Wednesday, October 16, 2013

So Long, Siesta? Say it isn't so.

Today might represent a new parenting low. I bribed the Grape to take a nap. I literally took him down to our local toy shop (which has lovely things, by the way), picked out a pack of cheap little toy cars, and told him he could have them if he would take a nap.

The Grape goes to preschool four days a week, where they "rest." Rest means they lie on cots with blankets with the lights dimmed and listen to stories. Once in a blue moon, the Grape dozes off. That leaves three days a week when the Grape isn't at preschool, which he loves, but which kicks his little tail.

Until a few weeks ago, on those three at-home days of the week, he'd sleep in the afternoon like a champ, and I'd get stuff done. This space has looked abandoned in recent weeks, because I got used to using nap time once a week to fill it. I also use his naps to "catch up" on reading, not that I'll ever succeed, to pay bills, to prep dinners and generally make the household run better.

I know. He's four. Lots of four-year-olds quit the nap. But the Grape needs his. Really. I'm not saying this because I need to figure out a new time to blog. Well, not just for that reason. He turns into a hot mess if he doesn't get enough rest.

If we go too many days in a row without a nap, the situation deteriorates. It's not just the bags under his eyes, which make him look like he's fresh off the red eye. I'm talking about hour-long hysterical crying, flailing jags because he didn't get to watch all the bubbles go down the drain, or take his sweater off by himself, or eat the dessert he requested. Ridiculous, overtired stuff that folks in the medical profession evidently call "stressed and irritable behavior."

I notice these so-called experts are silent on what to do about the nap for four-year-olds. Their handy chart goes to three years, then skips to "over age 5." Lazy doctors.

Although, if you waste your child's first nap in three weeks digging around the internet, you can learn that 20 per cent of five year olds still nap. Dr. Judith Owens at the National Children's Medical Center told the NYT so for a maddening feature about when a child should give up naps. It's the kind of article that promises the secret to life and leaves you feeling unsatisfied, maybe even more confused than before.

I realize the nap's days are numbered, but I was really hoping we'd get to age five before saying arrivederci to the siesta. For both our sakes. Nobody likes living with—or presumably being—a hot, hysterical, overtired mess. And I don't have an alternate work-mom routine ready to roll out.

I already keep his school hours set aside for two things: First and foremost working on my next novel, and other writerly pursuits such as pitching and writing magazine work, and promoting my existing novelsSecond, physical exercise, which I've found keeps me sane and healthy, and is therefore a nonnegotiable aspect of my life. (I can already see the writing on the wall: I'm going to become one of those very early morning exercisers.)

I don't run errands, cook, do laundry, or call or meet friends during the hours the Grape spends at school. I don't answer the phone, much to the annoyance of my parents and perhaps some others.

I'm disciplined about my writing routine, because I fear falling down a slippery slope. I'm one bad step—a fast manicure, a coffee date with girlfriends, a swing through the grocery store—away from sabotaging my system. And it's a pretty good system. It's regimented, but it's worked for me for two years.

I have a shorter work week than I'd like (my writer's rhythm would break down best into two daily 3-4 hour stints, separated by a break), but I understand most moms don't get their perfect work schedule, or anything close to it. I'm grateful every day that I can do what I love.

So I plug along on my novel in progress at roughly half the pace my brain would like.

It works well enough for now. I have almost three-quarters of a first draft of a new novel written.

As do bribes, apparently. The Grape has been happily snoozing for two hours.


  1. Yes, my son abruptly stopped napping when he was 4y3m. There was no transition, no fighting naps. He went from taking a 90 minute nap religiously to not in one day. I continued to try to enforce "rest time" or "quiet time" to absolutely no avail. Not once since has he ever napped again and he is 6 1/2!

    Given that at the time you posted this he was napping, I gather he's not quite ready to give it up. If you read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, they talk about the nap extending until age 5.

    Good luck.

    1. Thanks. It's been a rough September and October. He needs to recharge during the day but just won't do it.

  2. I admire your system! I keep imagining a system like that for myself once they're all in school. My littlest started pre-school but it's practically nothing. Of course my husband constantly tells me not to wish the time away. And I try not to. But it's hard.

    1. Right there with you, but even with my strict system, I don't feel like I spend enough time writing.