Plato conceived of a world of Forms or ideas whose reality transcends that of the material world that we can see. In this tradition, Gnostics glorified the perfection of things spiritual while shunning the fallen world of flesh. Stephen Covey hints at the same notion when he writes of the mental creation that precedes any physical creation. William Glasser calls it one's "Quality World," which we constantly compare to the world we actually experience.
All of the above have made clear the difference between “Ideal” and “Real”—but not a clear as my kids make it each night at bedtime. Here’s what I mean....
IDEAL Monday evening schedule:
5:00 Daddy arrives home, kicks off shoes and puts away mail and work stuff.
5:05 Turn on music, dance, play while Mommy prepares dinner.
5:30 Sit down to dinner, bless food.
5:35 Eat food.
6:00 Clear table, load dishwasher, talk about the day with wife while children play.
6:30 Children put on own pajamas for bed.
6:45 Children brush own teeth.
7:00 Parents sing praises of cooperative children, with accompanying high-fives.
7:05 Children gather on parents’ laps to listen with rapt attention to stories .
7:20 Go over lesson from Tiny Tots class at church as spellbound children absorb it like dry sponges, making mental notes for application to their future behavior.
7:25 Practice memory verse so for once they don’t have to cheat to get their sticker for saying it at church.
7:30 Say prayer as a family at bedside, each girl taking a turn to talk with God while others listen, enthralled, with all five voices closing with a unified “Amen.”
7:35 Parents kiss girls good-night, sing chorus of “Jesus Loves Me” and “Miss You Till the Morning” (by Kevin Brusett).
7:45 Parents tidy house, set out clothes for next day, get ready for bed, talk and/or engage other in extracurricular activities.
9:00 Parents retire.
Is this too much to ask of three little girls and two adults in a span of four hours? Apparently so, because this is what actually happens:
REAL Monday evening schedule:
5:00 Daddy arrives home, kicks off shoes and drops mail and work stuff in middle of living room because all four girls are too cute to pass by on the way to the proper storage locations.
5:05 After hugs to the two girls willing to receive them (Rachelle plus a randomly selected one of the three daughters), Daddy breaks up fight between other two, assigns time-out to the one who committed most blatant act of violence. During time-out, Daddy lectures other participant on how she can avoid provoking similar acts of violence in future.
5:08 Daddy releases convicted daughter when time-out sentence is complete, insists on apology.
5:10 Daddy sends daughter back to time-out after two minutes of badgering daughter to apologize correctly (i.e. looking at victim of violence, saying her name, using the word “sorry,” and naming offense for which she is apologizing, all the while avoiding silly or baby talk).
5:11 Daddy attempts to trash as much junk mail and pay as many bills as possible while child is on second time out, gets distracted by incoming email, forgets that time-out is over despite resounding beep from microwave timer, until prisoner shouts, “The timer is going off, Daddy!”
5:15 Daughter released from time-out offers apology that is adequate (or at least close enough to avoid re-sentencing).
5:16 To victim of violence, Daddy expounds the value of forgiving offender, finally abandoning effort after realizing the apologizer has moved on, already having forgotten what she apologized for in first place.
5:20 Daddy returns to email and other online business.
5:30 Mommy starts feeding 1.6 children, begins begging Daddy to eat food while hot.
5:35 Mommy reminds Daddy food is getting cold and she’s already reheated it twice.
5:40 Mommy gets a few bites of food in other 1.4 children, allows tones of desperation to enter voice as she insists Daddy eat what she has prepared.
5:42 Ashlyn sows handfuls of granola throughout kitchen.
5:45 Daddy eats cold dinner while assigning Ashlyn to clean up her mess, under threat of time-out.
5:48 Daddy puts Ashlyn on time-out for having scattered granola with broom rather than sweeping up.
5:50 Mommy checks her email, relieved to have someone else in the house so she can at least read words from other adults.
5:51 Daddy releases Ashlyn, sets microwave timer for 5 minutes, after which Ashlyn will be back on time-out if granola is still on floor, explains this deal to Ashlyn.
5:59 Ashlyn returns to time-out as Daddy laments the diffusion of granola through dining area and living room as well.
6:02 Ashlyn comes back to kitchen and works with Daddy to sweep granola as Brielle holds dustpan. Daddy realizes Ashlyn does not know how to use a broom, wonders how we’ve allowed her to get by this long without cleaning up her legion messes.
6:04 Melía hits Brielle for refusing to share dustpan, is sent to time-out.
6:05 Melía attempts escape from time-out, gets swat on hand from Daddy, is returned to time-out, screaming bloody murder.
6:08 Melía released from time-out, followed by forced apology to Brielle.
6:10 Daddy and Ashlyn continue to work on sweeping kitchen, a project that would take 3 minutes if done by adult, but which takes 30 in order to teach Ashlyn that she must clean up messes she makes.
6:40 Ashlyn dumps dustpan out onto floor, scatters it again, setting back cleaning job by a quarter hour.
6:45 Mommy has phone conversation and Melía instinctively whines at her for her attention until she cuts conversation short.
7:00 Daddy and Ashlyn finish sweeping floor, dump dustpan into trash, give high-fives.
7:05 Mommy and Daddy notice that children have barely eaten, but that it is time to get ready for bed anyway—they have to learn to eat when it’s eating time or miss out.
7:10 Daddy hunts through house for matching Disney princess pajamas that have hope of being acceptable to twins.
7:20 Daddy finds two matching sets of pajamas, pants on floor in twins’ room, one shirt in drawer, one on couch arm in living room.
7:21 Daddy walks toward Melía, she swings toy in protest of imminent bedtime, with only mild degree of malice, but hits him in privates, lightly, but not lightly enough to avoid time-out.
7:22 Daddy channels pain and rage into task of creating a walkway into twins room by kicking toys into corner behind princess castle.
7:23 Daddy grabs Ashlyn as she runs by in hall, wrestles her into pajamas.
7:25 Ashlyn kicks pajama pants off, gets a swat on the leg. Daddy puts pajamas back on as Ashlyn screams.
7:32 Melía reminds Daddy, “Set da timer, Daddy! Set da timer!” Daddy sets microwave timer for two minutes.
7:33 Daddy puts toothpaste on toothbrushes during time-out
7:34 Melía released from time-out.
7:40 Daddy calls for Melía to come, counts to five. She comes two seconds too late, is sent to time-out again, screaming bloody murder.
7:43 Melía released from time-out, now agrees to get ready for bed but throws tantrum because Daddy detached Velcro tab on Pull-ups (overpriced, underabsorbant diapers used to make toddlers imagine they are making progress potty training) while she wanted to don them with tabs attached.
7:44 Daddy attempts to help Melía with Pull-ups, but is chastised till she has finished tantruming enough to accept assistance.
7:46 Ashlyn goes into bathroom, actually opens mouth before Daddy’s threatening counting (“1…2…3……4………5”) runs out, allowing him to brush teeth with vibrating mermaid toothbrush without knocking any of her pearly whites out.
7:47 Mommy somehow convinces or forces Melía to brush teeth somewhere else in house.
7:48 Exhausted by this effort, parents call a late-4th-quarter time-out for themselves and work in kitchen and bedroom, preparing for tomorrow while children engage in hyperactive play with energy inversely proportional to that of parents.
8:25 Realizing the kids have got to get to sleep, parents try to rally children in one bedroom for prayer (too late for stories or lesson). Children argue over whose room will host bedtime prayer.
8:30 Mommy and Daddy put twins in bed. Daddy goes to kitchen to clean rancid sippy cups in anticipation of upcoming milk request.
8:34 On return to twins’ room, Daddy catches Ashlyn nibbling on a piece of thread she yanked from blanket (a favorite snack of hers). He confiscates blanket and replaces it with a blanket that is less appetizing to Ashlyn. She screams bloody murder and begs pitifully for the original blanket.
8:36 Mommy and Daddy pray with twins over their screams for blanket, milk and in general protest of our abusive habit of putting them to bed at night.
8:40 Mommy brushes Brielle’s teeth. For once, she cooperates like an angel.
8:45 Twins get out of bed to come and ask for something to drink, violating the law prohibiting rising from bed after being put down. One is put in time-out on traditional chair in corner, other placed behind door in hallway.
8:48 Microwave timer sounds, twins returned to bed. Daddy breaks them the news: we are out of cow’s milk—only water or soy milk. Melía agrees to soy milk after a couple minutes, Ashlyn screams bloody murder at the announcement that cow’s milk is not an option.
8:45 Daddy pours and warms soy milk in sippy cup for Melía, brings it to her room. Ashlyn cries for her soy milk until calming down enough to ask nicely.
8:48 Daddy returns with warm soy milk for Ashlyn, who accepts it resignedly.
8:49 Daddy snuggles and kisses both girls. Mommy, who was supposed to be in bed an hour ago because she is terribly sick (I have no idea what kept her from falling asleep in our placid home…) finally crashes. Daddy prays with twins now that they are quiet enough to hear it, first in English, then the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish.
8:55 Daddy remembers the girl who’d drawn the Easy Kid lot for the night (mercifully there is usually one), and goes to Brielle’s room to pray with her too, thanking God and girlie both for her relative cooperativeness this evening.
9:01 Daddy tells sick Mommy good-night, puts off cleaning messy kitchen and great room till morning, sits down and writes blog.
John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
Thank you, Lord, for life with our little ones. Help us work and pray our way toward our plans for the ideal; and meanwhile, deliver us from begrudging the real.