When my daughters were little — five and two, perhaps — and past the age of napping, I sometimes found myself desperate for any way at all that I could get even a little bit of mid-day sleep. I cleared the lunch plates of their detritus of blueberries, macaroni, and blobs of yogurt, feeling the lethargy settle on me and press my eyelids down even as I heard the first gleefully-shouted requests to go to the park. No way, I thought. No park. I can’t even imagine it. The coats alone…no.
In this, I’m sure I was no different than millions of other at-home moms who begin their day at 5am and race through it until they collapse, bleary-eyed, into their beds at night. These other mothers almost certainly have their own strategies for recharging mid-day; I have friends who used anything from “quiet time in your room” to a walk toward the nearest coffeeshop. I tried some of these things but nothing really worked. If I insisted they stay in their rooms, the constant squealing, questions about “how much longer?” and requests for snacks kept my frustration at a low boil — not very restorative. If we went to the park or out in search of an afternoon treat, I was worn down further by the process of getting everyone ready and out the door and of keeping my squirmy running toddler out of the street.
In the end, on those days when I simply could not roll out another pancake of Play-Doh or braid another head of doll hair or read Eloise Takes a Bawth one more time, I weighed my exhaustion and ill temper against the potential damage of the television and, against all advice by the American Academy of Pediatrics, we — gasp! — watched a movie.
This didn’t happen every day, but it surely happened once a week and sometimes even more often. During the years of my younger daughter’s worst tantrums — some of which happened at 1:30am — I can’t promise you it wasn’t three times a week. What I can promise you is that I did not treat the tv as a “Neglect-o-Matic,” to quote a friend of mine ashamed with her own use of the tv as a de-facto babysitter. I set up our movie time in a very specific way, and in the end, I believe that the naps I took during those years were the most peaceful, calming afternoons of my life. I’d even go a step further: I believe these movie afternoons were as comforting for my children as they were for me.
Our living room has a large, plush, sink-into-it-up-to-your-hips couch, littered with throw pillows and blankets. Onto this couch I threw both my daughters, giggling and sinking and climbing as we chose the day’s movie. For a very long time, we cycled between [the terrible Disney version of] Annie and Mary Poppins, but probably there were others I’m forgetting. Once the opening credits began, I placed my self horizontally on the couch between my daughters.
On the end by my head was my little daughter, Sammi, who wiggled more and would be less safe wandering around the house on her own. I tucked my arm under the pillow beneath my head and wrapped my hand around Sammi’s ankle. She sat cross legged with a blanket over her lap, her sippy-cup of Carnation Instant Breakfast — our attempt to put weight on her after the first few of her many surgeries — and was immediately riveted to the screen.
On the end by my feet, I stretched my legs long and rested them on the lap of my older daughter Ronni. At that age, she would have snuggled me all day if she could, and the idea that her mommy would love to rest her feet on her was thrilling. “Am I sitting right, Mommy? You like my lap like this?” she’d ask, and I’d tell her that it was the most comfortable place in the whole world. And, in those moments, it really was.
I’d pull a blanket over myself and doze off before the first movie scene had even revealed itself. I held Sammi’s ankle and felt Ronni’s lap underneath me and felt safe in my light sleep. I rose to the surface every so often to the sound of raucous laughter or to the sensation of someone leaving to go to the bathroom, and then I’d sit up and watch to be sure they came back. Then I’d latch on again, dream again, doze again.
I can picture these afternoons and feel the sensations they gifted to me even though they are nearly ten years in my past. I can feel the heaviness of my sleep descending, the delicate bones of Sammi’s ankle in my hand, and Ronni’s fingers in a sweaty grip on my calves. I feel the sun coming in through the southern window over my head, the occasional sound of a cup being sipped, the couch shifting with the movements of my precious partners in this endeavor.
Neither of my children have ever expressed interest in co-sleeping. Neither came to our bed at night and wanted to stay, and only Ronni ever begged me to lay with her until she fell asleep — and even then, she only wanted me for a little while. These afternoons of sleeping on the couch were the best way I had to show them how much comfort they gave me. At the end of the movie, I’d feel the restlessness of my daughters and pull them under the blanket on top of me.
“A pile of little girls,” I’d sigh, “You are the best napping partners ever!”
And then, my two little girls, sunshine and moonlight, would bury themselves in my chest and neck and belly, nuzzling like puppies, giggling, tickling, squealing. “Mommy,” they’d say, inches from my face, “can we paint? can we make cookies? can we go to the park or will you play Candyland? Mommy?”
And finally, rested, I was peaceful and ready to play again.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post hosted by Kristi from FindingNinee.com. This week’s sentence is “I find peace from…” or close enough.