Dawn, Lakeside

On our annual Tahoe vacation, unfettered by the 5:15 gym routine and the lunch boxes and the office hours, I totally dig mornings.  I like the peace of the morning: a hot, bittersweet cup of coffee and a good lakeside sunrise and a soundtrack of geese squawking in chevron flight.  Up until approximately 6 years ago, I liked putting Joni Mitchell on the iPod and cracking the paper and letting the morning happen.  I liked long walks before the world woke up.  We indulged in leisurely marital debates on the merits of a hike versus a bike ride, beach versus lake.

As it turns out, on our annual Tahoe vacation, my children LOVE mornings.  They love to START THE DAY!  They love the promise of PLANS!  They love to watch a movie BEFORE breakfast!  They love WAFFLES at the kitchen counter!  Vacation is the BEST!  The earlier we wake up, the earlier we can have ICE CREAM and go SWIMMING!  Let’s GET TO IT!

It was ever thus.

The summer when LittleMan was three, he was obsessed with these StrideRite Lightning McQueen sneakers with light-up soles.  We’d hear him thunk out of his toddler bed and rumble around for a few minutes, then his door would smash open and he’d come clomping down the hall in his PJs and shoes, the red lights flashing in the dark hallway as he approached our door.  The summer when he was four, he liked to be the first to sneak upstairs, enjoyed the independence of being the one to turn on the lights (all of them…because it’s still sort of dark before 6 am).  He got a kick out of being found out of bed by whichever parent heard him first.

This year, however, he has decided it spooks him a little, up there in the dark.  He would prefer some company.  The first few days he achieved this by poking and whispering loudly at Babygirl at 5:30 am.  Now, at my request, he achieves it by poking and whispering loudly at me.  Because he has a never-ending altitude sniffle, this poking and whispering is accompanied by loud wake-up coughing and the occasional enormous sneeze-in-my-face.  Germs followed by coffee.  Breakfast of champions.

The thing is, in spite of the mountain air and the ethereal quiet and the endless parade of summertime activities – lake!  pool!  ice cream!  hike! — I don’t actually sleep that well in Tahoe, a fact I credit entirely to the peanut shell we all share back in San Francisco.  I have written previously about how LittleMan and Babygirl have become completely co-dependent at bedtime, but the fact is I’m not much different.  You see, in San Francisco our two bedrooms are divided only by one wall; I can pretty much hear my children breathe at night, and there is comfort in it.  (I sometimes wonder how I will adjust if we ever find ourselves living in, say, a home with an upstairs and a downstairs.  But that’s just a crazy thought.)

Up here in the mountains, there is a hallway, a bathroom, a storage closet between us.  I am not used to the night sounds (or perhaps, more accurately, the absence of them), to the way the sprinklers spring to life outside the window at 3am, to the click of the wall heater, to the subtle difference in the creak of the wooden bunk-bed.  In Tahoe, I find I wake suddenly with the urge to tiptoe down the hall and check on my little deep sleepers, to re-arrange the blankets, close a window, turn on the fan, check the locks.  If motherhood has made a light sleeper of me under the best of circumstances, on vacation those senses that keep me alert in slumber are heightened, amplified…and the result is that by the time LittleMan makes his approach in the gray breaking light I am already waiting.  Tired, but waiting.

“What’s dawn, mommy?” 
“Dawn is when the sun first starts to come up.” 
“So dawn is morning, because I always look out the window as soon as I feel my eyes open, and if the sun is starting to come up I know it’s morning, and then I come get you.”  
“Well.  Yes.  Coffee…”

In theory, I get a kick out of how my children attack the day.  It’s cool to be a kid, to start every morning with so much promise.  In practice, it’s a little more complicated; as much as we’ve (sort of) come to terms with greeting the dawn, we’re sensitive to the face that our neighbors  might not share our zeal, so there is the matter of keeping everyone engaged in quiet, happy play for at least two hours:

“When can we go to the pool?”  
“Do you think we caught any crawdads overnight?”
“Can we have a treat now?”  
“What are we DOING today?” 

Ummmm.  It’s dawn.  Who’s up for some more Play-Doh?

I have come to think of mornings in Tahoe as sort of mini-days within themselves.  The day-before-the-day.  Suspended time, housebound, with the freedom (and the pressure!) to get a little creative.  I’m not inclined to be a particularly craftsy sort of a mom (you may recall that my Play-Doh skills are largely limited to worms) but on Tahoe mornings we might make oversized Belgian waffles from scratch, or (this week) soft pretzel people (or soft pretzel worms).  I might summon the patience to let Babygirl spend 30 minutes “doing my hair” — which doesn’t hurt at all, what with her liberal use of supermarket combs — or my sous-chefs might stand on stools and summon the courage to cringingly press the food processor button as I indulge in my obsession with homemade salad dressings.  My husband might play four rounds of Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land without a break.  We might just throw the screen-time limits to the wind and let the kids binge-watch Scooby Doo and drink too much chocolate milk.

I suppose none of this sounds particularly extraordinary.  In fact, there is the argument to be made that plenty of moms and dads do stuff like this all the time.  But for us, and for so many families with two working parents, it’s a luxury.  A chance to be totally present, unbound by schedules and activities, in the earliest hours before the tooth-brushing, sunscreening, water-safety battles commence.  It’s a brand-new morning, a clean slate, full of promise.

Bring it, dawn.

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