The Ballet of Waking Up As a Single Parent

I love the quiet mornings. And on the weekends, especially in the summer, I love the pace at which the house wakes up.
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Waking your kids in the morning is like a clumsy ballet. The performers to don't want to participate. They are either ornery or cheerful, angry and resistant or mildly entertaining in their attempts to subvert the morning's urgent call. And while it is an unwelcome task in many respects, perhaps better left to the screaming alarm clock that has a much more convenient snooze button, it's still one of my joys. I guess I'm the morning person in the family.

Even when we were married, I was usually up and writing an hour or more before the "rise and shine" call of the school/work day. And it's magic, that morning darkness when the house is still cool and quiet. The first cup of coffee feels like a gift, sneaking around to not awaken anyone by accident.

And then I was the gentle nudge to kids and wife. As I put the eggs, bacon and French toast on. French toast was one of my specialties, thought I don't make it much any more as a single dad. In the early days, with a first-grader and a third-grader it was dad's hit meal. So I took breakfasts, as a rule. And I was the cheerful alarm clock. Even when my then-wife was hard pressed to get herself alone up and out, I was the rock of the morning. "Five more minutes, until the daddy-bus leaves for school. FIVE. MORE. MINUTES. Let's go!"

But once I was "on my own again" things became a tad harder, at first. I didn't know how to work my new/old-a** stove very well. And sometimes I didn't have all the right ingredients when starting off with my new, little, recovery house. But we made the most of it. And we figured out the cadence without mom. And I'm guessing on those mornings without kids she was sleeping in. She liked to sleep in.

Today my kids are 11 and 13 and their schedules are in full summer strangeness. Deep into the night they are watching Glee or gaming. And late into the morning, sometimes afternoon, they are crashed. Young minds need the extra rest if you can provide it. And sometimes as a parent, we have to provide shelter when they want/need to sleep. But in the "rise and shine" times we have to be firm. And I guess that begins with a healthy bedtime, once school begins again.

One time, during the first year alone, I remember my son saying something about telling his mom how I got them up and ready for school. He was using my happy morning method as a request to his mother to try "waking us earlier, so we're not so rushed in the morning." That put a smile on my face. And I'll admit a tiny bit of it was at my ex-wife's expense. Until I started thinking about it. I'd rather my kids have a warm welcome to the day, rather than a rush and tumble barely making it. I remember those mornings. Nobody had fun.

And of course, not every morning rush can be fun. But if we're awake and hold the structure for the morning, we have a lot of influence on how the mornings will go. On somedays we wake up with music playing loudly in the house. I start the rousing routine by pushing them around in their beds. "Can you hear the music?" I ask. An angry or zombie nod gives me the response. "When two more songs have gone by it's going to be time to get up. Do you want to shower before school?"

And when they are awake and cheerful, it makes the inevitable complications more manageable. "Dad I forgot my running shoes at mom's and I have cross-country this morning."

"No worries," I say. "But that means we need to get out of here in 10 minutes. TEN MINUTE WARNING!"

And some days, everyone helps. My daughter will make her own lunch. (She's gone through two vegetarian phases.) And somedays you'll be able to tell when you have a sick kid. And where once you had a partner to negotiate the meetings and deadlines of the day with, now you have to figure out the sickness support staffing all by yourself.

As a single parent, in the beginning, just getting them fed and to school with no more than one tardy per month was a serious victory. But as you advance and begin to get your act together, things like clean clothes, showers, healthy snacks and lunches become easier.

I love the quiet mornings still. And on the weekends, especially in the summer, I love the pace at which the house wakes up. My daughter will rub eyes in the hall way to my room asking about breakfast around 10 a.m.. And my son, well, depending on his "night in the mines," will be up either before noon or after noon. It's leisurely around here during the hot months. And I enjoy making each one their special breakfast to-order, just as they arise. Not much call for French toast these days, but I'm always up for it if the call comes in.

The joy of waking up your kids comes from the inner joy you have at being their parent, at supporting their dreams and the beginning of their day. Your energy and daily rhythm is up to you. And your commitment to bring their eyes open in a calm and pleasing manner might just be a gift you give them for life. Grumpy wakeups are hard on everyone. I really got more pride in my son's explanation of why dad's mornings were easier than mom's. But it was all about their enjoyment and not my evil pride. Maybe. (grin)

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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