Last night my fifteen-year-old son and I babysat for some friends so they could go to the temple. They have five kids under the age of 7 and live far from any family, so I imagine they don't get away together very often.
Bracing ourselves for an exhausting night, armed with books and games, we went to their apartment in the lower levels of a house. We were ushered in and found one child drying ceramic plates while Dad washed, one child sweeping the floor very expertly, and one child kneeling on the kitchen table so she could reach to wipe it. They were cleaning up from dinner. I looked at my son and said, "Boy, you had it easy. This is what I should have done."
Mom handed me the cheerful, squirming nine-month-old while she finished getting dressed and told me --optimistically, I thought-- that she would lay the baby down for the night before she left. The little kids, she said, would get in their pajamas, brush their teeth, say their prayers, and go to bed on command at 7:30 or 8:00. Yeah, right. The sun is still up at that time. We were coming with new things to play with. They would be hyper and too excited to sleep. I envisioned a night of squirming-baby-holding.
As we waited for Mom and Dad to leave, we sat on the squooshy living room couch and I felt an incredible calmness and organization in the home. All the artwork on the walls was family photos. A large picture of Christ was over the fireplace. Books were stacked neatly in cardboard boxes. There was a piano with music ready to play. It felt comfortable and peaceful.
Mom took wide-awake baby from my arms, put him down in his crib, and walked out of the bedroom. And he lay down and stayed there. They told the kids goodnight and put their phone number on the shelf and left. The kids took a vote and decided three would play a marble game we brought (downstairs where it wouldn't wake the baby) and the fourth would watch a DVD with my son. She chose from four available DVDs, a puppet thing about rabbits.
I trekked downstairs to the playroom with the other three and we had a rousing game of run-the-marbles-down-the-track. They shared nicely with the marbles. They laughed delightedly and made a lot of racket. When I suggested we do something quieter after a while, they immediately got up and went upstairs. The two-year-old took herself off to the bathroom and put on her Pull-Ups for the night without a word.
I brought out some books and read to them for a while, and then gave them some new little books as a gift. Immediately the room went dead silent as four little heads bent over their books, absorbed. The ones too young to read looked contentedly at the pictures. Books were politely exchanged, and if one requested a particular book, the swap was made instantly without fuss. Then they brought out a book of their own, On the Shores of Silver Lake, and asked if I'd read a chapter. I told them how much I'd loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, especially Farmer Boy, and they replied, "Oh, Farmer Boy was last week." So we read a chapter, which seemed to me to be well above their comprehension level, but all four listened happily and seemingly understood it.
At eight o'clock I spied some yawns and announced hopefully, "Bedtime." And sure enough, they trooped off to brush their teeth (one having to kneel on the counter to reach the sink). Said their prayers, even the two-year-old. Tucked themselves into bed (the two girls in bunkbeds, each boy in his own bed all tucked into corners of one bedroom). And they went to sleep, not moving, not giggling or talking, just with happy "Good nights!" And no one fussed or got up for a drink or poked their neighbour or anything.
Now I have shared a bedroom with two sisters, and I can attest to the fact that this is really amazing behaviour on the part of these four children. I remember lying awake late into the night telling each other stories, tickling each other, and generally avoiding sleep.
Whatever these parents are teaching these kids, they have it down pat. Obedient but not suppressed, cheerful and polite, helpful and articulate, just a touch of mischief, responsibility, and a strong sense of how to vote to keep things fair...I'd adopt these kids in a heartbeat. Whatever you're doing, Mom and Dad, keep it up! You're doing it right.