There’s a jaunty little saying which goes something along the lines of:
“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”,
but I far prefer the lesser-known second verse – “But it’ll turn Mummy into a shadow of her former self, propped up by coffee and with only the flimsiest grasp on what day of the week it is.”
There are lots of things that are hard about having young kids. There are so many things that if we made a big list of them, we’d probably go running for the hills about a third of the way through. But the good thing about lots of the Hard Things is that you can take a deep breath and repeat the mantra ‘it’s a phase’ and, by and large, that will be true. The Hard Thing will be hard, you’ll work through it, and before you know it you’ll have moved on to the next Hard Thing and you’ll start repeating the mantra again.
Unless, like me, you have an Early Riser. I think the capitals are justified here. My elder son was not a mere early riser. Here was a child who showed such commitment, such whole-hearted dedication to his cause of starting the day at a number smaller than 5, that even Early Riser doesn’t do him justice. ‘His Most Unholy Highness, The Crown Prince of The Darkest of Dark Hours’ is about right. At the peak of his reign of unsurpassed evil, when we would routinely start the ‘day’ between 4.15-4.45, I believe I may actually have looked into the legal ramifications of declaring our house to be in its own time zone, such was the extent of the misalignment I felt with the rest of the world.
This is the thing people with non-Early Risers often fail to understand. It’s not about being tired. We’re all tired, I totally get that. We’re all legitimately, bone-crushingly tired because little kids are legitimately, bone-crushingly tiring. But when you have an Early Riser you also have to deal with this overwhelming sense of unfair play. You feel like you’re dealing with the same shit as everybody else but that the universe has decided to add a few points to your handicap, just for fun. It feels like a cruelly uneven playing field. And even after weeks have become months have become years and there’s little sign of improvement and really you should be used to it by now, your heart still sinks when you look at the clock and realise, for the umpteenth time, this is it – the day has started.
Just so we’re clear on this, I am using the term Early Riser for kids who regularly and repeatedly wake for the day before, ooh, let’s be generous and say 5.30 am. And it’s often significantly earlier.
An Early Riser is NOT any of the following:
- A kid who toddles in to you at 6 o’clock.
No, sorry. 6 o’clock IS the morning. 6 o’clock can make a thoroughly convincing case for being ‘today’ not ‘still last night’. For over a year we had a reward chart, the aim of which was to get my son to stay in bed until 6.
6 o’clock is a GOAL, not a problem.
- A kid who wakes up early but goes back to sleep with a cuddle
No. The key words here are ‘goes back to sleep’. Give them a cuddle and stop complaining.
- A kid who normally sleeps until a reasonable hour but has started waking early because of the clocks going back/forward.
No. Relax. This is one of the ‘it’s a phase things’. It’ll pass. You’re unlikely to have a Chronic Early Riser on your hands.
However, you know you have a bonafide Early Riser if one or more of the following are true:
- You have cooked a full roast dinner, including gravy (and I don’t mean granules) before 8 am.
- You’ve developed a twitch in response to people suggesting you put him/her to bed earlier.
- There’s a GroClock shaped dent in your wall where you threw it after your kid figured out what sequence of buttons to press to make the sun come up two hours early.
- You can locate, unlock and find CBeebies on the iPad with your eyes closed.
- You get hungry if you’ve not had lunch by 10.30.
- And dinner by 4.30.
- If you manage to stay awake to go out in evening you spend most of the time watching the clock in full knowledge of how few hours you have till you’ll be woken up ready for tomorrow to begin.
- You’ve developed a devastating sarcastic range of responses to use when the parents of non-Early Risers complain about their ‘early starts’ but you keep them in your head because you’re trying very hard not to seem like a martyr.
- If the clock reaches 5.45 and there’s no sign of your child you are genuinely torn between lying completely still for fear of waking them and rushing in to their room to check they’re still alive.
- You have a Top Five list of times your kid has slept until a vaguely civilised hour. These times will inevitably be on days you needed to be up early anyway, usually to catch ferries.
- When people tell you they need to wake their children up for school you assume this must be code for something else because your brain simply cannot comprehend that this could happen in reality.
Anyway. I guess, to be fair, it has been a phase. A seven-year-old phase. My son has now, and has for the past 6-12 months or so, started sleeping more or less reliably until 6am. Occasionally it’s 5.45 but he also throws us the odd 6.15 or even 6.30! On these days, I languish hedonistically in bed and worry that the day’s getting away from me. Of course, his 4-year-old brother still doesn’t sleep through the night, but that’s a story for another day.