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‘A rested mother is a good mother’

My mother believed that an aspirin could cure most things, and that you shouldn’t take one unless you really needed one. She was not a fan of unnecessary trips to the doctor, and our family doctor, Dr. Jacob Spungin, told me once, “If your mother called the office, I always paid attention, because she so rarely called. If she said ‘I think one of the kids has something,’ I just picked up my bag and went to your house.”

I vividly remember Dr. Spungin. He made house calls. One time, all of us had whatever was going around: I think it was the chicken pox. My mother had the four of us tucked up on the living room couch, two on each end and covered with blankets, when the doctor arrived. He took temperatures, dispensed medications and lollipops, and recommended rest and soup. I remember feeling absolutely convinced that I would get well because Dr. Spungin said so.

My mother had planned to become a nurse before she met my father (back in those days, you could not enter nurses’ training if you were married or engaged), and I think that she would have made a good nurse. Take setting us up on the couch – that was a smart move. She created her own children’s ward:  she could easily keep an eye on us, and ferry liquids to us. She believed in ginger ale and soup at the beginning stages of an illness, graduating to poached eggs on toast when you were almost well. And making us share that couch made us long to get better. There was no prevaricating: The only way to get away from our siblings was to have a normal temperature, so we did as we were told. The major thing we were told to do was to lie quiet and rest.

My mother’s universal cure was (and still is) sleep, and it is a cure I rely on to this day. When we adopted Lucy, my mother’s only advice for taking care of a baby was “Sleep when she does. Don’t try to do all kinds of cooking and housework. A rested mother is a good mother.”

She was right.

I napped when Lucy napped, and before that time, I had never been much of a napper. Now I am practically a nap evangelist, although I am not one of those people who can nap for 20 minutes and be rejuvenated to go on for 10 more hours. My naps generally last for about an hour. But after that nap? I can really focus.

The inability to focus is a problem I see everywhere around me. People are too tired to focus on what they are doing. I was at a coffee shop recently and a person near me dozed off. I thought it would have been hard: It wasn’t a particularly quiet place. But I am not judging them: They probably didn’t get a good night’s sleep the night before.

I did. It’s unusual for me not to get a good night’s sleep. And I sleep a lot. I get at least eight hours a night, nine if I get lucky. But most adult Americans? The average is 6.8 hours of sleep a night. This seems ridiculously low to me, but I have always required sleep. In college, I was not likely to pull all-nighters. I just could not stay awake.

And I am still that way. There comes a time when I simply start to shut down. My family jokes about it: “Watch – she’s going to close her eyes in about five minutes, in the middle of talking” or “OMG. It’s 10:30 and you’re still awake?”

My mother worries that she sleeps too much now. We talk about it. She still thinks she should be as energetic as she was 40 years ago. But she is nearly 87. She complained that she is sleeping too much: She sleeps more than 10 hours a night and naps every day.

I must admit that I enjoy quoting her words to me back at her, saying, “If you took a nap, then you needed the rest.”

Best of all, I can tell from her immediate changing of the subject that she remembers where I got it from.

Her words have finally come back to haunt her.

June Lemen is a freelance writer from Nashua. Her column appears the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Email her at june@junelemen.com.