I get the most out of naptime by staying awake. On most days, I pay bills, try to keep the house and lawn in working order, cook meals and plan my days, all while my son, Nicholas, sleeps. While he’s awake, I live on his level. Naps give me the chance to deal with grown-up problems.
On Saturday afternoons, however, naptime allows me to glance at a couple of newspapers while my wife, Beth, likes to garden.
During one of those afternoons, two-and-a-half-year-old Nicholas was buried under his white comforter for his daily nap while I sat in the living room with the papers, relishing the quiet and a chance to catch up on the news.
Beth came home from the local garden center, loaded with pink geraniums, yellow marigolds and forsythia with their yellows buds on spindly, brown branches and their roots wrapped in big balls of dirt.
She wanted to head into the garden, which she treats like a second child, nurturing, tending and feeding it to the point of being a conversation piece with the neighbors. But first, she wanted to change out of her jeans with the fancy stitching on the pockets into her faded gardening jeans.
That meant she had to go upstairs to change. In our bedroom. Which is next to Nicholas’s bedroom. Where he was napping, undisturbed.
Another napper, Winston Churchill, wrote that he liked to doze off for a while during the day “to renew all the vital forces.” Studies have shown that naps are beneficial for the heart and memory. But I remain conscious and productive and do all I can to make them last.
“Can’t you do it later?” I asked Beth in a stage whisper. “You’ll wake him.” He gets about 10 hours of sleep a night, but I still generally lull him around 2 p.m. and he sleeps till around 4 p.m., when he digs himself out from under his comforter and arises with his blond mop of bed hair. I’ve found that if I make much noise around 3:30 p.m., he wakes up and stays awake. It was 3:20.
“But I want to garden. I have so few hours on the weekend,” Beth said. She commutes to her office in New York City each weekday, while I stay home and care for Nicholas.
“Can’t you garden in those jeans?” I asked, betraying my ignorance of the subtleties of women’s jean wear. “These are my good jeans,” Beth protested. “You don’t understand. I have to look so hard to find the right pair of jeans. I’m not going to get dirt on them.”
With that, Beth squeaked up the hardwood steps of our 80-year-old house. I’ve dreamed of getting a runner for those stairs since Nicholas was born — anything to damp down the noise and raise the likelihood that naptime will endure — but other house projects always seem to take precedence. I was sure this naptime was doomed. Nicholas would wake up and my sacred time would be over.
Soon enough, Nicholas will stop taking siestas altogether. He’s slated to start morning preschool in the fall. He might still snooze in the afternoon, but he might not. In a few years, he’ll be at school full-time and naps will be a distant memory.
As the little boy blossoms into the young man, his bed sheets with the fire-engine and train prints will go the way of his sleep breaks and the days we shared. He’ll spend less and less time at home. As much as I miss the occasional lost naptime now, I’ll miss Nicholas’s company much more then. So I cherish every waking moment shared with him.
Nevertheless, on this Saturday afternoon, I was a bit sensitive about that squeaky staircase. I needn’t have lost any sleep over it. Nicholas didn’t stir until I walked into his room and woke him just after 4 p.m. He was soon helping Beth in the garden, his vital forces renewed.
Image by: John Morgan, Flickr
Christopher Harder is a stay-at-home dad who left his job as an editor at The Wall Street Journal web site two-and-a-half years ago to care for his son. He’s been a journalist for 19 years and his essays on parenting have appeared in a variety of publications.