My four year old son isn’t napping anymore.
I know I should be grateful we made it to four. I hear stories of friends whose kids haven’t napped since eighteen months, so I know I shouldn’t complain. But frankly, I need those naps more than he does at this point. I need just an hour to myself in the afternoon, to collect my thoughts, to wipe down the counters, to answer emails, and – who am I kidding – to forget for just a few short moments that I am responsible for two tiny, demanding humans.
When he comes down from the mandated ‘quiet time’ in his room, which is usually anything but quiet and sounds more like a herd of angry elephants attempting to break loose, he is ready and eager to play.
“Mama, I know, I have a great idea,” he says brightly to me yesterday, sticking his face inches from mine, “we could play paper airplanes today!”
“I just need five more minutes,” I tell him. Not because I think I can actually finish what I am working on in five minutes, but simply because I need him to know that his quiet time ends when I said it ends. I am the Mama after all.
He stands next to me and stares at me. He knows now that his whining will get him nowhere, especially at two-thirty in the afternoon, when he descends before the timer is up, but he doesn’t hesitate to try other tactics. He continues to stand and stare.
“Oh, alright,” I say, giving into his quiet pressure. It seems that whether we have a good or a bad afternoon together is less up to him than it is up to me. (I am forty-one, after all). So I make the choice to abandon my own quiet time in favor of paper planes. We sit at the table and I fold two planes as best I remember from grade school and we take them out to the back yard to fly. They don’t, however, fly anywhere. They sail exactly down to the ground. Nose first. Every time.
“These are terrible planes,” I say. “Let’s go inside and Google how to make paper airplanes.” In my mind, this is a great idea that will make our afternoon even more special. I am doing this right, I think to myself, I’m modeling for him him how we solve problems.
“No Mama,” he says, “we can just fly them with our hands.” And he proceeds to run around the yard with his plane firmly wedged between his thumb and his index finger. “Vrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmmm,” he shouts as he continues to run in circles, his little plane rolling over the waves he’s making with his outstretched arms.
And it hits me, as it so often does in these small, mundane moments.
He doesn’t want to do it “right,” he just wants to do this with me.
He doesn’t care that the planes don’t work, or that they nosedive every single time. He just cares that I am paying attention, that I am making the same silly jet engine noises, and that we are running laps and laughing together in our tiny back yard.
Oh, I think to myself. I get it.
How many of these moments do I miss each day because I shoo him away? How many of these tiny giggles don’t escape his mouth because I am more concerned with protecting my time? And how many more years will he ask me to fly paper planes with him in the back yard?
Don’t get me wrong, I still need my downtime. I can’t be a good mother to him if I don’t hold my own space (at least somewhat) sacred. There is no way I’d have the energy to fly planes like this if I didn’t recharge my own jet packs on a daily basis. So I will continue to mandate a quiet time each afternoon. But when it is over, I hope I remember to close the laptop and put my phone away. I hope I remember to stop what I am doing. And not a half stop, a full stop. Everything else will be there when I return. But these years with my sons will not. Sometimes I forget that.
Later in the day, he asks me to tie him to our tree so he can hang upside down like a bat. Clearly, that’s not gonna happen. So instead he asks me to tie a piece of lattice to his back so he can fly. I happily oblige, marveling at his little imagination. I should be inside cooking dinner, but after our paper airplane afternoon, I don’t want to miss this. Then he asks me to light the sides of his wings on fire so he can fly all the way to the moon. “Why don’t you wait till Daddy gets home,” I say, not wanting to spoil the fun completely, “see what he says about that.”
I suppose I have to draw the line somewhere.