Bedtime Books by
(360 Stories)

Prompted By Sleepy Time

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Reading to David, pregnant with Jeffrey, 1989

My father taught me to say prayers at bedtime: “Now I lay me down to sleep/ Bless my Lord, My soul to keep. If I should die before I wake/ Bless the Lord, My soul to take. God bless Mommy and Daddy and Ricky.” It was years before I realized that was not a Jewish prayer! I have no idea what my father was thinking, but I did like the ritual.

I don’t remember my parents reading to me (maybe my mother did a bit, but not a lot). I liked to read to myself as soon as I was old enough. I’d read for a while with the lights on (Mary Poppins, Cat in the Hat, Winnie the Pooh, Little Women when I was older), and under the covers with a flashlight after the lights were supposed to be out. My books were good company and I lived inside my head.

In Detroit, we had a small, three bedroom house. All the bedrooms were corner rooms. The window by my bed overlooked the driveway. My father worked two nights a week (and six days). I’d listen and wait for his car to come up the driveway. Once I heard it, I could truly rest.

I began reading to my own children as soon as they could sit still and sort of pay attention. My dear friend Valerie worked for a children’s book publisher when I was pregnant with David and a huge carton of books arrived before he was even born – all kinds from squishy, plastic books to be played with in the bath to cardboard books for infants to books for slightly older readers.

Rosa, 5/19/22, as David joked when he sent us this photo: “nothing like getting sucked into a good book”.

It was the beginning a great children’s library much of which I kept and a huge bag was brought over to London last December for Rosa. She is 5 months old, but they already read to her. She particularly likes “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” because her dad makes a big sound “BOOM BOOM”. She waits for that.

Bedtime in Jeffrey’s room, 1991

Above, Jeffrey has a book open in his lap, ready for Dan to read to him, while David looks on. In the Featured photo, I’m pregnant with Jeffrey, sitting on David’s bed, reading a stack of books at bedtime (I believe they are Richard Scarry books). The children knew this was the way to relax at the end of the day: bath time, sometime to sip on before tooth brushing, reading, then into bed. David has always been a great sleeper. With Vicki’s hyperactive brain, not so much. Both of them sleep weird hours however, and there is nothing I can do about that at this point in their lives.


I’ve already sent most of the classic young children’s books to London, but have one copy of this here in Newton. Eric Carle is the master and even has his own museum in Western MA, as his drawings are sublime.

Rosa, in the caterpillar, enjoying the book (5 months old)

I loved reading to my children – “Goodnight Moon”, “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”, even the scary Roald Dahl books. As Jeffrey grew older, we read the whole Brian Jaques “Redwall” series aloud (eventually he outgrew me and read the books on his own; I missed snuggling and reading with him).

As I’ve described in previous stories, I’ve struggled with migraines for decades now and have been on a prescription cocktail at bedtime for over 20 years. An interrupted night’s sleep is a migraine trigger for me, so these meds help me fall asleep (though none are actual sleeping pills). Increasingly, the problem is getting enough sleep. I have become an early riser. As a teenager, I could easily sleep until noon. Once I entered the work force, of course, that had to end and early on, I discovered the best time to reach an executive (back in the days before cellphones) was early mornings, before secretaries arrived to screen calls. So I became the first person in the office. When children arrived, the habit of rising early was firmly established.

So now, even though nothing presses me to get up early, I find that I usually wake up around 6:30am, even though I usually go to bed around midnight. I no longer read much (due to dry eye). I know I am not supposed to read on screens at bedtime, but I do like to watch the news, so I get washed up, record the news, then fast-forward through it. My doctor recently said that the news these days is anxiety-provoking and it may not be a good idea to watch it and then try to fall asleep.

Lately, my sleep patterns have become weird. I’ve been waking in the middle of the night. I do fall back asleep, but certainly don’t feel rested when I wake up. I find that I nod out at night while watching TV. I may wake early in the morning, and have weird dreams as I drift in and out of sleep, also provoking feeling ill and headachy all day. I’m watching to see if this abates or if this becomes a permanent way of existence.

Having Rosa fall asleep in my arms was the sweetest!

Rosa drifts asleep in my arms.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    A lovely collection of children’s reading through your life — as child, parent and now grandparent. And, as you noted about my story, I love that your father used the same nighttime “prayer” as I did for my story.

    So nice that you now get to see and participate in this tradition being passed on to Rosa. I’m delighted to know that “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” is as popular as ever. Rosa is definitely going to be a great reader herself when she grows up.

    That said, sorry about your current sleeping ills. I recommend you do what I do when I wake up in the middle of the night: do “Wordle” and “Spelling Bee.” That way, I either fall back to sleep or exercise my aging brain.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, John. It is nice that some traditions live on, like our beginning “prayer” and reading the same books throughout the generations (though my kids have already discovered that some of David’s childhood books will no longer pass the PC police).

      Thanks for your suggestions about my middle-of-the-night waking dilemma. However, I don’t do either of those puzzles, they both require screens (a no-no according to every sleep doctor) and my waking is very brief. I do fall back asleep quickly (I just look at the clock for a moment), but then have weird dreams and awake feeling like I’ve run a marathon – no rest for the weary! This morning I dreamt about a friend who died last week in a car crash! Truly horrible.

  2. Thanx Betsy for sharing your family’s bedtime rituals and the stories read to you, those you read to your kids, and those now read to your grandbaby!

    I hope you saw the NYTimes magazine cover story awhile ago featuring pictures of the shoes of folks who had died during the year. Eric Carle’s paint-spattered pair graced the cover.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I did not see the NYTimes magazine cover, Dana, but saw that his one year anniversary was quite recent. We certainly loved him in our household (and I’m so happy to see that tradition continue with the cute photo that Anna sent me).

  3. Marian says:

    How sweet are the photos, Betsy. I love that Rosa is being read to so young. Sorry about your sleep woes. One trick that I used during menopause, recommended by a woman doctor, was to take a teaspoon of children’s benadryl. It got me back to sleep but didn’t make me groggy, which Tylenol does if I use it. I don’t naturally nap and really avoid it because it triggers migraines, which luckily for me are rare.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks for the advice, Mare. I take so much medication for sleep as is, I wouldn’t mix in Benadryl. My primary care rolled his eyes recently when he saw the cocktail that I’m on (and have been for YEARS). I usually don’t have problems falling back asleep; it’s the bad dreams that come with that sleep that are alarming.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Love the pictures of you with Jeffrey and now with Rosa. Perfect circle of life. I share your love of children’s books. Hope you get back into a better sleep pattern. Definitely stay away from the news!

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    I love the family pix! We’ll have a new niece in a couple of weeks, which prospect has my wife giddy. First one of the next generation. I wonder what silly letter designation they’ll get? “Gen S” for shafted by the Baby Boomers seems likely.

    I have for months been completely ignoring current events that are not actually happening to me, and am the better for it. Que sera, sera etc etc. Or as Kosh said on Babylon 5, “Once the avalanche has started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote.”

    This pebble is gonna whistle past all the graveyards.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Dave. My husband and I watched the final quarter of the last two Celtics games (last night and three nights ago). Both were squeakers and had my heart racing, but at least the C’s won last night and are in the finals for the first time in a long time. But it did get my heart racing and I commented that I thought it would be difficult to get to sleep. But it wasn’t. Guess happiness helps.

      Happy that you will soon have a new niece. That, too, will be wonderful. Babies are so much fun!

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story, Betsy, and I love the image of you in 1989 reading to David. Nice to know that you, like me, have no memory of being read to, but loved to read yourself to sleep as soon as you were able to.

    I also have a wonderful collection of children’s books that I used to read to each of my kids at bedtime, and I can’t bear to part with them. I guess if I never have grandchildren I will just donate them to a library or daycare center.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Suzy, it is sad that I can’t read so much any longer, as I did love to read, but I’ve grown used to it. I think lots of us Retrospecters read with flashlights under the covers. I suppose it isn’t surprising that people who now like to write were also big readers in their youth.

      Hang onto those children books. I never thought I’d have grandchildren. You never know! They are classic and someone will appreciate them someday.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    All those pictures of reading to children were lovely. Good to know the tradition continues. Sorry to hear about your friend and recent troubling dreams—hope some sweet dreams may return.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Khati. When David’s high school English teacher discovered that I was theatre major, he invited me to come read Lady Macbeth with his 11th grade class (David was in 9th grade and reading Romeo and Juliet – it would have been too embarrassing for him if I’d come into his classroom). So I bought the same edition that class used, the teacher and I picked the scene and a student I’d read with, and I proceeded to scare the crap out of the poor kid, who had never read with an adult, much less a trained actress portraying one of the scariest of Shakepeare’s ladies. Poor kid…not the sweet childhood reading experiences I remember so fondly!

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