My alarm goes off at 4:52. Two days ago it went off at 5:04. Four days ago I slept in: 5:21. My alarm goes off at random times because I do not set my own alarm. A buzzing or beeping clock does not wake me. A gentle melody from my favorite CD or radio station does not introduce me to the new day.
I have a more unique alarm. The cries from my son down the hall.
“Do you want me to get up with him?” my partner says.
“No, it’s my turn,” I whine, followed by a deep sigh. I can’t hide my exasperation. I don’t mask my disappointment. I keep thinking that one day it will change. That one day he’ll sleep in. That today will be that day. I’m always wrong.
“Go get him then,” she urges, “before he wakes her up.” The ‘her’ is his twin sister. They share a room. I can’t remember the last time she woke up before 6:30.
I go into the room. My son is standing in his crib. I talk to him like I do every other morning. I try to convince him to lie back down. I tell him it’s too early. I tell him he’s tired. I tell him he needs to sleep more. I tell him daddy needs to sleep more. All convincing arguments if you’re not in the under two set.
Today he at least listens to me instead of flopping back down in his crib in a wild sleep deprived tantrum. Still he doesn’t buy any of my reasoning. He remains standing. Then he starts to cry. I whisk him out of the crib and out of the room before he wakes her up and we have a real calamity on our hands.
Downstairs to our usual spot. The big comfy chair. I set him in there with his bear and his blankie, get his bottle, grab a blanket for myself. I pull the blanket over me and turn away from him, hoping that he’ll get the message.
The only sounds are the air coming through the heating vent, the ticking of a clock across the room, and the alternating sucking sounds of milk through a straw and a binky. There is no source of light. The blinds are down. Even the moon can not see us.
This morning my son is not demanding anything. He’s relatively quiet. He says, “Daddy?” a few times, but I ignore him. I know his usual requests. And I am not interested in drawing pictures, playing with the animals, or reading books. Not at this hour. I want him to go back to sleep. Occasionally he will do this. I’m hoping that this morning is one of those mornings.
There’s no way I can actually go back to sleep. Not the way we’re situated in the chair. I am way too uncomfortable. And I’ve got too many thoughts in my mind. I’m thinking about when this will stop. When he’ll sleep in to a reasonable hour. When we won’t have to start every morning well before the sun rises.
I’m thinking that today is the first day of winter, the shortest day of the year. Somehow I manage to find humor in the irony. That does not stop me from feeling resentful toward him. I want him to do something that I cannot control.
We’ve tried to figure it out. We’ve tried the monkey that opens his eyes at a certain time. We’ve tried letting him cry while his sister sleeps in the basement. We’ve tried giving him his milk and then putting him back to bed. We’ve tried putting him to bed later. And earlier. We’ve tried and we’ve failed. He is determined to get up at this hour. There’s nothing we can do about it. I still have a hard time accepting it.
I rule out that I am going back to sleep. I take a peek at him over my shoulder. It’s still pitch black, so I can’t see him clearly. I do see enough of him to see that his eyes are open. That he’s just staring across the room at the darkened windows.
I guess this isn’t so bad, I think. At least he’s just calmly sitting there. I turn back around and actually try to fall asleep. It’s impossible though. I think about how things might be different when he’s older and he’s in a toddler bed, and he can get out of bed on his own, and how we can teach him to turn the TV on, and get his own milk, and pour himself a bowl of cereal.
But then I think of the stories people have told me that it only gets worse when they get out of bed on their own, because then they’re always getting out of bed. They don’t just suddenly become independent and respect your wishes to let you sleep. And then I start thinking of my friend’s nine-year-old son who still gets up at five every morning. “It’s just when he gets up,” she says.
And then I am thinking that I actually like to get up early myself. I like to get up early and do my own things: read, write, catch a bit of a recorded soccer game. I realize that it’s not the getting up early part that annoys me. It’s the getting up early and not being able to do my own thing that is difficult for me to accept. That’s where the resentment comes from.
I look over at my son again, and he’s still just sitting there staring at the window. He hasn’t said a word, or made a peep other than the sucking of his binky and the setting down of his milk on the table. I have no idea how long we’ve been here. I can still hear the ticking of the clock on the other side of the room, but I don’t know what time it is. I’m curious to know, but not curious enough to upset the quiet situation that has been established. It’s still pitch black. The sun has not yet started to rise.
I’m still turned away from him, but now my eyes are open, and I start thinking something different. I start thinking that I’m looking at things the wrong way. I start thinking that before I know it my son is going to be nine years old, and he’s not going to want to sit in the big comfy chair with me. I’m not going to have these father son moments where it’s just the two of us sitting on a chair in the dark enjoying each other’s company.
And I realize that we’re not enjoying each other’s company. I haven’t let myself enjoy his company because I have my own plans for what each of us should do with our early morning hours. I use my adult logic to say that he needs to sleep longer. I am being selfish by thinking that I’d rather be reading or writing or watching soccer. I am not giving him the attention he deserves because I am trying to instill in him some lesson on sleeping. A lesson I do not follow myself. I am not taking advantage of our time together because I don’t see our time together as something to be treasured, something that is not going to last forever, something that will be gone in the blink of an eye.
As if he is reading my mind, my son says, “Daddy?”
This time I don’t ignore him. I turn over toward him and wrap my arms around him playfully. He giggles and squirms and tries to get away. He’s laughing. I am tickling him. He says, “Daddy, tickle, Daddy, tickle.” He’s enjoying himself and the attention I am giving him.
We play around on the big comfy chair for a bit. Wrestling, hugging, talking. I barely notice when the darkness in the room lifts. The sun is coming up. I look over at the clock that I can finally see. It says 6:42. We have been in the early morning chair for almost two hours.
In two days, when we’re here again together, I’ll make sure we make better use of our time.
Jared Karol is the father of twins born in January 2009. His musings on parenthood can be found on his blog, Lick The Fridge (www.lickthefridge.com). He lives in Oakland, California. You can contact Jared by leaving a comment on his blog or by email at: jaredkarol (at) gmail (dot) com. Follow him on twitter: http://twitter.com/lickthefridge. Become a fan on Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/2bdfyn2