Snowed in today, with all three rugrats and a kicking tummy tenant. It’s actually been delightful, despite my worst fears: I find that much of parenting can be delightful if I don’t worry about the house being torn apart. And, thankfully, it’s nap time now….
I write this without judgement; by now I certainly know that all children are different, all parents are different, and God help us if we think we alone have it figured out. But here goes: sometimes, as I’m talking with other moms, they’ll reveal that their child doesn’t nap, hasn’t napped since infancy, or has never napped. Whenever I hear this, I’m filled with a mixture of awe and concern — not for the child, but for the MOTHER.
I don’t know what I’d do without nap time.
The title of this piece is highly subjective, I know; anybody can call themselves sane and believe it, even if they’ve just heard the voices in their head telling them it’s true. I do (occasionally) scream at my children, weep during episodes of “This American Life,” and forget to pay preschool tuition. But still, I think I qualify as relatively sane. With three nonstop children, a fourth child halfway incubated, a puppy who tracks in everything from outside, and a husband who comes home every night saying things like, “I’ve just spent all day staring at this regression,” how do I manage to hold things together? Answer: all my kids still take naps.
Any discussion of sleep training can be polarizing, so I’m not going to get too detailed here. Again: all kids are different, all parents are different, and my own philosophy runs towards “whatever gets you through the night.” I will say that our first child was — and remains — by far our most difficult sleeper. Whether that’s because we didn’t know what we were doing, or because that’s just who she is, I’ll never know. I remember pushing Fiona in her stroller, screaming (SHE was screaming; I was just screaming on the inside), through the Berkeley Hills when she was three months old, and thinking “This child is NEVER going to nap.”
But she did. It took effort, but by the time Campbell and Georgia came along — both of whom are more natural sleepers than Fiona ever was — I had my compass firmly pointed towards NAP. “Okay, baby,” I would tell them, “now is when you nap.” And they did.
I guard those naps fiercely. I know some families feel that younger siblings get cheated on naps because they’re always running around to their older sibling’s activities. That’s not how I roll. It was clear once we went from one child to two that coordinated naps would be even more essential to my sanity. So, if I can avoid it, I don’t schedule playdates or activities during nap times. (It may help that our children are so young; there still aren’t many afternoon activities happening in our lives).
WHY is nap time essential? Well, at this point, nap time and bed time are the two guaranteed moments in each day when I’m not with any of my children. Wait a minute, you may say, you’re telling us that the key to sanity is getting rid of your kids? YES. Yes, I am. I know that the rest children get during naps is beneficial to their overall health and development, blah blah blah — but for me nap time is a selfish thing. I love my kids, I’m thrilled to be a mama; but the thing that feeds me, the thing that energizes me, the thing that enables me to function better as a mama, is the daily quiet time when all children are behind closed doors.
How do I spend my two hours of child-less time? Here’s what I DON’T do: I don’t nap. “Nap when the baby’s napping,” they say when you have your first child. To which I reply: Are you KIDDING?!?! This is MY time, my only chance to breathe during the day. I want to use it, savor it, roll around in it, make the most of every minute! The only time I’ll nap at nap time is during the first trimester of a new pregnancy, or if I’m sick. Otherwise, I use nap time to DO things. During the first months of Fiona’s life, “doing things” included re-watching all 95 episodes of Sex and the City on my computer. (I filed that under the “mental health” category). Later, when I started working again, naps went toward my 20-hour work week. Now that I have more children, a larger house, and a fully employed husband, I spend naps cleaning, prepping dinner, paying bills — and writing. And no matter what I’m doing, I usually drink a cup of coffee to gas up for the afternoon ahead.
I already feel nostalgic for nap time. We’re on the threshold of some big changes around here, and the day is fast approaching when I won’t be able to depend on naps. Fiona no longer sleeps during naps. Because her preschool still has afternoon nap time, I enforce a “quiet rest time” on the days when she’s home. By “enforce,” I mean that I shut her in the guest room with a bin full of library books, my iPod (which I’ve filled with wholesome, educational games, like choosing outfits for Tinkerbell), and the dog. When she starts kindergarten next year (full-day, five days a week) I’m certain that she’ll no longer be napping. Campbell begins kindergarten the following year, so her napping days are similarly limited.
I’m filled with terror at the thought of weekends — not to mention entire summers — when I’ll have one, two, three, and then FOUR children who are awake all day. I can only hope that the benefits of full-day school and increased independence balance out the loss of naps. In the meantime, here’s the best advice I have for new mothers: NAP TIME. Do it — not for your kids, but for yourself.