It wasn’t her fault. From the moment we met, freshmen year, I had led with my narrative—most of which was about how much of a morning person I am. So when I awoke one morning, fall semester of my final year of college, to a startling sound in our apartment, I should have seen it coming.
I jolted awake, and quickly turned my head to see my alarm clock blinking out a time I simply didn’t believe: 11:24am. I grabbed for it and shook it. This did nothing except turn it to 11:25am. The strange sound—as if a box were being slid across a counter—continued, making my heart beat fast. I looked toward the ceiling. Maybe someone was on the roof of our apartment? I turned to the window and peered out between a split in the blinds created by my thumb and forefinger. Nothing. Just a bright, sunny day. Something flickered in the corner of my eye. I whipped my head around to notice what was making the sliding noise: my roommate’s full length mirror was being pushed under my bedroom door at a very slow and deliberate pace.
“Kristen?” I called out.
The sliding stopped.
“Thank god!” she declared after a moment of silence. “I thought you were dead!”
I rose from my bed, unlocked the door and flung it open, to find her crouched down in the hallway between our rooms with her hands around the mirror. She looked up at me before standing.
“In the three years I’ve lived with you,” she said, “I’ve never seen you sleep past….well, whatever time I usually get up. I thought you had died in there!”
My eyes shifted from hers back down to the mirror on the floor.
“Yeah, I couldn’t get an angle on this,” she shrugged. “I thought if I could tilt it up to your full length mirror I could catch your reflection and see if you were breathing.”
This was not only the mark of a very good roommate and friend, but the product of a strong narrative consistently told: I am a morning person. And if you live with me, you’ll never be awake before me. I’ll be up, out for a walk, drinking coffee, and reading the paper before any of you dare to open an eye.
And yet. Here we are, nearly 20 years later, and my narrative has not only shifted, it has all but disintegrated. I now have three different roommates—one I married, two I birthed—and they know me as many things, but not as a person who gets up early.
Jim rises first. Sometime between 5:45am—6:15am. He feeds the dogs, drinks his coffee, reads the paper, catches up on work emails, and often watches an episode or two of a TV show I refuse to watch with him. Next is Lowery, followed closely by London. And then, when I good and feel like, I emerge. The pandemic has exacerbated this routine for our family to a delicious, and perhaps irreversible, degree.
When did I stop being a morning person?Have I changed that much? How insane must I have been to wake up before 6am in college? These questions burdened me, but not enough to make me set an early alarm in order to reclaim the personal narrative I’d evangelized for years.
It all started when I was little. The most famous—and most retold—story about my mother is how, when I was younger, she would leave a small glass of milk on the bottom shelf in the fridge, along with a bowl, spoon, and a cereal box out on the counter, all so that on weekends I could rise and get breakfast without bothering her. She slept in.
So from the age of (let’s conservatively say) three, I was up early, pouring my own bowl of cereal and settling in to cartoons without ever burdening my mother with my need for nourishment and companionship.
That’s the story we tell. The story of a mother who chose sleep over taking care of her kid. The story of a lazy, sleepy, can’t-be-bothered-to-feed-her-preschooler mother. The story makes me laugh and love my mother all the more. Because it’s not the whole story. Nowhere near.
For one thing, no one cooked more for their kids than my mother. Growing up, I don’t remember many meals at restaurants and (sadly) very little ordering in of pizza. Nope. My mother cooked every damn day for us. We always had a home cooked meal, and one we all eagerly ate.
Further, no one is up for chatting more than my mother. So her bowing out on Saturday morning didn’t deprive me of someone to talk to. She more than made up for it the other six days. And if anything, it led me to find someone else to talk to. And that, my friends, is where my narrative as a morning person began.
For on the mornings I would put my tiny hands to work pouring my own cereal and tip-toeing so as not to wake my mother, I found my father. He got up early to feed the animals, drink coffee, and read the paper.
Over time, I convinced him to read the paper beside me while I watched cartoons. Later on, he offered to make me eggs, and cereal for breakfast became a thing of the past. Even when I was in high school, I’d get up early to eat breakfast and drink coffee with Dad. And later, when I got married, had kids, and would go stay with my parents over Christmas, I’d still get up early to eat and drink with Dad. Even on my wedding day, I arose at 6am to have coffee with my father.
But in the past few years, I’ve lost the desire to get up early. I still eat a hearty breakfast and drink black coffee—the way I was raised—but I no longer yearn for the mornings.
Instead, I enjoy the ability to sleep in. In one of Jim’s most romantic moves, once I gave up breast-feeding Lowery he offered to get up with her and let me sleep in. In the depths of post-partum depression, and with the overwhelming feeling of “mom guilt,” it felt like a gift from above to be offered the chance to rest. God, how hard are we on mothers that “rest” is the ultimate gift?
This gesture from Jim—the ability to sleep in on weekends—became more than just romantic; it became a necessary part of getting me well. And so we just never stopped. Not when London was born, and not since.
Now on Friday nights, I’m practically giddy at the idea of not needing to feed or care for my children first thing in the morning. To have the relief from duty—even for just a couple of hours—is, for better or for worse, my new narrative.
But more than that, it’s Jim new narrative, too. Before kids, we’d both sleep in on weekends. But in the past decade of our life together, he’s risen earlier and earlier until settling into the routine he now has. So on weekends, while I’m buried in the sheets and pillows, my husband is at the ready for our children. And when they wake early, they can find him in the kitchen—having already fed the animals, drank his coffee, and read the paper—waiting for them with a box of cereal, pancake batter, or a carton of eggs.
My relationship with mornings didn’t change overnight. It was 37 years in the making. Growing up, leaving home, getting married, and having kids of my own.
Only in retrospect can I clearly see that I was only a morning person when I felt a true incentive for which to awaken early. And when I was a kid, my incentive for waking early was to develop my relationship with my father.
But then I became a mother.
And now I’m doing the single best thing I could possibly do for my kids—something so expertly modeled for me:
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