Ugh. Every morning, it’s a struggle. And I don’t want to generalise, but I’m guessing that if you’re a parent, you probably have a pretty horrific experience most mornings. It’s a battle of wills between child and parent, more profound than the bedtime ritual, which, you may recall, we’ve got down almost perfectly. The Morning Fight is pressured by the urgency of the School Run, and hampered by a sense of fatigue and anger that is common to the human mindset, just twenty minutes after being roused from blissful sleep.
I suppose that’s the same for many families, although in our case, there are a few idiosyncrasies that I suspect are not that common amongst your typical 2.4 households:
- In our house, it’s usually me who gets Alice up and ready for school. Because we’re a trendy, modern, liberal family living in the Century of the Fruitbat, Sarah is the one gulping down scalding coffee and dashing out the door with toast in her hand. I’m the one who does the morning routine. This is less of a task than it used to be because Alice can get dressed all by herself these days. I put together the breakfast, and after that all I am is her personal coach, bellowing instructions and exhortations to hurry up from the sidelines.
- Alice does not eat cereal in the conventional sense. Most kids will have a bowl of something unnecessarily sugary (and salty), with lashings of milk and mess. Alice prefers to have dry porridge oats and a teaspoon of honey which she then eats, oat-by-oat, until she’s eaten about three cubic centimetres, and then she professes to be finished. Except there are days, which cannot be forecast, where she wolfs down the oats and demands seconds. Recently, the oats have been replaced by multiple satsumas as her chosen brekkie. This is handy because: a) it’s really easy to prepare; b) it’s really easy to tidy away.
You’re not going to like the next two. In fact you’ll probably hate us for it.
- Alice is an only child. So we only have to wrestle one child into getting ready. I rock up to the school gates with my fellow mum-chums, who roll their eyes at their howling multiple charges and regale me with tales of breakfast-table-fights and struggles with four pairs (or more) of feet to be shoe’d. I nod sympathetically, hiding any trace of gloating smugness (I am a natural gloater. Anyone who has played me at chess, Monopoly, or seen me at a pub quiz will know that I cannot accept victory without whispering ‘booyah, motherfucker!’ in my opponents’ faces), and quietly praising Allah that I do not have to be an octopus wrangler/UN peace negotiator every morning. My one child is enough at breakfast time.
- We’ve actually trained Alice pretty well. She gets up at daybreak with comparative ease and very little fuss. That’s not to say that at various points of her childhood we didn’t have a war zone every morning, but Alice has learned that there are other, more crucial battles to fight, and the morning routine is too short and too pressured, and basically not worth the hassle. So I no longer have to force her into clothes she doesn’t want to wear, she just puts on her school uniform. I don’t have to twist her body into a shirt, or pin her to the floor using CIA-approved incapacitation methods in order to get her trousers on. And tights? Jeeeeesus. Tights are the worst. I don’t have to dodge thrashing feet in order to put socks on. I don’t get kicked in the balls if I have to ram shoes onto her squirming feet. Oh, I did use to do all of that, and it was horrible, but I don’t have to any more. Alice just gets dressed in five minutes (usually).
We have bad days, like anyone. We’re only human. She’s quite a laid-back kinda gal, but the other day, Alice decided to have a “go-slow” protest for no apparent reason. Thus, she came down the stairs, one at a time, and proceeded to eat her satsumas veeerrrrrryyyyy sllllooooooowwwwwlllllly. She then was not prepared for school, and then took ages getting her shit together (book bag, PE kit, coat, gloves, etc). I was not happy. But we still managed to get to school before her class had lined up in the playground. In fact, I think she has only been late three times since September.
There is one part of the whole morning ritual which is still a battleground. Alice’s hair. Alice has very fine hair, but for some reason, a night’s sleep results in a head of hair that is more tangled than a scary Disney forest. Consequently, any effort to tame it results in Alice behaving as though she is undergoing torture. First, she eyes the hairbrush with fear, and she does this hilarious “no… n-n-no!” thing and quaking that she has learned from films. Second, when hair is being brushed, she writhes and screams and yells with every stroke. Sure, her hair is properly tangled and has some really incredible knots in it; and yes, I always worry our neighbours are listening and about to call social services, but she does rather make a theatrical performance of it, for example: “YOU ARE KILLING ME!! HELP! STOP KILLING ME DADDY!”
(I imagine the neighbours, who I always think are listening to every row in our house with their ears pressed to the wall, calling the abuse hotline, and stern Men-In-Black agents swooping in through the windows and rescuing Alice. In my interrogation, they shine bright lights into my eyes: “And what precisely were you doing to cause so much needless agony to a seven-year-old?”
I was… brushing her hair.
“Brushing her hair? You BRUSHED HER HAIR?”
It is quite knotty…
“And you’ve been doing this… how often?”
Errrmmm… every morning before school…?
“You unspeakable monster!”
I am arrested, charged, and put on trial. Sarah divorces me in a nanosecond. Alice is taken away from me and is fostered by a loving couple who take her to live on a farm full of lambs and puppies. Meanwhile, I am released from prison-gulag and come home to find “hare-brushng scum liv heer” sprayed on my front door, and a well-organised chanting mob of local parents, including some of the mums from the school run – yeah, thanks a lot, guys – who yell at me through the letter box at night).
In any case, the brushing of Alice’s hair involves quite a bit of thrashing around and shouting. Sometimes we have a bottle of hair-detangler that says it smells of strawberries, but actually smells of pink, but we’ve lost it and Tesco don’t seem to sell it. So the battle goes on, day after day.
Well, it did until recently. One day, fed up with having the hairbrush torture-battle every morning, and nursing a sore back, I gave up, snapped “You do it, then!” and gave her the hairbrush, to which she then finished off with only the merest of self-inflicted whimpering. And so it has become my new tactic, to give her the hairbrush and get her to sort it out herself. This is fine, except her technique is lacking. She does it really slowly and cautiously, which can be irritating if we’re running late. And instead of a perfectly groomed head, she misses bits. Thus, the other day, because we were out of time, I took her to school with the front and sides done, but the back untouched by brush. She looked as though her hair had burst out of her head, and that she was walking round with a tiny blonde cloud following her around.
Actually, and I’m sorry to say this, but on reflection, the morning routine is now pretty slick. OK, so we’ve had some pretty massive rows in order to get there, but once breakfast and grooming is done, I can rely on Alice to get herself together while I disappear to the toilet to get my morning dump on. Then we walk to school, and that is far and away my favourite bit. We have chats or early-morning contemplations, and then it’s the hurly-burly of the morning playground, my chat with the mums, and then off to work. It has taken us years to get here, but I think we’ve got it down.
Actually, it’s not a Morning Fight at all. I’ve got it fucking easy! It’s a Morning Pleasure. OK, it’d be nice to not have the hair-tangles, but overall, it’s quality time with my kid. For the most part it is disciplined and easy. It’s fun and we can do it together, and in many ways I’m not looking forward to the day when she walks to school by herself, but by then it’ll be fine. HA! I’ve got this one licked! BOOYAH, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!
Sorry… sorry… done it again… I know, it’s a bad habit… must stop doing this…sorry…