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Waking with a Smile

When my alarm went off, I contemplated hitting snooze, then I remembered that I was making time for myself, and it was important. I was important.

“I love that you are always happy to see me in the morning,” my son Evan said a few years ago, “That’s one of the reasons you’re such a great mom.”

I won’t even pretend that I didn’t love that honest compliment from my firstborn. It made me feel appreciated, as though my efforts had been noticed. Is it wrong to categorize smiling at my children as effort?

Something that requires actual work? Well, when my child is crying at 2:00 in the morning with a fever and an earache, and I still have to get ready for work at 5:00, then yes. Appearing joyful, even when looking at the beautiful children I’ve created, can require effort.

Fortunately, though, that situation was the exception and not the rule.

For the most part, my first eight years of motherhood were a pretty great balance of teaching English to teenagers during the day and playing with my children at night, on the weekend, and throughout the summer.

Although both roles in my life kept me busy and were at times quite stressful, each provided me a reprieve from the other. So, despite being exhausted from a rigorous schedule of teaching, grading, and mothering, it was still easy to wake up each day and greet my children with a smile.

Then came COVID-19, which resulted in my children learning from home while I taught from home. Every. Single. Day. There was no real change in our routines, no opportunity to go into work for a few hours per day, or even to escape for a while at a local coffee shop. We were together from daybreak until dusk for every lesson, every meal, and every activity.

We fared well in the beginning, but after a couple of months, the lack of time to myself began to take a toll. I noticed I was becoming more short-tempered and snappish. I needed to figure something out quickly, and my options were limited. I still cared about starting each day fresh and greeting my children with a smile, but it was hard to do without even a moment to myself. I knew I couldn’t actually leave my home in order to get some alone time, so I decided I had to create my own solace within my living space, my own personal coffee shop experience.

The following Monday, I set my alarm (even though I didn’t have to) for two hours earlier than my children typically woke up. When my alarm went off, I contemplated hitting snooze, then I remembered that I was making time for myself, and it was important. I was important.

I went downstairs, brewed some dark roast coffee, poured in a splash of milk, and brought it back to my bedroom in one of my favorite mugs. I opened the blinds so I could catch a glimpse of our hawk and some other visiting woodland creatures. Then I got back in bed with a book and enjoyed my coffee.

For the rest of the spring and summer, I started my day that way: in bed, with a book and a mug of coffee. It was a simple solution but very effective. When my children woke up, I was ready to deal with breakfast battles and daily disasters. When I was in the middle of cleaning up a lunch mess, combing tangled hair, or explaining to my daughter that unfortunately, clothes do not grow with you, I felt calmer and more composed.

I knew I could look forward to the next morning and my hour or two of reading time in bed. For the first time in my life, I look forward to my alarm because it’s ringing just for me. Maybe next week I’ll set it even earlier, and I know I will smile when I hear it.

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