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December 11, 2008

The Nap Away From Home

5 I've been looking for a place to nap.  Workmen have taken over our house for the next five weeks and our temporary digs are too far from school to justify a drive back.  So after dropping my daughters at afternoon preschool, I won't be driving home for a couple of hours of peace.  Oh, there's plenty for me to do out and about - errands, holiday shopping and thanks to Wifi and the public libraries, I can get some writing done during the long afternoons. 

But some days I am dragging.  The girls woke too early or the night before I dreaded going to bed because I knew I had passed the critical point when I would wake up in pain rather than rested.  Some days I just want a little nap.  So where to go?

The fainting couch in the department store bathroom?  I envy Japan with their ingenious capsule hotels where commuters who missed their train or partyers who lost their keys can find a place to lay their heads with a minimum of privacy and a maximum of cleanliness and politeness.

A company called Napshell has produced a futuristic looking mini-bed designed for power-napping in "offices, corridors and lobbies," but one review calls it the way to "prove to all the world that you are a big, fat wuss."  The writer may be referring to the idiocy of a consumer who needs a glorified $15,000 version of a yoga mat, or is the "wuss" label for those of us who admit to needing daytime sleep?

Although it's common knowledge that napping increasing productivity, there seems to be a public napping taboo in America - does it come from a machismo aversion to vulnerability?  A post 9-11 sense that constant vigilance is our patriotic duty?  Jealousy of the sleeper's zero stress level?  Chicago Moms Blogger Shannon wrote recently about her reluctance to admit that she naps when her child does.  Before kids, when I had my own classroom, I would make sure to close the door and position my desk for maximum privacy when I needed to put my head down after class for a few minutes.

It takes a certain leap of faith, a trust in the world and a lack of self-consciousness to allow yourself to sleep in public.  All qualities that our wise children have in spades.

It's time we grown-ups took back the nap.  Say it with me, "we nap and we're proud!"  But now back to the question - where are we going to lie down?

I'm not above a little DIY.  As I walked the girls into school the other day, I saw a woman in the reclined driver's seat of her car, her eyes closed, her face perfectly peaceful.  In the backseat, tucked into his backwards-facing carseat, was a round-cheeked baby, just as peaceful.  Ah, I remember those days.  Sleep when the baby sleeps.  Nothing so soporific as the sweet sound of a baby's slumbering breath.  But in the chill of these winter days, I can't rationalize running the engine just to keep from freezing to death.

My friend Ann is in a similar boat at the opposite end of the school day - three hours of time in the morning far from home.  One day we played looky-loos and followed a real estate agent into a couple of inexpensive studios for rent.  Our pipe dreams of a writer's garret/warm and quiet nap area/ping-pong room dissipated in the cold reality of the rent plus utilities plus finders fee plus furnishings plus ping-pong paddle bottom line.  Still, it was fun to fantasize about a room of one's own...

Then I remembered I had seen dedicated nap places while visiting public saunas in the city years ago.  At the time, I never dreamed that I'd actually want to lie down in a dim room with strangers able to see my sleeping body.  But motherhood gives you courage and the fatigue enough to use it, so I spent some time last week checking out genuine nap rooms. 

First, I tried Paradise Spa, a Korean style sauna on Montrose.  Since we are practically living out of our car these days, I had my cosmetic bag with me and my favorite moisterizer.  If your delicate sensibilities are not offended by the scent of the provided Irish Spring soap or the melon-green and gray color scheme, you might dig the no-nonsence, utilitarian vibe of Paradise.  I loved the Asian-style bathing - you sit on tiny stool to lather and scrub and you rinse with a bucket of water over your head - and the hot, cool and warm pools.  After drying and dressing, I headed to the dim "relaxation room."  Rows of leather-like recliners with ripped seats faced a dormant TV and a digital clock with big orange numbers.  No way to miss what time it was when you woke!  It took me a minute to figure out the footrest, but once I got horizontal, I felt profoundly relaxed. 

I didn't think I could actually fall asleep and was just thinking about the difference between complete relaxation and sleep when I woke up and realized I had faded off.  I felt great.  My skin still tingled from the water treatments and my body felt like I'd spent a day at Kohler - and all for eighteen bucks.  (A scrubby sponge costs two dollars extra at the front desk.)

Although the cost is comparable, relax time at One Thousand Waves Spa for Women on Belmont has a slightly more indulgent feel than Paradise.  The provided soft cotton robes are pretty, polite-worded signs urge your silence and the relaxation room has tea, books and magazines.  And four semi-private beds for napping.  Actually, "bed" is a pretty fancy term for what are more like padded pallets.  Functional for twenty-minute snooze, but nothing you'd want to spend the night on.  After my shower-sauna-soak, I retreated to a nap corner, covered up with the warm blanket, put my head down and drifted away. 

There was no danger of me missing pick-up time at school; I never got near REM stage or fell deeper than a shallow unconsciousness.  The soothing environment of hushed voices and tinkly music may have been as restorative as the actual quieting of my brain waves.  Who knows?  All I can say is I left both Paradise and Thousand Waves very grateful for places in Chicago to sneak away and catch some zzz's.

Now, after two nap escapes in less than a week, I'm feeling far from exhausted and fried.  My friend Kristin laughed when I told her I was doing nap research and invited me over to her house for an afternoon nap.  Every time I get to see Kristin, I have a million things to tell her and ask her.  The next time I get a couple of extra afternoon hours I think I'd rather sit at her kitchen table with cups of tea and slices of bread spread with her yummy homemade apple butter.  I'll tell her about my nap place search and we'll talk about the kids and laugh.  Sometimes there are things better than sleep.

Original post to Chicago Moms Blog.  Read Cindy Fey at We All Fall Down.

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