Opinion | No sleep for the tired
In this week’s Mother of Invention, the author tries to turn into a morning person in search of solitude
This morning at 6.15, just 10 minutes after I had dragged myself down to the kitchen, made a strong cup of coffee and switched on my computer, I heard the pitter-patter of small footsteps coming in search of me.
I am not a morning person.
Briefly, in my 20s, I managed a good few weeks of going to 6.30am spin classes but then I stopped and it was glorious and the 6.30pm classes were just as effective and I didn’t spend the rest of the day wanting to scratch my eyes out.
Other than those misguided weeks, I used to write late into the night and wake up at 9am in time to beat rush hour by being after it.
Then I had children, and children, it turns out, like to wake up early, filled with enthusiasm and excitement about the day ahead. My two children, born just 16 months apart, seem determined to maximize their combined awake times to minimize our quiet alone times (in this covid era of little to no childcare help).
My three-year-old dropped her nap when she was 2 and my two-year-old now seems determined to follow suit. The older one likes to fall asleep by 9 and wake up at 8, the younger one likes to fall asleep by 10 and wake up at 9. This means that from 8am to 10pm, I have in my orbit at least one person at knee height shouting about squirrels and wanting to know why trains are shaped like trains.
When the house suddenly goes quiet at 10pm, I tend to do what most (relatively) new parents do, I look at pictures of the kids from the day and marvel. At most, I watch a few episodes of Selling Sunset to silence my mind. By 10pm, after a full day of working and parenting, my brain is fried and can only do things that require minimal engagement.
But I need, I crave, quiet hours to myself with a functioning brain to read the news, to stare at the sky and think about the world, to let memories and dreams float in and out and spark inspiration, to be an adult, alone.
So, I decided recently to start waking up earlier.
“I’ll do it incrementally," I said to my husband, who ignored me. He’s one of the lucky few who can’t watch more than a minute of any reality show and is able to switch off from the day and turn to his cerebral hobbies and interests the minute the children go to sleep and he switches off from his work.
“I’ll be realistic and start by waking up at 6 and then gradually make it 15 minutes earlier every week until I’m waking up at 5. Maybe I’ll go for a bike ride. Or download Duo Lingo."
At 6, when my alarm rings, I want to do nothing but stay in my warm bed and keep sleeping. But, wisely, I left my phone on the other side of the room so I am forced to get up and turn it off and once I do that, I decide to at least go wash my face and see how it goes. After washing my face, I am on top of the world and I smugly see endless creative opportunity. Maybe I will do a Sudoku while I drink coffee to get my brain moving, I think to myself. Or read a few lines of poetry before tackling my own writing.
I have not been alone like this in many months. Working from an inside room while my children paint with my husband in the playroom is not the same as this true silence, this solitude.
But then the footsteps. They are getting closer. Then they turn off to the playroom. I hold my breath. The footsteps change course and I hear them approaching again. I bet she can smell the coffee.
I see a little person with dishevelled hair and dinosaur pyjamas standing near the kitchen door.
“I was looking for you and you weren’t in your bed."
I scoop her up and decide I will do that Sudoku at night, or in a few years. For now, we will both sit together and look out of the window and drink our milk and our coffee and I will make up names of all the birds she asks about.
Diksha Basu is the best-selling author of The Windfall and Destination Wedding.