Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Whites of Their Eyes

Legend has it that at the Battle of New Orleans, in the War of 1812, as the British army was approaching, future president Andrew Jackson instructed the soldiers under his command to hold their fire until they could see the whites of their enemy's eyes. (At least that's what my husband tells me.) The purpose, it seems, was to allow the British to come within a range that would maximize the effectiveness of the American musket fire. It may be true that, in early nineteenth century warfare, being able to see the whites of your opponent's eyes was sometimes a tactical advantage, but in early twenty-first century childcare it can sometimes be a distinct disadvantage.

Strange as it may sound, I am reminded of "Old Hickory" every day at nap time. As many have, Kiley and I have developed a nap time routine to help lull her to sleep. It's a common and simple routine. After she is full and dry, I hold her close to me while sitting in a particular, comfy chair. Then with her head nestled on my shoulder I sing numerous and monotonous repetitions of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in a progressively softer voice while patting her progressively softer on the bottom. If I do this long enough she will fall asleep, provided, that is, that we do not make eye contact.

       Babies instinctively know that the old axiom is true – "The eyes are the windows to the soul." When you make eye contact with a baby of Kiley's age you make one of the limited personal connections that they are capable of. They can't speak or understand language, they're not on face book, they don't text, and they don't tweet. What they can do is connect directly to people through physical contact and indirectly through making sounds and eye contact. Letting Kiley make even brief eye contact with me while I'm trying to get her to sleep can set back my plans by a good five minutes. If I let that happen just four times I'm looking at an extra twenty minutes of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". That!… Cannot!… Happen!

       Since my sanity depends on ensuring that Kiley does not look me in the eye at nap time, I have developed a strategy to avoid any kind of eye contact at this critical time. If possible, I position her head so that she is facing away from me. That doesn't always work. In fact, since she can now turn her head, if only clumsily, it rarely works. That forces me to revert to my back up position – keeping my own eyes closed. This method generally works but is not infallible. There have been many occasions when I have risked a peek to see how things are going only to be met by Kiley's unwavering stare. In fact it has now devolved into a perverse kind of contest where I am striving to keep my eyes closed longer than she can keep her's open and vice versa. Each one of us determined to outlast the other. On many occasions I have literally felt her stare burning into my closed eyelids, willing them to open. I'm serious. Sometimes I think she has this creepy ability. On more than one occasion I have been suddenly overwhelmed by an intense desire to open my eyes that comes from - I don't know where. And when I do, Dang!, it's another five minutes in the "Boat". And then there is the danger that I, as the one with her eyes closed, will be the one who falls asleep. This has actually happened several times and each time, upon jolting back to consciousness, I find her staring at me with a knowing and, what looks like, mocking smile.

        Never-the-less, I have the advantage. I am the adult in this equation, and regardless of any psychokinetic power she may or may not have, I have the greater will power. In the end I always win and she eventually succumbs to the need for sleep that is so strong in people her age. So remember, if you want to be victorious in the Battle of Nap Time don't let the "enemy" see the whites of your eyes. It's a winning strategy. If the British had only kept their eyes closed during the Battle of New Orleans we might all be speaking British now.



  1. So how often do you fall asleep before Kiley does just because you closed your eyes?! Memories!

    1. Oh, it's been a close thing! But luckily it's not so easy for me to fall asleep sitting up.