I was complaining to a co-worker about how my toddler hadn’t been sleeping. I told him that she wouldn’t go to sleep until almost 11 p.m. the night before, and then she was up and ready to watch Blue’s Clues at 5 a.m.
“Sounds to me like it’s time to take away her nap,” he said. He lifted his eyebrows above his glasses. He does that when he’s implying that I need to be tougher. James and I have worked together for almost three years now. He’s a former Army Ranger in his early 50s with two teenage kids. His office nickname is “Grumpy Bear,” because although he is a compassionate person, he also tends to function according to the “toughen up or get out” ideology.
“Yeah, I’ll think about that,” I said.
But to be honest, I wouldn’t. Others have made the same suggestion. I’ve had childless friends get frustrated with me because I refuse to skip nap time for some social function. My mother has even been frustrated by it. Clearly, she’s been out of the parenting game too long because here are the facts on naps (from my perspective).
I love the hell out of Aspen. I find her charming and funny and curious and adorable, but honestly, for the most part, she’s a little turd. This is not a reflection of who she is as a person or who she will eventually grow up to be. It is a reflection on raising a two-year-old child, which is, hands down, the most difficult, frustrating, and heartwarming job in the history of ever.
And if I really want to set her off, if I really want to make Aspen a moody fit-throwing booger-faced little monster — I will take away her nap. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally attempted to take away her nap time, but there have been occasions when she has refused to go to sleep, and it feels like someone let an overly emotional, and possibly rabid, wild raccoon into the house.
I refuse to live through it, and I refuse to ask it of my wife. Not that she couldn’t handle it — my wife is a badass. She’s had three C-sections. She can handle anything. It’s more that I wouldn’t wish a moody sleep-deprived toddler on anyone. I also wouldn’t want to ask her to go without that little heavenly one- to two-hour break during the day.
But I suppose this is the really difficult part of parenting. In so many ways, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And when it comes to getting your child to sleep when they are supposed to sleep, there’s no way to get it just right — at least not in my experience.
Now trust me, I know there is some sleep consultant reading this ready to dive into the comment section to promise regular trips from the sandman for a small fee. Or there’s some asshole who happens to have been blessed with a mythical child who sleeps like a lazy cat, or someone who wants to sell me some essential oils. And you know what, just stop reading. Stop right now because this essay isn’t for you.
It’s for the parents with kids like mine, who can’t for the life of them get their child to sleep on a regular schedule until they are three or four or 25. I have three kids, and all of them have been troubled sleepers for the first several years. They have all been moody shits when going without their nap time. They have all sent me to work the next morning with big red eyes, confused and disoriented and often falling asleep on the bus and waking up in strange places (yes, that actually happened).
They have caused my wife and I to fight in the middle of the night, neither of us making any sense because we are so tired and disoriented. They have made us question our sanity during the day and cherish those sacred couple hours of nap time.
Bottom line, if I’ve learned anything about raising my three children, it’s that I can take away sleep, I can try to manage sleep, I can try to force sleep — but no matter what I do, the people in the captain’s chair are my children. They are the ones who will, or will not, eventually figure it out regardless of my intervention. And as much as that sucks to hear, the best thing I can tell you to do is cherish naps. Love every moment of them. If you can, join them. Hold strong and realize that eventually they will, most likely, figure it out.