Before becoming a mother, I was not a morning person. Okay, that’s an understatement. Before becoming a mother, I soaked up every hour of sleep I possibly could, fiercely guarding those precious moments of early-morning slumber before the alarm clock would force me to crack open my crusty eyelids and face the workday at the ungodly hour of, say, 7:15.
The situation was more extreme in my teens. Without effort, I could sleep in on the weekends until 3:00 pm, at which point my dad would stomp in, snap open the blinds and announce, “Enough is enough!” Having grown up in a farming family whose early-to-rise ethics verged on marsupial, he was deeply offended by my lack of interest in making hay – or even a peanut butter sandwich – while the sun shone.
In college, I lived like a nightclub owner, staying up until the wee hours most every night, knowing that I would recoup my REM losses the next morning. On those few occasions when I had no choice but to take an 8:00 am class, the excruciating morning reveille would disturb my entire week, turning me into a cranky, scatterbrained wreck – someone who, now that I think about it, bears striking resemblance to the person I am today. (All hail the circle of life! Hakuna Matata!)
Much later, after years of working in an office under what I thought was a crushing regime of having to be at my desk by 9:00-ish (the sleep enthusiast quickly learns the value of “-ish”), motherhood arrived. Within a week, my circadian rhythms were crouched in the corner of the laundry room, weeping and tugging at their eyebrows. By week two, they had moved out altogether, leaving me to face the patchwork 24-hour days in typical, punch-drunk, new mom fashion.
And, although it seemed the milky netherworld of new-babydom would be my home forever, things stabilized and at some point I found myself – for the most part, anyway – awake when it was light out and asleep when it was dark.
Fast forward to the near-present (earlier this year), when to my immense happiness and excitement, the book deal for The CHICKtionary materialized. The publisher envisioned this book as an ideal holiday gift, which meant it needed to be written on an aggressive timetable in order to be in stores in time for the seasonal shopping spike.
“Can you do this?” my agent asked.
“Yes!” I responded without pause with the word that has gotten me into more than a few hundred challenging situations in recent decades. In the words of the immortal Tim Gunn, I would “make it work.” [Note: Tim Gunn also said, “I’m troubled by your jumpsuit,” a phrase which, although I have not yet had occasion to use, I no doubt will in the near future.]
Once I knew the exact parameters of the project, I was forced to do one of my least favorite things: pull out a calculator and make a plan. A plan with numbers on it. As someone who gauges correct inflation pressure by how poufy the tires look, this process caused some discomfort, particularly when the cold, hard data came in. (That’s the thing about numbers – they have no “-ish.”)
There was no way around it. In order to finish the manuscript by the deadline, I was going to have to carve out extra writing time, and plenty of it. But from where? I already spent the child-free portion of my day writing, and once they were home from school, it was a breathless sprint through homework, dinner, baths and assorted domestic crises. Where was this “extra” time stashed?
Perhaps I could slack off the housework. This, of course, begged the question: could I phone it in any more than I already did? Doubtful. What about cooking? I wasn’t sure about this, but I had the nagging feeling that, before I could back away from that activity, I would have had to embrace it in the first place.
I was running out of options.
And then it hit me. I was going to have to [gulp] sleep less. As in get up earlier. What madness was this? There had to be another way. I smacked the calculator buttons again. And again. There was no arguing with these…these numbers.
That night I sat on the edge of my bed and watched the LED digits of my alarm clock roll over to their new set point: 5:00 am. I winced. Surely nothing good ever happened at that hour.
And so began my seven-day-a-week ritual of rising before the sun, brewing a giant cup of scary-tough coffee and settling at my desk to try and be funny, all while doing a very convincing Bride of Frankenstein impression. I won’t say I was grace under pressure, especially that first week. One of the nice things about being up before the rest of the household, though, is that no one hears you cuss.
After a little while, my body grudgingly acclimated to the new schedule and I got into a bit of a groove. I began to (well, almost) savor the slice of morning time that was mine alone, and to (somewhat) enjoy watching the dawn light change through my office window. On my calendar was marked my deadline – the day after which I would reclaim my title of World’s Greatest Sack Hound.
The weeks passed, my word count grew and, just as the calculator predicted, the magical day arrived when I submitted my completed manuscript.
The next morning I woke at 4:30 am.
Whee, I thought, relishing the sensation of rolling over to slide back into blissful sleep. Hugging my pillow, I closed my eyes and waited, but instead of the downy tunnel back to dreamland, my mind’s eye produced a razor-sharp image of the to-do list sitting on my desk. What the hell? Go to sleep, I told myself, and was rewarded with an inventory of the items I was to gather for our school’s silent fundraising auction.
I flipped over and stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, which I could not actually see because it was 4:30 in the friggin’ morning and the bedroom was as black as the inside of a sheepdog. I had heard of this before, I thought, raking a hand across my forehead. Morning people, they were called. The kind of folks who waited outside Dunkin’ Donuts, looking at their watches and stamping their sensible shoes until the first shift finally unlocked the door to start the day. At 5:00 am.
Stay cool, I told myself. It’s the first day off. You’re in transition. You’ll be able to sleep in tomorrow. Somewhere deep in my brain stem, however, I knew the truth.
I was broken.
Cut to: months later, present day. I have adjusted to my new lifestyle pretty well. Most mornings I slap the alarm off before it sounds and am padding around the kitchen by 5:15. Shortly after that, I’m at my desk, replying to emails and dipping into Twitter where my East Coast friends are already chirping away. (After a couple of frosty exchanges, I broke myself of the habit of calling local friends to share vital information from Facebook such as witticisms or warnings about computer viruses known to be going around.) By lunch, I’m on my third coffee and jonesing for a second wind. By 4:00 pm, I’m wondering if it’s too soon to slip into my jammies.
After all, it’s bedtime somewhere, right?
Speak Out Against Domestic Violence
You may have noticed the new "Speak Out" badge over in my sidebar. I learned about the Speak Out campaign from my blog friend Kristin at Wanderlust.On November 18th, bloggers all over the world will post, tweet, share, and encourage people to “Speak Out” against domestic violence and provide direct links to domestic violence (DV) resources. The event date is strategically set to lead into International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25.
I hope you'll take a moment to click over and learn more about the campaign and the ways you can participate. Thank you!