When I lived in the Netherlands I had an hour-long commute to work. I would leave home in the dark and join the other plebs on the road in the early morning, insulated coffee cups in hand.
The radio station I mostly listened to had a larrikin disc jockey, and one of his gags was calling people in the hour before they were due to wake up and encouraging them to sing along with him to this song:
Begin de dag met een dansje
begin de dag met een lach
want wie vrolijk kijkt in de morgen
die lacht de hele dag,
ja! die lacht de hele dag.
Which translates to:
Begin the day with a little dance
begin the day with a smile
because those who greet the day with joy
will smile the whole day long
yes! they’ll smile the whole day long.
So, clearly this is my fucking problem.
Because, most mornings I wake up with a peanut-sized big toe shoved into my nostril, and a child-sized elbow digging into my ribs, and said child whispering loudly in my ear, “Mama! is it time to get up?” which wakes the toddler up, who demands, “What’s for dinner?” (she means breakfast but the distinction is lost on her). “Shhhhhh,” I say “just a few more minutes.” and sometimes this works. Sometimes this buys me 40 more minutes of sleep. But often, it doesn’t. Often, an actual few minutes later the question will become louder, more insistent, “What’s for DINNER?” and I’ll say, “breakfast.” “What’s for breakfast?” And so begins my day of negotiations.
Sometimes I wake up before them and I lie in bed and listen to the birds. I try and gauge, by the rate of their breathing, how deeply they’re asleep. I try and plot my movements to escape. I slide my arm gently, slowly (I’m sure I could teach bomb-defusers a thing or two) out from underneath my daughter’s head. I inch my body away from my son’s. I use my arms to slide my body out the top of the covers, careful lest the cold morning air caress their bodies and awaken them. I fold myself in half (my only attempt at morning yoga) to curl myself out from under the covers and inch my way to the foot of the bed. You may think that at this point I have won. That I have reached my goal and my solitary morning, drinking coffee while greeting the watery sunlight is within my grasp. You are wrong. Because first, I must open the door. And there’s something about the sound of air rushing around the edge of the door, bouncing off the door frame and washing into the room that rouses my children at least 7 times out of 10. Unless you have children, you will not know that air rushing into the bedroom has a sound.
Opening the door is sometimes the most stressful moment of my morning. A lot hangs in the balance.
Sometimes I make it all the way to the bathroom, I sit on the toilet, and then comes the plaintive wail, “Mamaaaaaaa?!?!?!” as if I have left her at the bottom of a canyon with no recollection of said canyon. Before I get off the toilet this wail will have escalated to a panic and I will pull up my pants and rush back to the bedroom to scoop her up and reassure her that all is right with the world.
Sometimes I make it all the way to sitting in the sunlight drinking coffee and I hear the soft, uneven pitter patter of the gait of a four-year-old in the morning and her face will appear above the back of the sofa, one eye scrunched against the glare of the sun, the other searching for me. And I will welcome her onto my knee, breath in her baby-smell, and answer the question, “Mama, what’s for dinner?”
Sometimes I make it all the way to sitting in the sunlight drinking coffee and the soft thud thud thud of a child in the morning will make its way down the hall and the crazy-haired eight-year-old will perform his own version of origami yoga in order to fit onto my lap and under my chin. I will smell his no-longer-baby smell and drink in his warmth. I will answer the question, “Mama, what time is it?”.
Mostly, I wake up with a toe in my nostril and an elbow in my ribs and an instant argument about what to have for dinner/breakfast and an entreaty from me to them to at least wait until after I’ve had a coffee before I need to settle peace talks. Mostly, I don’t get to pee by myself, or drink my coffee sitting in the sunlight, or give each of them cuddles. They clamber onto my knee, both at the same time and the coffee remains firmly an oasis at the end of the coffee table.
Mostly I don’t dance, nor greet the day with frolic-y joy. But neither do I greet the day with a screeching alarm, nor driving for an hour out of the darkness and into an office. On balance, I think I’m dancing the whole day long.