I made only one New Year’s resolution this month, and it is this: I will try to arise earlier in the morning, even when I don’t have to.
“That’s not a good resolution for you,” Rick declared. “You should resolve to get more sleep, not get up earlier.”
He’s right that I do need more sleep. Like most mothers of school-aged (or younger) children, I work hard all day to maintain my household, my career and my family’s lives and then greedily hoard the late-night hours for those matters that require my undivided concentration. When dusk falls I always promise myself I’m going to get to bed at a reasonable hour, but once both children are asleep, the temptation to savor the silence rather than to sleep through it usually proves irresistible.
Jerry Seinfeld did a very true-to-life, at least true-to-my-life, monologue about “The Morning Guy” and “The Night Guy.” The Night Guy is the hedonist, always insisting that those few more hours of waking time won’t really hurt anything. The Morning Guy is the working stiff always faced with the reality that it’s really hard to get up after five or six hours of sleep, and Morning Guy makes impassioned speeches to Night Guy about being more reasonable and more considerate in the future, about acknowledging that it’s Morning Guy who will have to pay for Night Guy’s bad choices. But Night Guy laughs it off once evening comes again, insisting that (at least in my case) the relief of having finished an assignment, or the rush of triumph I get after coming up with a new story idea, or even the warm glow of conviviality from an enjoyable email exchange with a friend, will more than compensate for the early morning exhaustion.
But I’m always wrong, of course, and feel lousy after six hours of sleep even if I wake with the knowledge that staying up late the night before allowed me to turn in a story on time or craft a seemingly brilliant first draft of an essay. Or relay to a friend a hilarious story about the kids.
Nonetheless, getting to bed earlier isn’t the focus of my resolution, though it may be the necessary corollary; getting up earlier is. On weekdays I need to arise only about five more minutes than I normally do in order to keep everything running smoothly, and that shouldn’t be too hard to pull off; it’s weekends and other non-school days toward which this resolution is really targeted. I know there are beautiful early-morning hours in which I could be writing, exercising or just enjoying the solitude – indeed, the same solitude that I often stay up until nearly midnight to exalt in – but I am instead sleeping through them. I remind myself of that old faithful rule of thumb that habits take three weeks to instill, and if I could just get over the pain of those first three weeks, the payoff would be indisputable: I’d be an early morning person, greeting the dawn, and two hours later greeting my waking family with the smug awareness that I’d already accomplished precious minutes of creativity, or meditation, or something else important. (Of course, since this resolution really pertains only to weekends, three weeks could take me almost four months to accrue, but I’ll try not to think along those self-defeating lines right now.)
The obstacle is that it’s just so easy for me to justify my submission to the urge to sleep late. I tell myself it’s one of the only self-indulgences that costs neither money nor calories. It harms no one – even sleeping until 8 on weekends, I’m still up as the rest of my family is waking – and it gives me so much immediate pleasure. I also remind myself of the years with babies and young children when sleeping late was almost never an option, and how much I craved it then, and how reasonable it therefore is to give in to this small luxury now.
But then I remind myself of the other side of the coin. A lot of times on weekends or school vacation days when I sleep until 8, I feel stressed and frazzled for at least the next four hours, trying to make up for it. If there’s someplace I need to be in the morning (and more often than not there is, between church on Sundays and the usual social or other commitments on Saturdays), I’m usually running late for it because I indulged in extra sleep. I burden myself with the mental stress of rushing, or leaving the house messier than I’d like, or omitting an important-but-nonessential morning task like walking the dog.
I was already thinking about this resolution at the very end of December when I visited a cousin who just moved to a house on the beach. She told me about her new ritual: running along the water’s edge before sunrise every morning. She leaves the house at 6 AM to do this. And I realized that if I can’t overcome my late-sleeping tendencies, I might never have the experience of running by the beach at sunrise, given that I live inland and if I ever wake near the beach, it is likely to be on a weekend or vacation day. And then, as if I needed an even more tangible omen, as I was taking a quick tour of her new beachside house I spotted on her bedside table a volume by the poet Mary Oliver entitled Why I Wake Early.
We had a lot to catch up on, so I did not stop then to ask her about the book, but later in the week I looked up the title poem myself. It opens like this:
Hello, sun in my face.
And ends, three stanzas later, like this:
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
I’ve heard that waking early is a typical symptom of aging, and I have to say it’s probably the only one I look forward to. In the meantime, I’ll continue to pursue my resolution. On January 1, since we’d been up well past midnight the night before, I didn’t even bother to try (this is perhaps one resolution that by definition should not kick in until January 2). On January 2, I failed dismally, waking at 7 and easily persuading myself that school vacation was almost over and surely I deserved one more morning of laziness, upon which I feel back asleep until 8. But on January 3, the last Sunday of the vacation, I was up at 7.
There are a lot of online articles around this time of year about how not to break resolutions, but unlike glassware, broken resolutions can fairly easily be fixed. I did poorly the first day of my campaign but did well the second, and hope that by writing about it here my success will continue. Night Guy will learn that no one is listening when he says an extra half-hour at the computer late at night won’t really hurt anything. And maybe by summer vacation, I’ll be ready for that 6 AM run on the beach.