sleep when the baby sleeps

Why do people say this? Why do they issue it like a mandate to all new moms?

I think it's meant to be positive, practical survival advice: "Be just a little greedy. Don't work all day long. Take time for yourself." If someone said one of those phrases to me, I'd be like, cool, thank you, you're right, I should take some me time while he's napping.

But "sleep when the baby sleeps," doesn't come off like, "take care of yourself." When people said it to me when Chicken was a little Chicklet, I heard, "you have to sleep when he sleeps. Otherwise you're doing parenting wrong." It comes across as one more task that you're responsible for accomplishing whether you want to or not, one more mandatory thing on your to-do list.

Is it easy for people to just stagger into their bedrooms and face-plant on cue?

Is it easy for people to go unconscious and kiss off the opportunity to engage in the adult part of your life, the opportunity to read a magazine or sit on the porch with a cold drink or catch up with a friend or take a shower - regular adult things?

It wasn't easy for me. I napped a handful of times, but mostly I'd lay in bed thinking about stuff I'd rather be doing with that time, then scolding myself for not doing what everyone said I should be doing: "sleeping when the baby sleeps," before finally declaring myself a failure and surrendering to the (apparently wrong) impulse to do something, god forbid, other than sleep while the baby slept.

Here is a list of a few things I remember doing while the baby slept that I found far more reenergizing than a nap:

- I took a shower, a long one, with a luxurious shower cream, a face scrub, a hair mask. I shaved my legs. I rubbed fancy L'occitane lotion all over my body and got dressed in fresh clothes. I put on mascara.

- I played Dance Central on the XBox 360. I worked up a sweat and got freaky like a club rat to hip hop jams. I did yoga on the living room floor. I made myself aware of being alone in my body again.

- I made the bed and I cleaned the kitchen while listening to a romance novel audiobook. Mental junk food makes the dishwashing go down so much smoother. And when I was done, I looked at my hospital corners, my gleaming counters and uncluttered home, and I felt like a functioning adult again.

- I wrote an email to a friend. A short one. A long one. Just a hello. Just a reminder that my life exists outside of these four walls.

- I made preparations to take a walk when the baby woke up. I planned where I'd go, if I'd stop for a coffee or an iced tea while I was out. I'd decide who I would call when out walking, or if I'd listen to my audiobook or a podcast.

Listen, if you can sleep when the baby sleeps, I salute you. You'll probably be a lot less tired than I was those first months. But if you're like me, and you can't just power down on command like C-3PO, hear this. You're not failing if you can't take a nap, or if you'd rather eat, bathe, clean, or read. You're not doing it wrong. When the baby sleeps, you get to do whatever makes you feel good, strong, and happy.

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