"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

October 07, 2009

Elegy on The Luxury of Morning Loitering: or Green Means Go!


Our sweet and curious daughter has a new trick: waking up before my alarm clock rings.

In this respect, she has replaced it. The alarm is set for five o'clock a.m. and set to our local NPR station--this latter detail the result of years of experimentation for what will actually get me out of bed: and apparently, that includes waking to rather smug but intelligent voices that like to take their time around vowels.

But somewhere around 4:52, give or take a minute, Devi's own little internal alarm tells her it is time to begin talking to herself. And because it's my genetic disposition to do so, I startle myself awake in case what I'm hearing is not gentle cooing, but her "I'm about to launch myself out of the crib and you're not here to see it" noise, whatever that may be--and which I never, ever want to hear. (This means that Tina T., of Pittsburgh, PA, has won the "most forewarningest gift," as it was she who gave Devi a "Mommy's Wakeup Call" onesie early, early on.) From that moment on, it's go-time.

This isn't easy if you're the sort, like I am, who needs a fair amount of time to rouse. Two, maybe three taps of the snooze button, no more--but once I'm on my feet, and find my toothbrush, it's slow going to the shower. Lately, while I'm brushing, I go on a gray hair safari: and woe be to the gray hair, for I will wrestle it with my trusty tweezers until I've won (this can take anywhere from five seconds to ten minutes). And there's the scale: if I've stepped on it once, I stepped on it three times (take the average and subtract 1.5 lbs to accommodate last night's meal, give or take a half pound for the heft of the fabric of pajama I'm still wearing). And maybe I'll stretch a little, maybe spend a little time making sure the water temperature of the shower is just right-- not to be too wasteful with the water, but who wants to step into a lukewarm shower on a chilly morning? On a really languid morning, I'll even find my way downstairs for a glass of milk or juice and a long look at my backyard, the birds in the trees, a staredown with the neighbor's cat who enjoys perching in our grass. Really need to cut the grass, I'll ponder to myself. Flowers need watering. Too late for that. And then thoughts like How much do professional gardeners make? and Can my botanist neighbor figure out what to do with this yard? swim around until I realize time's a' tickin' and it's time to get clean and get going.

The luxury of morning loitering is no longer--even on weekends--because a baby doesn't know what weekends are, I guess.

So there we are, at the crack of dawn on any given Saturday and Sunday, before the sun has risen and in the den, playing on the floor and bouncing to Motown music on one of the t.v.'s several music stations. There's no rush on weekend mornings, no need to hurry the barely-awake baby into a new diaper and fresh clothes, to get her fed and me into clothes and fed and ready to go, go, go. On mornings like this, the whole day ahead of us and the anxiety of the workweek behind me, it's all I can do to try to slow time, to remember that she won't be this small forever, that I'll blink and be looking at a schoolgirl, a teenager, a young woman.

This past weekend, while listening to one of those music stations, the three of us discovered a song called "Red Means Stop." It was barely 7 o'clock, and Heath, who before he was a daddy had not often seen that side of daytime, was on his feet, dancing with his little girl and singing the refrain. To our amazement, Devi bounced along with us to the song until the "red means stop": and she would stop moving, anticipating "green means go" with a huge smile on her face, ready to bounce again. (I'm sure Devi took her cues from us, who abruptly stopped our crazy-limbed dancing with the "red" and resumed them with the "green." If she already understands the difference between these words, and can audibly decipher their meanings, I need to curb buying organic produce and start saving for an Ivy League college.)

Seasoned parents remind us that Devi's morning habits will change the second we get used to them and into a routine; that may have happened today. Up at 5, again, I decided to do some weekend-like loitering with the baby in the den, both of us still in our p.j.'s, listening to some music and playing. Normally, she'll entertain herself while I shower and if she's not too hungry, even get dressed. But as I stepped out of the shower today, I overheard Dev humming/grunting to herself. THIS IS IT! I thought, and peeked around the corner to watch my daughter's first crawling. But no: no crawling. Instead, Devi was tummy-down on the blanket, sucking her thumb and looking up at me with pleading eyes that said, If you don't put me in touch with my blankie asap, I will emit a sound that will wake the kids nextdoor. I wrapped my wet hair into a towel, scooped up the babe, got her to a blankie, and in the crib--not less than an hour after her first waking of the day--she rolled over, thumb still in mouth, and quietly put herself back to sleep.

This was the first morning I've gotten dressed for work without rushing. Normally the outfit I've chosen the night before (to save myself time the following morning--ha!) turns out not to look quite right, and I'm sifting through drawers to find something that will look right enough to go to work. Today, somehow, the ensemble worked, I dried my hair without having one eye on the den, and there was time enough to manage a quiet breakfast while surveying the yard.

And it was too quiet.

Heath and I were contemplating waking the baby (at 6:30) when suddenly her familiar, morning coos resumed and a moment later, we were rubbing the belly of a happy baby who was ready to begin her day.

The morning routine--I use the word loosely--will surely change and change again, well into Devi's adolescence. Perhaps it's not the loitering I'll miss as much as the certainty of being on time, of the absence of variables like fevers and colds, spit-ups on outfits that need to be changed, accidents (heaven forbid), and eventually, all the things that make kids late for buses, for school, or out of school altogether. Long gone are the days of casual mornings with plenty of time to shampoo and shave my legs, to choose an outfit by whimsy rather than planning, to make my lunch on my way out the door.

Now it's go, go, go--we'll stop on the weekends--and I wouldn't have it any other way.