Recently I hosted my book group for dinner. For the meal I planned to make grilled vegetable sandwiches, German potato salad, and serving sliced watermelon, strawberries and nectarines for dessert.
While my daughter napped that afternoon, I prepped for dinner: I sliced the vegetables, made the herbed mayo for the sandwiches, started the watermelon chilling, and started the mice en place for the potato salad.
I had searched Pinterest for a recipe for this version of potato salad that I love, but don’t make often enough to create from memory, but the versions I found there were just too…fancy. One had pimientos, one used prosciutto instead of bacon. I wanted the simple version I remember from the potlucks of my childhood, so I went analog and pulled my old battered Joy of Cooking from my shelf. It has the classic recipe: bacon, celery, onion, dill pickles and a vinegary dressing.
While I minced the onions I pondered the struggle I had that day getting my daughter down for her nap. She had been whining all morning, and driving home from our shopping excursion, where she behaved much more badly than is normal for her, she was yawning and rubbing her eyes. I knew she was tired. She even told me when she was ready to sleep: She got up from her blocks and said, “Me sleepy now, Mama.” So I followed her into the bedroom and settled onto my bed next to her. She arranged her two Hello Kitties, a doll, and Hopkins around us, and then asked to nurse. She seemed to be settling, but she just couldn’t quite fall asleep. Then she started wiggling. Then she started kicking me.
It went downhill from there. She did eventually fall asleep, but it took a lot of tears, a few sharp words from me, and a lot of work on my part to contain my frustration.
“What could I have done differently?” I wondered, while I chopped. I thought about pulling out to the sleep-advice books on my shelf to see what they could offer me about how to make my exhausted almost-2.5-year-old-who-doesn’t-want-to-sleep take a nap.
I turned back to my cookbook to check the measurement for the next ingredient.
“1 dill pickle, diced,” it said.
Hmm. I had a jar of mini dill pickles, barely bigger than gherkins. I don’t think they mean just one of those. But do they mean one of those ginormous Vlasic Dill Pickles? I considered the copyright of this cookbook and wondered what brands and styles of pickles were on the market then. Or were they assuming the cook would have had homemade pickles on hand? How big would those be?
This is actually what I love about cooking from The Joy of Cooking. Many of the recipes are charmingly vague, and that gives me a lot of permission to inject my own taste, style and personality into a dish. As in this case. The answer to my dilemma was simply deciding how much dill pickle sounds good to me, in ratio to the number of potatoes I had prepared. I fished six small pickles from the jar and started dicing. After I cut up five of them I decided that looked like enough so I ate the last one.
Experiencing that moment of confidence in the kitchen reminded me that this, also, is how I need to approach nap time. I just need to have confidence is what seems right to me.
Maybe I can review those sleep books to get a better understanding of how she is developing right now, how many hours of sleep she really needs, or re-learn some soothing strategies. But the exact recipe for making my child take a nap consistently and easily will not be in there. I need to use my own personality, style, and knowledge of my child to find something that works for us.
Do you have any tips for helping energetic toddlers take a rest?
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