When Elodie is worn-out and cranky, we call the ensuing spectacle the tired crazies. Typically, we know the tired crazies have arrived when she begins waving her little balled up fists around haphazardly. She loses her sense of humor. She is easily frustrated. The more frequently she rubs her eyes, the closer we come to watching a normally sunny pumpkin transform into a sour lemon. We never know what could push her over the edge, jettisoning her from the milder tired crankies to a full-blow case of the tired crazies. An ill-timed kiss on the cheek from a scratchy-faced dad could do it.
As her parents, we’ve gotten to where we know the signs of an impending fit of the tired crazies, and we do what we can to prevent the meltdown. It’s easy, really. We just put her down for a nap.
Well, as it turns out, I suffer from the tired crazies as well. It’s hard to confess, but it’s true. Elodie is not one of those babies who, at 6 weeks old, settled into the habit of sleeping eight hours at a time. It hasn’t yet happened at 6 months old either. So, it’s been half a year since I’ve slept through the night myself.
Oh, those blissful nights when I went to sleep and didn’t get up four to five hours later, then fell back asleep only to be awoken two to three hours later. Those heavenly nights of uninterrupted, pre-baby sleep are like a shimmering mirage to me now… literally, right now, writing this manifesto at five in the morning through eyes that feel loaded with sandpaper even after coffee (which I never drank before becoming a mother). And while it’s taken me awhile to admit it, I really can’t run on caffeine and motherly hormones alone. I must sleep, and sleep when I can, to save the people around me from suffering the ugly consequences of being in my presence when I’m fighting a bout of the tired crazies.
So this week I write in defense of naptime, not just for kids, but for moms as well.
Somewhere between nursery school and entering the job force, women lose the ability to sleep guiltlessly during the day. Of course, as with any sweeping generalization, there are exceptions. I know there are women out there who have no qualms about pulling the covers up over their heads and forgetting about the world for a while… but I’m going to wager that the percentage of the female population who are able to do this regularly is much less than the percentage of serial nap-takers among men. Men seem to suffer from nap-phobia on a much lesser scale. Take my husband as an example. He has absolutely no misgivings about settling into bed/couch/hammock and powering down completely – any time of the day, any day of the week – big log-sawing snores and all. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 a.m. and perfect weather for a hike, or 5 p.m. and time to start preparing dinner. He’s tired, so he sleeps.
This concept – sleeping when you’re tired, even if the clock tells you it isn’t yet bedtime – has escaped the psyches of most women. As a recovering napophobe, I understand the argument against napping all too well. It’s as if taking a nap signals to the world that you are a slacker, willing to waste precious daylight in the pursuit of rest. Why nap when you could be checking off boxes on your to-do list, or better yet, burning calories?
Here’s why: You are a better person after taking a nap. You are a better mother, especially.
This week, I experimented with repeated nap taking. When Baby Elle went to sleep in the middle of the day, so did I. I signed out of Hotmail, put my cell phone on vibrate mode in another room, even left the clothes in the dryer, and I took a nap. When I woke up one to two-and-a-half hours later, the world hadn’t stopped revolving without me. Nothing, in fact, had changed while I slept, save for our clothes getting wrinkly in the dryer. But I had changed. When the garbage truck drove away before I could pull out the polycart, and the jog stroller got a flat tire, I didn’t have a meltdown. My sense of humor returned. I uncurled my fingers from their tight nest in my fist, and I stopped rubbing my eyes. An ill-timed kiss on the cheek by a scratchy-faced husband didn’t send me over the edge.
While I will always probably harbor lingering reservations about napping, thanks to years of denying myself them in the quest to do more in our do more society, becoming a sleep-deprived mother has – if nothing else – made me tired enough to allow myself the pleasure of curling up beside my baby and taking a nap. And although I will likely suffer bouts of the tired crazies again, at least I’ll have another convincing reason to consent to naptime.