When my kids were babies, there was an hour of the day (sometimes two on especially rough days) when the sunlight disappeared, the tears started, and I truly saw the hands on the clock pass by more slowly. I called it “The Witching Hour,” though I cannot take full credit for that clever phrase, for all I know I read it on a blog or in a parenting book.
The Witching Hour started roughly as dusk settled in, around 5 PM. It was the moment the kids got too tired to hold themselves together and they would lose it. They weren’t hungry or in need of a diaper change; rather, they were spent. The day had been too much; they needed to let out all of the emotion that had been building up. They cried and fussed; sometimes, they screamed. I tried to soothe them: I’d sing, bounce them up and down, walk around the house holding them in my arms. When that failed—and it often did—I’d put the kids down in the crib or playpen, sneak into the other room, and call my husband.
“When are you coming home?”
He would give me a time frame, and I’d look at that clock to start the countdown. By the time he walked in the door, I was at my end. I’d hand over the loudest child and breathe for the first time since The Witching Hour began.
There’s much about those early years of my kids’ lives I’ve forgotten—or chosen to forget—but The Witching Hour left an indelible mark. Thankfully, as the kids got older and as I became a more confident parent, it went away.
These days The Witching Hour has taken on a different shape, but it still has all of the key elements: tears and stress, with a dash of let’s-push-Mom-over-the-edge.
Interestingly, The Witching Hour does not appear on the weekends, just Monday through Friday, starting at 7:30 AM. It begins when I look at the clock and note that we are 45 minutes away from leaving for school and 60 minutes away from the ring of the school bell. I put backpacks with packed lunches at the front door and make sure my bag is ready to go. And, with those simple steps toward the start of the day, the time-space continuum is altered so that
e v e r y t h i n g
s l o w l s
d o w n.
My son, normally a bouncing, energetic kid, begins to move at a pace only someone stuck in cement would say is fast. He becomes distracted by everything—Legos, cereal, books, his toes—and is accordingly unable to get dressed without multiple reminders.
The Witching Hour affects my ebullient daughter differently. MAMA, she yells, big crocodile tears falling down her face.
She cries over things most people would never think about. She rejects the clothes she’s picked out for school, desperately asking for the outfit she wore yesterday. She is thrown by the location of her pink vest, the choice of pink striped or pink polka dot tights, and the color of her toothpaste (it, as you might have guessed, has got to be pink).
We’re going to be late, so I
I hate the yelling so much. Every parenting website warns against the dangers of yelling (It will cause irreparable damage. Your yelling will become your child’s inner dialogue—for life.), but I am without options. This Witching Hour does not come with a countdown to the arrival of my husband, or the promise of a fast-approaching bedtime. I have few options, except to get them out the door, an exercise that no amount of the-night-before-organization can speed up.
All of this takes FOREVER. And, then, suddenly, it’s 8:15 AM.
We have to leave for school.
This is when the kids forget how to put on their boots and snow pants (you mean they go over my bum?). They tease each other and ask a zillion questions (Mommy, why was the Jabba the Hutt bad? Why did Elsa have magic ice powers?). I feel like I am hopping on one foot and then another trying to get them out the door.
After more emotion (More tears! More yelling!), we’re out the door—well after our 8:15 AM goal. We walk to school, and somehow, miraculously, that short journey through the bitter cold and snow, past dogs and other families, serves as the great counterbalance to The Witching Hour. The kids stop moving
s l o w l y
and instead sing, play “What Time is it Mr. Fox,” and tell me made-up stories. They hold my hand. I start to breathe again. By the time we reach school—just before the late bell rings—the kids are happy, though I’m still shaken by The Witching Hour.
Eventually, I get caught up in my day, and forget about The (New) Witching Hour—until the next morning at 7:30 AM that is.