One of the golden rules of new parenting is to sleep when your baby sleeps.
Most mothers I know don’t. I certainly didn’t. Naptime was my oasis in the midst of a hectic, baby-in-your arms-or-on-your-hip-all-day-long sort of way. Moms constantly have a little one on us, with us or otherwise taking our attention. Naptime is when we can do the things that can’t be done with a babe in arms. Put away dishes, sterilize bottles, fold laundry, return emails, drink hot coffee.
I cherished naptime. Without it, I feared I would lose my tenacious hold on sleep-deprived sanity. Or at least I thought I would until one day when everything changed.
My baby boy wouldn’t nap. He hadn’t napped for four days unless he was on top of me snuggled into my chest. I would try to move him to his crib only to have his eyes pop open the moment his back touched the mattress. I would walk around jiggling him in my arms trying to coerce him back to sleep. For three days I grew resentful, watching the clock. Resentment turned to anger. Doesn’t he know what I need to do? This is my time. I would try to put him in his crib again only to have him wake and start crying. The cycle continued until I would finally give up and sit down with him on the couch, my mind going over all the things I could be doing.
On the fourth day, I was too tired to think about the ever-growing pile of laundry and dirty dishes, hot coffee was an unrealistic dream. After ten minutes of clock-watching, something in me gave. Instead of worrying about all I needed to do, all I could do, I let myself get lost in moment. He was still in the newborn beanbag stage, scrunched into a little ball on my chest, my hand cradling his diapered bum. I bent my neck to kiss the top of his head, inhaling deeply. The smell was intoxicating, a combination of baby shampoo and sweet sweat. My breath started to slow. He made mewling noises and twitched while he slept. A smile curved on my lips. My hand moved down and squeezed his chubby thighs, my lips still resting on his warm, bald head. 30 minutes in, my shirt was wet. I leaned over to see his mouth agape and a pool of drool slowly spreading on my stained, white t-shirt. I watched his body shake while I laughed quietly.
I was softly squeezing his sweaty feet when the phone rang and for once, I wasn’t anxious to answer it. I was too busy trying to figure out if I could lean my head down far enough to nibble on his toes without waking him. The phone could wait. Everything could wait. There was nothing more important than this naptime moment, the warmth of his body atop of me. Why did I not realize this before?
He is now 10-years-old, almost as tall as me. When I lean over to kiss the top of his head, he sometimes dodges away, not wanting to be embarrassed in public. I think back to that one nap and how it changed everything. From that point forward, naptime with my baby became my solace. If I close my eyes, I can almost smell his head, although I can no longer feel the weight of him on my chest and oh, how I wish I could.