6:45. 6:45. 6:45.
I used to chant the time to myself as I fell asleep at night. In middle school and high school, that was the time I needed to get out of bed in order to get showered and everything before the bus stopped at the end of our driveway. Usually, I hadn’t had any breakfast, or maybe in my hands I had waffles with peanut butter on them like a sandwich — milk turned my anxious stomach that early in the morning, so no cereal, and no time to stop and eat it anyway — and I’d be flying out the door, running down the driveway, praying the bus driver would see me and stop. My mom and I used to have such fights about this. She’d always try to get me to bed earlier the night before and I’d be like “I’m x years old, Mom! I don’t need a bedtime!” Or she’d try to get me up earlier, which I would protest more quietly but no less vehemently; I’d timed each and every part of my morning routine, knew how many minutes each part usually took and what I could skip or hurry along or do on the 45-minute bus ride once I made it there. So I knew exactly how many minutes past 6:45 I could stay in bed. (More or less.) Mom would be shouting at me the whole time, trying to get me up or telling me what else I should do to get up earlier, and I’d be shouting back because I was tired and stressed and also a teenager and didn’t understand or couldn’t express what I was really feeling, deep down, so I was mad at the clock. And Mom.
In college, I avoided scheduling classes before 10 a.m. I had some early-morning science classes in my first semester, I think, and an 8 a.m. speech class once when I couldn’t take any other sections. (Performance days were the worst in that class. It was 6:45 all over again.) I knew exactly how many minutes it took me to walk to each class from wherever I was on campus. Sometimes, I still rolled out of bed and barely made it to class on time for the 10 a.m. ones, and sometimes I slept late and missed them completely. I skipped classes for plenty of other reasons, as is traditional, but for the morning ones I had usually just overslept.
After graduating, I only ever had one job that required me to be there at 8:00 a.m. exactly, and it … didn’t work out well. 6:45. 6:45. 6:45. I had a stash of oatmeal to eat at my desk, I lived almost within sight of the office, I had an hour for lunch so I could go home and make something instead of having to have it prepared and brought with me, and I still showed up late too often. (And I had to dress nice, too, so I couldn’t skip much of my morning routine.)
Years passed, I was pregnant with my first, and I had been working second shift at a different job for more than six months before I finally started to make peace with mornings. Before I started to work with my schedule instead of fighting against it. Before those shouting matches with Mom didn’t ring in my ears when the alarm clock went off. Before I even stopped bothering to set an alarm. I actually have some fond memories of the mornings when my daughter was only a few months old. I’d put her in the swing and start washing dishes, and she’d fall asleep from the sound of the water and the motion of the swing. I’d have half an hour of peace on a spring morning while I cleaned the kitchen and had my coffee and cooked eggs or made a clafouti or whatever I was inspired to do.
I’m so grateful to have kept that peace with mornings. It’s one of my favorite parts of the work I do now. Depending on my schedule (and what kind of chaos reigns when the girls wake up), I can take the time to make pancakes on a Wednesday. Or put on a pot of coffee, drag my bleary self to my desk, wake up and plan my day or week as I read e-mail, and then open some files and get to work. No bundling up to shovel snow or scrape off a car. No scrambling to get self and children clean, dressed, fed, and out the door before my body is even ready to be out of bed.
Avoiding those little daily miseries won’t last through my daughters’ school years, I’m sure. They’re 3 and 5 months now, so I see my share of sunrises. But the part of me that’s still a stressed-out, angry teenager feels like I’ve won some kind of victory.