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I Don’t Know How to Take a Nap

By: Reshma Ramkellawan-Arteaga

“You don’t sit still. You are always moving.” 

One of my good friends made this observation while staying over during the pandemic. 

With a quick chuckle I said, “I know. I get anxious when things aren’t put away.”

“Aren’t you tired, though?” she asked. 

“Nah,” I offered in an exaggerated nasal drawl. The reality was that I happened to be exhausted. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and sleep. The thought of doing so was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. There was a physical reaction to the recharging allure of a nap, but a quiet voice rose up and murmured, “Don’t be a lazy ass.”

Logically, it is a known fact that being “lazy” is not inherent to my nature. For the longest, I couldn’t figure out the root of never being able to stay still. For as long as I could remember, there was always an internal push to do more, accomplish more and never rest on one’s laurels. It was a trait that was lauded by co-workers. “Reshma, you can do it all! You are supermom.” On the outside, hyper-productivity masked the deep exhaustion I felt. When I observed my mother and grandmother, I realized where it came from. 

During a visit to my grandmother the tendency to move and be seen working came into play. Take the conversation below as an example:

Grandma: How the kids doing?

Me: They okay. 

Grandma: Are they in school?

Me: Just N. M is at daycare.

Grandma (abruptly getting up) I going to make some Milo for you. 

Me: (Clearly confused and bewildered) It’s just us. There is no need.

My grandmother then proceeds to ignore me and makes a drink in her electric kettle. 

The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. During a recent visit, my mom decided to cook us potato curry and roti. The clock barely registered 7:30 in the morning and despite my protests against it, she insisted. This was in addition to the copious amounts of food she brought with her. In the deep recesses of my memory, I cannot recall a time when my mother simply rested. Perhaps when we went on vacation? When bored or feeling listless, she finds random food to cook. Most people go for a walk or read a book. 

In her dissertation on the practices of motherhood in Indo-Caribbean communities, Darshini Roopnarine (2013) writes “many of the childrearing practices of Indo-Caribbean families stem from their ancestral culture and Hindu religious scripts. These childrearing practices often include low levels of nurturance (DeYoung and Zigler, 1994) and a poor understanding of children’s developmental milestones. Traditionally, mothers spend a great deal of time role modeling and teaching their daughters how to cook, clean and care for younger siblings in order to prepare them for their future roles as wives, mothers and daughters-in-law” (p.53). These are normal behaviours observed by the women in my family and emulated in my own mannerisms. If you are a femme-identifying Indo-Caribbean person, consider the age where you first learned some form of housework or maternal care. These expectations were passed on to perpetuate the rhetoric of self-sacrifice for the care of others. Such self-sacrifice meant not caring for one’s own well being. Self-sacrifice gave us worth in a society and system that did not assign worth outside of the tangible nature of our bodies.

Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry speaks of the ways in which rest can be a form of resistance. Speaking from the Black Gaze, she says, “rest pushes back and disrupts a system that views human bodies as a tool for production and labor. We know we are not machines. We are divine.” The problem with patriarchal structures within our community is that women were not seen as divine. They were expected to internalize domestic roles and responsibility with the goal of offsetting the burden to their own parents and preparation for future matriarchal expectations. In contemporary pop psychology, these ideas are conflated with parentification or “eldest sibling syndrome.” Inherent to this rhetoric is the fact that women’s bodies and minds have not been seen as belonging to themselves. My indentured great-grandmothers were seen only as labourers or vessels for reproduction. My tendency to always be on — nurturing the kids, maintaining the house, being present as a spouse, cooking, excelling at my career — all of it meant that my mind never turned off. This is not a sudden onset in adulthood. It’s a progression of expectations placed on me from early childhood to care for others. I don’t know of many college students who left campus to buy vegetables so either they or their mother could cook over the weekend. Do you? We have seen a post-pandemic shift in the expectation of mothers to do it all, but larger systems have not changed to allow us to authentically rest. The main reason is that resting would require us to disrupt systems of inequity, gender norms/indoctrination and patriarchy.

Each generation thereafter has attempted to shield their children from the trauma and expectations conflated with matriarchal indoctrination. But if the larger societal systems don’t shift, there is only so much protection they could offer. Some might say being in America offers disruption to the ways in which women/mother’s bodies are viewed. For immigrants and first generation children the commodification of our bodies appears differently. Roopnarine (2013) explores how the femme-identifying children of Indo-Caribbean immigrants internalize paternal roles to support their parents need for financial survival and subsequent assimilation.This has led to limited boundaries and extensive exhaustion that impacts the ability of women to  to parent their own children if they choose to have them. Lakshmin (2023) argues that to disrupt these ancestral traumas and begin to heal we must learn to set healthy boundaries, show self-compassion, understand the root of our values (e.g., internalized behaviors) and reclaim our power. This has been easier said than done for me, but I’m working on it. 

A few months ago, my sister told my eldest that she needs to help out more. “When your mom and I were your age, we were cleaning the house!” She’s not wrong and a small portion of me agrees. However, there is internal cringing at this statement. Yes, my child can be terrible at picking up after herself and maintaining her room, but she is also nine. It is developmentally appropriate for her to be this way. She is learning that she can be a child and not have the burden of expectation placed on her shoulders. 

So when the wonderful women in my life tell me they are lazy for daring to rest or sleep, I will continue to correct them with a gentle, “you are not lazy, you are tired.” Being lazy is not a character deficit. By encouraging them to do so, I feel empowered to sit down and rest. I learn to take a nap. I am damn well entitled to it. 

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