Sometimes, I run out of steam. The Little Engine That Could, just can't. I hit a brick wall, and am down for the count. Contrary to a toddler’s fighting with every fiber of her being to stay awake, I long for naps. They are the answer to life’s toughest questions. Why are we here? Naps. How can we have world peace? Naps. If you’re stranded alone on a desert island, what one thing would you need the most? Naps. All wars and political strife would end if everyone would settle down and take a nap.
In my days of frequent marathon napping, I’d wake up after a three-hour stint, thinking it was the next morning. It was especially terrifying when I thought it was Monday morning. Panic ensued as I shot up out of bed, sure that I’d slept through my alarm and Cowboy had missed the school bus. Seeing the time on my alarm clock, and bright sunlight shining through my windows, I’d realized it was, thank God, still the same afternoon.
To stay obedient to the “day of rest” commandment, I take Sunday naps as often as possible. When I was growing up, we often had steak and mashed potatoes for lunch after church. Dad would make a swimming pool out of my potatoes; he’d make an indentation in the creamy white mountain and fill it with juice from the steak. It was the best part of the meal. After eating too much, we were all sleepy; we were the epitome of Dad’s often used description, "fat pigs in the sunshine.” After making a big palette of layered blankets in the middle of the living room floor, we drifted off to Dreamland. It was perfect. There was no schedule, no time restraints. We snoozed with abandon.
Then I grew up, and the Almighty Clock took over my life. Often, I’ve had to time my naps. Sometimes because Cowboy would soon be off the bus and busting through the door, other times because things like grocery shopping and cooking for my family got in the way. Knowing I have a restricted number of minutes to visit La La Land ruins everything. I wake up every six minutes, glancing at the clock to see how much time I have left. The pressure to go to sleep increases with each glance, until I’m frantically counting as many sheep as possible. Why did I destroy my copy of Waverly by Sir Walter Scott? I ask myself. A copy of that book in every household would put Ambien out of business. Of course, if I’d set my alarm clock before time-controlled naps, I’d sleep better. But, being exhausted, I’m too tired to get up and set the darn thing. So the torture continues, and I hear seconds ticking away on my digital clock as its bright red numbers mock me.
Napping is low-maintenance sleep; no prep time is required. I don’t have to “get ready for bed,” a routine I loathe. At nighttime, after blissfully watching TV with my eyes closed, I force myself off the couch and drag myself across the floor to the bathroom, to brush my teeth. Of course, my bliss is shattered as my electric toothbrush buzzes in my mouth. I might as well wash my face, I reason, splashing water on my face, which makes me more alert. Then I have to move the dogs’ beds to my room. And set my alarm. And check my alarm five to seven times to make sure it’s set for a. m. instead of p. m. Because I may have set it for p.m. in a moment of clarity, before taking a timed nap. As I lie down in bed, I’m wide eyed, staring at the ceiling. Then the thinking begins. I think about all the things I need to do the next day. I think about paying bills. I think about how I hate summer’s end. I think about when my next nap will be. I realize I could’ve gone through my bedtime routine earlier, before I parked myself on the couch. But that would’ve changed the status of my pre-bedtime nap; if you brush your teeth and wash your face, it’s no longer a nap. Bedtime is complicated.
When I still lived at home, Mom often fell asleep in her living room chair.
"Mom," I'd say.
With her mouth open wide as she snored, she’d continue catching flies. It was not her finest moment.
“Mom,” I’d repeat.
“Mwmmwmwm,” she’d mumble. Slowly, she’d open her eyes and annunciate, "What?"
"It's 10 o'clock. Go to bed. "
"Awww. I was sleeping so well," she’d whine.
“I thought you’d want to go to bed.”
Now I know, I shattered her splendid nighttime naps; I was young and ignorant of the finer things in life.
On two different occasions this summer, Flash, Cowboy, and I spent time at friends’ lake houses. Time stands still on waterfront property; clocks are merely decorative. And our favorite pastimes are eating and sleeping. Which is why, every day, one of us commented, “Oh, I’m sleepy. I’m gonna need a nap.”
My ears perked up. None of us wanted to miss out on time together, and we didn’t want to be rude by slipping off to bed. But when one person mentioned a nap, the whole group folded like a cheap sleep-deprived accordion. We had group permission. Making it official, I announced, “Okay, group nap!” I sounded like the town crier of Sleepytown. Each of us went to our respective beds. Silence was broken only by the sound of the waves breaking on the bulkhead, and birds singing. Paradise on a pillow.
My dad’s first piece of advice after I gave birth to Cowboy was, “Sleep when he sleeps.” After a few weeks of doing it my way, I put his wisdom into action. Little did I know then how much I would need that extra sleep. As Cowboy grew closer to toddlerhood, his hyperactivity rivaled that of a Chihuahua. I got no breaks when he was awake, and begged God that bedtime would miraculously be moved up to 3 p.m. Mom came over often, simply so I could rest while she spent time with Cowboy. Because he never liked being alone, until he was 12, someone was always with him during his waking hours. Every second of every day of every year. When Flash and I would come home from church, we’d both be hoping for some rest after lunch, knowing there was no way Cowboy would nap. Being the epitome of matrimonial harmony, we’d each try to beat the other to calling “nap time.”
“Did you want me to grill burgers for lunch?” Flash asked, shortly after we came through the door after church one Sunday.
“Either way.” I didn’t care about food; I wanted to feast on my dreams. My goal for the day was a three-hour nap; it’s what I’d prayed for during the sermon.
“Okay, I need to know if you want me to grill, because I need to go lie down,” Flash continued. The gauntlet had been thrown down. He was challenging me to a duel; the winner would be the First-to-Go-to-Sleep Champion.
Didn’t Flash see how quiet I was in Sunday School today? Hasn’t he noticed I’m not talking much? That usually gets his attention. Doesn’t he see the glazed over look in my eyes, or notice that I wore my pajamas under my dress so I could save time getting back in bed?
“Well, it doesn’t matter to me what y’all eat. I’m taking a nap!” I staked my ground. Touché, I told myself. Then guilt reared its weary head, as Flash walked to the grill in 110-degree weather, his head bowed and his feet shuffling. His exhaustion was deafening.
“I could cook those on the stove,” I volunteered out of pure shame, hoping he’d insist on grilling anyway. As he came into the house, I added, “Or we could have leftovers or sandwiches.”
Warmed-over food won out. Still determined to win the fight, I skipped lunch and ran to put on my pajamas. As I walked back into the kitchen for an Excedrin, Flash said, “I really don’t feel well. I need to lie down; my stomach hurts.”
“My eyes are burning,” I shot back.
“My vision is blurry,” my opponent volleyed.
“I have a migraine,” I countered. I had won. You can’t trump a migraine in our house.
“Okay,” he conceded. “I’ll rest when you get up.”
As my lovely pill worked its magic, I relaxed, and entered the Land of REM.
Until I heard rustling from the kitchen. I knew Flash was watching Cowboy, so all was well. Then I heard the pantry door open and shut at least five times. Still, I didn’t stir. I went back to sleep, and two hours later woke to the sound of Cowboy’s loud laughter. I walked into the living room to find Flash sound asleep, the TV remote still in his hand. An empty potato chip bag and a multitude of empty candy wrappers were strewn on the kitchen counter. And there was Cowboy, standing in the middle of the kitchen, with a smile as wide as Texas, as he continued laughing. He’d had a ball with no parental supervision.
It was the beginning of a new chapter. Confident that Cowboy was safe while we napped, we bought his favorite snacks, locked the doors, set our security alarm, and let him have the run of the house. He was thrilled. It was our survival tactic, and came in handy during the years when Cowboy had trouble going to sleep at night. After hours of trying everything to help him fall asleep, we sometimes gave up and let him watch a movie at 2 a.m. while we slept. Whatever it took, we did. Our sanity was at risk.
Now, the only thing that stops me from napping is that ugly guilt monster. It’s difficult when Cowboy wants to spend time with me, and I can barely keep my eyes open. So, I always hope that he’ll be nap-ready at the same time I am.
“Cowboy, what do you want to do?” I often ask in the afternoon. “Do you want to watch a movie, play a game, listen to music, or take a nap?”
I hold my breath, silently pleading he will say “nap.”
When he tells me he wants to watch a movie, I grab toothpicks to hold my eyelids open. But within 10 minutes, I’m struggling to stay alert. I’m back to fighting sleep, like in my toddler years, for the sake of quality time with my teenage son. Finally, I can take no more. It’s time to ask permission.
“Cowboy, I’m so tired. I’m sorry. Can I please take a nap while you watch your movie?”
Graciously, he always says “Yes.”
As I get cozy on the couch, ready to greet the Sandman, I hear the distant rustling of a potato chip bag, the sound of the freezer opening and closing, and the squeak of the pantry door. All is well, and my guilt dissolves as I realize my Cowboy is enjoying my nap as much as I am.