The baby is screaming.
I sit up groggily and look at the clock: 5:37 A.M. If this were the middle of the school year, I'd already be up, quickly hopping in the shower and putting on my teacher attire -- stylish yet comfortable enough to make being on my feet all day bearable -- before extracting that bouncing bundle of joy from his bed and helping my husband, also a teacher, get him and our other two boys ready for daycare and school.
But it's not the middle of the school year. It's summer. I don't have to get up for work in the summer. Summer is for sleeping in. Or at least it used to be.
I glance in my husband's direction. He's still slumbering. Either that, or he's pretending not to notice the ruckus coming from the room next door.
I flip my pillow and snuggle into its welcoming cool. Summer is for sleeping in, I repeat in my head. Sleep in, dammit, I silently scold the baby as I let my mind wander to what the pediatrician said at our last visit.
"You have three choices," she began. "You can go in there and stand by the crib until he's calmed himself down enough to fall back asleep. You can pick him up, rock him, and wake him slightly before putting him back down. Or you can turn the music up really loud and wait it out. Whatever you choose to do, know this: it's important for him to learn to self soothe."
She was talking about getting him to go to sleep in the evenings, but the same should apply to the crack of dawn as well, shouldn't it? Because summer is for sleeping in, isn't it?
He's my third baby. I know the importance of helping infants learn to self soothe, particularly as it applies to me getting some shut-eye any time during this decade. In fact, I am in no way opposed to the Cry-It-Out method. I love the Cry-It-Out method. God bless Dr. Ferber for coming up with that one.
But the Cry-It-Out method, as well as it worked with my first son, was an utter failure with the last two. And try as I might to ignore the ear-piercing wails coming from down the hall, I can't.
"Grgmph," I mumble. Summer is for sleeping in.
I sit up again, rub the sleep out of my eyes, and make my way down the hall. As I open the door to the baby's room, the putrid stench hits my nostrils and triggers my gag reflex. He's flipped himself on his stomach again and pooped. That's where his poop button is located -- on his stomach. Happens every time.
I pick him up and snuggle his face against mine, rubbing my nose across his and planting morning-breath kisses all over his neck. "What are you doing, little man? Summer is for sleeping in," I coo. For a moment, he smiles. But when I lay him down on the changing table, he begins wailing again, fearful that I'll leave him to rot in his garbage pants for even longer. Great.
I make my silliest faces in an attempt to calm him, which, combined with my bed head, should be one hell of a sight. That's when my other boys come bounding in, yelling the baby's name and yanking on his arm and leg just a bit too hard.
"Volume!" I whisper-shout, teeth gritted, nostrils flared, and lips curled back like a rabid dog. How hard is it to be aware of one's volume? JUST BE AWARE OF YOUR VOLUME, I think.
"I'm hungry," my middle child declares. "Can you make me bressfast?"
"Me too! Me too! ME TOO!" my oldest repeats.
"SSSHHHH!" I remind them and sigh. "Why are you guys up? Summer is for sleeping in," I point out, making my way downstairs with the baby in my arms and two growing men at my heels.
With the baby precariously perched on my hip, I attend to the first order of business: coffee. The boys dig into the pantry, scavenging for their breakfast treats.
"I'm having crackers for bressfast!" my middle child announces.
"No, you're not," I counter, getting the baby's bottle ready as the single-cup coffee maker begins to percolate.
"But WHHHYYYYYYY?" he whines, stomping his foot as he revs up to give me more.
"Stop it!" I chide. "It's too early for this nonsense. Summer is for sleeping in. I should -- we ALL should -- still be sleeping."
I fire up a kid show on the Netflix so I can feed the baby in peace, and when he's finished eating, I begin preparing oatmeal for the older two. I eyeball the cup of coffee still sitting in the maker. Super. It's cold by now, I lament, turning toward the table and setting the bowls down.
"Oatmeal's ready," I announce. No one listens. "I said the oatmeal is ready!" I can't even hide the irritation in my voice.
They come gamboling into the kitchen, knocking the neatly folded blankets off the couch and nearly toppling the baby in the process.
"Slow down!" I lecture. "You have got to learn to slow down."
They eat, flinging bits of oatmeal onto my wood table and floor, and return to the living room, dirty-faced and sticky-fingered. For a moment, I consider summoning them back in to wipe them down, but I know if I do, an argument about their cleanliness will ensue, so I decide I don't care if they get goo on my couch and carpeting. It's too early to care about things like this. Summer is for sleeping in, not arguing with young children about personal hygiene.
I retrieve the coffee cup from the maker. Cold. Just as I suspected. I place it in the microwave and set the timer to 30 seconds. When it beeps, I open the microwave and remove the cup before making my way to the kitchen table and settling into the one seat with the least amount of crumbs and other crud on it.
I set the coffee cup down and hang my head in my hands. Summer is for sleeping in, I echo. I begin thinking about our life pre-kids -- a life filled with late nights and even later wake-up times. No screaming babies, no poopy diapers, and no arguments about what's for breakfast. A carefree life. A peaceful life.
I lift my head and bring the coffee cup to my lips. The liquid is warm. Not cold, but not hot either. A life filled with hot coffee, I add to my list. My gaze shifts to the three boys on the living room floor. Three tiny heads lifted up toward a giant TV. Three tiny bodies made of my eyes, my husband's nose, and a combination of our two smiles. Three beautiful, precious souls, sitting there on my living room floor.
I watch them for a few minutes. Watch them poke each other, tickle each other, and talk to each other way too closely. Watch them glance back up at the TV before returning to their play. Watch them live and laugh and grow.
Summer is not for sleeping in, I think, my throat tightening just a bit as a tear begins to well in my eye. Summer is not for sleeping in, I repeat. Summer is for that thing happening right there on my living room floor at 6:30 A.M. on a hazy June morning. I pause in reflection.
That's what summer is for, I decide, lingering in that moment for a beat longer before pushing my chair back, peeling myself off the gummy seat, and collecting the dirty dishes, my lips spreading into a thankful, knowing smile.