Errrrr aaah errrrrrr aah eerrrroooooooooo
I pulled the covers up and winced my eyes shut tight. The little bantam rooster had hopped up onto the porch right outside my window to do his crowing. I don’t know why this location suited him in particular, except that he knew it was right outside my bedroom, and felt it his duty to wake me up.
I try not to put too many human emotions on the farm animals, but sometimes they sure seem to deserve it. This particular rooster crows almost non-stop throughout the day, but the location changes. When I’m asleep, he’s outside my bedroom window. When I make breakfast, he’s outside the kitchen window. When I come in from my studio at the end of the day, he’s just outside the door. I’m starting to truly believe he does it on purpose.
One morning I went to the garage to retrieve some things from the freezer and there he was, standing smack in the middle of the concrete, looking at me through the darkness like some bizarre creature from a miniature horror movie. I have no idea how he got in there; both doors were closed up tight. I held the door open to let him out. He walked all the way up to the threshold, paused for a moment, then let out a dramatic crow before exiting.
When he was first learning how to crow, he would practice outside of our line of vision. If we happened to catch a glimpse, he would hide or quickly run away. It took us a few days to figure out which of the seven young chickens was making such a racket. In the early days, it was truly awful – like a trumpet hitting all the wrong notes. I think he knew it, and wanted to practice in private before performing publicly. But roosters sometimes don’t realize how far sound can travel. Once he perfected it, he was suddenly visible – outside every opening we were in.
When my daughter was younger and I was teaching, I used to have to leave far earlier in the mornings than she needed to wake up for school. It was challenging to get her off and running remotely; I mostly just prayed she would wake up in time. She could sleep like a hibernating bear.
She had an alarm clock that she would set on full volume, but it usually took half an hour to register in her unconscious brain that it was time to wake up. Some days, she would sleep right on through. I would call her once I got to work, but if she didn’t hear the alarm, she wasn’t likely to hear the phone, either. It was an imperfect solution. I’m not sure how other single parents handle this sort of thing, but probably on the same wing and a prayer that I did.
She got a bit better once she was in high school, but mostly because she learned how to game the system. She would schedule non-classes for first thing in the morning, or classes with teachers who might let a bit of tardiness slide. One year she took an early gym class and wore her gym clothes to bed each night before to save time. She took a shower at the end of class and put her day clothes on then. I’ll admit I admired her ingenuity, though from a distance.
Once I became self-employed, I was home to help her through her morning – though I quickly learned that by then, her routine had solidified. It was better to just stay out of the way. To say she was grumpy is an understatement; she was a bear in more ways than one. She still used that same alarm clock, and on warm days when the windows were open, you could hear it across the neighborhood. I am certain that when we moved out, everyone breathed a peaceful sigh of relief. Teenagers sometimes don’t realize how far sound can travel.
As for me, I am a punctual sort of person. I’ll choose painfully early over a minute late every time. Watching my daughter stretch the boundaries of time made my muscles tense. I’ve only every been really late once in my life – it was the first day of that teaching job, half a lifetime ago. I still haven’t forgiven myself.
Back in those days, I used to have to wake up at an unholy hour. Classes started early, teachers started earlier, and I lived a good distance away. The week before school began, my alarm clock broke – a trusty clock-radio I’d had for more than a decade. The thick red lines that made up its clunky numbers had accompanied me through high school, then college, then my first real job, but a storm took out our power one night and it never lit up again.
I was grateful to have it fail during the orientation session, a low-key day with a later start time – one my internal clock could accommodate. I quickly bought a new clock-radio and set the alarm for 4:30, checking it five times to be sure the alarm settings were right.
On my first day of school, I awoke on my own at 5:30 – the alarm hadn’t gone off. I grabbed the clock and the instructions in a sleepy haze, trying to decipher what had happened, or hopefully discover that I was dreaming the entire thing. The small red dot that denoted am/ pm was correct for the alarm, but not for the time, and it was apparently opposite the clock I’d owned for so many years.
There I was, on the first day of my new job, calling my colleague in a panic to have her cover my homeroom class. I was so mortified by the whole ordeal that I told her the power had gone out. It was partly true; that’s how the first clock broke. But mostly it wasn’t. I threw on some clothes and drove like a maniac before dawn.
The students hadn’t even noticed. I walked in to see 25 fresh young faces looking to me as if I was worthy of being their leader. How could they not know I had failed so miserably at the one thing I’d unequivocally needed to do, to simply be there? But it was their first day too, just as it was mine. Their day to fumble their way around and get lost and make mistakes, but keep trying – to stay the course and learn what they are taught, even when the lessons are hard. Perhaps I was worthy of leading by example after all.
I watched those same students graduate several years later, and as we sat idly waiting for the bell to ring on their last day, I told them that story. They were about to embark on their own new adventure, and like all new adventures, they faced it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. It broke the tension, and I think helped them realize that we are all human, full of flaws but also possibility. And to simply keep going against the grain of failure is the most important lesson of all.
These mornings, Alan is the one who gets up painfully early. He uses his phone as an alarm, technology being what it is these days. But he barely needs it. He has a back-up system in the form of a Black Labrador named Stout. Stout’s bladder goes off around 5 a.m. every morning, and if Alan isn’t already awake by then, Stout will shake his head furiously so that his ears flap against the sides of his face and make a loud slapping sound. Dogs sometimes don’t realize how far sound can travel. As an alarm clock he isn’t always accurate; some days his 5 a.m. comes earlier than others. But he’s pretty difficult to sleep through, and it is better for all of us if he doesn’t go ignored.
Right before getting out of bed each morning, Alan rolls over and gives me a warm, sleepy hug and a muffled I love you. A bear hug is the best sort of bear in the morning, I have learned. If I’m half awake, I’ll mumble a response. If I’m asleep, his warmth seeps into my dreams. It’s my favorite part of each day, that early morning embrace. The best alarm clock of all.