I realize it is completely preposterous both to think a five-year-old would still take an afternoon nap – and to mourn that she doesn’t. Yet I’m fully capable of holding all sorts of contradictory notions in my noggin simultaneously. Somewhere I once heard that that’s the definition of wisdom.
I figured out once upon a time that the length of my hair is inversely proportional to the level of stress in my life. When Eddie was born in 2003, my dark, curly hair was down past my shoulders. It was awesome. And a pain to take care of. But awesome. I was the long-haired guy I always wanted to be. I even owned a motorcycle.
But as the baby grew, the hair got shorter. When we moved from Brooklyn to Baltimore, I sold the motorcycle and became an at-home dad to a kid too young to talk or walk and who required a diaper, nap or food and cleanup every 37 minutes, I trimmed my hair shorter and shorter almost dispatched with it entirely. I used the clippers on their shortest setting and ended up with a head that felt like sandpaper.
It was liberating.
It hid the grey.
It was the new awesome.
It also made me look gaunt. Like I’d had mono, food poisoning and the flu all at once. I saw a picture of myself – egad! – and began growing it out immediately.
As I got my sea legs as an at-home dad, found a community, stopped listening to NPR constantly (the kid learned to talk), the hair grew longer – though it suffered a setback when Carla was born in 2006 and I had to figure out how to manage dueling nap schedules. Among other things.
Fast forward to the past year, when Carla was 4, and I was hanging on to her afternoon nap with all my might. I knew how it would end: no nap for the kiddo; no peace for Daddy. But I fought it nonetheless. I considered myself a seasoned nap-battle expert, after getting Eddie to nap until he turned 4, when all his contemporaries had shed the nap before they turned 2. (I told myself their parents just weren’t trying hard enough. Boy, am I judgmental sometimes – but then I think of how other people must judge me. Yikes.) Even then, I could give him a stack of books and tell him to stay on his bed for an hour. And he would. This gave me time to get Carla down for her nap, figure out what’s for supper and count the minutes until my Lovely Bride got home.
As Carla’s 5th birthday approached in January, however, the wheels came off the bus. I had to work harder and harder at the nap – reading more and more stories to wind her down and then singing the long versions of four or five or six songs as I stroked her hair or rubbed her back for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, I’m so sleepy I’m slurring my words as a read to her.
It felt like betraying all the advice from books that tell you to have a clear and short naptime routine, such as two stories, two songs, lights out and leave the room. But it was so worth it. Any awake child in my house eats my brain, rendering me unable to gather a thought or compose a sentence. (Except for sending e-mails or posting Facebook updates.) A sleeping child is worth the effort. All through the fall I would have to forklift Sleeping Beauty out of her bed at 3:15 to go pick Eddie up from elementary school. Game on!
I’m not sure when exactly the nap finally died. Somewhere between Christmas traveling and family visits, followed by staying afternoons at preschool for “lunch bunch” when I had a freelance assignment. Now it’s all I can do to keep Carla from coming out of her room less than three minutes after I finish reading stories and leave the room.
“Dad-deeeee? May I be excused from my nap?” she sings down from the top of the stairs.
Nap? What nap?
My wife last night stroked the back of my recently shorn head. (I just bought new clipper guards and did it myself – a #4 attachment on the back and sides, leaving the curly part on top. It actually looks okay. It only makes the grey hairs more obvious, however.)
“So are we in a short hair kind of place right now?” she asks.
“Carla hasn’t napped in months,” I say.
Goodbye, dear friend.