Early bedtime: for a small child, the injustice of the universe

For some obscure reason, this not-particularly-good photo taken several months ago is pretty much the only one I’ve got (so far) of the bedroom that was my brothers’ for most of the time we lived at the Manse but in the very early days (maybe 1964 to 1966) was mine and, I guess, my sister’s (though I don’t recall her there). It was out the two windows that you see in it that I would peer, desperately wishing to escape, when I was put to bed at what I considered some unreasonably early hour. The worst was when it was high summer and still light outside. (Note, by the way, the vintage linoleum mat. It was there in 1964 too. That mat and I lived the too-early-to-bed rage together.)

It never fails to amuse me how things that cross my path or that I catch out of the corner of my eye in everyday life here in Montreal strike a chord of memory about something that happened in my long-ago childhood at the Manse.

As Raymond and I sat out on our back deck a short while ago, enjoying a warm, easy Friday evening after a demanding week at work, the children from at least three and maybe more neighbouring households were out in the alley, playing together and having a very fine time. But at 8:30 p.m. it was time for some of the smaller ones to be brought inside to be put to bed. Such weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth!

It took me right back to my very earliest memories of the Manse, when I was accorded the bedroom that later became my brothers’, on the northeast corner of the second floor of the house. I can picture like it was – well, like it was this evening – the views out of the two windows in that room, one looking out over the front lawn and the two tall evergreen trees there, and the other overlooking the large lawn (field, actually) at the front of Wallace Kincaid’s adjacent property. In my mind’s eye I’m looking out those windows in a rather desperate way because I am trapped. Jailed. I have been put to bed and it is not even yet dark outside! I can see a whole world (okay, a small corner of Queensborough) out there, a world where people are going places and doing things, and I, poor mistreated urchin, have been cut off from it all by an unfair and unbending diktat that because I am little I must be in bed by a certain time.

I remember my rage at the injustice of it all, the injustice of the universe in general. To be put to bed at such an hour! In the summertime! Before night had even fallen!

So I feel for those tots in the households of our Montreal neighbours. As I write this, though, it’s 9:30 p.m., an hour past their bedtime. And outraged though they may have been as they were being hauled in not long ago, I’m pretty sure that at this moment they are sleeping a very sound and peaceful sleep.

Outrage can only take you so far. Then it really is bedtime.

10 thoughts on “Early bedtime: for a small child, the injustice of the universe

  1. I had to go to bed very early as a child. There were still many hours of daylight. Yes I complained but if I complained too much then I went to bed even earlier the night after.

    • Boy, it seems like your parents took early bedtime for children very seriously indeed, Mark! Though I guess that the threat of an extra-early bedtime the following night is one way to keep a kid from complaining too much …

      • Here in the Uk many parents believed in the 7pm bedtime, and still do.

      • Hey Mark, this one’s for you. A lovely (and sad) poem about a child looking out the window as evening falls. Since you’re a Brit, I know you’ll know it and appreciate it:

        The Lamplighter

        My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky.
        It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
        For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
        With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.

        Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
        And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
        But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
        O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!

        For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
        And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
        And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;
        O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

        – Robert Louis Stevenson

  2. Ah, yes, the indignity of being banished to bed before sunset. Fortunately, those innocent tots have no inkling of all the greater outrages that await them in later years. I’ve always loved the Bard’s take on sleep:

    Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!
    Macbeth does murder sleep’, the innocent sleep,
    Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
    The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
    Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
    Chief nourisher in life’s feast,–

    • Jim, you hit it out of the park with that one! Well, actually, I suppose it was Mr. Shakespeare, but kudos to you for posting it. Indeed: “Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care …” I’ve always loved that line. As I’ve got older (and I suspect this is true for many people) I’ve learned that, far from something to be rebelled at, sleep is one of life’s greatest blessings and pleasures. I adore sleep. Long afternoon naps: the best.

  3. I vividly remember early bedtimes when I was 7-9 years of age. At that time, I lived near Newmarket and my bedroom window faced west. Presumably, my bedtime was 8:00 pm but in the summertime, this might as well as been high noon!

  4. Katherine, I don’t ever recall being put to bed before it had gotten dark, but I do remember getting in trouble for not going right to sleep, instead “fooling around” with Lorraine — we always shared a room/bed. I also remember my older brother and sister (I won’t mention names) who were always ready to come up the stairs with the wooden paddle to punish us….ouch!

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