To be a night owl in a household of early birds was not a role I especially enjoyed. Nor, for that matter, did anyone else. Frustrated by my apparent inability to rouse myself in the morning - and by turns perplexed and annoyed by my indifference to this little failing - my parents racked their brains for a solution.
My mother's solution was obvious: Get her up at all costs! Languishing in bed on a school morning was not to be tolerated. My father, ever the softie, was far less rigid. Perhaps he was even a late convert to the early-riser clan. I appealed to him to hold Mom at bay.
For a while, he did. Ever the practical one, he trudged to the store, returning with the perfect clock. It was the latest thing, he proclaimed with pride: an electric clock radio, complete with luminous dial. Now I could awaken to the soothing sounds of my favorite FM station - a preteen's dream come true - while lying serenely in the dark. I could ease myself into consciousness.
Trouble was, it didn't work. Instead, music eased itself into my dreams. So Dad came up with another solution. He lent me his travel alarm, a nifty-looking gadget with a hideous soprano ring. Setting it 10 minutes after my clock radio, he proclaimed the problem fixed.
And it was, until I learned to turn it off in my sleep. Enter Clock No. 3. It was a big affair, round and bold, with a benign-looking Snoopy on its face. But that was a sinister disguise. It had the meanest set of bells I'd ever heard. This one, announced my dad, would sit across the room, set after the little travel alarm.
And so began our pas de quatre, the clocks and I. First the music, then the shrill soprano, and finally the monstrous bells that forced me up and out of bed. But I didn't stay out.
Retreating, moaning and whimpering, to my comfortable bed, I told myself (and my parents) that such a rude awakening deserved five more minutes - just five more minutes - of uninterrupted repose.
My mother bought none of it. And so she became the fourth alarm, striding purposefully to the window by my head and yanking the shade cord firmly in her clenched fist. If she tugged it just right, she could get it to make a few noisy revolutions at the top. And if I languished, she discovered, she could evict me quickly by stripping off my quilt.
I am sorry to say that this little ritual occurred on many a morning, for many a year. And in college I even had the deserved misfortune to have an early class every single semester.
With the birth of my eldest daughter, however, I finally was rewarded for my forbearance.
I used to joke that she liked Johnny Carson as much as I did, since she rarely closed her eyes before 2 a.m.. At last I had a night-owl companion! How delightful, I thought, to move through life with another in the exact same rhythm.
But then came day care and school, and a seismic shift in my initial enthusiasm. I had a "mini me" as a project, a fledgling night owl with the same lack of interest in early-bird conversion. I had my work cut out for me. What I didn't count on was a helper.
She came in the form of our oldest cat. I would like to say that she acted out of altruism, but anyone with cats knows that was probably not the case. Unfettered by such a human motivation, she responded to my little problem in her feline way: a smooth mixture of practical action and narcissism. She wanted us both up - and out of bed, thank you very much - so she could have her breakfast by dawn. No lollygagging would be tolerated!
Now, every morning, my little alarm clock greets me with a purr and a nudge. If that is not effective - and it usually is not - she ups the ante with a sandpapery kiss on the cheek. When that doesn't work, she takes drastic action, sharpening her claws on my pillow and my scalp. Up I get!
Then she slinks calmly into my daughters' room, heading straight for my little night owl. Up she walks, back and forth from feet to head.
For Kristie, the cat keeps her claws sheathed (perhaps a modicum of altruism lurks in her after all), but to tolerate further sleep is not in her nature. Pacing quickly, purring and nudging as she walks, she pries my daughter from slumber.
I now rise before dawn, sometimes even without feline help, and relish my best time of the day. I have come to know the serenity that comes from quietly watching the sun explode above the horizon in the early morn. I can discourse enthusiastically about "getting my day started early," and have been known to get up very early to do so. I find both joy and productivity in the first hours of the breaking day. I have become what I rebelled against so many years ago.
After decades of night-owl nesting, I have finally been converted to an early bird.
And to think it took a cat to do it.