Negotiating Surrender: Quiet Time

The nap, my friends, is dead. It made it past 4, and still lives on in sick days and after late nights, with much cajoling. But by and large, Pippin seems to be of his father’s school of sleep: less than the average bear. (His mother, on the other hand, was falling asleep on the way home from kindergarten until 6.)

I fought long and bitterly for nap time, which Pip would have liked to discontinue at 2 1/2, when I was pregnant with Scout, and which possibly would have literally killed either me or him. Sleepy introvert mamas need their quiet time, too. And now I’ve put a similarly insane amount of work into rebranding nap time as “quiet time.”

We have this ok to wake up clock, and at the time, in grad school, it felt like a wild indulgence even to ask for it on a Christmas list, but it’s paid for itself in dividends to the point where we contemplate even packing it on trips. Not only do we use it for morning wakeup, but it’s invaluable for making quiet time happen.

What I do is put Pippin in his bedroom by himself, set the clock for an hour and walk away. The rule is simple enough even he can understand: if I can’t tell if he’s taking a nap, he gets a treat. (Usually half an episode of Octonauts and five yogurt raisins, in this hedonist family.) He may come down only if he needs help using the bathroom, and he must be very, very quiet. I am very firm on this point — some might say fanatical.

At first I’d only give him books, but now that he’s got the general concept down, he gets to bring a bag of quiet toys upstairs with him. When he’s a bit more reliable, I’ll let him branch out into art supplies up there — for now, he writes his name all over the room in white chalk of mysterious origins.

I don’t think I need to tell you how essential this is to my sanity. Years ago, Catholic All Year gave me permission to carve out quiet time for myself and my kids, something my mom, a much more extroverted caregiver, always prioritized for herself, too. I use the time for all kinds of frivolous and noble purposes, from dinner prep to naps of my own, from reading to writing to straightening up. It is a small oasis in our day, a little moment of peace that benefits us all.

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Experiments in Naps

So I’ve been napping at naptime. I’m not pregnant. I’m not (always) sick. I don’t have a newborn.

At first I felt kind of guilty about this. I could prep dinner! I could write! I could finish one of the zillion books I’m currently alternating.

But the house grows quiet and I know, now that Pippin is finally taking quiet time instead of naptime (RIP NAP), that I’ve got exactly one hour free.

I ask myself, as I have ever since mastering the simultaneous nap, what would be most sustaining for myself, and often, I lie down. Sometimes I read or write a bit from the horizontal. Usually I transfer a load of laundry or turn on the slow cooker before I lie down. But I generally end up in the same place.

I felt embarrassed, until I confessed my new habit to my husband. He pointed out that stillness often leads to breakthroughs and refreshment. He reminded me that he generally doesn’t listen to anything on his walk to work, and I recalled how he’d often solve difficult problems in his thesis by taking a break and doing something entirely different.

This season has been my season of monastic reading, mostly unintentional. First there was A Canticle for Leibowitzthen In This House of BredeIn the latter, particularly, there’s a tension between the old order nuns and the new, young nuns, who, even in their cloistered order, long for productivity, efficiency.

For several years, I’ve mostly used the St. Benedict Prayer Book. The night prayer includes the psalm: “Ponder on your bed and be still.”

I’m not a good ponderer. Or, I mean, I suppose I’m a person who likes to think (hence this here blog), but I also have a deep commitment to proving my right to take up space through efficiency, output, motion. And the next line, lest we forget, is “Make justice your sacrifice and trust in the Lord.” It is not enough to spend my days lazing, neglecting house and home and justice all in one, but it is valuable, perhaps, for just a beat, to ponder on my bed and be still.

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May we all nap as thoroughly.

You gotta fight for your right…to NAPTIME

I am not really into attachment parenting, though I will lug my baby around in the Ergo to keep us all sane. I am not really committed to Baby Led Weaning, though it’s worked for Scout. I like having a hippie birth, but then I want all the vaccines. A friend once told me that I made her feel like it was OK to feed her child McDonalds, so maybe that is my parenting style: apply fast food as needed. Mostly, though, I’m kind of a parenting tribe misfit, borrowing a little of this, a little of that. I have no real parenting identity.

What I am, instead, is a passionate believer in The Nap.

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The Nap Tent (TM): helping reluctant sleepers to nap in the car since 2012.

Pippin has always been a wretched napper. I don’t think it’s something we did, but just the way God made him. He’s not a kid who relaxes very easily (he comes by this honestly, ahem), and so we spent the first couple of years of his life trying to trick him into sleep.

And there were some missteps, for sure, but I regret nothing. Because this is the kind of parent I am: the parent who needs her kids to nap.

It’s a rhythm that’s shaped my life for approaching four years, and at this point, if I’m not reading or writing or sleeping myself in a dim, quiet house come 1 o’clock, I feel off. Along the way, I’ve met people who will blow their kids’ naps quite casually if something exciting comes up, parents who admit defeat and allow their kids to kick the nap at two years old. And…that might be in other circumstances, or with subsequent kids, but The Nap is something worth fighting for.

I put Pippin into pajamas at nap time to make him sleepier. We are into blackout curtains and noise machines and loveys, and swings for babies. I’ve bribed. (Successful, mostly.) I’ve threatened. (Unsuccessful, overwhelmingly.) We’ve moved bedtime and wakeup time to make it happen. A nap-striking kid makes me angrier than almost anything else in this motherhood gig, but on a normal day, when things move smoothly, we meet back up in the afternoon refreshed and better able to enjoy each other through the day.

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The Nap at 3 years old.

There are times I’ve wanted to quit. When Pippin learned to stand up in his crib and holler HELP ME. When he went through a phase where he’d be so low-sugar when he’d wake up that he’d shriek until I could convince him to eat a snack. There have been other times when I couldn’t get him down fast enough — especially when I was pregnant — and I’d start dreaming of nap time at 10:30.

Scout is a better sleeper. At 11 months, she still often takes three naps, whereas Pippin was down to a single nap by his first birthday.

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The Nap pro

I have to hustle and cajole and delay to get the kids to nap simultaneously, but it quite literally makes our day. I feel like the nap is under-appreciated as a means to family harmony. When we all get a little time alone and some rest, the whole day runs more smoothly. I can understand how it would be less of a priority for other mothers, but for this introverted, low-energy, melancholic lady, it keeps me sane, and I plan to insist on quiet time for the kids as they finally age out of naps.

In the end, I want to like my kids, to enjoy being around them, and paradoxically, to make that happen, I have to get them to sleep early and often. And so I do.

I am, I guess you could say, a Nappist.

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Sometimes I like you best when you’re asleep. Is that OK?