one hands down. Further, Penguin had no shame in telling me that my stories stunk and that he wanted his father to always put him to bed since his mouth stories were better.

Game on.

Figuring that I had to do something else to reclaim that space and make bedtime enjoyable again, I pulled forth the only thing in my bag of tricks that Papa Bird cannot replicate. Singing. He doesn’t really like to sing, though he lives and breathes music. But Penguin, Owl and I like singing. The boys hum or sing tunes all the time and I am constantly busting into a little song and dance routine for them when I am at home on the weekends.

I started out by singing songs that I knew the lyrics to very well, but that is an extremely limited repertoire because I never, ever remember song lyrics. After the eighth night of “Knick Knack Paddy Whack”” and “Feeling Groovy” by Simon and Garfunkel, the children were spent and getting antsy. Enter the magic of technology. There are people on YouTube, bless them, that put all your favorite songs to written lyrics and turn it into a video. Huzzah!

Now, every night before official and final “time to go to bed,” the boys and I sing a few songs together. We lay down on the bed, power up our tablet, point it to Youtube, and see where the songs take us. Right now we are working our way through the Beatles catalogue. We’ve also taken a fondness for some older REM songs, and I keep trying to slip in some Gershwin and Cole Porter. Owl approves, but Penguin rolls over and refuses to participate. Penguin’s favorite songs as of late is “Hey There Delilah” and “Blackbird.” Owl has a deep and abiding love for “Tonight You Belong to Me.”

It goes without saying, though I will, that these are some of the sweetest moments of my day. The boys and I lay back and they rest their heads on my shoulders or chest. Penguin hums along to the tune and Owl, unable to read or hum very well, spots the first letter at the start of a lyric and just sings that through the stanza. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.” And I sing along, too, happy to find new songs, happy to rediscover old songs, happy to have a few moments in which we can all enjoy each other enjoying music in a very simple way. My hope is that the boys will remember this. Perhaps because I selfishly need to believe that it means as much to them as it does to me. And if they don’t that’s OK, too. They are going to have killer taste in music and if that is the case, parenting duty #427 fulfilled.