There I was last night, cleaning up, checking the computer, and setting out my breakfast stuff, when it started to dawn on me. Why, I wondered, was I in such a rush to get to bed by my usual time, when I knew I didn’t have to go anywhere in the morning?
For those not keeping score at home, I’m in the middle of a prolonged house arrest, ever since my stairs betrayed me and broke my left foot in two places. Recent x-rays revealed good and bad news – my broken fifth metatarsal is all lined up to heal properly, but it can’t be used for another six weeks.
So here I am, knocking around at home, nowhere to be but here except for those exhilarating afternoons when my husband inserts me into the car for a foray into the Real World of medical clinics, drug stores, or maybe a trip for groceries.
Why am I so eager to get to bed on time? Old habits die hard. I’ve been rising by 6:00 for work for so long that I am incapable of sleeping in. Even on trips to cabins in the mountains, I rise with the sun. Getting up just as the sky begins to lighten, standing on the deck of somebody else’s cabin, watching the white clouds swirling in the sky and in my well-creamed coffee, is the best way I can think of to greet another day So I don’t mind turning in early.
I never was one to burn the midnight oil, though Lord knows I tried.
First came slumber parties. One thing I love about my collection of Facebook friends is that they include grown women who, long ago, came to my house for a night of lightly transgressive behavior – staying up late playing records, dishing gossip, ironing each other’s hair, taking incriminating pictures, drinking caffeinated soda, eating bags of nacho-flavored Doritos and glazed donuts, calling and hanging up on boys, and generally ensuring a state as close to a hangover, come morning, as most good-girl thirteen-year-olds can manage.
Sometimes I only pretended to sleep, so I could listen in if anyone said something about me. Most times, though, my fakery turned into real slumber. This was just as well, as my mother expected me to make at least a token effort at cleaning up, after my friends had waved their exhausted goodbyes.
In college, I soon learned that staying up all night was cool. This was more than burning the midnight oil; this was burning the candle at both ends, whether to blow through that due-tomorrow research paper, hang out with friends making messes with cornstarch and water (don’t ask), or organize a campus strike over one grievance or another. (When a group of us decided to protest the war in Vietnam, my roommate and I stayed up baking cookies, having missed the detail about the hunger strike. Oops.)
That roommate and I were so compatible we had no problem hitting the hay at the same time, even putting the same side of the same vinyl album on her stereo every night so we could fall asleep to Tom Rush’s soothing baritone. Once she moved off campus, though, I decided to do this bold, brave thing, this Staying Up All Night. I tried, I really did. Mt. Dew? Check. Cheetos? Check. Plenty of homework? Check. Electric typewriter? Check, but on second thought, maybe too annoying to the other girls down the hall. (You kids with computers have no idea what a racket students used to make during finals week.)
I made it until 2:00 a.m. Feeling like death warmed over, I threw in the towel, pulled back the covers, shut off the light. I didn’t bother to wake up Tom for a song.
Jobs, more classes, and the advent of motherhood kept me from trying to mess with my circadian clock again. The last time I stayed up to watch the ball drop in Times Square was on December 31, 1999, just to see if there was any credibility to the Y2K nonsense. As soon as I knew things were okay in Australia, I stumbled off to bed.
Even before my son and his wife brought their twin daughters home from the hospital last August, those girls were messing with their clocks. The mama-to-be was exhausted, and my son, like any good husband, suffered sympathetic sleepiness. I learned not to call much later than 7:00. After the babies came home, I continued sending warning texts, asking, “What would be a good time to call?” Now the answer was likely to be, “Any time; we’re always up with one or both of them.”
Now that both mom and dad are back to work, though, the girls have organized themselves into a once-a-night feeding that allows everyone to face the dawn with at least one eye open. It will seem like no time at all before there are twin teenagers in the house, cajoling their parents into curfews that creep later and later.
As for me, I don’t mind being an early bird. Even when I was on a semester-long sabbatical from my job, I rose and slept at hours my factory-bound father would have approved of. Driving early, I’ve seen pheasants walk down our city streets. Foxes, owls, and deer get up early, too.
So if you prefer to turn in early, you’re not missing much. This time of year, the astonishing harvest moon is out soon after the sun sets and the stars are thrown across the sky. No need to stay up all night. Just go outside after supper, and look up.