For as long as I can remember, people have been extolling the virtues of waking up early, and for approximately the same amount of time, I’ve been ignoring them. It’s a scientific fact that beds are at their warmest and most comfy when it’s time to get up and face the world.
When I was in high school, early-birding was supposed to get me better grades. Same deal for college. By the time you’ve shackled yourself to a computer and desk for the next few decades, cutting out one of the simplest, truest joys there is is supposed to make you more organized, less negative and less terrible to be around and more “successful,” whatever that means. None of this really tempted me. I mean, sure, every once in a while I’d be bitten by the “Oh God, when did I become such a lazy fuck?” bug and vow to go to bed earlier, wake up earlier, eat more lettuce and exercise. Then I would come to my senses.
But I recently decided to give waking up early a go. I’d been seeing a few click-baity life hack lists circulating among my Facebook friends, and these caught my eye because of the new kind of carrot they dangled: Make momming in the early hours suck less.
And oh sweet sassy Fran, do mornings in my house suck. We all wake up at the same time right now, which is supposed to be just north of an hour before my daughter starts school but never is because, again, pillows reach maximum pillowiness right around 6:00 a.m. After either my husband or I roll over and shout, “Oh balls, we’re so late! Wake up!” at the other, we go in and jar our little darling out of comfortable slumber by snapping on the lights and telling her to come downstairs for breakfast.
That breakfast is usually cold cereal, which she then eats while she brushes her hair, and my husband and I snipe at each other over who’s going to make coffee and who is going to throw together a packed lunch. We also use this time to work through some of our marriage conflicts, like why does he always make that dumb face in the morning, and do I have a problem with the way he cuts celery sticks? My tone of voice suggests that I do, but he doesn’t understand why I don’t just say so. After teeth have been brushed and shoes have been jammed onto feet, I have about three minutes remaining to horf down a cup of cold coffee, walk the 4 feet to my computer and start work for the day.
Needless to say, it doesn’t make for a very smooth transition into what will ultimately be a very busy day. So when I saw some of that “wake up early, change your life” stuff circulating with a mom slant, I bit back the urge to mock it and decided to give it a try instead. So for one week, I woke up an hour before my child to see just how life-changing dragging yourself out of bed can be. Turns out it’s actually pretty rad.
My biggest concern with this little experiment was that I wouldn’t be able to drag myself out of bed on time. Originally I’d planned to head to bed around 9:00 p.m. to offset that, but then my husband and I decided to binge-watch Kimmy Schmidt and have bowls of ice cream. We have but one life and all that, right? So I got to bed around 11:45 p.m. instead. There’s a neat tool called sleepyti.me that lets you calculate what time waking up will suck the least, no matter when you go to bed. Science!
Waking up actually wasn’t bad. I actually popped into consciousness sometime around 4 a.m., and gave up on trying to get back to sleep a few minutes later, got into the shower and then shined the flashlight app into my husband’s face to let him know that he could stay asleep if he wanted to, but I’d be making coffee if he decided he loved me after all. He got up, and by 5:30, we actually had a real breakfast going and enough time to talk to each other, profanity and resentment free, before retrieving the little one an hour later. She too had plenty of time to eat, practice a little basic hygiene and snuggle on the couch before heading off to school before the first bell. So far, so good!
You know how after you haven’t been bowling for a decade, you then go bowling and you get two strikes right away and you start thinking, “Wow, I’m awesome at bowling. I should do this all the time and maybe even professionally,” but then you just start throwing balls into the gutter over and over again? That’s kind of what the “wake up an hour earlier” challenge is like. There’s no graceful way to say it: Tuesday sucked. I was extremely exhausted, ended up hitting snooze and wasted 15 minutes trying to passive-aggressively get my husband out of bed before I did. We all snapped at one another and vowed to go to bed earlier. We were actually late for school as well, so that was a nice bonus. I was still groggy at work and couldn’t shake the funk all day long.
My daughter saved us on Wednesday. She was all about the hour-early challenge, mostly because I wooed her early on with my tales of early-morning cartoons from my own childhood. She came into our room at 5:00 a.m., and we all snuggled for a while, and the gentle wake-up made it a million times easier to get up on time. That, combined with the fact that we all were tired and went to bed at a decent time the night before, meant that we were a surprisingly chipper bunch at breakfast. Probably the coolest thing about this was that we got much more out of our kid about school and her friends than we’re ever able to do at night. Maybe it was leftover snuggle-induced goodwill, or maybe it’s because everyone is exhausted and snappy at the end of a busy day, but we felt like a family straight out of a happy, shiny blog post. She didn’t even end up watching early-morning cartoons because we were deep into a conversation about that one time the gym teacher farted at car line pickup. She declared that she didn’t mind about the cartoons, and I felt like some kind of parenting expert.
That didn’t last.
The lesson I learned from Thursday is that knowing you’re about to face a day from hell makes it easy to force yourself to wake up early. I also had to rethink how stay-at-home moms might approach the wake-up-early challenge, because I actually didn’t end up working this day. I ended up watching a friend’s toddler. I haven’t been a mom to a toddler or spent my days strictly momming for years.
Here’s how I assumed Thursday would go: I would wake up an hour early, check in with my boss to see if there was some work to be done, build some totally bitchin’ block towers with my new toddler friend, put said toddler down for a nap and then get back to work. It was bound to be a busy, stressful day, which was why I needed the extra hour to be productive.
Here’s how Thursday actually went: I woke up an hour early, checked in with my boss and scrambled through a little work before the screaming started. It never stopped. I got precisely 0 percent more work done, and when my new toddler friend left, I emailed my husband multiple profiles of doctors within 5 miles who could perform a vasectomy. The extra hour didn’t make me feel productive like it had on the previous days; it made me feel like I needed to have woken up four hours earlier.
Stay-at-home moms, you have my renewed respect and adoration, because holy shit.
Ah, Friday. By now our schedules were pretty much reset to go to sleep when other humans do and wake up like productive members of society. We did our early-morning cuddle, went downstairs and made waffles (waffles, you guys) and chatted on the couch per usual. All in all:
As corny as it sounds, I think waking up an hour earlier really could change my life if I thought I could keep it up. I felt like I spoke more to my daughter about things that weren’t her chores or homework status in one week than I had probably all school year. I got to hang out with my husband during a time that we weren’t rushing to get everything stuffed into backpacks or get our daughter stuffed into bed at night. We had real food for breakfast and enough time to clean up the kitchen that I wouldn’t be stumbling out of my office cave in the afternoon and remembering that my family is a bunch of slobs, which meant less snipy resentful arguments.
Speaking of the office, by the time I got to work (on every day but Tuesday, of course), I had already inserted my caffeine IV and wasn’t trying to groggily sift through daily tasks and string coherent thoughts together.
However, could I keep this kind of thing up? I mean, you know that aphorism “know thyself”? Internet, I know myself, and I’m just not sure if this will stick. Other things sometimes got in the way of getting to bed on time, and every morning was definitely a struggle, cuddle puddle notwithstanding. So if I’m being honest with myself, I am a lazy garbage human and will probably be back to slapping my alarm clock upside its snooze button as early as next week. I hope not, but…
That said, it’s definitely worth it to try to keep it up. Even if all I can manage is 30 minutes, I’ll take that extra talk time with the people I love and the Energizer Bunny feeling and be glad for it, no matter how hard my pillow tries to seduce me with its soft comfiness.
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