When my husband and I first co-habitated, he asked me to pick a safe word, but not for the sexy reason. It was meant as a tool for keeping him safe in the morning, when he was happily awake and for some reason talking to me like I was the same. For those days when I awoke especially murderous, I’d simply growl, “sassafras” through gnashed teeth, and he would understand I meant to go for his throat if he didn’t immediately cease his goddamn pleasantries.
Children complicated this procedure somewhat.
Each night in our house, a song-singing, twinkle-eyed, goddess mother settles my girls to sleep. She snuggles into wee beds to recount the wonders of the day and speculate on tomorrow’s certain magnificence. She beckons peaceful slumber-caressing hair from temples, dappling her darlings with kisses, enveloping the room in love's soft glow.
Each morning, the children are confronted by a staggering, scowling, zombie-like woman-slug. She drags herself across the house, eyelids slit minimally to guide her collapse onto the couch. She emits low moans and threatens approaching greeters with a rabid snarl in the throes of the worst of all fates: having to wake up.
Both women are me.
Fortunately, the kids learned early to steer clear until I get to the other side of my oatmeal and Earl Grey. They understand I will not carry through on my threats of dismemberment and, from a safe distance, enjoy doing impersonations of how I behave when I want to kill the morning.
I lost our babysitter to college last April. In May, preschool dismissed for vacation. In June, kindergarten let out. The first of July, my husband left his office to work from home and stand in the middle of the kitchen.
I'd been at my self-assigned writing studies for months, cramming with an intensely that drove my circuitry haywire. Book learning got all up in my instinct's face, and my self-esteem was taking all the punches. I teetered between grasping valuable literary knowledge and questioning the spelling of my own name. I hoped to write my way through it, but every time I sat down, before my neuroses could accuse my inspiration of being stupid, someone would interrupt and require that I be their wife or mother. Noting the recently established proximity of my loved ones to my frustration, I got confused and thought I hated my family.
Certain that isolation would save me, I commenced a frantic search for any sliver of unclaimed time, anything to keep motherhood, housekeeper-hood, and family-entertainment-coordinator-hood from interfering with me making myself miserable over writing. It was a desperation like clawing through your backpack in the middle of the wilderness, for an emergency tampon you know isn’t there. I had to find something that would work.
Despite my morning affliction, the only option I could see was to harvest time from what a friend in high school referred to as, “the butt-crack of dawn.” In a vision, I saw meditation and writing time, inner peace and fulfillment awaiting me under the crab apple tree at five a.m. I set my intention and my alarm. In doing so, I learned my phone could wake me to a song in my music library. I also learned I had a music library. It was set by default on “Everlasting Light” by the Black Keys. I took the transcendental title as a sign my plan was properly aimed. The opening beat, like my heart pumping me awake, like me bounding into the world with funky force, pulses steady a good twenty seconds before the lyrics begin. To this beat I intended to rise and march, startling my feet awake on the frigid tile floor, up the steps to the back door. I would emerge unto the day clutching my meditation pillow with increasing thrill and cast aside the sleep gook from my eyes as the singing rose up: “Let me be your everlasting light.” The new morning sun would penetrate my essence, awakening the light in me. Together, we would everlasting the begeezus out of this plan.
I woke up naturally the first day, twenty minutes after the alarm was set to go off, had I set it properly. I declared a false start and excused myself back to sleep. The second day, the alarm sounded at the marked hour, and I listened to it thoughtfully for a few seconds...before excusing myself back to sleep. The third day, I woke up, sat up, and lay back down for another three hours. I was making progress. The fourth day, my husband jumped out of bed earlier than usual and went for a run. Instead of being inspired by his get up and go, I stayed in bed to spite him.
Sometimes it feels like I’m not on my own team.
This next declaration will be confusing given the account of my failure to rise: I adore the early morning. The air is at once invigorating and soothing; akin to the divinity of bare skin on cold bed sheets. Dawn complements my aversion to people, because most of them aren’t awake yet. Being present in those sacred first hours is to absorb a secret world full of fresh hope, the effects are sustaining.
I marvel at people who embrace each day this way. Crashing into life and denying my self-sabotage has always been more my style.
After frittering away the summer, passively considering actively trying to awaken joyfully at first light, including that whole week I set an alarm, I suggested we get a puppy.
Presto. Me--and my husband, and the kids, and a dog--under the crab apple tree at the butt-crack of dawn.
I was not meditating, writing, or alone. But I was awake in the morning without any inclination toward murder. Without even the usual whispered death threats to songbirds.
Puppies are problem solvers.
Blame shifting works best on something adorable you can’t stay angry with. Even if, in its presence, you can’t stop sneezing. And your eyes begin to water, and your chest tightens, and you fall into fits of coughing.
An allergist injected tiny dogs into my arm and they made angry red welts.
But this was not the most surprising side effect of dog adoption.
After coming out alive on the other end of potty training two humans, who are still young enough to require regular monitoring and assistance, I knowingly invited an additional being into my care whose bowel movements require physical relocation--for life--and I’m okay with that.
In the name of healthy socialization, the dog’s, not mine, I now engage with the overwhelming portion of the public that must absolutely ask the same three questions about and pet the puppy, which I’m not okay with, but do anyway.
My family's delight in the dog is well worth muddy paw prints across the hardwoods, and fur embedded in area rugs. But it is the dog herself that has me confusing constricted airways, feces handling and forced extroversion for bliss. It’s her,“Being alive is great! I’m great, you’re great, everything is great. So great!” self. The dog’s innate joy of being is impossible for me to deny. It is in direct contrast to my lifelong, “Ugh, I’m not in the mood. I’m rather busy being skeptical and tragic," more cat-like persona.
It isn’t the morning I haven’t been able to face. It isn’t my family obligations or the problems of modern society. It’s me and my shitty attitude.
I used to discredit dogs for their incessant good moods, as though they were just a bunch of doofy dum-dums because they were happy by nature instead of by conscious, methodical effort resulting in the reconciliation of inner turmoil. But now I think maybe the value isn’t in how you get there. That precious pup is a constant reminder that I can choose my outlook. And if acupuncture can relieve my allergy, then I guess I’m sort of a dog person now.