Today, we have another guest post from Rachel about the trials and tribulations of getting her children to nap. Many thanks to her once again for so generously sharing her experiences with us!
When I was pregnant, I looked forward to the times I would sit around on the sofa with a sleepy newborn baby cradled on my lap, while I chatted to visitors and watched TV. When the baby napped in its cot, I would bake, tidy, or do something creative.
Instead, I gave birth to a baby who didn’t doze off in my arms or fall into the mythical “milk coma” after feeding so you could easily put him down. Confused, I turned to the baby manuals and studied their various methods and tricks. The theory seemed good, but in practice, nothing came off: he cried, I cried, the neighbours probably cried, and I gave up. My baby would only nap in a moving car or a moving buggy, and if either of these vehicles came to a halt, he woke up.
However, the one thing the baby manuals all agreed on was the absolute necessity of good and plentiful naps, and the serious consequences of messing them up. Taking these warnings to heart, I made an art form of trying to fashion an orderly nap schedule out of this chaos. It was a very rough and haphazard art form, but I executed it with a passionate intensity I used to think belonged only to steam railway enthusiasts.
Whenever it was nap time, I got on the move. If walking, it had to be on a route that minimised the chances of encountering an ambulance siren or ice cream van at close hand: bitter experience taught me both these would wake him up. If driving, the route had to be reliably free-flowing because even slow-moving traffic or stopping at lights could wake him up. Whether in the car or on foot, I had to be prepared to keep moving non-stop for at least 45 minutes in order to deliver the prescribed minimum healthy nap time. A full water bottle and an empty bladder were essential.
The Costa Drive Thru offered a lifeline, but at a potentially high price. I whispered in my order, then inched the car around from the order spot to the collection window so as to keep the car always in motion. I would open my window only at the last possible moment to grab the coffee and wave my card at them before speeding off, hopefully but – alas! – not always before the baby woke up.
We didn’t live within walking distance of any green spaces, so my walking routes generally took place around nearby streets. To keep up morale, I conducted mental surveys of the local housing stock. I worked out my favourite styles of house number signs, front garden planting schemes and front doors. When the weather was very hot and sunny, I sometimes just walked repeatedly up and down the one short section of shady, tree-lined alleyway that was near our house, hoping the people in the houses backing onto it didn’t think I was up to no good.
Then when my son was two and a half, and still not napping in a bed or anywhere sensible, my second baby was born. The level of challenge stepped up again. The only way the new baby would go off for a nap – believe me, I tried – was being walked around outside in a sling. My son had made an important concession, in that he would sometimes now stay asleep when the car stopped, but my newborn daughter hated the car and generally screamed and cried for the whole journey. As a compromise, we would drive just long enough for him to fall asleep (the crying baby really bothered me but he didn’t seem to notice her), then park up in a shady spot that may or may not have aroused suspicions that I was a private detective. I’d get the baby out and feed her in the passenger seat while my son (usually) slept on in the back.
The baby’s early morning and late afternoon naps presented another sticking point when I had both children to look after. My preferred solution was to walk with her in a sling and him in a buggy to a somewhat distant playground where my son could play and I would pace around the perimeter of the sandpit. On very wet days, though, this involved a lot of cajoling, waterproofs, and rain covers, and usually ended in wet socks.
It was pretty exhausting. Spending several hours a day on my feet was itself physically tough, as was the fact that in my “rest” periods I was never at home and able to just stop for a few moments. I longed so hard for a baby that would nap in a cot that when at around 4 months my daughter learnt to suck her thumb and could then magically be put down in a cot to nap at home, I felt like I’d won the lottery.
Even then, the tidying and baking that I imagined never came about. During naps, I still have to keep guard at the front door in case unsuspecting delivery drivers ring the doorbell. When visitors go to the toilet at such times, I have seriously considered whether I know them well enough to ask them not to flush.
Nap management has been one of the most challenging parts of parenting for me so far, but strangely I have some very fond memories of those endless walks and drives. The children will never remember any of it once they are older, but taking a step back, I see all that trudging as one of my earliest and most madly enormous acts of love for them.