When I think about how much I used to complain, before I had children, about how hard it was to get up in the morning, I want to travel back in time and slap myself.
“You fool!” I’d say. “In a few years you’ll be up at 6 a.m. refereeing arguments about who gets to press the power button on the remote.”
As I write this, I’m still coming down from the adrenaline and cortisol rush of getting my kids out the door. I’d gladly take a hangover on a work morning over putting socks on someone who is trying to kick me in the face.
In fact, if I could go back in time and experience just one day of my pre-children adult life, I wouldn’t choose to relive a wild night out or even my wedding day. I would do it a la Emily in Our Town and choose a regular, ordinary day. I’d even take a weekday! I would get up and shuffle into the kitchen, sip coffee while listening to Soterios Johnson on WNYC, and maybe do part of a crossword puzzle. Then I would take a shower, get dressed, and walk to the subway while listening to my iPod. I could weep just thinking about it.
These days, mornings usually begin with a 6 a.m. wake-up call from Theo, who bounds out of bed fully charged. I wait as long as possible before waking Nicholas, who, like me, is not a morning person. He is Garfield times a million. He wants to be carried downstairs and placed on the couch with his blankie. He will hold his sippy cup of milk, but he will not drink it until he is good and ready. And the milk had better be warm.
All is relatively calm until I announce that it’s time to get dressed. “No!” says Theo. “N-O.” (Theo does not apply any of his early-morning energy to getting ready in a timely fashion.) Nicholas’s face reddens and his mouth opens to let out stream of hysteria that will last through our car ride. “Not these pants!” cries Nicholas, who lately will only wear pants that are “comfy.” Theo demands to wear a shirt that is currently in the washing machine. Nicholas continues sobbing as I stuff his feet into his shoes, which are not his “super-fast ones” and therefore cause intensified wailing.
When coats, hats, and shoes are on and the door is open, escape in sight, Nicholas decides that he wants his breakfast. As in, the one that he refused to eat WHEN IT WAS TIME TO EAT BREAKFAST. Anticipating this maneuver, I have wrapped his food to go, but no—he wants to eat it in his high chair. I hand him the Ziploc-baggied bagel and carry him, weeping, out the door. I look around to see if any of my neighbors are witnessing the commotion, possibly wondering if I am abusing my children, again. I wrestle Nicholas into his car seat and tell Theo for the eighth time to please. Get in. The car. Now.
Theo gets dropped off first, then Nicholas. When I get back in the car I sit in delicious silence, trying to shake off the lingering guilt of leaving a distraught Nicholas at daycare and for once again failing not to yell at my kids.
Returning to my house is like visiting the site of an epic battle. Shed pajamas and rejected pants lie twisted on the carpet like fallen soldiers; kitchen drawers and cabinets gape open, spilling their guts onto the floor.
I imagine some future mother and child wandering through the scene, examining the relics. “But who won, Mommy?” the child would ask. “No one, sweetie,” the mother would reply, a single tear running down her cheek. “No one.”
It’s tempting to blame the children for the morning chaos (and OK, I do), but I am the grown-up here. I am theoretically in charge. Every night, I think about what I could do to make the experience less hellish. I tell myself that the next morning will be different, that I will get up earlier, be more patient, and leave everyone plenty of time to get ready in a relaxed manner, one that does not end with one or all of us crying. But this is pure fantasy. If I allowed my children to get ready at a leisurely pace, we would never leave the house.
When I was dropping off Nicholas on a recent morning, another mom walked in carrying her son, who was having a meltdown because she’d forgotten to bring his Iron Man. “I’m sorry,” I told her, over his screams, “but this is kind of making me feel better.”