A few weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Stuart Little 2. It’s not my favorite kids movie, but they like it and it has Hugh Laurie in it, so it gets a pass. As we watched Geena Davis make the most implausibly elaborate 7 am breakfast ever, dressed to the nines, natch, and sporting the fakest perpetual smile in fake-ville, Sienna sighed, “I wish you could be like that in the morning.”
I bristled immediately and started to reply sarcastically, “keep on wishing, kid, cause ain’t no mama like that at 7 am.” But as I opened my mouth and looked her way, I realized that she was watching the movie with this wistful little smile on her face that I didn’t recognize. I shut my mouth and watched her for a while before figuring out what it was. It was serenity.
I understood, then, that she wasn’t wishing for the elaborate breakfast or the pearls or Geena Davis. She was wishing she could wake up to a cheerful (or at least not half-asleep and grumpy) mother, who wasn’t rushing to throw cereal on the table between desperate gulps of coffee.
7 am is pretty darn early, especially when you throw a baby who doesn’t sleep reliably into the mix. Most of the kids in modern America wakes up to hasty cereal and parents in various stages of the pajama-to-clothing transformation, swilling coffee and shoving homework folders in backpacks. That was how mornings were in my house, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t scar me for life. And yet, that look on Sienna’s face made me ache a little. She may be the type of kid who needs peaceful, calm mornings to face the day. Or she may just want peaceful, calm mornings before she faces the day. Either way, it only requires some minor changes from me to make that happen. Changes I’d like to make anyway, since I’m trying that whole showing-instead-of-yelling thing with my kids.
The next day, I announced that everyone would make their beds and get dressed before they came to breakfast, and we would all eat together, and that’s how it would be every day from now on forever. I set the alarm early, got up instead of hitting snooze, got dressed, made the bed, and helped the kids get dressed and make their beds.
It was a much more peaceful morning. Sienna said, “this is nice, Mom!” I felt really proud of myself with all my maturity and self-discipline.
That was two weeks ago, and we’ve managed to repeat that performance exactly once. Self-discipline does not come easily to me. I know, I know, it doesn’t come easily to anyone. But I’m just the absolute worst about it. It’s not that hard to get up 15 minutes earlier, make my bed, and change out of my pajamas before leaving the bedroom. It’s actually pretty simple, and the difference it makes in the day is enormous. And yet. And yet. Sleep after the snooze button is too delicious to resist.
I think it’s because I’m absolutely terrible at working with myself. I’m a champion at self-defeat via internal prizefighting. Disciplined Calah will dutifully eat small portions without snacking and have two small squares of dark chocolate after dinner. Disciplined Calah will sometimes even do this for months at a time. But inevitably, just when Disciplined Calah is starting to feel like she can relax a little because she basically owns this self-discipline business, Excessively Excessive Calah will make cookies and eat a dozen in three minutes flat. After the first one, Disciplined Calah will begin to whisper warnings that will grow louder and louder with each cookie, until Excessively Excessive Calah hulks out and roars “I’LL SHOW YOU DISCIPLINE! I BET YOU DON’T HAVE THE DISCIPLINE TO EAT TEN COOKIES AFTER YOU ALREADY FEEL NAUSEOUS! TAKE YOUR DISCIPLINE AND SHOVE IT, YOU MISERABLE TYRANT!”
It’s really making me appreciate how awesome my kids actually are, though. When it comes to self-discipline, they put me to shame. The Ogre will tell them to stop complaining and they’ll just…stop. When the Ogre tells me to stop complaining I start complaining about how patriarchal he is. No matter how much I really want to just shut up already, because even I am annoyed by the sound of my own voice, my inner hulk of excess will not stop until ALL YOUR COMPLAIN ARE BELONG TO US!
Even now, I want to keep typing, but I promised the kids I would close my computer at 3:30 when the girls get home from school, and it’s 3:24. I don’t even know what else I have to say at this point, because there is no pithy realization about how I’m secretly a self-discipline ninja that I’ve stumbled upon. I just want to keep typing in case there might be, and I haven’t found it yet. But. Self. Discipline.