I’ve never been that fond of the mornings. I’m fond that they arrive or that I’m alive to live another one. But my brain works best after 10 am.
Of course, once Lucy arrived, that stopped mattering. When you’re single, or married, you figure out all your own intricacies. You realize when your peak hours for creativity are, or the music you like to listen to when you’re a touch melancholy and enjoying the feeling, or spend time doing the dishes and dreaming with your hands in the hot water. There’s a certain delicious thrill to all this, the chance to know the rhythms of your days so well. And before Lucy arrived, if you had asked me, I would have said: “I sleep until 9, if I can. Even if I’m awake before that, there will be several cups of coffee, silent time on the couch with my nose in a book, or a lot of staring out the window before I’m of any use to someone else.”
Oh those days feel like long ago.
You never could have told me once that I would be sitting on the living room floor, by a crackling woodstove, taking photographs of my husband carving pumpkins for our daughter, who was drawing on the couch. It was 7 am and we had all been up for nearly an hour.
Lucy loves the mornings. She’s a night owl, like us. Given the chance, she would stay up until 11 nearly every night. (We don’t let her stay up that late. Most days, she has a full and lovely day, then we read her to sleep in her bed by 7.) However, no matter how late she is up, she is up at 6:30. On the dot. It’s better than last year, when she woke up at 5:30, no matter how tightly we taped her blackout curtains to the walls of her bedroom. 5:30. Danny and I have taken turns being tired or sort-of– better-rested, every other day, for years now.
Still, a strange thing happened after months of blurry, bleary-eyed mornings. I started to enjoy that time so early in the morning.
Mostly, it’s her. She wakes up joyful. She wakes up wanting to bounce on our bed and tell us her stories immediately. Lu loves the mornings because it’s another day to be alive. And that might mean swimming! Or a trip to the beach! She’ll see her friends! There will be new books at the library! I’ve rarely seen such sustained joy in a child.
Lately, all she wants to do in the mornings is draw. The three of us sit at the kitchen table, pieces of paper in front of us, and we sketch flowers or bright suns in the sky or purple spirals that tilt toward the edge of the page. She draws faces, lopsided faces with enormous eyes and surprised mouths. And then she tells us stories of every person festooning that quickly crowded page.
So last week, when we woke up early again, she spotted the two pumpkins she had picked herself at one of our favorite farms on the island. Both of her preschools took field trips to the farm, where kids picked carrots out of the earth and ate them, then scrambled up hills of dirt toward the tree swing. Lu was so happy those days. When she spotted the pumpkins, she told me about those afternoons again. And then she insisted, “Mama, we have to make jack o’lanterns now!”
And so she began drawing faces on the pumpkins.
I remember that feeling when I was a kid. Waiting for an adult to cut open the pumpkin, feeling the slippery slime of pumpkin seeds and flesh against my fingers, and waiting for the moment it would all be clear. I’m pretty sure I dropped all those pumpkin seeds on newspaper too. Probably the comics.
I wonder, often, what Lucy will remember of these days.
By the time Danny had carved the first pumpkin, I had finished drinking my first cup of coffee. By then, I could see the light of the morning, instead of my desire for a little more sleep. Truth be told, I’ve forgotten the feeling of waking from nine hours of interrupted sleep. I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep that much again.
But if I slept that much, I would miss these moments. Danny in his pajamas and black shoes, sitting on the floor cutting out a ragged circle on the top of his pumpkin, wanting to make his daughter happy again. Lucy leaning against our ratty, comfortable couch, allowed to use a Sharpie for the first time, her goggles always near. The liquid light falling in through the kitchen window, bouncing against the sink that needs cleaning, landing on the pumpkin seeds.
Lu saw them, ran her hands through them as I ran water in the colander. She stopped to feel the cold, slither the pumpkin flesh away from the seeds the way I taught her. “Mama, this is so cool!” she said as she jumped up and down on the step stool. I grinned as I pulled a baking sheet down from the baking rack. Wait until she tasted the roasted pumpkin seeds for a snack after school.
We’re nothing like perfect around here. The tile in front of the woodstove needs sweeping. Our couch is stained with a Sharpie marker now, on top of the multitudes of sags and remnants of food and coffee spilled on it before. Our pumpkins look pretty primitive: scary or happy.
But there’s a warm fire going in the woodstove as I write. Danny has been tending it all day and he knows how to give it just enough air to have embers in the morning, when we’ll be up early with Lucy again. We’ll sit on that rumpled couch and read a stack of books with her, coffee nearby. And when we look at those scary-faced or happy-faced pumpkins, festooned with fanciful drawings in Sharpie on the back, we’ll smile.
She makes the mornings worthwhile.
ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS WITH SMOKED PAPRIKA
This is such a simple recipe that I feel a little foolish even writing it out. But I bet a number of you have pumpkin seeds sitting around after cutting up pumpkins with your kids. Maybe you’ve never made them before. There’s a first time for everything.
2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Preparing to roast. Heat the oven to 425°.
Put the pumpkin seeds in a large bowl. Drizzle the oil over the seeds. Sprinkle the smoked paprika and cumin over the seeds, along with a good pinch of salt. Toss until the pumpkin seeds are coated. Pour them onto a baking sheet.
Roasting the seeds. Slide the baking sheet in the oven and roast, tossing them around on the baking sheet occasionally, until the pumpkin seeds are evenly roasted, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool them before eating.
Makes 2 cups roasted pumpkin seeds.