The Early Riser

At 4 a.m. on Christmas morning, I heard the heavy footsteps of my ten-year-old cross the floor of the hall and then my bedroom. His footsteps woke the dog up in her crate downstairs, and she was barking to be let out just before 5 a.m. Soon, the other boys were awake and ready to open presents. By the time the sun came up, the wrapping paper was already in the recycling bin, and my husband and I were sipping Bloody Marys.

Next year, the number one item in my letter to Santa will be the rare gift of sleeping until 7 a.m.

That’s not much to ask for, is it? Just an extra hour and fifteen minutes once a year?

Every single day of this vacation – and every weekend all year – my ten-year-old wakes up before 5:45 – my usual weekday wake-up time – no matter what time he falls asleep. On a school day, he can sleep late, but never on a day off.

I have tried different strategies from establishing rules to pleading to lack-of-sleep-induced rage. Nothing works. Saturday rolls around and clomp-clomp-clomp across the hall. Then a loudly whispered, “Mom!”

Failed approaches to changing his sleep habits have included:

Plan A: Forbid him to leave his bed until the clock reads 7:00 a.m. I bought him a clock, which mysteriously disappeared. I bought him a second clock with multi-colored numbers. Apparently, an hour and a half is long time for a child to lay awake in bed. Every fifteen minutes or so, I would hear the clomp-clomp-clomp of his footsteps crossing the hall again. “Mom! I’m bored!” Sometimes the second round included tears, “I just can’t do it!”

Plan B: Leave a book in the empty bedroom for him to read in the morning. There, he can turn on a light without waking his brothers. Reading every morning is a great habit. And the empty bedroom is adjacent to his, so those heavy footsteps have a shorter route. But he insisted on letting me know he was awake first. Then back across the hall, and it only bought fifteen minutes. Clomp-clomp-clomp and “Mom! I can’t read anymore! I’m hungry!” And then the barking dog…

Plan C: Tell him to go straight downstairs and be in charge of the dog until 7 a.m. Again, those footsteps and “Mom!” before heading downstairs. And he inevitably lets the dog outside then forgets her while he plays video games. The dog barks and wakes up the entire neighborhood before I run downstairs to let her in. The ten-year-old in charge looks up from his game, “Oh, sorry!”

So I have resorted to Plan D, which may the worst plan of all. Break the most basic rule of raising a good sleeper. Let him snuggle. You would think that would do the trick. Doesn’t every child, invited into Mom and Dad’s bed, fall immediately back to sleep? Nope. Whether it’s 4 a.m. or 6 a.m., he squirms. He sighs. He scratches numerous itches. He loudly whispers odd facts that have been rattling around in his brain. He has even had the nerve to inform me on occasion that I smell bad.

When the boy is up, he’s up for good.

So I ask, what’s to be done for a weary mother whose great wish is to sleep until 7 a.m. on a Saturday? It cannot be the impossible dream? Is there a Plan E?

I am already teaching him to tip-toe…


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