PARENTS LOOK forward to their children going through stages, such as first steps and first words. Even that first time on the potty can look pretty good when you've been changing diapers for a year.

But as children grow into preteens, we start to dread the next stage or the newest "first." Not because our kids are so terrible, but because we were so terrible. When I was in fifth grade, for instance, I didn't want to listen to my teacher. I needed to make bad decisions, and I needed to make them consistently. Maybe that's why, when I wrote my first book, my fifth-grade teacher came to a reading with a list of my classroom transgressions.

Apparently, she'd saved them for 23 years.

Fortunately, my daughter, Eve, isn't like I was - at least not yet. But at 11, she is growing up. She has her mother's long hair and cinnamon-colored skin. She has my smile and optimistic outlook. When I look at her, I see a girl who will grow into a statuesque, beautiful executive who will one day change the world. Unfortunately, she's now in a dangerous stage of her development. What stage is it, you ask? It's the stage in which she wants to stay up later than her brother on school nights.

Maybe you don't see the danger in that. Maybe you think it's just fine for an 11-year-old to stay up later than her 8-year-old brother. Perhaps you believe it would be good for us to extend our evening ritual by adding an extra bedtime. But if you believe that, my friend, you're obviously not a parent.

If you were a parent, you'd understand the convenience of having two kids ready for bed at the same time. You'd know that you couldn't possibly come home from work and end your day as it began - with a preteen girl talking endlessly about Justin Bieber, Mindless Behavior and the latest fashions at Hollister.

If you were a parent, you'd know that 30 minutes of peace and quiet is the equivalent of a twenty-something's night at the club. In the VIP section. With runway models. And free liquor.

If you don't understand where I'm coming from, there's no way you're a parent. If you were, you'd understand that a parent who condones separate bedtimes is like an inmate who begs the warden for a longer prison term. It's just not done. Ever. By anyone.

Bedtime for a parent is like an all-expenses-paid vacation to some faraway island where Mr. Roarke and Tattoo are waiting on the runway. Bedtime for a parent is like winning the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, but without greedy relatives calling you every five minutes.

Bedtime for a parent is like a tiny slice of heaven on a freshly baked Ritz cracker. It's kinda sweet, a little salty, with just a hint of butter. Bedtime melts in your mouth, my friend. And if you're a parent, you understand that implicitly.

But, granting Eve's request for a later bedtime would go way beyond the consequences of the moment. Letting her go to bed later would open Pandora's box. Not only would she feel that we'd given in to her current demands - she'd be emboldened to ask for more.

She'd ask for my car keys so that she could take a spin around the block. She'd request her mother's heels and makeup for the fifth-grade dance in the gym. She'd ask for a plane ticket to Beverly Hills and shopping trip on Rodeo Drive.

But the worst consequence of her little late-night escapades would be this: She'd figure out that she's old enough to handle more responsibility. That's when we'd really be in trouble.

With so much at stake, I've come up with a plan. It's risky, but if it works, bedtime will remain the sacred moment that it's always been, and our parental sanity will stay intact.

Here's what we'll do: Since Eve wants to stay up late and we don't, we can trade places. She can bang on the door after one of us has been in the shower for 15 minutes. She can tell us to stop stalling when we repeatedly run downstairs and pretend we've forgotten something.

She can lay out our clothes, wake us up in the morning, make breakfast and lunch, and drive me to work. Then she can come home and work some more.

If she lasts for two weeks, I'll give her my paycheck - and the bills. With the 20 bucks she'll have left over, she can buy herself a nice pillow, because she'll definitely want to go to sleep after that.

Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three will speak on "True Lies: Confessions of a Daily News Novelist" at 7 p.m. Friday at Arcadia University. For details, email isardj@arcadia.edu or call 267-620-4886 for information. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.