Just a little while ago, my Danny boy was saying things like, "I hate this game," and, "I don't want to put that up. It's boring," and, "I am not tired!"
But he was tired. I was tired. And I told him point blank, "I'm going to set the timer, and you're going to rest with me for 30 minutes in Papa's chair."
I got him a cup of Cheerios. I read him Sleepy Time, Olie by William Joyce. Then I snuggled that big five-year-old boy, playing possum until he put his head on my chest and grabbed a fistful of my hair. I realized just how much my boy had grown as he rested on me, how tall since early December, the last time he took a nap. Only after I started to doze did I realize that he had indeed fallen asleep, and all was quiet except the stupid timer going off.
Now I miss him in this unusual stillness. Such is the paradox of a mother's life! We pray that our babies will go to sleep, grow up or become more independent and then are a bit sad when they do.
When Daniel was a toddler, nap time was an ordeal more often than not. I tried to put him down for naps in his bed, reading books and putting on soothing music, sitting on the floor with my back toward him to make sure he didn't try to get up as he often did when I left the room. I would try to be serene, impassive, keeping my voice soft and my reminders gentle, but the longer it took him to fall asleep and the more he tried to play, pull on my hair or get out of that bed, the more I could feel my insides knotting up in frustration. It was not a calming routine for either of us, as I sometimes ended up yelling at him or dropping him back into his bed none too gently. Then if he - at long last! - fell asleep, the stress would ebb but the guilt over our battles would come, and I would bend over to stroke his blond head and kiss his cheek softly, wishing I could pick him up and hold him and that we could always be in harmony with one another.
For all the articles I had read about children's need for sleep, it was only logical to assume they would want to sleep. But it wasn't so, it seemed. I spent months being frustrated every afternoon, praying my son would not give up afternoon sleep at two-and-a-half as his big sister Ella had done. At that period of our lives, it seemed like the whole mood of our day turned upon whether or not the boy took a nap or not. If he didn't, the early evening saw a tantrum apocalypse. I was stressed, because as any mother can tell you, we need nap time, too. If we go without that recharge break for a few days running, we become desperate and throw our own fits.
Of course, when my husband took over naps on the weekend, my little guy went down like magic. I often wondered what I was doing wrong. I would plague my husband with questions about just exactly what were his methods. But when I tried his strategies, I encountered the same frustrations as always. "It's because I'm not Mama," Matthew told me. "He doesn't play with my hair or try to climb on me. It's just Papa." That made me feel even more hopeless about fixing our nap time issues.
Until I finally went back to an old strategy of mine. It was the one I used for Berto and Ana, so close in age that they napped together on either side of me, sometimes kicking each other for invasion of space or giggling together from across the mama divide as I struggled to keep my eyes open reading a book. It was the one I used for Ella until she decided one summer that she couldn't stand to be left out of whatever her siblings were doing. My rediscovered strategy was to take Daniel out of his bedroom and to the rocking chair. I surrendered and ignored the people and books that told me my child shouldn't fall asleep in my arms, because he would become too dependent. Every afternoon I rocked and read to my youngest and then let him hold my hair as I tilted the chair back, and we both closed our eyes. Though he often squirmed for the first twenty minutes, the routine was much more soothing and loving for both of us, and my Danny fell asleep much easier and quicker. Sometimes I dozed off with him, for he was still waking us up a few times a night then. Once I revived, I slid gently out from beneath him to work on household projects, write or read a book.
That is how nap time was for Danny and I until he gave it up at the beginning of December. Today I remembered the old feeling of badly wanting him to sleep, holding him in my arms until he drifted off and then suddenly missing him in the strange quiet as I stroked his hair. I took a picture of my big boy sleeping on that trusty old rocking recliner, the one with the splitting upholstery that has helped all my babies sail to afternoon dreamland in my arms. I wanted to capture the moment, for Daniel goes to kindergarten next year. It may be the last nap he takes until college.