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 All Going to Be Okay

Birthdays come and birthdays go.

This has been a quiet birthday for me, except for the opening of my eyes in gratefulness at meeting a new day. Some of my family had forgotten that it was my birthday, which isn’t odd given that we usually celebrate mine the following day along with my son’s birthday. My day, I’ve found, is more of a day of reflection. I have had a few memorable birthdays, though, that always come to mind on this reflective anniversary and are remarkably similar, though separated by 24 years or so.
One July when I was about six-years-old, we were at our family cabin nestled in the woods of mid-Michigan along the banks of the Tittabawassee River, and my Grandma Cowan was with us. That was unusual, as I recall. I think my mother must have needed her help that summer, for she normally didn’t take trips ‘up north’ with us.

My mother’s mother had been a ‘flapper’ during the roaring 20s, a totally modern girl living in Detroit in its heyday! She was the

My mom and her brother with my grandparents Ralph and Clara Cowan in the late 1940s

My mom and her brother with my grandparents Ralph and Clara Cowan in the late 1940s

first female insurance agent for The Royal Neighbors Insurance Company, and all her life had a keen business mind and was involved in helping the community. She married ‘old’ for those times, at thirty, to my grandfather, a tall strappin’ man who escaped the isolated simplicity of his Tennessee farm life to venture to the ‘Mecca of Prosperity,’ Detroit. After some work in the factories, my grandfather became a Detroit City police officer, affording his family security and a respectable middle-class life. My grandparents had two children, my mother and my Uncle Harvey, and lived that kind of ‘1940s ideal life’ one sees in those Spencer Tracey or Myrna Loy movies of the times, complete with stylish clothes, a strong work ethic, religious devotion, order and tradition, and even had their Polish Busha and Jaja living in the house with them. Family warmth and love were a given.

In the 1950s, when my parents married and brought forth eight children into the world, my grandmother was called upon to aid in the transportation of us kids and to give my mother all the support she could. She was a good grandma, always kind yet orderly, in control but generous. She would have us over to her stately but comfortable home in Detroit two-by-two, where we would enjoy outings to the Polish meat market and German bakery and get the kind of attention we didn’t get at home in house full of kids. On Sundays we’d trail behind my grandma and her elderly sister Maxine in their pearls and prim dresses as we walked to their church, Our Lady of Good Counsel, lit candles and learn to sit still. Back in her small but cozy kitchen ripe with the fresh tomato and green pepper smells of a summer garden, we’d enjoy fresh ham and cheese sandwiches on Jewish rye, Lorna Doone cookies, and then out to play in the then safe neighborhood and flower-lined alleys ways. She kept a bag of blocks and other toys in her front closet for us, and saved all her used cartons, dish soap bottles, and cereal boxes for us to play ‘store’ in the back yard. At bit of a gambler, she let us use her Po-Ke-No chips, which in this case were small multicolor tissue paper discs, as money or just for whatever we imagined. She kept round pink and white mints, sugared orange slices and mint leaves, and sometimes Circus Peanut candies in her china cabinet, and would give us a treat of them when she felt it was time. I can still see the cabinet filled with pink and green Depression glass, the spotless glass door slowly opened by my grandma, and us standing there patiently waiting for our reward for being good little guests.

My Grandma Cowan as I remember her in the 1960s.

My Grandma Cowan as I remember her in the 1960s.

Because my mother didn’t drive in those years when she most certainly needed to, my grandma would come to her rescue in her well-kept pink AMC Rambler, hat in place on her pin-curled hair, earrings on, boxy purse in hand, and she would get us around in her sturdy shoes and ironed shirtwaist dresses, far from the flapper flair of her 20s, but still classy. She was always willing to go the extra mile to help her only daughter, even to a musty old cabin. Something I completely understand as I now follow her example of devotion to my only daughter.

But it was during that summer in the early 1960s that my grandmother, Clara was her name, was staying with us at that musty old cabin where I was presented with a birthday gift that totally caught me off guard. It was a big box, for starters, and all lavishly wrapped in pink with a big pink bow! God, I was overcome with joy even before I opened it. In those days of dime-store gifts like a lace hanky, or a comb and brush set, maybe a paint-by-number kit and a multitude of handmade gifts from my other young siblings like a dog’s head carved out of an Ivory soap bar or a potholder made from a child’s weaving kit, that big pink box was a big deal!

When I opened it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a beautiful baby doll swaddled in a soft pink blanket. I thought I was in heaven, for I loved dolls and rarely got one of my own. I remember holding that doll continuously after that point; for many years she was my dear child. I was so grateful to my sophisticated grandmother and happy as I watched the proud look on my mother’s face as well. She was apparently just as excited about my receiving such a special gift as I was.

It wasn’t until I was 38-years-old that I would receive another baby as a birthday gift. In labor all night on my birthday, my son was born just into the next day, saving him from the awkwardness of having to share his day with his mother for the rest of his life. Oh, and what a gift he was. Unexpected after the premature death of my father, an easy-going, mild-mannered child, who has grown into an honorable young man; he has always been my personal expression of celebration. As it is, I willingly gave up all the fanfare on my day for the next 19 years and will continue to do so, in order to celebrate my birthday baby!

Those two memories stand out above all others…including overtures of love from fumbling, good intentioned young boys, sun-burnt birthday picnics, drunken parties with girlfriends, and the traditional birthday cake and ice cream with loved ones. Perhaps, it’s because they all involve mothers, my mother, her mother, me as a mother, and our dear little babes in arms….real or, in the case of my six-year old summer gift, perceived real. Certainly, they are involved ‘real’ love.

I spent this birthday by myself, for the most part, with the memory of my mother. It was easy and natural. After all, she was the only loved one truly with me as I was ushered into this world through her labor, and she has been with me all along through the pain and struggles of my rebirths, as well. It would seem unnatural for that feeling to stop, simply because she is no longer physically present on earth.

Just a few months ago, I was struggling with despair. I had too many thoughts in my head and nowhere to take them, too much planning, work, and daily demands on my plate, and had reached a point of sleeplessness and exhaustion. I was trying to nap one afternoon, and somewhere between sleep and being awake, I heard my mother walk in the room calling out my childhood name, “Cindy,” as if she were trying to wake me up in a gentle fashion. It was so real. She was so real. I could smell her perfume as she slowly came around the end of my bed and sat down beside me. She was dressed in one of her nightgowns with an old-fashion ‘housecoat’ covering it much like the one I had admired for its sensibility during my last visit the summer before she died. She had gotten it from Sears or The Vermont Country Store, someplace where one could still get those sensible kinds of garments that allowed modest women to make breakfast, do a few chores, and even venture outside before actually getting dressed for the day. In soft feminine pink, it had little floral edged pockets and snaps as buttons. My always sassy mother giggled and told me it was kind of sexy in that way. I had to agree. When I was leaving that last summer day, I found the housecoat washed and lovingly folded on the top of my things in my luggage. She told me it was a going-away gift, as she proudly peeked around the corner to see my reaction, so much like her face when I receive the gift from my grandmother years ago.

That sleepless afternoon, I sat there looking at my mother’s pleasant face as she sat next to me, not young, not old and sad, just angelic-looking. I seemingly was awake, yet not in shock at seeing her or overly emotional, just completely given over to her presence. She said to me several times, quite simply in her familiar voice as she patted my leg, “Everything will be okay, Cindy. It’s all going to be okay.” When she walked away she gave me her signature girlish smile, reassuring yet joyful at what would come next, and when I came to the place where I thought I was indeed awake, I felt at peace, solid, reassured by my mother’s visit. Who else could do that? She was there at my first breath, and like today, she walked with me silently whispering that simple truth as a puttered around the house, during my exercising and getting ready for the day, and while I received lovely messages from friends. That was enough of a gift, and just as memorable as my baby doll and beautiful boy.

Birthdays are mostly lovely, but sometimes hard, especially as we get much older. There comes a point in life that you don’t need

Me and my mother in the 1980s.

Me and my mother in the 1980s.

a big pink box to feel special, you just need to feel loved. Today’s gift was a simple reminder, that “It’s all going to be okay.” Everyday gives us a chance for celebration; we just have to be willing to receive those small gifts as they come. There will be more babies to hold, boxes to wrap and open, grateful sunrises, memories to share and wisdom to pass along.

Like my mother and her mother, my task is to pass those gifts and love along to my children, washed and folded neatly or sugar-frosted as candy, and that proud reassuring peek around the corner for the courage to carry on through all the birthdays of their lives.