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  • Writer's pictureMichael Pearce

Whooo Wants to Get Up Early?

My son Zach is an acorn that didn't fall far from the tree. We both tend to (and like to) stay up late, and neither one of us is a morning person. Our nocturnal tendencies make us night owls. Without alarm clocks and with shades drawn, our instinct is to sleep in.

2020 solidified our sleep-wake cycles. We owls followed our natural circadian rhythm during the 14-month hiatus from school to the extent that 1 A.M. bedtimes weren't all that rare. With little to do outside the home during the lockdowns, we let Zach sleep in and follow his own body clock.

There is something delightful about ignoring clocks. It is freeing to let your brain decide when it's sleepy and when it's ready to start a new day. For me, putting away alarm clocks reduces stress. As people do when on vacations, we didn't pay much attention to the time during lockdowns; instead, our body clocks dictated our sleep-wake cycles. And it sure felt good.

When school resumed after 14 months, it was difficult to return to scheduled bed times and early wake-ups. During the first week back, the chirp of the alarm clock awakened me with an unpleasant jolt: I was sure that I had just fallen asleep when that horrible beep assaulted my ears.

Waking Zach was an even harder task. No amount of sunshine, tickles, or coaxing roused him. He looked so sweet and content, which made pulling him out of bed an unpleasant task.

Six weeks passed, and we pretty much got back to our pre-2020 school schedule. Little by little, day after day, we became tired earlier and earlier. Early wake-ups were still feeling unnatural, but it did get somewhat easier.

Then there was a two-week break before the extended summer session, also known as ESY on the IEP.

That first Friday night of the break, well, we were tuckered out. But when Sunday came along and the brain said you don't need to get up early tomorrow...we were right back in night owl mode faster than you can say Jack Robinson.

Of course, it didn't help that fireworks were being set off before, during, and after the Fourth of July. Some of those loud explosions were happening after midnight in our neighborhood, and if you can sleep through that, please tell me your secret.

When ESY began, we once again faced the arduous task of forcing an early bedtime and near-dawn rising. When I entered Zach's room that first ESY Monday morning, his eyes were shut tight and his mouth was open. When I kneeled next to the bed to awaken him, his left eyelid parted ever so slightly and glanced at me. Then it closed, and Zach was back to Zzzzz's.

"You have school today, bud," I whispered. A subtle nod "no" was the reply.

It took a lot of nudging and even physical lifting, but out of bed he crawled like a bear after hibernation. I walked him down the hall, feet shuffling, and he stood by the bathroom sink, where, I swear, he fell back to sleep standing up.

When I say we are not morning people, what I mean is we don't resemble jack-in-the-boxes when the sun signals the start of day. We're more like sloths in molasses. We need time to adjust to being awake. It's not about being grouchy or needing a shot of caffeine. Our eyes just require more time to open fully.

I struggle every day with waking him early when I know he wants and needs more sleep. Forcing an even earlier bedtime does not work. It actually backfires because it then takes twice as long to fall asleep. Like mother, like son.

Some say we should follow the same schedule every day - school or no school. Early to bed, early to rise. While I see the logic in that, I simply can't do it. I am not wired to do it, and neither is Zach. And naps...well, fuhgeddaboudit.

Realistically, there are only a few reasons to pull him out of bed. And going to his beloved school is at the top. If he was in a program like he used to be, which overlooked his strengths and separated him from classmates using cardboard box towers (I kid you not), then we'd be sleeping in all the time.

But this school, with their dedicated and loving staff, has been one of the best things ever in his life. And I will gladly forklift him out of bed for it. In fact, when I whisper it's a school day! no matter how sleepy-headed he is, the corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly.

So, although we don't fly out of bed at the crack of dawn, we do inch toward each new day respecting our own unique pace. Gee...wasn't there a story or something about some turtle challenging some rabbit to a race...? Just how did that end? 😉


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