At bedtime, 4-year-old Riley Carey-Brown was a master of those maddening requests that stretch the day just a bit longer. She needed a hug. She was hungry. She wanted to be tucked in — again. She had a secret to tell.
“I think they all have a plan together,” one of her moms, Casey Carey-Brown, said of the preschool set's nighttime shenanigans. “They work out a big list of items they can pull from.”
One night in December, Riley kept coming out of her room, and an exhausted and frustrated Carey-Brown tried something new. She sent Riley to bed with crayons and paper and told her she could draw for as long as she liked — as long as she stayed in bed.
“She was thrilled with that because I wasn’t telling her to go to sleep,” said Carey-Brown, 35, of Boston. “That night she fell asleep drawing.”
And Carey-Brown captured the moment in a picture, her daughter snoozing in her purple pajamas, crayon in hand, a drawing of a multicolored tree tucked under one elbow. Riley enjoyed the drawing time and the photo so much that she asked to do it again.
It’s become a bedtime routine that has followed just about every night since, with Carey-Brown sharing the photos online. There’s a sleeping Riley flat on her back, face-down on her tummy and curled up on her side, artwork and supplies nearby.
Sometimes Riley falls asleep at school and isn’t ready for bed right at 7 p.m., and Carey-Brown likes giving her a way to quiet down without the "harsh reality" of a strict sleep time.
Bedtime now, Carey-Brown says, is “super easy,” as Riley has eased up on the stalling tactics as she’s busy drawing.
“That’s usually a really hard time of the day, so I’m thrilled about it,” Carey-Brown says. “I love seeing how creative she is.
“It’s great to see her learning something new and it’s made that time a lot easier,” she added. “She’s relaxed. I’m not frustrated with her. It’s been really fun.”
Riley drinks her water and gets into bed with a notebook and crayons or colored pencils. “She says, ‘Don’t tuck me in until after I’m done drawing,’” Carey-Brown says.
She sings and talks to herself as her drawings take shape. Sometimes she draws for five minutes, other nights, an hour.
When the room falls quiet, Carey-Brown takes a photo, clears off the bed and tucks Riley in for the night, making sure to leave the artwork where Riley can see it in the morning. “She gets mad if she wakes up and it’s gone,” Carey-Brown said.
Winter themes have shown up in Riley’s work — a snowman, a solstice tree, a wreath. She drew a moose several times after learning about the animal in school. But the daughter of two women who, as Carey-Brown says, don’t even wear earrings, mostly draws fancy princesses.
“She’s drawing these gorgeous dresses with millions of layers and beautiful long hair, and I have a mohawk and her (other) mom has spiky hair,” Carey-Brown says. “It’s cool to see how much of an individual she is.”
Carey-Brown, who blogs at Life With Roozle, is also enjoying the peaceful moments captured in the photos, and feeling a little more like she’s getting bedtime right, rather than, as she wrote on her blog, it feeling “like a whole lot of wrong.”
“It feels like one of those quiet moments after a chaotic moment. You did everything wrong as a parent and they’re sleeping and everything is quiet and good,” she said, describing the feeling. “Maybe I’m doing all right after all.”
More photos of this artistic little sleeping beauty: