When it’s bedtime and three tired and pajamaed kids have truly come to the end of their day, then it behooves us to send up a small prayer that Miss Michelley will not, having got a nap in over her bottle, revive to enjoy the rest of the evening with us. Once that idea has taken root in her mind, once her pink pop-eyes and pistoning legs have communicated her intention sufficiently for us to understand it, the thing is hard to undo. What happens then can go something like this.

I usher the kids up the stairs. Lights go off, quick, quick, so they don’t think it’s time to play. Then one goes into the crib, and two into the bathroom. One down.

A noise of galloping is heard on the stairs behind us. I don’t have to look; I know what it is: Tuppence, whose chief ambition in life (next her longing to be indoor-outdoor) is to spend a night upstairs. This is not allowed, because the one night we tried it she got ostentatious with her privileges and tried to spend it with Michelle. In lieu of receiving her heart’s desire, she finds what solace she can in interrupting our slumbers however she may; she is creative, and uses whatever means come to hand, er, paw. But she also tries often to be already upstairs in hiding by the time we ascend. We have grown wise now, and we go looking for her and boot her out.

I pluck one child off the toilet and put another in its place. Water on for Lewis, who still can’t get his own shirt off either and is eternally baffled by the pull-knob in the bathroom sink. Squelch Ingrid’s comment; she’s probably telling me about the last three times she went potty with a view to avoiding this last time so she can play it as a wild-card after everything else is done, at the very eleventh hour, just before I’m about to go back downstairs.

The toothbrushes are missing. Usher the kids to the bedroom. Michelle is standing up. Grab Tuppence, run her downstairs, shut the door. Back upstairs, lay Michelle down.

“Ingrid,” I ask, “where are the toothbrushes?”

I have a vague memory of seeing them on my desk downstairs–my fault–but that was hours ago. They wouldn’t still be there. Ingrid’s eyes brighten. This is a heavensent chance.

“Can I go get them?”

No. She cannot. She begins moving in tight backward circles, as she always does when she is thinking hard. “Well…well…well, well, well…they’re, they’re, theey’re…well, I saw Lewis’s somewhere…”

Clearly this is going to strain her brain. Michelle is sitting up again. I send Ingrid down the stairs; she leaves the door wide open and Tuppence rejoins us. No subtlety in this cat. You’d think she could sneak, under the circumstances, but no, she comes like a handful of cavalry. You could hear her a block away. Her demeanor says–all over it–“I’m gonna make it. For just two glorious seconds, I’m gonna get in there.” In there indeed she gets; I have to crawl across the rocking chair and around the easel to get her out again.

Inge comes back; her memory has served her quite well. In fact, she has found Lewis’s toothbrush, but not her own. She remembers dropping it somewhere, with a red pen. She wants to know if she can borrow Lewis’s. I pack her into bed, despite protests. Michelle jumps up and down, full of the joy of living, especially after nine. Lewis jumps up and down in bed, probably thinking about his Dodge Viper. Inge sort of bubbles up under her blankets and forms the letter “V” upside down. Not sure how she does that; I think it signifies that she wants to brush her teeth.

I take Tuppence downstairs. The monitor tells me what I already knew: I should have taken Michelle upstairs when she was asleep, instead of reading that extra story about Frog and Toad.

But…it was a good story. It’s called, “The Button.” Ever read it?