If you asked my mom, I’m sure she would tell you that I was never a morning person. I was hard to wake up in the morning. Not “have to pull all of the covers off him” hard, but more “have to call him multiple times” hard. As a child, I would regularly sleep until mid- or late-morning if allowed. I have very clear memories from my early school days of my mom asking me what I wanted for breakfast as I sat at the kitchen bar – really, a 70s era version of an island that was actually a peninsula – in a half-asleep stupor. I would go into my sleeping-while-awake zone while sitting there, almost a catatonic state, and she would ask. And ask. And ask. Each question would rise in volume and impatience. She was only a few feet away, so hearing the question was not an issue, but “hearing” it to respond – well, that was another story. I wasn’t typically a difficult kid (by my recollection – my parents might disagree, I suppose,) but mornings were rough. Mom’s question would finally reach the “oh, shit” pitch that was able to break through my zone of denial, and I would mumble an answer, often cereal. Cereal was a good choice because by this time my mom would be happy to put the bowl, box, milk, and spoon in front of me and go on getting ready for work. It was also a good choice because while numbly spooning it into my mouth, I could stare blankly at the cereal box without blinking, which basically allowed me to almost fall back into my slumber. I don’t remember if my sister was the same or what she was doing during these times because I think I was incapable of noticing, but I hope she was sitting beside me happily eating her breakfast of choice, for my mom’s sake. Two of me would have been just awful.
Even as a young adult, “sleeping in” meant 9:00, 10:00, or later. In college I avoided 8:00 classes with a slightly unhinged passion. I think I only took 2 or 3 in my years there, and I’m certain I only took those because I had to. Years (and my college, ahem, “experiences” themselves,) have faded those memories, but I am pretty confident in saying that my attendance records for those 8:00 classes were less than stellar. I have no recollection of being in the dining hall for breakfast, ever. Ah, the good old days – or so I’m told. After college I worked at jobs that didn’t have regular hours for many years. There were few truly early mornings and many late nights. This fit my night owl habits from college quite nicely, and they continued unabated.
When I began teaching, of course, this began to change. At the time I had about an hour commute, so my wake up time quickly jumped back by hours, plural. That was when I developed my loathsome relationship with my alarm. I had to be on the road by 6:00 in order to make it to school on time. To compound this horrible situation, I still retained my slow approach to waking up, a holdover from my youth. At that time, coffee, which before had been just a casual acquaintance, the one you call upon when needed but don’t see daily, became my morning paramour. I developed a deep and uncomplicated love affair with coffee, an unfussy affection of the highest order that brings me morning joy still. I have never been – and I think, never will be – one to hit the floor and be showered and out the door in 20 minutes. So an early alarm was, and is, necessary in order to allow me time to commune with my rich, brown cup of love, to peel away the fogginess and accept the inevitability of movement. Thankfully, my sleep patterns adjusted over time (until the apnea of middle-age shot them all to hell,) and I began to go to bed earlier.
I could never, ever relate to my friends and family who happily crawled out of bed in the wee, dark hours, chirping cheerfully that they “just wake up and get up.” What the hell nonsense was that? Crazy talk! I was completely dependent on my despised alarm and I became intimately involved with my snooze button. For a time, in the beginning, I subscribed to the “set the clock 15 minutes ahead so you have extra time” philosophy, but I eventually gave that up when I realized that I was just doing math problems every morning when I glanced at the clock, not a cheerful way to start my day. Eventually a cool détente was established and my body grudgingly began to accept this new configuration of life with only occasional complaints. It wasn’t a happy arrangement, but rather more of a reluctant truce. The alarm, that instrument of torture, has never been forgiven, of course.
Let’s flash forward to the present, though. I know our bodies and patterns change over time but I never thought I would be living in a body that had actively revolted. Somewhere along the line I became a morning person, and nobody could be more dumbfounded than I am. I get up BEFORE my alarm, people!? What the hell is that? I’m willing to accept that it may be my brain’s way of preventing me from having to experience the cruelty that is an alarm going off in the morning, a noble and worthy goal, but get this, I get up at the same time on the WEEKENDS, when there is no threat of alarm! What’s even more mystifying is that I LIKE it. It’s a world gone mad, I tell you.
These days I am typically awake by 5:00, sometimes before. It’s not entirely unusual for me to get up at 4:00. My routine is well-established and includes a set of steps that I find very difficult to alter. Feed the dogs. Coffee. Take my meds. Coffee. Let the dogs out. Coffee. Quiet time, with coffee. I find that I love this morning time spent alone. (The dogs immediately go back to bed after their breakfast and morning constitutional.) I do not turn on the television in the mornings, preferring instead to enjoy the peacefulness. I don’t turn on any lights, either, except, obviously, the backyard skunk-checking lights. We have a few small accent lights that stay on most of the time and those are enough for me. This hushed time in the morning, sitting in the comfy, aged, perfectly broken-in leather chair in the half-dark with a cup of steaming bliss in my hand has become something I look forward to with great pleasure. Everything happens slowly around me but not to me.
Jeremy, being a night owl still, sometimes falls asleep on the sofa. I actually kind of enjoy the mornings when he does. It means I have the one I love, Barney, and Guinness all breathing softly in the room with me. I feel a sense of fullness when this happens, and I get an uncommon chance to see Guinness at peace, snoring quietly – something rare, still, for this teenaged pup. When Jeremy and the dogs are upstairs in bed, the cats, Henry and Gracie, are often downstairs in the morning, filling in the quiet spaces like only cats can do. I rarely am alone, and never lonely.
The best thing about these stolen morning hours is their complete lack of demand on me. This is truly me time. Occasionally I will get started with laundry or some other chore, but it’s not too often, and when I do, I typically choose tasks, like laundry or dealing with dishes, which are intermittent, intruding for only a few minutes on the blank space. I think that may be why I enjoy this morning time so much. Think for a minute about how often we get uninterrupted, unscheduled time. For me, at least, it is quite rare, almost unheard of except for mornings. My mornings now are my adult version of staring at the cereal box, tranquil moments of detachment, my mind moving slowly among empty spaces and waking dreams. Most days I check my phone, engaging in brief snippets with the outside world, but little else meddles with the sublime emptiness of that time. Some days my mind wakes entangled with worries that sleep failed to erase; that’s a pretty reliable sign that those aren’t going to be good days. Depression plays its part, too, and there are days when the urge to crawl back in bed is almost unconquerable. Thankfully, my meds are generally effective and those days are fewer. Most mornings follow my welcome pattern of routine nothingness.
Our bank of kitchen windows faces just east enough of south to allow the far left window to frame the sunrise. Gradually each morning, the sky lightens, black turning to rich shades of navy or purple, then almost imperceptibly through shades of blue before the first rays of sun climb through the window. Each time this happens it is bittersweet. I feel lucky to get to experience this birth of the day but I am instantly reminded that my morning retreat is always on borrowed time. Some days I hate for it to end, but regardless, I feel renewed, if not always refreshed. The quiet breaks slowly, as sounds from outside increase and sleepy dogs (or Jeremy,) wake up, stretch, and start moving about. It’s a soft, gentle beginning to a day, when I have the luxury of no timeline.
As I get older, I wonder if this pattern will continue when I retire in a few years. It’s hard for me to imagine that it won’t, but I’m not sure. There are nights when Jeremy and I are watching something on TV that I wish I could stay up later but my current pattern leads me to bed before act III. When I am retired, will I be able to see the end of the movie? I hope so, but not at the cost of my mornings. Now that I have discovered what those hours have to offer, I don’t want to give them up.