January Morning

Dawn wakes me at seven in the morning to let me know that it is seven in the morning and Rose is awake. I hear her bed creaking in the monitor and her charming warble singing lazy nonsense to herself. I am wrapped in quilts, warm and sleepy, but I need to rouse myself. I clear the cobwebs of dreams and blink and blink and blink my eyes until I can keep them open. The world is blurry without my glasses, and the room is darker than it ought to be at this time of the morning. One side of my body is pinned to the mattress and a small weight is pressing against my ankle. It is Samuel.

He was up several times last night, the latest being an hour-long fidget session in my arms in the rocking chair. At five AM, when I finally thought he was asleep, I slipped him into his crib where he woke instantly, stood up, and loudly demanded his Mama. I offered to continue rocking him. He looked at me impatiently and demanded, “Wock!” So I picked him up and began to sit in the chair again when he suddenly screams and thrashes wildly, legs kicking hard. Returning him to the crib, I remind him that we do not kick and we do not hit because we might hurt someone and if he would like to rock with me, he must be gentle. “Wock!” he says, and we try again with same results. Twice. By now he is furious and won’t come near me. He is standing at the far end of the crib looking at the door. Just as Dawn enters, I suddenly understand. “Walk,” not “Rock.” He wanted me to walk him to Mama.

She tells me it’s five AM and night-shift is over, so I go back to bed while she nurses him.

Two hours later, they are back in bed with me asleep and I have to rouse Rose for school. Dawn is on top of the covers with an extra quilt, lying head to toe against me so she can nurse Samuel on the other breast and still keep him safely wedged between us. He still fidgets in his sleep and we often find him lying with his head on my shin and his legs jimmy-kicking Dawn. I feel sorry for the poor person he might marry someday.

I slowly rise and wedge a pillow under the covers to block him in. My glasses and bathrobe are stationed nearby, and I click off the monitors in mid-warble. Samuel stirs, grunts, a slight pause, a long sigh of released breath, and then he’s asleep again. I close the door silently behind me.

Rose hears my footsteps in the hall, and all singing ceases. I called through the half-open door.
“Good morning, Rose!” I sing to her. “How you doin’ this morn?”

“Papa. I’m still asleep.” Languorous and whine-soaked.

“I’m going to start your bath, bud. I’ll come get you soon.” This is just a warning, a dress-rehearsal. She is not going to fall back asleep, but I still need to coax her from the bed, so a five-minute warning helps grease the tracks.

I flick on the bathroom light, blood-shot eyes squinting at me from the vanity mirror. I turn on the tub and open the door so Rose, across the hall, will hear the water. I pee. I wash my hands and face. I blow my nose and gargle with Listerine. I remove as many foreign particles and obstructions from my body as possible without getting in the shower and drowning myself.

In the dark living room, I raise the window blinds. The snow is gone, obliterated by rain and fifty degree afternoons in January, but I am too tired to have any global-warming angst today. The two driveway puddles are back, and I can see the wind making waves in them, but no spatter of drops from rain. It will come yet. The clouds are thick and dark, blocking the weak morning sunlight.

Before heading to Rose’s room, I pour a large glass of cold water from the filter pitcher in the refrigerator. I’m not sure why, but that one glass of water always seems to restore me, much like Jeeve’s “little pick-me-up” in a P.G. Wodehouse novel. It works. I am reasonably alert. My glasses are functioning. I have a small parcel of patience to gaily spend on my daughter.

When I enter her room again, the strong odor of gerbil assaults my nose. She has no pets, but she is not dry through the night yet, and her urine is quite concentrated. I sit beside her bed in the upholstered rocking chair, careful not to crush her rag doll or teddy bears.

“Good morning, Rose.”

Her eyes are closed, and she doesn’t move, but she does answer slowly. “Papa, it isn’t time to get up. It’s too dark.”

“I know. It is dark. But that’s just the clouds. It’s after seven.”

“Papa, I want to wait until Mama and Samuel are awake before I get my bath.” She has recently realized that she is a girl, and I am not, so Mama is now her favorite. Each morning I must win her over again.

“I know. Sorry, bud. Mama and Samuel are sleeping. It was a hard night.”

She turns her head away from me, and the whining revs up a notch. “I want Mama!” A sob or two. Half-hearted, testing the waters. We might be heading towards melt-down. The sheer number of her tantrums have been diminishing significantly over time, but now when they come, they arrive with little to no warning. Cheerful one minute, raging the next. As if a switch was thrown or a fuse blown, plunging her world into darkness. Mostly this is her problem, but if I see it in time, it is my job to avert disaster. If I fail, I get to pick up the pieces afterwards.

“Do you remember what’s happening today?”

“Yeah, I get to go to school,” she says with as much cheer as if I have cooked her pillow for breakfast.

“Aaaand what elllllse?” My lilting melody clues her in that it’s something she will like. This gets her attention and she looks at me half-smiling and puzzled. She can’t remember at first. And then the switch turns back on.

“Ellie is coming today!”

“Right. You have a playdate after school.”

She is sitting up in bed and the words start to tumble out. They come faster and faster, like a roller coaster just passing a crest in the track. “Papa, you know what Ellie and I are going to do today? We are going to play with my bedtime girls. She’s going to get the light-haired ones because she has light hair, and I’m going to get the dark-haired ones because my hair is darker. And I going to say, ‘Hello, my name is Grrrr!’ And she’s going to say, ‘Hello, my name is Grrr!'”

She roars at her own joke and at the pleasant anticipation of seeing her friend who has been away for a month in Spain. Rose could care less about Spain, but playing dolls with Ellie is the best.

“Well, head to the bathroom and take off your pajamas.”

“OK, Papa!” She’s off like a jackrabbit.

I strip her bed and dump the sheets in a laundry basket, trying to not contact any of the damp parts. In the hallway I find Dawn with Samuel in her arms. Rose’s exuberance has woken them. He is clinging to her nightshirt. Though she usually wakes up easily, Dawn clearly isn’t one hundred percent yet either. She notices the basket in my arms, and stops, but Samuel doesn’t want to stop. “Wock!” he commands her, and when nothing happens, he tries, “Down!” Dawn puts him down and he toddles to the living room toys.

“With all the rain, the basement’s been smelling a bit moldy lately,” she reminds me. “Can you make sure the clothes don’t sit in the dryer overnight? They always seem to smell moldy when that happens.”

I know what she means, but I can’t resist the joke. “Have you smelled these sheets yet? I’d be more worried about the mold if I were you.”

She laughs quietly and then chases after Samuel. “Samuel, buddy, can you come down from there, please.”

“Papa,” Rose calls from the bathroom. “I’m ready!” I drop the basket over the kitchen safety gate and head to the bathroom.


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