My parents were big fans of “the nap.”
When I was growing up, the Trotter’s Sunday routine consisted of church, dinner, and an afternoon nap.
This does not mean, of course, that I took a nap. But both my parents went down for the count.
Mom often retreated to their bedroom with a smiley announcement, “I’m going to take a nap!”
There was a ton of subtext under that cheerful announcement however, which told us NOT to wake Mom in the event of a phone call, fire, or the Second Coming.
Dad would also zonk out, usually in front of the couch with the newspaper spread across his lap like a faithful dog.
I would escape to my own fortress of solitude after having successfully stolen the funny pages. I’d scour the comics (my favorite was the whimsical Calvin and Hobbes), laugh at Dave Barry, and wonder at the soap-opera problems of the Ann Landers set.
All to the soaring symphony of Dad’s loud, proud snoring.
I’m sure my parents made me take naps when I was very young, but my memory has not recorded any time in particular when I was told to take a nap.
For some reason, my parents figured I would figure out when I needed a nap.
I remember a time when I was working on second-grade homework. I was angry and frustrated, unable to understand the problems or achieve an answer, in spite of my mother’s patient help.
I threw down my pencil in disgust and burst into tears.
I remember Mom looking sympathetic and then feeling Dad’s strong arms wrap me in a bear hug.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“I just can’t get it. I don’t understand it!”
“You and Mom have been at this for a long time. Maybe you need a brain break. How about you get some extra rest, and you can work on it in the morning.”
“IN THE MORNING!!! BEFORE SCHOOL?!”
I was convinced I’d never have time to finish my insurmountable multiplication before heading to school in the morning. Nothing frightened me more than facing my teacher, the taciturn Miss Bull, with empty homework hands.
“Well, if you go to bed now, you’ll have no problem getting up a little early. In fact, if you DO go to bed now, you’ll probably wake up refreshed and invigorated!”
Only Dad could make an early bed time seem like a trip to a water park.
“Okay, okay” I grudgingly agreed.
I remember waking up the next morning, stumbling my way to the kitchen, and finding my school books - along with orange juice, two smiling parents, and my absolute favorite (and allowed-on-Saturday-only) breakfast of chocolate Pop-Tarts.
I took confidence in my parent’s confidence that I COULD do it, and spent the next hour finishing my homework. I believe I received an “A” on that particular assignment – a feat I attribute in no small part to my parents and the nourishing Pop-Tart breakfast.
This may also be why I often reward myself with food. But that’s another story.
Things were not the same way at the Boehm home, my aunt’s home, the amazing place I was blessed to have as my “second home.”
Aunt Kathy had four children to my mom’s one and ruled her roost under the iron-clad rule of “Because I said so.”
This is not to mean my Aunt Kathy was in any way a cold woman. To the contrary, she was a warm, welcoming presence. Her laughter prompted laughter from anyone within earshot, and her love and compassion knew no bounds.
But as a parent to four, she and my Uncle Billy employed a lovingly structured, disciplined approach to child rearing. Their obvious desire was to raise considerate, thoughtful, and self-sufficient children.
They succeeded, of course, and my sister-cousins and BJ are all of the above with many more wonderful qualities I could not record if the ink my ocean, the sky my scroll, and all that jazz.
However, their parenting style clashed with my parents’ style of explaining why they did what they did. In fact, in all my years, I don’t believe I EVER heard; “Because I said so,” fall from the lips of either parent.
Mom tells me I was a self-motivated child, so she and Dad didn’t worry about creating a structured environment for me. She also says I was never rebellious (I’m also suspicious of this claim), and that they never needed to come down all that hard on me.
So, it was with some wonder, my Aunt Kathy regarded me on the many occasions I haunted her halls.
I remember one time in particular when she called the five of us in from playing outside.
“Time for naps!” She announced with her trademark grin.
As my four cousins obediently, somewhat somberly, headed to their bedrooms, I headed for the living room.
“Ann-Marie, I said it’s time for your nap.” My Aunt Kathy followed me into the living room.
I grabbed a book from the coffee table and climbed onto the couch.
“It’s okay, Aunt Kathy. I’m not tired.” I announced and started to read.
In what must have required great strength of character, Aunt Kathy gently removed the book from my hands and fixed me with a thoughtful look.
“I didn’t ask if you were tired. I said it’s time for your nap. Your cousins all went to take THEIR naps.”
“Well, then THEY must be tired.” I reasoned. “I’m really not.”
I smiled up at Aunt Kathy, still not understanding her obvious consternation.
“Ann-Marie.” Her voice had changed subtly, taking on a tone every kid in the world understands, “Go to Charity’s room, and take a nap.”
“Okay, but I’m really not tired.” I explained once again, uselessly, as I headed to my cousin’s room.
I climbed into Charity’s bed. She was still awake and regarded me with raised eyebrows. I may not have understood what had just happened in the living room, but she sure did.
Undaunted, I began to whisper how I wasn’t tired, and how obviously she wasn’t tired, so why did we both have to stay in bed. I advocated strongly for evacuating the covers to play dolls or read books.
Charity – strong, obedient first-born that she was – resisted my attempts at mutiny. I was passionately into my second whispered argument when Charity’s eyes widened and her eyebrows rose in alarm.
I rolled over in bed to discover my Aunt Kathy standing in the doorway, hands on her hips, a secret party to my willful plea.
Immediately after, I was marched to a darkened living room where I spent the remainder of naptime on the couch, swaddled in a quilt, completely awake and not a little incensed by the injustice of the arrangement.
Later, Mom and Aunt Kathy had a phone conversation. I was privy to only half of the conversation. But I gathered words like “disobedient” “naughty” and a new one – “instigator.”
Mom had a stern talk with me afterwards. Even if I wasn’t tired (and I beat that particular horse to death during the conversation, believe you me), I was still to obey my elders. I wasn’t to question them, unless they were asking me to do something that would hurt myself or others.
Then Mom delivered the knock-out blow, “Your father and I are very disappointed in your behavior today, young lady.”
The comment pierced my heart like an arrow. I immediately burst into apologetic tears.
In spite of my behavior, Aunt Kathy welcomed me back with open arms. She said nothing of what had happened previously, and before long I was out playing with my cousins in the backyard.
When Aunt Kathy called us in for naps, I marched valiantly into the house. My expression might have resembled a woman about to face the firing squad, but I went silently to the couch.
I waited patiently for Aunt Kathy to turn off the light, after she returned from seeing my cousins to their rooms.
To my ultimate surprise and delight, Aunt Kathy didn’t go for the light switch. Instead, she came to the couch, smiled at me, and dropped a book in my lap. She put her fingers to her lips, and I understood the universal sign for quiet.
It became our little secret.
My respect and love for Aunt Kathy grew out of how she handled sticky situations with grace and kindness. How she accepted me, without always understanding me, and sought a relationship with her niece that would glorify the God they both believed in.
Of course, things have come full circle now.
The Soderstrom’s Sunday routine consists of church, dinner, and a nap. Brett even jokes that if I don’t get a Sunday nap, “The whole week is just RUINED!”
But I like to think that I nap because it does just what Dad promised all these years ago – leaves me refreshed, invigorated, and ready to face what lies ahead.
And, somewhere, somehow, I like to think my grown-up addiction to naps makes my dearly-departed Aunt Kathy break out happily in her trademark grin and let loose one of those remarkably contagious (and oft-missed) belly laughs.
This nap’s for you, Aunt Kathy!