Mark Coakley, a funny blogger I follow, recently posted his thoughts on naps. By way of comment, I remarked, “Since you’ve just had the last word on naps, what more is there to say?” I was too quick on the draw. Having given the matter at least two further minutes of thought since then, I realize there’s quite a bit more to say about the little-discussed and usually private practice of napping. Mark is a youngish father, so he understandably focussed most of his post on the napping, or failure to nap, of small offspring and the impact thereof on family life. As I have already advanced well into the empty-nest stage of experience, you will therefore learn nothing from me here of the adorable circa-1970 napping habits of my own children. I now tend to think of naps as interesting only when they are out of the ordinary, or else very cute.
Out of the ordinary, for instance, were the naps of Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine. According to one of her biographers, she had them every day, after luncheon. What makes this habit of hers interesting to plebeian me is that the sheets she napped on needed to be impeccably fresh and ironed at all times she might conceivably want to stretch out on them, or between them. Thus, not only were they changed daily in the morning. They were also changed every afternoon following each nap, so that they would again be fresh (and ironed) for her nightly slumbers. I think they may also have been made of silk, but I’m not absolutely sure of that, so don’t quote me.
Now I love fresh, smooth sheets as much as anyone. But I don’t love making up the double bed from scratch even once a week, and couldn’t possibly conceive of making it twice a day for my own delight — especially now we have two cats who insist on helping unless I close the door on them before they can get into the bedroom, in which case they miaow piteously from behind the door, tugging at my heartstrings (even if not at the sheets themselves) and distracting me from my hospital corners. As for ironing, you already know how I feel about that! (See here, if you don’t.) Since Clemmie couldn’t possibly have done her own laundry and ironing, or even known how, the Churchills must have had at least one “downstairs” person whose job, among others, was sheet duty. Although before you begin with the envy, think of all the stresses and strains — “We shall fight on the beaches! We shall never surrender!” — that drove Clemmie to seek comfort from her sheets, and give thanks for your own slightly wrinkled and perhaps not entirely “fresh” ones.
Speaking of historical figures, I understand that Napoleon, although not given to actual “naps” per se, had very short nights. Three or four hours at most. The length of a good-sized afternoon nap, if you want to think of it that way. So there you go. Plus of course several teensy bits of shut-eye during the day, cat-naps as it were, which apparently sufficed for refreshment of his mental resources.
As for those still living — or at least living when I knew them — my first husband comes to mind. He took to lying around our grubby West Side apartment in his BVDs for several hours every afternoon during the last years of our marriage — an unhappy period of life, probably for both of us but certainly for me — when I was supporting us and he was allegedly churning out yet another rough chunk of whatever he was supposed to be writing every morning. This left his afternoons free for relaxation and torpor, with eyes closed shut. He claimed he wasn’t really napping, just “thinking.” You could have fooled me.
Moving right along, after the second husband there was a briefly recycled boyfriend — in retirement by the time of the recycling. He had been practicing law, but suffered from sleep apnea, which required whoever was sharing his bed at the time to wake him regularly whenever he stopped breathing at night, lest he stop breathing forever. (A heavy burden for the bed-sharer.) As a result, he was always exhausted from all those sleep interruptions and frequently dozed off in court, snoring heavily, when he wasn’t up at bat with a witness. Understandably, his inopportune and unprofessional naps eventually led to suggestions from the bench that he close down his practice, such as it was by then, and call it a day. All this occurred before we met again and for a short while took up with each other to see what was what, if anything.
By that time he could have resumed practice, as he had acquired something called a C-Pap machine — a heavy metal box with an extrusion that looked like a gas mask and needed to be attached to his face at night. It did his breathing for him while he slept, somewhat noisily but he got used to it, since it kept him alive. In the morning he now awoke refreshed and ready for action — of which there was very little, post-retirement, other than eating and drinking. He did not nap during the year we saw each other, but had taken rather too enthusiastically to the food and drink component of his retirement. So “what was what” became that was that. Napping I can deal with. Alcoholism I can’t.
Bill — who unlike the others is still alive, thank God — also naps. His are real naps, taken with intent. They are compensation for the night life he leads with our cats while I am sleeping. Somewhere around three or three-thirty every night, he arises and tiptoes downstairs to feast on crackers and the expensive cheese I try to hide from him behind the celery and cucumbers in the refrigerator. The cats get Halo dried chicken treats for keeping him company. I know because there are crumbs of dried chicken, expensive cheese and brown rice crackers on the counter in the morning. Then he drinks half a glass of grapefruit juice or Califia vanilla almond milk, leaving the other half to turn bad in the glass near the sink. He must think we have Churchillian-size staff, instead of just Polish Eliza and Anna once every other week for two hours. But these are minor peccadilloes really, especially as he gets back into bed very quietly, so as not to wake me up. Much preferable to writing unsaleable novels in your underwear, or drinking up a storm.
Moreover, the need for the compensatory nap usually doesn’t come upon him until around five in the afternoon — which is actually fine with me because then I can pull together a relatively healthy supper and deflect later complaint by pointing out he could have had some menu input had he managed to stay awake but he didn’t, and so there. Eat your spinach, Popeye! I have many photographs of Bill napping here and there — on a Greek island, on a Portuguese island, in a pretty auberge near the Riviera. But he’d get really — not just pretend — mad if I shared them with the world. So I won’t.
However, I do live with some nappers who can’t get mad. Not with me, anyway. (I’m the food provider.) They’re the very cute ones I sort of implied earlier I would get to. You’ve seen them before, but I’m told a blogger can’t do too much of this stuff. So here they are again, S & S, getting their zzzzzs.
Ooops! I just woke one of them up! Sorry, Sophie. Go back to your cat nap…..