The Gentle Art of Napping

My mother was a napping aficionado. With eight children, several in diapers at the same time, the woman had to have a rest time plan. Predictably, by mid-afternoon of any summer day, the babies would be laid down to sleep, venetian blinds would be pulled down to the partially opened windows, the TV shut off, and the kitchen was closed.

Everyone from babies to teenagers laid down for a nap. During my formative years, my five sisters and I shared one big bedroom, the older sisters separated from the younger ones by an archway. I can still see my older sisters through that archway reading quietly, pony-tailed, glasses on, and their faces buried in their books. One of us younger siblings may have had some small toys, toy soldiers or some trinket that she played with quietly, and another sister and I usually talked quietly with our stuffed animals until we fell asleep, or we, too, read while the babies and my mom napped down stairs.

The reading of a book would suffice for the older kids, but ‘naptime’ was sacred. If anyone would ask me to define summer, the soft flow of sheer curtains in the summer breeze, the rhythmic tick of the clock, a lone caw of a blue jay in the sleepy yard, and the soft sound of baby’s breath in slumber would be the sweetest part of the picture.

As my mother’s daughter, this apple hasn’t fallen too far from that tree. Napping was essential, and my children went through the same training.

I tried to make our home a sanctuary of peace and order, balanced with playing pretend, music, art, magic shows, and old-fashion activities like playing board games, coloring, and constructing elaborate buildings with Lego, Lincoln Logs, and ‘stuff’ from around the house. If they weren’t playing freely outside or constructively in the house, then we were ALL quietly napping as the trees sizzled with cicadas in the triple digit heat of the late afternoon.

Taylor napping

Oh, we had our occasional outings and trips to the coast and state parks as a family, but ordinary summer days were lazy and hazy, and far from crazy. It may surprise you, but I didn’t hear, ‘Mom I’m bored,” very often.

My two children were very different in nature and age, yet I was able to get both of them to nap. It always baffles me when mother’s remark with disapproval, “Oh, we don’t nap,” (as if it’s a bad thing) or “Oh, no one makes their kids nap these days.” According to the National Sleep Foundation, taking naps, regardless of the research that supports the benefits of napping, carries a negative stigma:

“While research has shown that napping is a beneficial way to relieve tiredness, it still has stigmas associated with it.

  • Napping indicates laziness,
  • A lack of ambition, and low standards
  • Napping is only for children, the sick and the elderly
  • Though the above statements are false, many segments of the public may still need to be educated on the benefits of napping.”

Napping was never an option in my (or my mother’s) house, like chores and respecting adults, it was an expectation that started before the children could protest, with a consistent follow-through during their early childhood years and modeling; we did it, too. Like boundaries and rules, such as having to stay in their car seat, napping is teachable if you begin early and consistently hold to your expectations; children will adapt.

Everyone seems to be going, going, going somewhere, addicted to busyness, another fact sited by the National Sleep Foundation. It’s exhausting to watch today’s young parents constantly dragging their kids from amusement parks to zoos, from here to there, all in the name of ‘hands-on’ parenting! Really, it’s okay and good for your children to have ‘normal’ home days, and ‘home’ is the best place for them to learn that not everything in life is dazzling and over-stimulating. “Hands-on” parenting also means teaching children how to calm down and entertain themselves.

It’s not that hard to teach your children self control, which is essential in napping. I remember sometimes napping with my mom and a couple of my siblings. We were not allowed to move, like not at all! If I had an itch or was uncomfortable, my inner voice would talk me through it. It was in our best interest. No one, if they were smart, wanted to get my tired mother angry when she was trying to rest!

I learned to calm my body down ‘myself,’ which in many ways was ‘training’ for life! It taught us how to listen to stories and lessons without squirming around, to patiently wait one’s turn and in long lines, to quietly watch for birds or other wild life to emerge in their own time, and it taught us how to consider other people’s comfort and not wake them up without thought of how they would feel.

I believe napping taught us SELF CONTROL and CONSIDERATION OF OTHERS, something I’ve witnessed as sorely lacking among today’s children who interrupt adult conversations and demand a constant change of venue and attention. This is due in part to the misguided propaganda that children only have a 15 minute attention span, that they must be entertained, that they are ‘smarter’ than previous generations, and teaching ‘self control’ is old-fashion and too restrictive.

Now, I understand there are exceptions. Some children have different needs, medically diagnosed syndromes, and may not find it easy or even possible to lay their heads down for a 20 minute rest or ‘wait’ for anything. I get that. But, unfortunately, too many other parents of children with no special needs have adopted this excuse because “Johnny is too active.” If Johnny is too active, than more than anything he needs to be taught, again from the get go, how to calm his body down.

Too often the parent thinks that because Johnny is too active to nap, that he must be brilliant, easily bored by common things; exceptional! Yeah, I think not. Johnny lacks self-discipline. Miraculously even the smartest of children, prior to the 21 Century, managed to take naps and attend in school. They were taught to control themselves, and napping was one ways to a means.

Parents aren’t doing their kids any favors by letting them run themselves down to exhaustion so they will sleep at night, or allowing them to dictate the course of the day or rhythm of the house. Instead, what parents are doing is setting-up those same beloved children for failure because everywhere in life, except in their own house, there are boundaries, rules, regulations, expectation of certain behaviors, and other people (like classmates) to consider.

Far too often, people just don’t understand the meaning of the world ‘discipline.’ They equate discipline with punishment (spanking, time out, a whippin’) which is actually an after effect of the cause of NOT disciplining. The word discipline means ‘to instruct.’ When we teach our children how to sit and stay in the chair at the table during dinner, we are ‘disciplining’ them in how to behave at school, in restaurants, in church, and in most public arenas in life.

It’s trite but true, children learn from example.

When we expect and teach our children how to watch a movie without talking or playing on some kind of hand-held device, we are teaching them how to be attentive when listening to a teacher and when having a conversation. But while your children are young, the parents have to do the same thing because, well, your children are watching you.

It’s the old ‘do as I say, not as I do’ dilemma.

Shutting off the electronic in order to create an environment so your child can ‘discipline’ himself to stay focused on an activity or quiet himself to nap requires diligent, mindful parenting. At some point, hopefully before their child is confused by inconsistency, parents have to shift their priorities away from trying to pacify their children, please their children, or win their love by always keeping them entertained, to providing order and routine in a well-balanced, adult run home.

It’s a challenge, I know. Like my peers, I was not raised in the digital age, but I surely enjoy those advantages now, so I understand the conflict of interest.

Just the same, as a child raised without excessive electronics, I can see the benefits of not having such distractions through my formative years. I know we would have lost out on so much if our parents were constantly on their phones and computers. It’s addictive because it’s a distraction from the tasks at hand, but the ‘task at hand’ IS parenting! Somehow parents have to shelf their own preoccupation with technology in order to consistently model conversation, engage in activities with their children without stopping to text or tweet or check their Facebook status, and illustrate the behaviors that they expect from their children.

Parenting is hard work from the minute your child takes his first breath to YOUR last breath. It always has been. But it is not a ‘reactionary’ business (they cry, scream, demand and you react). Parenting done well is a planned-out, strategic business, where you are in charge and you hold the decision making power, so you can run a smooth and manageable home and your children can learn the skills needed to be successful students and adults.

Teaching through modeling behavior is the best way for your child to learn how to nap, read, watch a movie, and attend to other learning experience without ‘getting bored.’

Try to picture your house calmed down. It’s quiet and you can think. Nothing is blaring with the sound of cartoon characters yelling or video game gunshots and military commands. Maybe your cat is purring at the end of your bed, or the dog is curled up in deep afternoon slumber at your feet.

You are unplugged.

Now imagine your children seeing you quiet yourself.

Like generations of parents before you who practiced the gentle art of napping, shut off the ringers, click off the TV, lock the doors, lower the shades, and don’t take food, your iPad, iPhone, or any other hand-held device into the bed. Don’t bribe, just DO what you want them to do. Reading a book together works like magic, for you and them. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to get your little ones to nap, especially during these long summer days.

The benefits of napping from a needed rest to learning self-control outweigh the negative stigmas and temporary disengagement from the global world. They’ll thank you someday, mine do; and you’ll also get to hang up your super mom hat and rest yourself. It’s a win-win deal and good parenting!

It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve….Another Auld Lang Syne

Christmas 1969 at Grandma Cowans houseEvery year, like so many of you I am sure, I get caught up in the reflective aspect of the turning of the old year to the new. I’m not busy getting ready to go anywhere.  I think I can count the number of times that I’ve actually gone to a New Years Eve party, on one hand. Either isolated in some edge-of-the-world frozen northern town, or choosing to stay close to my children on such a sentimental night; we just rarely mustered up the energy to ‘go out’ and celebrate.

Neither did my parents.

My memory of New Year’s Eve is one of youthful anticipation, the thrill of staying up late, our ritual of banging pots and pans as the clock struck midnight, and the time honored swig of Champagne from my Grandma’s heirloom long-stem glasses that my parents allowed only on that night….even when we were quite young. I always thought I had the coolest parents.

After the pile-up of seven kids armed with sauce pans and wooden spoons, the coveted two pot-lids that mimicked the cymbals, and the predictable chaos and yelling to ‘get off the front door so daddy can open it,” what was left for seven, eight, and ten year old children in the 1960s? The warmth of being tucked safely under the sheets and covers of our shared beds, the reassuring hum of the furnace kicking in, and that moment of reflection in the blue glow of the moonlight reflected off the snow-covered roof tops, which softly streamed through the window and moved our thoughts into the New Year.  It was a personal and quiet time of looking forward, of dreams, resolutions and prayers, and the thrill of possibilities as the sound of fireworks and people singing and laughing lingered on the porches in our snowy neighborhood and eventually faded into the night. All was well with my little world on Lincoln Drive. My life was new and not yet burdened by regrets, responsibilities, losses and ‘impossible’ dreams.

Emily and I at Floore's Dance Hall

Emily and I at Floore’s Dance Hall

A New Year's Eve kiss...Emily and Shane at Floore's Dance Hall

A New Year’s Eve kiss…Emily and Shane at Floore’s Dance Hall

I recall a few big, wild New Year’s Eve events, but not many. One time we went to a comedy club in rural Minnesota in which I thought I would never stop laughing. The long, frozen drive across the snow-covered prairie sobered me up.  My husband and I went to a fancy club in Minneapolis once when my first baby was nine months old. I spent most of the night wanting to dance, but not.  It was agony leaving my baby. It was the first time she was left with a sitter. I couldn’t wait to get home. And in recent years, with both of my children at that fun ‘young adult’ age, we’ve taken to going to the local Texas dance hall, together as a family, for their annual New Year’s Eve party and traditional bowl of black-eye peas for good luck in the New Year. Those nights were memorable, but all too soon our children are off doing their own thing….married, working, spending time with friends, and building their own memories.

But mostly, New Year’s Eve was a family thing as it was when I was little. We gave our children the same privileges we were allotted in youth, of champagne and treats, noise makers and party hats, and the unleashing of spirited yelps on the front lawn as we watched the sky light up with fireworks and smoke. Perhaps because south Texas temperatures are more inviting to linger in; fireworks on New Year’s Eve are out-of-this-world here and always a good show even from one’s own porch steps.

My daughter had the upstairs bedroom that I would have wanted as a child, where the windows reach the floor and one can see over the roof-tops of the neighborhood, chimney smoke swirling, and the owls in the top branches of the Live Oaks trees at night.  She and I used to retreat there on the floor in front of the windows, when all the blasting, blowing, calling “Happy New Year” into the night, and champagne bubbles had simmered down, and we’d reflect there together. Those were precious times for me; close, intimate, and perhaps more my cherished memory than hers. For many years that was our New Year’s Eve ritual, until, at last, she was too old and cool for those kind of moments and would rather hang with her friends or go off to bed alone.

My light-hearted son was always fun, willingly wearing silly hats and doing the cha-cha with us around the living room and kitchen as we rang in the New Year. I have no regrets about spending the last twenty- some December thirty-firsts with our delightful children, all the sweet-lipped, good night kisses and shared wishes; it was a gift.

Taylor a couple of New Year's ago...

Taylor a couple of New Year’s ago…

Taylor on New Year's Eve 2000

Taylor on New Year’s Eve 2000

But now, with gray in our hair, an empty house, and no real tradition of donning a sparkly little black dress or bow-tie and tuxedo, we have settled into the proverbial ‘quiet’ New Year’s Eve, pouring ourselves a glass of champagne, watching the Time Square ‘ball drop,’ as we all used to say when that was the only celebration to watch on TV, tooting our horns in our now sleepy neighborhood, and then shutting off the porch light and heading off to bed while the rest of the world parties.

But still ‘the reflections” of Auld Lang Syne come, just as they did for the ‘little girl’ me with my sisters and brothers, and later my children, in what seems like so many years ago. I’ve always thought the line “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind,” odd, indeed cruel, at such a time when it is quite normal to remember the people that have come and gone from our lives even more than usual.

I miss the call from my mother, who even in old age kept up the ‘reaching out’ to her children from her own lonely living room. I could see her there in the light of the TV screen and the small ceramic Christmas tree that was all she could do, tearfully smiling, sending wishes, and remembering all the New Year’s Eves of her life when her house was overflowing with youthful energy and excitement. My siblings in the East are settled into their beds (or own rituals) by the time Texas hits midnight, and my brother in California is hours away from the celebrating; so the calls and now text messages come in sporadically, if at all.

Just as the instinctive need to reform one’s thoughts and actions, to make resolutions for good change, and to step into the new year ‘anew’ will continue (I hope for many years), so too  ‘forgetting old acquaintances’ will NEVER happen.

Those ‘old acquaintances’ are with me tonight more than ever. My little siblings and I laughingly ready to emerge from the house with our pots and pans to the celebratory front porch, my beautiful young parents handing out the champagne smiling and hopeful, my little boy in his big Mexican Sombrero dancing around the house tooting a silver horn, and my little girl and I curled up close to each other in her upstairs bedroom window, the fireworks reflected in her innocent eyes, talking quietly into the New Year and holding on to the moment until we were both too tired and the cozy warmth of sleep called to us, are brought to mind on such a night like this.

I don’t care who you are. Whether you’re braving the cold at some festive outdoor event, standing on the lawn with your kids, in the throes of passion with your lover, or closing the light early after a kiss from your dog; one can’t help but be reflective on such a night. One can’t help but remember our ‘old acquaintances’ and hold them close to our hearts. We’ve made it through another year, sometimes through Hell and high water! We’ve lost loved ones, more hair, opportunities to ‘go places,’ and gained simple moments of joy and accomplishment that filled our days with pride and family love. All of these things come to mind…and are worth the tearful or even drunken reflection.

So, it may be just another New Year’s Eve, another Auld Lang Syne, and even my old man and I…two pups and two cats… some Rudy’s BBQ and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, have our own personal reflections and will awaken to the a New Year hopeful of only good things and good health…and, come what may, we’ll be just fine.

From the bottom of my sentimental heart, I’m sending an earnest Happy New Year and a wish for good health and much love…to you all!

Me and my sparkly, happy girl!

Me and my sparkly, happy girl!