It was a Sunday morning, and I was suddenly wondering what the world was like thousands of years ago. I was sitting with my hand on my chin and my elbow on my knee—because deep wondering requires exactly this position—thinking about what it was like before clocks or electricity or industrialization of any kind; when people had nowhere to go but if they did have somewhere to be, how did they know when they were supposed to be there? Sunrise seems vague, especially for the unmotivated. I imagined an average day went something like this:
When the sun set, one went to sleep. When the sun came back up; one stretched a bit and woke up. Every moment in between, people would then look for something to eat that wouldn’t kill them, and repeated this daily until something did kill them.
In the middle of all this intense wondering, I checked my phone for messages and a Facebook update, made some coffee and a snack, and then checked to see what was on TV. There’s no way I’m going back in time unless they have, at a minimum, crank powered coffee grinders and basic cable.
I started wondering about those things because I had absolutely nothing else planned for this particular Sunday. My wife was going to be out for most of the afternoon, which left my world wide open for a few hours. I could slide across the floor in my socks and underwear while wearing a pair of Ray-Bans if I wanted. The house was all mine.
As fun as a boxer-clad floor slide sounded, this was my plan: to read and take a nap. That’s it. These are my two personal pursuits of leisure in a married lifestyle, and on those days when the planets align and the only other things in the house are the dog and the echoes, this is my idea of a big day. Sure, there was other stuff that could and probably should have been done, but that wasn’t in the cards. I had already banked a few things that put me in the plus column as far as chores were concerned, so my plan was set. I was about to be a lone wolf for a few hours and this wolf had only two things on his agenda. Three, if you count lunch.
I like it quiet when I read, but if Mrs. G. is home, that’s not happening. If I’m reading when she’s home, I can actually feel her bubbling up inside with some nugget of conversation, and short of heading out to the garage with my book and locking myself in the car, I have no choice but to give in. She has an insatiable curiosity that can create and sustain a conversation out of thin air, and she does it better than anyone, and that very asset makes it impossible to read a book when she’s in the house.
“OK, what?” I’ll finally say over the top of the book, and then it begins. It’s wonderful, really, and it’s one of her best qualities of many good qualities but it does make it hard for me to read, so when she’s gone, that’s when I crack a book.
I can take a nap when she’s home, but there’s something profoundly different about a nap when she’s not. I can’t explain why; it just is. I should mention that I inherited my ability to nap anywhere, anytime from my mother. She was a world-class nap-taker, able to fall asleep in the middle of the day, and wake up twenty minutes later, refreshed and ready for anything. This baffled me to no end when I was a little kid. How could a person sleep in the middle of the day? It never dawned on me until I was older why that was. She got up to get us off to school, did whatever she did to run the household while we were gone, and then fed us when we got home. After that, she had about an hour until she had to head off to work for her shift at the phone company. She finally got home around midnight. No wonder she took naps.
As a kid though, napping wasn’t even part of our equation. As kids, we’re all go, go, go until we crash, and then we sleep like a hibernating forest creature until we’re dragged out of bed by our ankles for school nine or ten hours later. On the weekends, we slept until it was physically impossible to sleep anymore, and then we slept for another hour. That’s why we didn’t nap. We were barely ever awake. We were those nascent people without clocks or obligations, only with TV, Oreo cookies, and softer beds.
As our adult responsibilities took hold, our schedules only allowed for a set amount of sleep that usually ended when an alarm went off. An alarm. They may as well be called anti-sleep sirens.
An alarm clock is an actual blaring thing that abruptly yanks us away from doing something completely natural and even healthy. Think about it. Does an alarm go off when you’re in the bathroom? “HEY! Time to get up! Off you go!”
It’s an oven timer for people that will rudely tell us that we’re done, even if we’re still baking. Honestly, it’s a wonder more people don’t twitch. This is where naps come into play, as a time when we simply give in to our natural circadian rhythms and rest for a few minutes. Animals do it and so did we before all this “power through it” nonsense started. We live in a 24/7 technological society full of cranky people, with power brokers claiming that they’ll sleep when they’re dead. No, they’ll be dead when they’re dead. People need sleep as much as they need to eat, so think of a nap as a snack. It’s that little bag of almonds you have tucked in your drawer that gets you through until the main meal.
If I can, I’ll grab a nap after lunch, which is when most of us have that little dip in our alertness. For me it’s simple. I can’t really nap on the couch because I’m a back-napper, and our couch is about six inches too short. I suppose I could switch it up and get into a fetal position, like Dagwood, but that’s for bedtime. No, I lie on my back on the bed in the guest room with my hands folded at my waist and I simply fall asleep. Add a lily and I’d probably look like I’m practicing for my own funeral. I even leave my glasses on. No covers, either. This is only a twenty, maybe thirty, minute snooze, and I don’t want to get too comfortable—just comfortable enough for twenty or thirty minutes.
For this particular Sunday, I combined both the reading and the napping into a big unintentional super indulgence. I settled into a comfy leather rocker, and got about three pages into a new chapter when I dozed off—and I mean out like a light.
My feet were stretched out on an ottoman and Milo, our twenty-five-pound dog, perched himself on the knee-bridge between the chair and the ottoman while I was out. When I woke up about twenty minutes later, my knees felt as if they were bent backward. I walked into the kitchen like an ostrich and got something to drink, and then settled back in for a few more chapters. Milo had moved over and spread out on the couch.
After a few hours and a serious dent in the book, the quiet was starting to get to me, and I began wondering when Mrs. G. was going to be back home. The house began to feel hollow, and as much as I enjoy these little slices of me time, I deeply appreciate the longer moments of our time. Besides, I knew she’d come back with a million things to talk about and I had to prepare myself. By my estimate, she’d be home in about forty-five minutes, so what did I do? I put the book down and took a nap.
And it was great.