Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Chelsea mornings

This winter, I took a bit of a sabbatical from school-morning motherhood. With a new night owl under my wing, 6:30 am had become "one last late-night snack time" rather than "wake-up time", and getting our groggy first-grader up and at 'em before seven became a recipe for missing the bus. Thankfully, my husband had wisely planned a three-week vacation around our Christmas birth, with another three weeks of part-time to follow, so he took over steering our oldest straggler from breakfast to bus stop - and bouncing our genuine early bird off to preschool - before heading off to work himself. 

Once the part-time work began, preschool pickup was on me, but being out the door by eleven instead of 7:30 seemed miraculous. I'd listen sleepily to the tumult, secure behind a closed door and stern orders of "don't wake Mommy and the baby," alternately nursing and dozing through the morning rush until first father and daughter - and then father and son - tumbled out the door. 

Sweet silence.

Somewhere around the neighbourhood of 9:30, I'd sneak out of bed and nab my clothes for the morning. I'd take my time in the bathroom, revelling at the luxury of getting up well past dawn in January. I'd potter off to the kitchen, boiling water, slicing oranges, heating bacon fat in our two-egg frying pan. I'd choose tea over coffee to skip the jar of the grinder; beyond the sizzle of the eggs and the tick of the toaster, all was quiet. The novelty was too precious to disturb. 

I'd sit at table, blissfully alone, watching the sun stream out over the oak, catching the steam from my mug, the jewel-pink glint of the caracara. I'd munch away in solitude, with Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" streaming through my head: 

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning
And the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey
And a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch
And stuck to all my senses

Oh, won't you stay 
We'll put on the day 
And we'll talk in present tenses


There was jam on my toast as often as honey, and eggs instead of milk, but the sunlight was spectacular. Before I awoke, the downtown commuter traffic had written itself into parking stalls, so silence reigned, both inside and out. In a busy house on a busy street, this morning stillness was just short of miraculous.

Not every morning played out this way. There were days my eggs were abandoned for the sake of baby's breakfast, where cliff bars were consumed as I sped-walked to preschool pickup. There was one day I unwittingly exchanged a Chelsea morning for granola and coffee on the front steps at noon; the sun was warm and the babe asleep within my coat, so I said "yes" to supervised front-yard play and enjoyed the mild winter weather as much as my son. 

February came, bringing full-time work for Daddy and earlier mornings for Mommy again. Thing Two is on me - both coming and going - so out-the-door time has moved up before nine. My husband still handles Thing One; sometimes I stagger out of bed in time for a hairstyle or a hug, but often I don't see my first-born until the late afternoon brings the school bus. I miss the time together, but not the early or the scramble. 

Thing Three has proved a sound sleeper. We're back upstairs with the rest of the family now; the crib and rocking chair tuck nicely under the eaves of our attic-like master bedroom. My little nesting instinct nudges its approval before going back to sleep. It feels good to pull clothes out of my own dresser instead of the laundry basket I'd parked on the guest room floor. Seven-thirty still feels pretty bleary, but the light's the same now in May as it was at nine back in January. This year, I skipped out on the last half of the pre-dawn morning stumbles

Mitchell describes the mornings that inspired her 1969 lyrics as a very young and lovely time. They had her looking back to her Chelsea apartment in her life before record deals. My own breakfasts of sunshine and solitude had me looking forward; someday some other mother's midnight birth may have this future midwife sneaking late into bed and waking to silence, the rest of my household long gone for school and work. Perhaps I'll greet full daylight with tea and toast and oranges, and marvel that something as needy and unpredictable as a new-born babe could give the gift of breakfast quiet. 

Here in the present, however, my own newborn babe was mainly a catalyst. My gentle entry into the mornings as a mother of three was the brain-child of my haggard husband.  I doubt I would have thought of it myself, let alone asked for it. So thanks, Sweetheart. Consider Mother's Day covered ;)

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