Unquiet Time

I get up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. every weekday. I do this because it’s the only way I can get some dark, quiet, alone time in my own house. I use this time–usually at least an hour, some days closer to two hours–to walk the dog, do a yoga video, drink a whole cup of coffee while hot, make and eat my own breakfast, empty/re-load the dishwasher and, if there’s time, make L’s breakfast and maybe pack our lunches.

This time keeps me calm and sane and helps me start the day off on the right foot–i.e., means I have plenty of time to complete my metamorphosis into a human before I have to parent, spouse, adult, or anything else. This is not just about my mental and emotional well-being (which is important!) but also about just keeping ahead of the entropy of the house. Dishes, laundry, meal prep, wiping down surfaces and floors, clearing fossilized leftovers out of the fridge–this all happens in that uninterrupted early morning window.

And so, it drives me CRAZY when I don’t get it. Specifically, when the 3 y.o. wakes up at 4:54 am, wide awake, demanding breakfast, and raring to launch into an argument about why she won’t use the potty first.

This is harder for me than when she won’t go to bed at night, or even when she wakes up in the middle of the night, because, well, it feels like she’s sticking it to me on purpose (obviously not true…I mean, I wouldn’t put it past her, but she doesn’t have a clock in her room and she can’t tell time). But really because it just throws the entire day for a loop from the very first second we’re awake. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, we can get her back to bed or, in a pinch let her come into our bed. If everyone in the house is, in fact, sleeping, she is likely to settle down and at least stay quiet-ish and still-ish in the dark for awhile.

At 4:57, there’s no going back to bed, because in fact, I’m up, the dog’s up, there’s movement, there’s light, there’s clattering in the kitchen and the smell of coffee and she *knows* it’s not nighttime and nothing will convince her otherwise, even if it is pitch black outside. It also means I can’t just go walk the dog, unless S also gets up, an hour before he normally would, to make sure she doesn’t wreak havoc on the house in the 15 minutes I’m gone. And then he is up, too, which is good and helpful, in terms of childcare and prep for the day, but also a further chip away at the quiet time that I literally trade my sleep for: another person in the kitchen, all the lights on, all the clatter, all the animals, at 6 am instead of 7.

So, obviously, this is all frustrating, but also straight up part of parenting a small child. It’s to be expected. I know, I know. What I’m not sure about, and the line I’m trying to walk, is how far to go showing her that every minute of the day doesn’t revolve around her. This morning when I got back from walking the dog, I gave her a choice: stay in her room to play/look at books, or come downstairs while I did my yoga video, and either do the yoga with me, or look at her tablet on the couch.

She chose tablet on the couch, which was actually the worst because in fact TABLETS ARE THE WORST! Every 12 seconds she has unplugged the headphones, turned off the tablet, switched user profiles back over to me and locked herself out, run into a pay option in a kids app that’s preventing her from going any further (embedded purchase/upgrade options should be illegal in apps for small children, but I digress). In a way that would have been uncannily humorous, if not so enraging, I would be, like, in downward facing dog. She would demand assistance with some problem. I would pause my video, solve the problem, settle her down, start the video, get back in position and literally, as soon as my body would settle into where it needed to be….”MOMMY! I’M TANGLED UP!” and the headphone cord is wrapped around her toe.

I was starting to get really short with her: “What? … WHAT!?…. WHAT DO YOU WANT? CAN YOU PLEASE JUST STOP FOR LITERALLY TWO MINUTES!?”

I could feel my heart rate going up. I don’t think this is how yoga is supposed to work.

And I was feeling bad about it, but also just completely frustrated. Like, there’s only so early one can get up in the morning and still even pretend that it’s not the middle of the night. I am pretty much already at that place. If she starts getting up at 5, there’s nowhere for me to go, and when I contemplate this, that’s the feeling I literally have, this panicked, claustrophobic response. If this becomes a pattern, there’s. nowhere. for. me. to. go.

Last June she started getting up between 4 and 5 every day for like two weeks. Not coincidentally, I think, around this time I broke down crying in the doctors office and started an anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication. There were lots of reasons for this, this wasn’t the *cause* of my depression and anxiety. But I do firmly believe that it was the loss of this early morning, dark, quiet, low-sensory, no-people, morning warm-up time that destroyed my ability to cope/manage it.

So, back to today. Finally, I sat down with her on the couch for a chat and I said, “Look, you woke up almost 2 hours earlier than usual today. This is my quiet time, when I do other things. I’m getting frustrated because I really need that time, and to do those things. I am happy to see your face, but the rule right now is that you need to sit here, play by yourself, and be quiet until I am done. I get very frustrated when you interrupt me.”

Not that this was actually that *effective.* She’s barely three. She doesn’t necessarily even have the impulse control or awareness of other people to wait and choose to try to solve a problem by herself, before demanding assistance.

It felt good and reasonable, though, to make clear to her that not every minute is about her; that our household has other rhythms and requirements than her personal whims; that stuff happens that has nothing to do with her; and that she’s welcome to be a part of that, if she follows the rules, but if she doesn’t, I will be annoyed with her. This message will need (gentle) (and firm) reinforcing over years, I know. But laying the groundwork felt right–and helped me feel even a small measure of control over my blasted morning.

And yet it also felt questionable and subversive. Is it really ok to tell your kid, “I’m annoyed because you’re talking to me and I don’t want you to talk to me right now?” (actually I didn’t even put it that bluntly–maybe I should! That might help her to at least grasp what is going on). It seems better than just getting increasingly rageful, impatient, and resentful without explaining why. Or maintaining fake cheerful, patient facade that suddenly shatters into the horrifying monster beneath.

One lesson I took away from How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was the recommendation, which seemed counterintuitive at the time, to *let* your kids see when you’re getting annoyed, *before* you become enraged. Because it gives them information they need, so they can adjust their behavior. On the one hand, you don’t want to play into their pushing your buttons and deliberately riling you up–which definitely happens. But also, it’s not fair to be like, “It’s fine, it’s fine, everything is fine, you’re my precious angel, so sweet, so funny, so clever, life is a game, I AM GOING TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.”

I work full time, so my only time with my kid during the week is before and after daycare. It seems like I should treasure an extra hour with her in the morning. But no, not so much, if from the very first second (“Come back upstairs, please.” “NO, I WANT BREAKFAST”) it’s a battle that neither of you are well equipped to navigate healthily. There’s this feeling that if you’re not patient, fully attentive, and responsive to your child’s needs at every moment, that you’re not a properly loving parent.

But it turns out that three-year-olds can’t differentiate between a need and a whim and an unfamiliar feeling or a random observation. They have no filter, they have no framework for making decisions about when and how to spout something. And there is *always* something bubbling up in those little minds of theirs. And I mean ALWAYS. It never, ever, ever, ever, stops. We have to establish this for them–help them learn to triage, and to read the room: this can wait, this never needs to be said (ever), this is an actual emergency, this feels scary but we can figure it out together, this is fine for later but don’t approach mom right now. Right? Otherwise we would all go absolutely mad?

So: while I will work on tone (ugh, nobody ever likes hearing “WHAT!? IS!? IT!?), I think after this morning I’m going to practice making it clear to her that 5-6:15 a.m. is my time, and if she’s going to be up and moving around then, so be it, but it will be on my terms. And there will be absolutely no toys, games, or shows of any kind with sound, and I am not open for questions. We can co-exist downstairs, or she can choose to have her own quiet time in her room (this is a skill I would really like for her to cultivate anyway!)

Also, she was basically falling asleep by them time we dropped her off at daycare, and threw a tantrum seconds after we walked in the door, because there were no seats available next to her BFF/frenemy. STAY ASLEEP LONGER, CHILD.

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One thought on “Unquiet Time

  1. YES YES OH MY GOD YES. Because we still bedshare in a 1 bedroom apartment, I can count on, oh, two hands the number of times I’ve successfully gotten up before L in order to have quiet time for myself. Most of the time when this happens, I have laid awake in bed for half an hour anticipating his waking, only to finally decide that I can’t wait to pee any longer, and then 10 minutes later he’s awake and disoriented because I’m not next to him at 6:30. My partner is a night owl, so he gets a couple of hours of solo/hands’ off time in the evenings after I go to bed, and so I don’t think he really understands how oppressive it is to not have any control over my early mornings, a time when I ::could:: go for a run or read on the couch or whatever, if only I didn’t have a sonar-enabled barnacle who can sleep through a thunderstorm but not through me opening the fridge 2 rooms away.

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