On Napping


Is there anything more deliciously decadent than letting oneself fall asleep into a nap? It happened recently when my sister and her husband were with us on the farm for a couple of days. After a morning of hot, sticky, 4th of July festivities in town that were cut short by a thunderstorm, we all scampered home. After lunch, my sister and I relaxed on the porch to the sounds of a soft rain. Pretty soon, we both were slack-jawed, heads back, overcome by sleep. The rain drizzled outside, gently tap-tapping the tree leaves close by. Every now and then, my sister was startled awake by the sounds of a cow mooing nearby. “It’s ok, it’s just a cow,” I whispered to her as she drifted back into slumber. You don’t hear that in the suburbs.

Then a few days later, rain again softly falling, I set up my nook on the porch with reading and writing supplies and some hot herbal tea. The wind began to swish through the trees, sending leaves of the tulip tree next to our porch into a hushed frenzy.  Puffs of air moved the wind chimes into a low, long, bonging song. And the subtle hiss of a light rain enveloped me into squishy slumber. What a gift. A twenty-minute, total surrender into tranquility.

I remember those deep, hormonal naps of adolescence when I would flop down between classes and sleep the sleep of the dead. But as an adult, I’m generally not a good napper.  Not that I’m at all high strung, it just seems that more often than not, I cannot quiet my “monkey mind.” Psychologists call our monkey mind that ADD part of our psyche that just jumps from one thought to the next: worries, ideas, fears, TO DO lists, plans. Our monkey mind monopolize any potential downtime that could be naptime and put stress on us to DO.

My mother was a supreme napper, The Mother of All Nappers. With a chaotic house full of kids she always prioritized her naptime. She used to say, “you can handle anything in life if you have your sleep.” And, “You know, they use sleep deprivation as a torture technique.” As a little girl and all the way into high school, I would come home after school just as my mom was waking from her afternoon nap. I’d climb into bed next to her and we would both lie on our backs and sing, talk and laugh about who was the latest guest on Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin or Johnny Carson. "That Paul Lynde, what a cutup." (turns out ole Paul was born about 20 minutes south of our farm in Mount Vernon, Ohio!) "What is with Charo and the 'cuchi, cuchi'?" "Why is Orson Welles famous anyways?" When I was very little, Mom would roll over onto her stomach and have me walk on her back, like a little Chinese masseuse. Balancing myself by pressing my hands flat onto the ceiling, my dirty feet would pad over her soft, pillowy back and she would groan with relief. That was always followed by a scratching session with my scraggly fingernails scraping her smooth back, looking for her “spot” – that part of her back that always bothered her and she could never reach.

My oldest daughter, Flora, was a great snoozer. She loved routine and would gleefully grab her bottle, her stuffed toys and books and go down for her quiet time, “reading,” talking to her dolls, and then lay back to sing and chat to herself until she dozed off. I used to love listening to her on the monitor. Fauna was too busy to nap and was quite an accomplished escape artist. No sooner would I deposit her in her crib for a nap than she was right back on my heels, begging for a cookie. “Sweetheart, you don’t have to sleep, but you do have to stay in your room for one hour of quiet time,” I’d whisper to her through gritted teeth as I scooped her up. Inside, I was screaming, “Stay in your frigging bed!” Meriwether was a supreme snoozer as a baby. She’d nap anywhere: the car, in those rickety vacation house cribs, in the stroller at the beach, all splayed out like a drunken co-ed. But then she learned to talk … and talk … and talk some more. She just had so much to say, she didn’t have time to nap. God help, though, I needed the silence for an hour a day. I finally agreed she could nap in the rocking chair in her room. “Whatever. I’ll see you in an hour. Now, just. Stop. Talking. Shhhhh ….”

I lived in Spain for a year a long time ago and really appreciated the whole concept of siesta. It’s so civilized (especially in the heat of summer). My Irish father found the wisdom in it as well. Busy as he was, running a law practice and a huge family, he always made time for a nap at his desk at work, after lunch. I’m certain he relished the peace and quiet there at his office because it sure was neither back at home.

At my semi-annual gathering with my college friends, Slugfest (so named for our ability to lay around like slugs), my dear friend continuously wins the Nap Olympics. We know we are in full slug mode when she is horizontal on the couch, napping through our chatter and music. I envy her. Now that I’m menopausal, a solid overnight sleep is never a guarantee. Restless hot and cold flashes have me tossing and turning many nights. I sure could use some naps. Those two recent ones give me hope. 

Lying down on a Saturday afternoon, I try to breathe through my monkey brain, using some yoga meditations, visualizing sunsets and unicorns. I think of my mom. She probably could nap well because she was just so damned exhausted. And then ... cue the monkey mind: “I have no right to be tired; I should be doing more to deserve this nap. Did I ever return that email? What am I going to do with that mess in the basement? Where did I put that bill?” On and on it goes. “If only I could sleep like a baby,” I think. But then I think of one of brother-in-law’s favorite sayings: “I slept like a baby. I woke up with a load in my pants,” and I lose all concentration.  

Oh, well. Maybe tomorrow.

Shhhhh monkey mind ...

Shhhhh monkey mind ...