I’ve been waking every morning at about 6:15 AM. Not on purpose. Definitely not on purpose. My brain is ticking like clockwork apparently, and every day, I open my eyes from a good sleep. It’s dark in my bedroom, and even a quick glance to the navy curtains tells me it’s dark outside too. It used to trick me – I saw it dark outside, only street lamps in the distance, and I assumed it was middle of the night. I’d get up and pee, and come back and check my phone, and – 6:15. Or 6:13, 6:12. But seriously, rarely further apart.
So, know I now, when I roll over and see the dark curtains – it’s 6:15. I still get up and pee, and if I’m lucky, I’m able to crawl back in bed for another 45 minutes until my 7 AM alarm goes off.
Some mornings, Ari’s asleep in bed with me, her legs thrown possessively over mine, never far from me, always touching. I crawl out of bed and do my best not to disturb her. More and more lately, she’s spent the whole night in her bed, but hearing my door crack open, she jumps out of bed. No matter the location, she’s always ready to start the day.
I had thought mornings with school would be hard – and they’re not easy. I’m not a morning person — I’m not really a Being Awake person, if we’re being honest. But we’ve developed a good little routine that feels doable and our speed, and I’ve grown to enjoy it.
7 to 7:30 is Become a Person Time, in which all three of us are various stages of sleepy, and some days, various stages of grumpy. The grown-ups, that is – brewing coffee and taking allergy medicine to start the day. Not Ari, though. She’s always energetic, pumped for the day even when she’s a little groggy from sleep. Shaun starts her breakfast (a mini sausage biscuit and some fruit) while I pack her lunch, if it’s a packing day; and pack her backpack.
Most often, I pack her a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich with crusts cut off. (Today’s was “dry,” apparently, says the little food critic. And I did “a bad job” cutting off the crusts.) Then she gets a bit of chips or pretzels, and then usually two fruits – an orange, and some grapes. Or blackberries, and a few strawberries. I pack her a water bottle with a few ice cubes to keep it cool. It makes me happy to add the ice cubes; like I don’t have to do that, but I do, because I want her to have nice fresh cold water at lunch, because she plays hard and works hard and I love her.
She’ll do school lunches a couple times a week, and it’s a nice break to just pack up her backpack with her take home folder. And then I’ll throw my clothes on – another area I thought I might stress over. But I’ve done pretty well so far. I think I manage to hit “early morning mom who isn’t going to work immediately after and therefore doesn’t give a f” without looking like a complete terror that truly just rolled out of bed, no bra, tits a-swingin’. It’s fall now, and feels like it in the cool mornings, so I’ve really been enjoying the Princess Diana look: bike shorts, a big over-sized sweatshirt, big sunglasses. I need to upgrade to big trainers and big socks, but for now, I’m still enjoying sandal weather and wear my rainbow slides.
And then once my contacts are in and my hair is swept up into a Mom bun, I get Ari ready. Somedays, this is quick. Most days, it’s a snail’s pace. It’s not that she’s not willing, she just wants to play 40 games first. I’m so, so aware this is how I was as a kid. Just constant need to pretend and play and imagine. So I try and be patient. But also, at a certain point – you just gotta brush your teeth, kiddo.
I’ve enjoyed doing her her, though. This long, blonde Rapunzel hair that is so fine and slips so easily from rubber bands by the end of the day. I’d love to leave it down but it gets so tangled and wild, I usually end up pulling it all back, braids or pigtails or braided pigtails, sectioned off and smoothed back. She plays hard! She’s got long days and it’s all about what they’re playing next, which means both comfort and very original fashion to her.
She and her girl group at school go hard. They are obsessed with each other. They can’t just such each other’s names, they have to scream them. They can’t just walk anywhere, they have to pretend to be leopards or wolves or purrmaids. Maggie begs for Ari to come over after we’re finally finished at the studio for the night, so they can howl at the moon outside by the Halloween decorations together. Ari and Jude end up being dropped off in the same unloading group, and gasp at each other. “Ari!!!” “Jude!!!” As if they haven’t seen each other in days. (And yet, they rode together the day before, and had Girl Scouts the day before, and rode together the day before, and had dance on the same night the night before…)
Ari has so much to look forward to, so getting out the door – despite her moving at , as she says, “slowest kitty in the world” speed – isn’t that difficult. Most days, it’s just her and I loading up into my car. She’s got a playlist, and if I’m lucky, I can play it on Shuffle as we make our way down Jefferson, to West Jefferson, to Pines, to Buckner. But the closer we get to Lone Oak, the more she requests her very favorites on repeat. Ghostbusters (Spookiz remix), and Travel the World (Spookiz Remix) and Scatman (again, Spookiz Remix).
Once, maybe twice a week, Shaun gets to ride with us, but it’s so often her and my thing, that he sometimes ends up out of place in our morning rituals. He unbuckled her seatbelt for her one day, at the wrong time, and she had to explain to him how we do things.
How We Do Things:
- Once we hit the big curve on North Friendship, Ari puts her hand near her seatbelt. She does not have to do this. I’ve told her this many times. She still has like, three full minutes before she can unbuckle. But she insists she wants to be ready.
- We turn onto a side street, and we look for the Spooky House – a house right near the school that has had just a shitton of Halloween decorations up since, like, September 1. Ari loves it, it’s great.
- We look for the puppies! There’s a little car shop (or something, who cares) right next to the school, and from time to time, we see their beautiful Black Labs outside. The first day of school, we saw both of them, sitting facing the parking lot like they were watching the first drop off parade.
- Then we do the first “Weee!” as I turn into the school parking lot. All these roads through the neighborhood are narrow with no shoulder, every turn is a sharp one. (Once, Travis was waiting to turn out as I approached to turn in, and we locked eyes in the most deadly glare the world has ever seen. One of many of our mornings chance meeting rituals…)
- Once we’re in the parking lot, Ari’s allowed to unbuckle. The we do the second (and best) “Weeee!” which is the big curve to pull into the line before the drop off and loading area. Then she slips her backpack on, and we wait to pull forward to the unloading zone.
The actual unloading is going better. I think it took her a little bit to get into the swing of things. She shall not be rushed if she does not want to be rushed. School’s been good for her, in that way. (I hate being rushed too, I know where she gets it from, so we try not to rush at home either. But she loves school, and her teacher and her classmates, so she’s more open to working hard and pushing herself.)
And it’s tough for a kindergartener to get out of the car on their own! I do kind of wish they had people on hand to open doors. Like, Ari is little! And I can’t really get out and help her step down or maneuver her backpack through the door. Sometimes a staff person will come help, but it’s sporadic. But – she’s gotten better at it. Just the repetition of doing it every morning, she knows to look for the signal – it’s all a lot like a game to her right now: the drop-off rules, the day at school, winning points, passing tests and levels – it’s perfect for our little gamer girl.
So we kiss and I try and cram as many well-wishes and good attention into her in those final few seconds where her backpack is on and her eyes are focused on whichever staff person will wave for unloading, chattering, telling me about who she sees. Meanwhile, I’m – “I love you! I hope you have a great day! I’m so proud of you! I can’t wait to see you at pick-up! You’re gonna have a great day!”
And she’s focused, and she’s suddenly big; opening the door upon the signal, climbing down, but she always remembers a “Love you, Mama!” before slamming the door shut. I always look over my shoulder to watch her walk in – I didn’t, for a couple days, when I got complacent with drop off, but now I really love this moment. If she’s lucky, she’ll walk in with Jude, and it truly makes me kinda weepy to watch them walk into the school, hand-in-hand.
But Ari alone is a whole other thing. She often seems so little, compared to the other kids walking in beside her. Her backpack hangs low on her shoulders, still too big. But to me, she is so grown. That’s my baby, that’s my baby. She was so little, she was tiny and so helpless, and she is my whole world, and – there she is. Walking into school by herself, her head held proud. My big girl.