SahdLife in the Fast Lane

There’s a Far Side cartoon I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. There are two gorillas reclined against a tree in the forest. Above them hangs a giant banana bunch and strewn about the ground are banana peels. They’re each enjoying a banana. One says to the other: “You know, Sid, I really like bananas…I mean, I know that’s not profound or nothin’… Heck! We ALL do…But for me, I think it goes much more beyond that.”

As a one-frame cartoon it’s just great, always makes me giggle. But sometimes I wish Sid’s banana-loving friend had a blog he could use to go into that “beyond” part of his love of bananas. Sure, it would kill the humor, as long-winded blogs tend to do, but I think it’d be worth it to hear all of his amazing and elaborate thoughts about how great bananas are.

Then I had a thought: Wait, I have a blog. I could write about bananas! The only problem was, while I do really like bananas, I just don’t have the same love for them that Sid’s buddy has and I don’t think I could do Sid’s friend justice. So then I had to give some thought to a tough question: What, in my life, do I love as much, or maybe just in a similar way, as Sid’s friend loves bananas?

I had only one answer: Naps.

Quick Note: I told a friend at school pickup that I was working on a new blog post. “That’s great,” she said. “I can’t wait to read it. What’s it about?”

“Naps, I think, mostly,” I said.

“Naps. Wow. That sounds…riveting.”

“That sounds sarcastic.”

“No. No, not at all.”

“Ok, cool. Because it’s really long.”

“Can’t wait.”

“Cool! I’ll get crackin’!”

There are all sorts of naps. And just about all of them are great in their own way, just like bananas. My favorite, the cream of the nap crop, is the one with a baby sleeping on you. It’s really the best. There’s nowhere else you’d rather be. And more importantly, there’s nowhere else you can be so you’re basically untouchable and un-naggable. Like having a Wonder Woman force field around you, only the force field is a cooing little bag of sweet flesh nestled into your chest. Sadly, I don’t get this one anymore as our third kid is too big and gross now. We had a cat for a while that I loved and often, if I held him down long enough, he would fall asleep on me and I’d get a hint of that wonderful feeling back. But he was hit by a car and now I don’t have anything.

One of the classics for when you’ve got toddlers is that nap you sneak when they’re watching TV. Again, those days are about wrapped up fro me but I have some suggestions in case some younger parents are looking for help. My all-time favorite: In the Night Garden, (soooo slow and sooo British), followed by Pingu (no talking, just weird noises), Teletubbies (if you like opium), and Thomas and Friends (so incredibly boring, no threat of getting sucked in).

The ones to stay far away from are: The Wiggles (so horribly stressful to watch these grown men act like this your only hope is a stress-induced narcoleptic fit), Dora the Explorer (“Do YOU see the…” “Can YOU help find the…” “Have YOU ever tried to sleep while someone’s asking you so many fucking questions?”), and, finally, Paw Patrol (too exciting).

As the kids get a little older, it becomes less about straight-up tiredness and more about escaping. Like, sometimes they’re nagging you and whining about how there’s ‘literally’ NOTH-ING to do and someone just punched someone and another one is ‘li-tra-ly’ STARV-ING and there is ‘li-tra-ly’ NOTH-ING to eat…and you just…lie down. You make it all go away. Sometimes I think of these naps as little suicides. Sounds a bit dark though, now that I write it down.

Then, at some point, they get old enough and you can just say, “Kids, I’m having a nap. I’m pretty sure Keira’s mom is home across the street if you need something or if there’s an emergency.” And you just walk upstairs.

This is a development that is equal parts exciting and depressing for a parent new to this stage. It’s not my favorite nap, I’ll be honest. The excitement has mostly worn off and I’ll often just find myself in bed, pants off, covers pulled up, wondering, ‘what the hell am I doing with my life?’

Similarly, the worst nap, if there can be such a thing, is when I’m alone in the house. If it’s the weekend and Kate’s taken the kids somewhere and I’ve told her I’m going to write or maybe clean the house while she’s gone…fine. It’s not a bad nap. But if Kate’s at work and the kids are just at school and it’s just me…in bed…sun shining, lawnmowers buzzing, birds chirping…there’s just something vaguely depressing about it. I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it yet but I’m working on it.

But, as the kids get older and I get older and more is expected of me as a productive spouse and member of society, I have to find more creative ways to find joy in my naps. Lately, I’ve found it in a nap that really pushes the boundaries. Goes like this: Kate’s all hopped up on Sunday morning coffee and she’s looking to get shit done and she needs me to do this and that. She’s all business and pissed off and I’m not doing anything fast enough and she’s told me nine times already to fix the whatever…and I…just…slip upstairs, climb in bed, pull the covers over me, close my eyes and smile as the sounds of someone else taking care of it all hum below. The joy of this one lies in the near-constant threat of getting caught. That type of stress has a wonderfully soporific effect and the combination of the FU and the sound of your house being cleaned …it offers something no lavender eye pillow can touch.

***

It should be noted, Kate hates my napping. Like, she hates my napping more than a person should hate anything. Especially when that thing is so natural and replenishing.

But she doesn’t hate napping really on a biological or societal or even philosophical basis, she just hates it about me. To her, my napping is symbolic of everything that’s most bad about me. I think it goes with a wish that I be a bit more of a ‘go-getter’.

“Go get what?” I ask. “Money?” “Look,” I tell her, “If I had a choice between being the guy who’s awesome at like, closing deals, and being the guy who’s awesome at naps, don’t you think I’d choose the deal closer guy? The guy with the big watch and the suit walking all fast, talking on his cellphone to PJ and Squi on a conference call… that sounds great! I’d love that! The guy who’s back in bed, all tucked in with the lavender eye pillow at 11am on a Tuesday? I don’t want that either! It’s terrible. But it is what it is.”

When I imagine Kate having an affair, as I do often, I don’t know why, it’s weird, I tend to imagine her at some fancy work dinner where she’s been seated next to a hedge fund manager with a skinny suit and a giant watch.

He says he hates this money/monkey business but he’s only doing it so he can retire early and focus on the things he cares about, like traveling and good food and horse riding and buying a house for his mom in Tuscany.

Another negroni, ma’m?” the waiter interrupts. “Oh… I can’t. It’s late,” Kate says. “Aren’t you tired?” she asks the banker. “Me? No, I don’t really sleep much. There’s too much to do, too much fun to be had.” He laughs. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” More laughs.

They sit quietly for a moment letting the laughs fade into the clinking of nearby cocktails. Kate glances at her phone. A message from “Ben Brashares” (that’s how she has me in her phone) has gone unread for the last two hours: “When are you coming home? I’m so tired and I don’t feel well and the kids have no concern for me whatsoever.“ Her eyes make their way from the phone to the shiny watch, to the undone silky power tie, then up to the waiter who’s standing patiently over her. “Sure, why not. Another negroni.”.

They get their negronis and they clink their glasses. “To life!” She says. “To life!” He says. “And living every day like it was your last.”

***

Kate always insists she doesn’t want this alter-ego banker guy I’ve created for her. She married me for a reason, she says. Because I got her pregnant. But also because I was kind and I liked animals (that’s actually how she once summed up my appeal. Still recovering from that one). She just wants me to not nap. Or, really, be the kind of person who would nap.

And the kind of person who naps, I suppose, is also the kind of person who, according to his mother, is sensitive and creative and is not afraid to be vulnerable. Even when the world can be mean as a snake.

The other day I was feeling frustrated by my lack of productivity with my writing. I wondered aloud to Kate as to the real importance –if you really thought about it– of selling a novel as opposed to simply finishing one. I said something like, “Why is society so, like, results oriented?” I said this, thinking, wrongly, that I was safe to say such things to my own wife in the comfort of my own home. But Kate smelled weakness and sank her fangs into my soft, hairy underbelly. “How else would you like society to be oriented? Would you like society to give you a little pat on the back and say, hey, you don’t have to sell that novel, or even finish it! We think it’s great you even tried!”

Then there was the time I wanted to talk through a possible career change with Kate and threw out the idea of being, say, a teacher. “But I’d have to go back to school” I said. “I’d have to take all those boring classes…then after all that I’m like spending my nights grading terrible papers and planning… syllabi. I’d have to say ‘syllabi’ all the time.

That’s when I looked down and saw Kate’s fisted knuckles turning white.

“Yeah, honey, that’s called “working”. That’s what people do.”

Here I am feeling lost and useless and, honestly, a little bit hopeless and I get a cruel lecture. Its like Stephen Hawking’s wife saying to him, “Yeah, honey, it’s called ‘walking’, you should try it sometime.”

Another example: We were talking about a friend who’s recently happened upon some success in his particular line of work.

Ben: “I’m not jealous. But it’s just weird, you know, the way society works. He had like one good break and how he’s set.”

Kate: “Well, I wouldn’t really call ‘winning an Oscar’ a ‘good break’.

Ben: “Exactly, it’s just some ‘societal’ stamp of approval that doesn’t even really mean anything.”

Kate: “I thought you said he’s set now.”

Ben: “He is…but why, you know? Because society says he is?”

Kate: “Uh-uh. Yup.” Her long, cold, stare gives me the shivers.

***

There’s something not very manly about a nap. I get it. Unless you do it in a rocking chair wearing dirty boots and a ten-gallon hat tipped over your eyes. Like, somehow the preparation is what’s key. I can’t take my pants off, for instance. Or use my eye pillow. If I do deign to actually use the bed for a nap, I have to appear like I was just doing something else and just fell over. But it’s dumb. It doesn’t make any sense. And yet, I can’t help buying into it. There’s this little nap preamble I do:

Ben: “Ugh. I’m really tired for some reason.”

Kate: “Really?” (Kate has mastered the impossible-to-tell “was that bitchy or pretending to be caring?” tone. I always get it wrong).

Ben: “Yeah, feel like I need to either go for a run or have a nap.”

Kate: “You should go for a run.”

Ben: “Yeah, think I will.”

Pause.

Ben: “I’m Just gonna lay down for a minute first.”

I’ve found that if I call it “laying down for a minute” Kate does fewer dramatic, hateful eye rolls. One tactic that she doesn’t like at all, it’s worth noting, is when I get up from the couch after watching several hours of football and do a big stretch and say in a bad British accent, “ahhhh, I think I’d quite like to have a nap now.”

Usually, I just slink off. And then Kate comes up to find me in bed on that late Sunday morning when we’re trying to get shit done.

Kate: “Are you napping?”

Ben: “No!” (I’ve gotten very good at mimicking the voice of a fully awake person immediately after being woken up) “I’m thinking. Brainstorming.”

Kate: “Honey, we have SO much to do… Ugh, SO annoying.”

Ben: “This is how I do some of my best thinking!”

She just looks at me, her head tilted, mean little eyebrows raised. She sighs. She wants the look to burn but it doesn’t because I’m a man and I make my own decisions about when I nap.

I continue. “Remember that idea I had for the ear covers you put on your ears so spiders don’t crawl in them while you sleep? I had that doing this!”

The following Sunday:

Kate: “Ughhhh. I can’t believe you’re napping right now when we have so much to DO…!”

Ben: “I’m not napping! I’m thinking.

Kate: “You’re snoring!”

(Pause)

Ben: “I’m snorking.”

(Quiet)

Ben: “See? This is a highly creative space for me. I just came up with that!”

The following Sunday:

Kate: “Seriously?”

Ben: “What?”

Kate: “10am nap?”

Ben: “I’ve been up since like 7:30.”

Kate: “Yeah, so has, like, everybody.”

Kate comes and sits down on the bed. It’s clear she’s jealous of my take-charge attitude towards my napping. She wants a safe haven from the brewing storm of neediness downstairs the same as anyone. But she’s not as good at sadness and vulnerability as me so she’ll tend to deflect her pain. “I really don’t understand the appeal of climbing back in bed two-and-half hours after getting out of it. Doesn’t it make you feel bad?”

I reach over, pull her in next to me and whisper, “Those who dance are considered mad by those who don’t hear the music.” It’s a quote I’ve been annoying everyone with lately. I get a smile. She loosens in my grip.

“Those who nap,” she replies, “are considered lazy and useless by those who work their asses off all week making the money.”

I smile. We kiss. One thing leads to another and before you can say “Ben’s gonna get lucky” she’s up and talking about all the stuff we have to get done. She coaxes me up with more nap-shaming/bullying and then heads off to the garden center to buy more plants. I go to my backyard woodshed and methodically drill holes in wood.

***

I’m not quite as lazy and undersexed as I’m probably making myself out to be. I do get quite a lot done around the house. But it’s really only when the kids are home because I’ve found that if I stop for a minute in the same room as them, it takes only about two seconds for me to get a swift kick in the balls from the little one, an “I’m LIT-ER-ALY starving” from the girl and a, “Dad, you neeeeeeed to help me with my homework!” from the big one. So I have to keep moving. I’m like a shark; I have to keep swimming to stay alive. Until I don’t… and then I nap.

It’s an unfortunate motivation  –simply trying to avoid your children– but it’s led to some real results. For instance:
I made this firewood bin:

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I made this trash bin:

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I made this sandbox:

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My brother, Beau, and I built this motorcycle. Went from this:

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To this (still working on it):

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Kate and I turned our gross attic into a nice guest room:

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We tore out our old kitchen…

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And built this nice new one…

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And I don’t know what these are yet but I’ve made a LOT of them:

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So, the challenge moving forward here is to be more productive with my alone time; that 9am-2pm slot when no one’s nagging me or kicking me and there’s no one to steal away from and stick it to. It’s just me. And the truth is, there is some evidence mounting that would suggest my napping is having a potentially adverse affect on my writing career. I can really see that now. And I have a plan. With proper exercise and a prescription for methamphetamine salts I think I really believe I’ll sleep less and function better. Which, ironically, is the title of an article I wrote for Men’s Journal almost exactly fifteen years ago. (How time flies when you’re sleeping!)

How to Sleep Less and Function Better

***

For the sake of my marriage, for the sake of my career, for the sake of my kids’ safety, I’m going to nap less. I don’t think, however, I’ll ever not be ‘the kind of guy who naps’. That’s just in the DNA, along with some mild depression and a fundamental love of soft sheets.

Just like in Kate’s DNA is a predisposition to messiness. (I may have mentioned it at some point previously in the blog.)

Kate will work on her messiness. She’ll see that it defeats me, is often what drives me to take my suicide naps. She’ll try to be better. But she’ll always be the ‘kind of person’ who’s messy. And that’s something that I actually love about her. It means she’s laid back, she accepting, and she’s not-at-all OCD/anxious, which is a lovely antidote to what I’m packing in the DNA divvy-up for the kids.

The changes aren’t going to come easy. Winter is coming. Darkness and coldness tend to be triggers for me. I also tend to fatten up (some have used the word “balloon” in it’s verb form to describe it) in preparation for a hibernation that, cruelly, never actually takes place. So I nap. And the fat, which collects in my neck, obstructs my breathing while I sleep (Kate says she’s continually amazed to find me alive in the morning after all that gasping and choking). Needless to say, it’s not a good sleep and, thus, midday naps become somewhat of a requirement.

So, part of my new plan is to not balloon this fall. I’ve started going to the Y most days now. I have a group of guys I commune with in the locker room each day who are, judging from the length of their scrotums, deep into their eighties. One of them, Joe, actually died the other day. But it’s feeling like a routine now and routines are good for the stay-at-home parent. The less-great naps –the ones that are based on life avoidance rather than actual tiredness– tend to come less often with a routine.

There will still, of course, be naps. But, my new policy: Nap when I’m tired. And when I need a nap, I’m gonna nap like a cowboy, not an infant. No taking off the pants. I’m gonna just ‘doze off’, sitting in a chair maybe, boots on, stetson tipped, because, damn, I’ve been up early workin’ hard. My little one will come and kick me in the balls to wake me up –I have no control over that– but I’ll go, “Oh, hey now, son. Whew. I must’ve dozed off there for a minute. All right! Who’s hungry for some beans!”

Kate will come home from work and she’ll hang her coat up, put her shoes in the shoe bin and give me a kiss.

A man can dream. Speaking of, I’m super tired right now. And I could use a banana.

This post is dedicated to my best napping buddy, Jamaal. May he continue his long, sweet dirt nap in peace and not be dug up when it comes time for us to bury our next beloved pet.

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