I generally am not a morning person.
Until recently, my aversion to quick starts and predawn activities was of no particular concern to me or anyone else. It was a condition to which my family and friends had adapted.
Then, my 11-year-old son, a newspaper carrier, was invited to spend a week at a friend's house in North Carolina and could not, though he had tried, find a substitute for his paper route. Some two dozen or more kids -- ranging in age from 10 to 17 -- had evacuated the neighborhood during the same week.
So that leaves you, Mom, my son said with all the charm and humility he could muster.
Me? No. Positively not, I said as forcefully as I could before switching into my it's-your-responsibility-and-your-problem-and-let's-think-of-how-you-can-solve-it-routine (Parent Effectiveness Training, class of '78).
Where did I go wrong? It's 5:20 a.m. and my alarm clock is ringing. It is still dark outside. Thirty-seven households expect to have their newspaper on the doorstep within the hour and I, a groggy, middle-aged writer and altruistic mother, must get them there. I vow to make a contribution to Zero Population Growth and force myself to get up.
The dog opens one eye, rolls over and goes back to sleep. Grumbling to myself I throw on an old pair of jeans, a sweatshirt and sneakers and down a glass of orange juice. I collect my carefully drawn map of subscribers--regulars in blue, dailies in red, Sundays-only in green--and my two-wheeled cart and tell myself that it's only a week, a relatively short sentence.
The street is cold and quiet. As the sky slowly brightens and I begin to distribute my newspapers, I am aware of some activity . . . a man in a green plaid bathrobe steps out on his porch to accept his paper in person. Good morning, I hear myself say. I wave at a jogger and his gasping basset hound and I pick up the pace a bit.
Suddenly I realize that I am wide awake and feeling (I hate to admit this) energized. I find myself whistling. I pause to say hello to a neighbor who is bringing his trash down to the street. He speaks nostalgically about the times he used to help his youngest when she had the same route. Do you still have everyone over on the cul-de-sac, he asks, and scoops up five newspapers to deliver.
I remember an early-morning scene from "Our Town" and it occurs to me that Thornton Wilder must have delivered papers some time before writing his well-known play . . . mornin' Mr. Munson.
Several weeks later . . . and time, I guess, to confess . . . I enjoyed it. It was a peaceful, stress-free hour, a refreshing contrast to a frenetic schedule of rush-hour traffic, meetings, deadlines, hastily prepared meals, pets, kids and house guests. It is also a great way to keep fit. How often does one have the luxury of jogging on the job to the accompaniment of chirping birds?
And I developed a new sense of the neighborhood. We often travel across town to have dinner with perfect strangers and yet most of us don't even know the names of our neighbors. I began to know not only their names and what time they get up, but also what some wear to bed.
My son, of course, should not know any of this. I'll continue to remind him of the difficulty I have getting up in the morning so he will know what an enormous sacrifice I made.