When do our memories really kick in? How is it that part of our childhood can determine so much about us but we usually don’t remember it all? I don’t have any answers, but I know it’s true.
I have vague, hazy memories of being an early-riser.
My mom opening one eye to growl a “What?” when I slipped into her bedroom in the pre-dawn hours.
Both parents yelling when I wormed my way between them in bed, unable to sleep in my own bed but equally unable to sleep in theirs.
Waking up at sunrise to read, mostly my mom’s romance novels that I’d been told I wasn’t allowed to read. I was eight.
Those moments are few and far between in my memory. What sticks out are the tween (what we used to call pre-teen) and teen years when nothing short of dynamite going off next to me could get me out of bed. Thankfully (or not), my father had one of those voices and demeanor’s that lent itself to explosions big enough to propel a sleepy kid out of bed.
There was the yelling, “Get your goddamn ass out of bed!”
The covers were frequently yanked off, forcing me to curl into a ball, seeking warmth.
The lights flickered.
Waking up was hell…for all of us.
Sure, my late nights didn’t help. Blame it on homework or a book, but more often than not needless worry and anxiety filling my brain kept me awake.
My father’s temper was infamously short. That certainly didn’t make the process easier.
But when I think back, I don’t laugh off those memories. I shudder.
I hated being woken up. (Don’t we all?)
For the first few years of Aidan’s school-going life, I rarely had to wake him up with more than a flick of the light switch. He’s always been an early-riser. Even now, at 11, on the cusp of puberty and the exhaustion that comes with it, he’s still up before eight in the morning on a Saturday. His brother isn’t far behind.
Around third grade something changed. Even with plenty of sleep (no really, in bed by eight and up sometime after six), he wouldn’t wake up. He didn’t want to go to school. He’d learned the love affair that you can have with a warm, cozy blanket. The lights were too bright. Please just let him sleep!
Without giving it a thought, I fell back on what I knew.
I yelled. I threatened. I rushed around, convinced we were all going to be late and the whole day would be ruined. By the time everyone was up, we were stressed out wrecks.
I began to dread mornings. I definitely wasn’t at my parenting best.
I don’t know when it happened or even why but something clicked in my head. There had to be a better way. Why did mornings have to be so awful?
One day, with little thought to what I was doing, I tried something else.
I trilled out (okay, more like warbled in a scratchy, off-key voice), “Good morning!”
Not a moan or a grunt.
I turned on the lights.
I sat on the bed (Aidan’s on the top bunk, Sean on the bottom). I yanked off covers and threw them on the floor.
A small frown.
And then the most deliciously evil thought came to me. It was perfect. It was glorious. Oh yes, it was evil.
I tickled the hell out of Sean. Wiggly fingers found armpits and backs of knees, sensitive necks and soft tummies.
Shrieks of laughter. Giggles. Gasps for air. Open eyes. Bright smiles.
We cuddled and hugged, and I sent him to the bathroom to get ready.
One down, another to go.
The top bunk is a pain in the ass. You can’t make the bed without pulling down the mattress. You can’t reach to the far end against the wall. As a parent, I’m practically helpless.
Thankfully, Aidan sleeps in the middle of the bed.
I poked him.
I pulled the covers off.
He hissed. The light was too bright for my vampire-child.
I tickled and tickled. Any soft spot I could find, I attacked.
Belly laughs. Rolling, shrieking, hysterical laughter.
Just like that, both boys were up and getting ready for the day. Lots of hugs, lots of laughter, little stress.
Oh, don’t for one minute think it’s always idyllic. Hell no. Some days no matter how much they laugh, they’re still pissed off as hell that they have to wake up. Sean has been known to laugh in the bed and cry on the floor while I sternly demand that he start getting ready.
Aidan, as he barrels closer and closer to puberty and the hell that will bring is increasingly harder to wake up. He gets tickled, if I can reach him. I also flick cold water on him, threatening to pour it on his head (I really need a water gun). Sometimes the sound of the water running is enough to launch him out of bed.
Either way, no matter what happens after they’re out of bed and dragging their feet. They may be the only members of Generation Z who know the words “dawdle, lollygag, or dilly-dally” because it’s a daily reminder they receive as in “Don’t dawdle, lollygag, or dilly-dally. We need to get out the door on time.”
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes we run late (because these people can’t find a shoe that’s three inches away from them). But they nearly always wake up laughing.
I have no clue how this will form their experiences and memories in the future. I have no idea if it will make a damn bit of difference in their lives.
But I do know that they begin their mornings with laughter. That’s gotta be worth something.