Two Extra Hours in the Military Parent Day

Sun rises over Golden Gate Bridge.
The sun rises over San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear October morning in 2008. (Petty Officer Kevin J. Neff/U.S. Coast Guard)

One of my colleagues (cough, cough, Amy Bushatz) has long insisted that she is able to work from home and be the Must-Have Parent to two little boys by rising ridiculously early. I've always seen her logic but reasoned that Amy is a morning person and I am a night person.

But I am a night person who has had the good fortune of getting hired for a lot of work lately. My usual systems and schedules haven't allowed me enough time to work. I decided to try Amy's way for a week. (According to Amy, the technical term for this is "split shift.")

Day 1. My alarm went off at 5:17 a.m. and I got out of bed immediately.

(Just kidding. Who sets an alarm for "5:17 a.m.?" I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and hit snooze until 5:17 a.m.)

Upon stumbling into the kitchen on five hours of sleep, I realized that my coffee grinder is really loud -- loud enough to wake up sleeping kids. This whole plan would fall apart if my kids woke up, but I couldn't do it without coffee. I rolled the dice and ground the beans and vowed that for the rest of the week I would do the coffee grinding the night before.

I attempted to work on a writing project until 6:45 a.m. when it was time to wake my children up for school. Later in the day when I reread what I'd written in that predawn hour and 20 minutes, it became abundantly clear that I shouldn't write before the sun comes up. I decided that for the rest of the week I would use the early hours to read and reply to emails and to do other, less mental tasks.

By the time all three kids were fed, dressed and checked into their schools, I had also done two loads of laundry and cleaned the house. I even (after making a second pot of coffee) washed the vacuum cleaner filter! In fact, I had gotten so much work done that when my husband called at 11:30 a.m. and asked me to meet him for lunch, I said "yes" without feeling guilty for skipping out on work. But I did make another cup of coffee after lunch when I felt myself energy lagging.

The after-school hours are usually filled with kid activities. Fortunately, I drive right past a Starbucks on the way to some of them. Must. Have. More. Coffee. The Starbucks visit got me through dinner time, but I was worn out after dinner and still wired from all the caffeine. I stayed up until 11 p.m.

Day 2. I awoke at 5 a.m., not 5:17.

I didn't push "snooze" even once. It wasn't easy to get out of bed, but it wasn't awful either. I started checking email and my social media accounts and then shifted into some not-so-brain-intensive assignments. I saw the sun rise for the first time in (seriously) years. And then I saw it set later that same day. I momentarily wondered if this is what life feels like for farmers.

The rest of the day went similarly to the previous day, but with slightly less coffee. I went to bed around 11 p.m. I was tired, but not miserable.

Day 3. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. WITHOUT AN ALARM!

I usually can't even wake up at 7 a.m. without an alarm. My husband didn't have to be at work until later that morning and he suggested that he get the kids off to school and that I go paddleboarding at sunrise.

It was epic.

By 10:30 a.m., I'd gone grocery shopping, done laundry, and gotten my oil changed, and made serious headway on one of my projects. I was at a 2 p.m. level of productivity and still had most of the day ahead of me. #Winning.

Day 4. The whole plan went sideways.

My 3-year-old refused to go to sleep or to stay in her own bed the night before. "Sleep" (if you could call it that) entailed having an Elsa doll shoved in my face for most of the night, followed by being peed on.

It was not epic.

That 5 a.m. alarm came really early. I think I hit "snooze" seven times before finally getting out of bed. It was a very long day, so long that I abandoned the early wake-up call for Day 5. I had planned to see a group of girls I've known since junior high that night and I didn't want to fall asleep in my cabernet.

But then a funny thing happened: on Sunday night while prepping for the coming week, I set my alarm for 5 a.m.

I'm not sure how long I'll keep this early rising thing up, but I really have discovered two extra, quiet hours in my day, and I'm loving them.

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Family and Spouse Parenting