LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
I’ve just woken up from a nap, something I almost never treat myself to and almost always regret afterward. But this morning, after a restless night and an hour staring at a blank computer screen, I decided it was time to give up and go back to sleep.
The thing about a nap when you’re an adult is it always starts out well. You curl up on the couch, cover yourself with a cozy blanket and grab a book, perhaps the third installment of “The Hunger Games” series if you’re feeling very dedicated to reading pulp this summer. You start reading and your eyelids being to droop. You close them for a second, test it out, realize it feels very enjoyable, but Katniss is about to shoot an explosive arrow at an airplane bomber. So you heavily open your eyes back up, read a few more paragraphs and then let your lids fall again. Perhaps another flutter and then you’re drifting, drifting, gone.
It always feels like a very indulgent, special thing to do. Something you convince yourself you deserve — until you wake up.
For me, this moment of consciousness is almost always accompanied by panic. How long have I been out? What have I missed? Have I wasted the whole day? This panic is followed by a keen awareness that I feel terrible. So groggy my eyelids feel swollen. My mouth feels dry. My joints ache just a bit. And I’m both hungry and slightly nauseated. I lurch toward the kitchen, get a glass of water and feel bone-deep remorse.
Of course, when you’re a kid, naps are even worse. You know you’ve got to take one, but you’re in the middle of an elaborate Lincoln Logs construction project and you’re not in the mood to be interrupted. But apparently you’re cranky — who knew? — and it’s time to go to sleep. So you get carried into your bedroom, are made to lie down with the sun streaming down on your face, and your mom leaves with a somewhat stern look on her face. Somehow you manage to fall asleep, but have you ever seen a kid after a nap? They, too, look and seem to feel puffy. Sure, their naps aren’t coupled with an attack of conscience, but they don’t look particularly happy either. In fact, it’s often they’re just as cranky when they wake up as they were when they “went down.”
Of course, for parents, naps are golden. When I moved to Kentucky, my stepdaughter Gabrielle was 4 and still — miraculously — taking naps. Since I’d had absolutely no experience with kids before her, I was shocked by how a day could drag when you’re playing Polly Pockets. I’d keep getting up to check the clock, realize only 20 minutes had passed, and sit back down.
“Do it again,” Gabrielle would say, and so I’d have my Polly do yet another terrific, somersaulting, and wholly unrealistic dive into the inch-deep plastic pool. Gabrielle would laugh and laugh, and I’d plan and plan what I was going to do while she was sleeping. What book I would read. Or what cookies I’d bake. Or deliciously terrible TV show I’d watch.
Generally, she’d sleep for an hour or so. But sometimes, the hour didn’t happen. She’d play with her Dora Tells Time audio book and rather than the, “What time is it? Qué hora es?” becoming less and less frequent, she’d keep pressing that button until finally I’d hear, “Taaaaaaaaraaaaaa, I can’t sleeeeeeeeeeeep.”
I knew then a nap wouldn’t be my gift for the day, and I had six more hours of solid playtime ahead of me. I felt guilty about it, but I’d be pretty disappointed not to have the break.
Of course, now that most of my friends have babies, I realize they’re also rattled when their kid skips a nap for the day. “Is this the end?” my girlfriend confessed to me one day. “Am I never going to be able to watch the Real Housewives of Orange County again?”
I think the perfect nap is one that takes place in a car or on a plane. Unfortunately, there is nothing pretty about my nap face, as my mouth drops open in the most unappealing way. My husband, who can’t sleep upright, never tires of pointing this out, and early on in our courtship I would purposely avoid sleep so he wouldn’t see me slack-jawed. Luckily, I’ve gotten over that nonsense.
Anyway, a few minutes after my mouth drops, my head bobbles down suddenly and I wake slightly, enough to close my mouth and push my head back up against the seat. This rotation continues for another half an hour until finally I wake up. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t sleep for that long or I’ve made do in an uncomfortable position, but I always wake up from those upright naps completely refreshed — with the added advantage of having wasted time in getting to our destination.
All right, having said all this, I can say I am finally starting to wake up. The day is bright, and my eyes are finally adjusting to it. Now, to get on with things.