those early mornings

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
Kosher salt

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.

21 comments on “those early mornings

  1. Kristin

    One of my favorite things about being a mother is how my kids’ pleasure in things made me enjoy them so much more. Another is how they notice & delight in things that I wouldn’t have noticed if they hadn’t pointed them out. Sigh…enjoying the trip down memory lane since mine are 16 & 18.

  2. Cari

    It is so fun to “be a mother” vicariously through you guys. This story is just touching! While writing the recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds out may have seemed simple and silly I never would have thought of paprika and cumin! I can always use another way to use my authentic Hungarian Paprika and will give this a whirl. I just wish I didn’t have to touch those slimy seeds. I have some kind of really weird skin reaction to any kind of pumpkin or squash. When ever I handle either without gloves my hands get stained and then my skin starts to get really tight. Eventually I can’t bend my fingers and for the life of me I can not wash off the slime which has become hard and dry. It takes all day with rigorous attempts to scrub the stuff off for it to finally release, start to crack and start coming off. I try to keep medical gloves on hand but whenever I want butternut squash which seems to be the worst I find myself out of gloves. Then I have to decide, is this worth it? Anyway, great story Shauna!

  3. Laura

    I sent you an email but you sent one back saying you had too much email to keep up with it all…I think your photos are loading slowly because they are sized too large for the web. If you want to send me one, I will check it and let you know. I love your blog and work. Laura

    1. shauna

      Laura, there’s an intermittent problem with the server we are on. It’s actually not the size of the photos. We’re in the midst of a redesign, and we’re switching hosts, so it should be done soon. Thanks!

  4. Stephanie

    I agree: there’s something magical and secret about cozy and dark early mornings — especially at this time of year. I’ve just gone back to working in radio with a shift that starts somewhere between the middle of the night and the morning but I’m finding the joy — once again — in already being awake as the rest of the world wakes up around me. We count our blessings as they come.

  5. Vijitha

    Hello Shauna
    I am so glad that I found your blog. I know what fun to be a mom. My little one is 23 months today and we have decorated the Halloween and he learned to say the word “Halloweeniii”. He is so excited about his costume and is such a pleasure to watch their smiles. Since most South Indian dishes are gluten free, we eat them often. We are not gluten intolerant but I prefer to keep the meals simple and truly South Indian as I want my son to appreciate the part of world his parent’s come from.

    I briefly browsed through your posts and I am sure that I will be back often to check your recipes. Let’s stay connected.

  6. Lisa

    Shauna, this makes me weep just a bit, even though, gosh, it’s not beyond my reach or something I’ll get to have one day or something I used to live — it’s so much our life NOW. Maybe it’s just gratitude I’m feeling, and wonder, and trust and comfort in family as lots of other things around us are a bit more uncertain. Thank you/

  7. Ariane

    Dear Shauna, I have been following your blog since I started being GF, wow is it already 4 yrs now (: ? Your heartfelt stories bring me much laughter and sometimes tears. I feel you express well how I often experience the world and life myself and what you give importance. I have twin girls that are now 8 and one of them loves those early mornings too. No matter how late the night has been, we can count on her crawling into bed and her whispering — mommy let’s get up. So now I do and I have learned to love those moments with her, while the rest of the house is still sleeping. Many happy thoughts to you, your husband and your lovely creative little girl!

  8. vicki

    I love reading your stories about motherhood. This one made me smile because Jackson is the same way. Taping his curtains, taking the clock out of the room.… no matter, he’s an early bird. The early bird gets the worm!

  9. molly

    And you have now made my morning, dear thing, with such a lovely and generous string of words. And goggles. And lop-sided, hand-carved pumpkin faces. Are there any better kind?
    Not if you ask me.

    Cheers to you and your sweet early bird.

    xo,
    M

  10. Jennifer

    Thanks for the warm vignette and the recipe.
    We always roast pumpkin seeds with just salt and/or tamari, but I love smoked paprika & am looking forward to adding some spice.

  11. Gena

    What a gorgeous homage to Lucy and Danny. Your writing is so beautiful and evocative! Thank you for sharing slices of your life with us. I feel really privileged to read each post.

  12. Caneel

    This is beautiful, Shauna! I’m not a morning person, either — and thankfully my girls do enjoy sleeping in (at least until 7:30-ish, maybe 8, that is) BUT we’ve all had to wake up earlier since we got chickens — they wake noisily right as the sun peeks over the mountain demanding to be let out. Thank you for including us in this precious moment and making me feel better about not sweeping my floor very often, either. :)

  13. sharon

    Our little guy Cole is 4, almost 5, and only this year has he began sleeping in later than 6 AM. Now that he can recognize the numbers on his clock (digital), we tell him he has to stay in bed until 6:30 or 7:00, depending on how late he went to bed the past night and whether he slept at ‘rest’ (he rarely sleeps for his nap time, but he lays down for an hour to rest). It’s been wonderful, actually beating him up most mornings, giving my husband and I a few minutes of quiet to wake and ready ourselves for the day’s adventures before he rambles down the stairs. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll start sleeping a bit later in the next year! If not, sounds like a wonderful routine has begun. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Caitlin

    Thanks for such a lovely story. It’s my little boy’s first Halloween and it was wonderful to get a glimpse of what we have to look forward to :)