Thursday, March 26, 2009

Awake and Scream

What my son has been doing to me in the mornings can only be described as inhumane. Just after the daylight savings time switcheroo, he began waking at 5:30AM. And by waking, I mean rising and shining, starting his day. There are many problems with this arrangement.

First, since he no longer naps, by early afternoon he is, to use a clinical term, a “hot mess.” He is snarly, impertinent, unforgiving, inflexible and prone to temper tantrums and even then, I’m being generous. Now, a four year-old having a temper tantrum is not the same as a two-year old having one, at least not in my experience. Being double the age has given him double the stamina, and when he starts a freakout, I know I am in for a half hour minimum -- often longer -- of wild, raging hysteria that makes Stanley Kowalski look genteel. When he was a well-rested boy, these used to be infrequent but now that he’s up before the cock crows, well, they’re popping up daily.

But worse than his shitty behavior is the fact that when he wakes at 5:30, I wake at 5:30. I understand that not all families operate like this, because I have friends whose kids will wake up and fend for themselves until their parents rouse at the hour of their choosing. These children turn on the TV, pour a bowl of cereal, get dressed, and, I imagine, tidy up the house a bit, do the dishes, make a pot of coffee and lend a hand with the taxes.

My children wake and scream. Scream follows wake like exhale follows inhale. Since they sleep in the same shoebox-sized room, one’s waking-screaming tends to provoke the other’s waking-screaming. Bloody madness. So at the first hint of a scream, I dash over to Primo and whisper,

“It’s the middle of the night. It is not morning. Go back to sleep.” Then I tuck him in and scratch him back and tiptoe back into my bed.

Five to ten minutes later, just when I think he’s drifted off, another shout, “Mommy!”

I dash in again, significantly less patient and make desperate offers:

“If you go back to sleep, I’ll let you watch the Magic School Bus and give you a cookie and also a big surprise.”

When I start offering “big surprises” that he and I both know I don’t have and don’t intend to get, I’ve lost the battle. So when Primo creeps into my bed five minutes later, I am relieved that at least Seconda’s still sleeping. David’s out of the picture because he goes to the coffee shop just after 5am every morning to do some writing before clocking in at his office job. So there’s room in the bed and I tell Prim he can lie quietly next to me, if he stays still.

Fat chance. After five minutes of getting kicked and elbowed and listening to “The Plants Revolve Around the Sun” sung to the tune of “When Johnny Come Marching Home,” I give up on his sleeping. I send him into the living room, put on the TV and tell him he can do whatever the hell he wants as long as he doesn’t wake me up.

Five minutes later, he runs to my bedside, “Mommy, I need you to draw a vampire turning into a bat.”

No, I say, no no no. Absolutely not. Not on your life. It’ll be a cold day in hell. Which is it, I guess, five minutes later when I find myself sitting at the coffee table, with colored pencils in hand.
The worst part is that he is yelling at me, “That is NOT A GOOD BAT at all!!! Its eyes are WOBBLY! You RUINED it!”

The only reason I have conceded to this torture is that I am desperately, at all costs, trying to avoid at least waking the baby, because when she wakes too early, the misery she exacts on us makes Primo’s sunrise abuse look like a gentle caress. Seriously, it’s awful.

So there I am, 6am, listening to il Duce berate what I feel is a truly impressive rendering of Count Dracula in the process of turning into a bat. He doesn’t want just Count Dracula or just a bat but the actual METAMORPHOSIS which bridges the two.

I defend myself, not altogether too nicely, “Please remember that Mommy is not a PROFESSIONAL ARTIST!” I shout, “I’m just being NICE to do this and you’re being a total ----- (I bite my tongue and suck back the f word that threatens to spring from my ready lips) “---JERK!”

I haven’t made my coffee because I haven’t wanted to accept that this waking will be permanent, but now it is clear, that yes, this is it, this is the official start of my day, if only because the landlord’s going to come upstairs and evict us for all the screaming and yelling and clattering (because when I call him a jerk, Primo throws his colored pencils on the floor in a rage and starts to cry, “JERK IS NOT A NICE WORD!”). I should give him a time out, I should take away his pencils, I should force him to go back to bed, and I do nothing because I am too tired. This is why I say that exhaustion is the biggest impediment to responsible parenting, hands down.

And since I am always exhausted, this does not bode well for my mothering.

What do you do when your children wake before sun-up? Sedatives? Threaten to sell them to the gypsies? Reasonable strategies suggested by SuperNanny?