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in the wee hours

October 14, 2010

I got up early on Monday morning. So early that it was more than three hours before I watched the sun rise.

By then I was halfway across the state, on my way to teach math for three hours, starting at 8 a.m. Math was never my best subject. I stayed up late the night before, talking formulas and explanations with my sister, the visiting math whiz. Then I slept four hours before the alarm went off and I had to get upright, caffeinated and presentable. It hurt.

Getting up in the middle of the night was a little easier when I had a little baby calling. But that rush of hormones or adrenaline or whatever it was that propelled me out of bed for a year doesn’t live here anymore. The baby is two and a half, and in the middle of this night, he was sleeping and I was jealous.

Don was awake, though, making the coffee and showing solidarity. I felt a little guilty about it, less because he was losing sleep than because if I found myself in his position, I’d probably spend it sleeping. But that’s just the kind of person he is – and the kind of person I am probably not. (On the brighter side of my character flaw, I rarely woke him in the middle of the night when Jack used to wake me. I was the one with the goods, after all, and why should we both stay up from 1-4 a.m. watching Will Smith movies and becoming sleepless lunatics?)

I’d like to say that the world looks a lot different to me when I greet it so early in the morning. (Last week, when I was up at 4:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, I imagined it looked a little special because I was living a lyric from a beloved Counting Crows song. Then I remembered the next line – It doesn’t get much worse than this. Yikes. Maybe not.)

Mostly it just looks dark. But being alone, awake and on the road at 4 a.m. feels different. On Monday, somewhere in the quiet, the solitude and the high school destination, I could remember more easily what it was like to be earlier versions of myself. I saw dim glimpses of small, sleeping towns and wondered what mine must look like to drive-through foreigners. I listened to music I love, thought about people I love and have loved, wished I could defeat the need for bathroom breaks. When the sun finally rose over an otherwise empty highway, I imagined I could drive forever and do anything. Except defeat the need for bathroom breaks.

But I just marveled, and eventually I parked the car and talked for a few hours about 3-4-5 right triangles, probability and word problems. Afterward I drove back, glad that I’d come in such darkness that parts of the trip looked new. The day wasn’t over: I met my husband at home and then drove another hour with him to teach another group of students for two hours. By 9 p.m. I’d been in two classrooms a couple hundred miles apart for a combined five hours, and in the car for more than that. I’d been through 30 towns, one take of gas and two meals from McDonald’s.

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in one day when you get up at three in the morning. Not that I recommend it – you can’t easily catch up on lost sleep, you know. (Says who? Says Scientific American, USA Today, and The National Sleep Foundation, among others.) I spent at least a quarter of my workday yesterday with my head on the desk, fantasizing about Ibruprofen and a good neck rub.

But on Monday, my hours of lost sleep found me. And the sunrise. Cheers to that.

What’s the earliest you’ve started your day? Favorite place to be alone?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2010 7:02 pm

    This is a lovely reflection, Leslie, and one I’m not sure I would have the patience and attention to make. (Definitely not a morning person.)

    I do, though, deeply appreciate alone time these days in whatever form it comes. I find myself secretly looking forward to a doctor’s appointment 90 minutes away next week – three hours of me time, my music, maybe even a solo stop for lunch. Bliss.

  2. October 14, 2010 8:48 pm

    I love quiet early mornings… (even though I am NOT a morning person…)
    That photo is gorgeous.

  3. October 15, 2010 1:02 am

    “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish… when you get up at 3 in the morning.”

    Yes indeed! I actually rose at 3am for many years, not entirely by choice, but the peacefulness and the sharpness of my capacities at that hour. Especially with little ones in the house. It was heaven. And watching the sun rise!

    Years ago I was a night person, and because of that period of time in the 90s, I morphed into a morning person. I still love when I wake well before sunrise. I go straight to writing. (And coffee.) It’s bliss.

    GORGEOUS picture, by the way.

  4. October 15, 2010 12:38 pm

    Goodness, I don’t know. I’ve probably been up very early by choice to head out on a road trip. And most mornings I’m up at 5:00 and out the door by 6:00 which to some is ridiculously early. And as hard as it is, I admit there is something magical about the early morning darkness. I think I love to hate it.

  5. October 15, 2010 9:59 pm

    I’m terrible at early. Really, really bad. My sister gets up at 4:30 every day to be at work by 6 and it makes me nauseous to even think about it.

  6. October 18, 2010 3:07 am

    I used to wake up at 4 am to be to work by 5:30 for a year or so before I went away to college. It was a dream. I loved getting up early and leaving work early. Except, I didn’t get too much sleep that year. I was far too anxious that I would sleep through my alarm clock.

    Fast forward to now. I do not wake up early. My husband is a night person and has transformed me into that. As much as I’d love to go to bed early and wake up early, he doesn’t get home until after 11 pm and this is the only time we get to be with each other sans children.

    But, that will change. Eventually.

    Lovely post, Leslie. I hope you are well and felt very happy to see this post in my reader!

  7. October 21, 2010 4:56 am

    I am up at 5:15 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. for morning runs. I love running in the dark and watching the sun rise. I like this post Leslie and glad you had a moment to appreciate what nature can offer in the hours of silence.

  8. October 22, 2010 8:32 pm

    For me, the question is probably better posed as, what’s the latest you’ve fallen into bed? I have never, ever been a morning person, so I cherish the late-night hours when the house is quiet, the kids are quiet, and I am alone with my thoughts and the moon. Sunrises are great, but I prefer to see mine right before my head hits the pillow. =>

    PS: How did you make it through that day??


  1. early morning, late night « Five to Nine

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