By Carey Swanson I've woken up twice to my alarm clock in the past almost-a-year . . . two times when my sleep was pierced by an abstract beeping sound that made me flash back to another time in my life. Considering the fact that I get up for my job as an assistant principal at 5:45 am on a good day, this is pretty amazing. Other than those two days, the other 360 or so mornings, I've woken up to the squeaks and cries of my baby's internal alarm clock, calling out for food at the earliest early hour, the latest late hour, the time when most people are in the midst of sleeping. Yes, she wakes up darn early!
This time period is a little bit of a blur most mornings---half-awake feedings and seeing if Zoe will let me fall back asleep before the beeping that tells me it is time to get out of bed rather than time to wake up. And from a little before six until close to seven, I have my first daily hour of parenting. In between pumping, eating the breakfast that my stay-at-home husband amazingly makes each morning, packing up my laptop, making sure I have the bottles and pump pieces I need for the day (I've messed this up 3 times in the 9 months I've been doing it, which I think is pretty ok), and getting dressed, I play with my child. I bring her into the bathroom while I'm doing my hair or washing my face and tell her what I'm doing: "I'm putting some concealer under my eyes; that makes me look less tired. Now I'm putting on deodorant, you probably won't need this till you're 12, but I'll be on the lookout to let you know if it is earlier than that because I don't want them to have to tell you at school, that is totally embarrassing even though I pretend real hard that it isn't."
Zoe is all laughs and smiles in the morning; she sits in her little chair at the table while I eat and pump, and offers us toys. She wanders around the living room, in her new little drunken old man waddle, while I check the weather, check my work phone, and call for substitutes if needed. And when it comes time for me to put on my jacket, she suddenly clings to me. And when I place her in her dad's arms and grab my bags to go . . . she cries. Sometimes she just sniffles; sometimes she wails. I can't bring myself to sneak out while she's distracted, so usually I make it worse: going back for kisses, finally making it out the door only to realize I've forgotten my phone, and disrupting her all over again.
* * *
Barring any parent events or late night meetings, I am almost always home from work on the dot of six o'clock. Whether I'm rushing out to the train at 5:30 or hanging on for a ride, six o'clock is pretty much guaranteed to be the switch from being responsible for the needs of 20 teachers and 300 children to being responsible for the needs of one lovely little baby.
I love making the switch. I walk in the door to the best greeting in the world—my husband usually yelling, "Mommy's home" while Z freezes from wherever she is and laughs, and these days, waves. (She's grown into this---it used to be immediate tears and demands for nursing; this is much improved.) And then, for the next hour, I'm a parent again. I put away the day's bottles and my things, hug Zoe for as long as she'll let me (usually just one hug), and feed her dinner while my husband makes ours. Or I play with her in the living room and hear about the boring stuff that only I want to know: What time were her naps today? How much did she eat and when? Where did you guys go today? I like to hear the mundane details, to picture the trips to the playground or the farmers market or the park and to know if the afternoon nap went early or late as I calculate how many extra minutes of play time that buys me.
Sometime close to 7 she gets sleepy, even though she has started to fight it and attempts to hide it from us. I’ve done my homework and read my sleep books. While I don’t have a real stance, I've made a camp somewhere in between the eight different approaches to sleep. I know that keeping her up any later is selfish—my baby does better when she goes to sleep early. Plus, we have the always-the-same-time, dark and early baby alarm to think of the next morning. And so right around seven, we start getting ready for bedtime. We change into pajamas, read a story, and cuddle if she'll let me. By between 7:30 and 8, she is asleep and I'm on the couch leaning over my laptop, or on a good day, watching bad tv.
I don't mean to imply that I'm not a parent in the 22 hours other than those between six and seven (and on the whole weekend and every vacation!). And I know that the mommy guilt I feel about squeezing a day into such short blocks of time is just for me---not a reflection of my daughter’s needs. I’m a working mother, which is something I believe in, and in doing this I am the bread winner for my family, which makes me proud. I know kids are in day care and with nannies and with stay at home parents, and I truly believe all of these are completely valid options. Zoe is with her dad all day and incredibly well cared for, which means I have no reservations about how she spends her time. In a world full of gender norms and high expectations for what it means to be a mother, however, what I can't seem to escape are my reservations about how I spend mine.
But, for now at least, from six 'til seven is my baby's time.
(image by alexkerhead on flickr.)