Peter Shelton

Cats Nap 20 Hours a Day

Posted in Animal Dreams, Confessions of a Grandpa, Watch columns by pshelton on September 7, 2012

The last couple of times Cecily has called from Bishop it has been in the afternoon, during Boden’s afternoon nap. He’s a high-energy little guy, and will sometimes take morning and afternoon naps, to recharge his batteries. But now Cecily is trying to encourage only the afternoon naps.

She has found a day-care pre-school situation that will give her some time a couple mornings a week. It’s called Smokey’s. (The name comes from the fact that children of Forest Service employees – Boden’s dad Mike is a wildland firefighter – are reserved spaces at the school.) At Smokey’s there is no morning naptime.

We accept the need for naps at either end of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man – while little bodies and brains are growing fast, and again when things are slowing down, before we are “sans everything.”

My dad, who turns 89 in a few weeks, has earned his afternoon naps. He went hard for all those decades in the 20th century; he’s still busy, but now his schedule is his own. He’s got one of those very comfortable loungers that tilts back and pops a footrest up under your calves just so, supporting every inch of your length in soft leather.

He watches TV in that chair, and he falls asleep in it. He’s probably watching the U.S. Open tennis right now. But unless it’s a particularly exciting match, he may be catching a few zzz’s between points.

I was reading on the couch on Sunday. Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids. The early chapters zero in on her poor-starving-artist years in New York City with Robert Mapplethorpe, before he became a famous photographer and she became a famous punk-rock poet. This was in the late 1960s. They are almost exactly my age. (Smith is my age; Mapplethorpe died, of AIDS, in 1989.) They lived on day-old bread and lettuce soup. Smith would come home from her job at Scribner’s bookstore to their ratty apartment in Brooklyn, and the two would stay up all night working side by side on their art. From the sound of it, they rarely slept.

My eyes were swimming across the page a little bit. I had to reread the same paragraph twice. Then a third time. Ellen has a phrase: “Just resting my eyes.” Not sleeping, just resting my eyes. I placed the book face down on my belly and set my reading glasses on the table. I would rest my eyes for just a few minutes.

We frown on naps in the productive years. Unless you are sick. Or recovering from a hellacious night. As Americans we are expected to be doing, creating, generating wealth or at least producing satisfaction from our work, or our play. Doing nothing is a kind of Puritan sin. Napping in the middle of a perfectly good day is somehow unacceptable.

Look at Spain. They siesta after lunch and then they can’t manage supper until 11 p.m. Not productive. Not acceptable.

My mother took a nap one afternoon while hiking on Catalina Island. The rest of the family was roaring around on the beach, and she needed to get away by herself. She lay down in the dry grass in the shade of a small tree and fell blissfully asleep. She was awakened by an odd sound and found herself in a staring match with a rattlesnake just a couple of feet away. Though terrified, my mother managed to back away as carefully as Marcel Marceau.

I once fell asleep at the base of the White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly. It was the middle of the day. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I’d scrambled down the opposite canyon wall at an unauthorized spot near some Navajo sheep corrals. For the longest time after I awoke I believed I had just scaled the impossible, featureless sandstone to the upper ruin in its cave. At the very least, I was sure I had been shown something inexplicable, something marvelous that haunted the rest of my drive to Colorado.

When I woke on Sunday, the sun had shifted position in the sky. For a second, I didn’t know where I was, or who I was. I felt sheepish for having “missed” the last 60 minutes. Then I wasn’t. And I was able to stay up until 11 p.m. finishing a couple of stories for this week’s newspaper.

Boden still needs his naps. Cecily is not about to deprive him of that sweet time, morning or afternoon. He needs his sleep. So does his grandpa.