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Living With Kids 

As I pulled up in front of the school, I looked at the clock on the dash. Tardy. "Grab your backpack," I said to my first-grader as I cut the engine. How I missed those leisurely mornings of yore.

When Susannah was three, she went to daycare from noon to 6 every day. I loved that schedule: I got to be with her when she was at her most cheerful and energetic and I didn't have to fix her lunch or cajole her into taking an afternoon nap. Best of all, we never had to rush in the mornings. Before Mark left for work, he'd bring Susannah to our bed. She and I slept until we woke up, then woke up slowly with lots of giggling. We lingered over breakfast if we wanted to.

Our transformation into people-who-rush-in-the-mornings happened gradually. Susannah went to three years of preschool at private schools where arriving a little late was not a big deal. But this year she started public school. If you arrive after 8:45, you have to sign in at the office. The fear of the office kept me in line the first couple of months.

But now we were experiencing our first tardy of the year. We went into the office where I faced the dreaded late sign-in sheet. I filled in the first four columns with my daughter's name, the time, and my name and signature. The last column stumped me: "reason for being tardy."

Maybe it started when I stayed in the shower a couple of minutes longer than I should have. But that couldn't be it, because when I got out, I discovered that Susannah was ready for school. We were actually ahead of schedule. It was too early to leave, so I told her she could play for a bit, and I cast about for some five-minute task. My eyes lit on Susannah's sneakers with beads on the shoelaces--aha! I could put on the new beads she wanted to try. I sat down on the sofa and picked up a sneaker. Naturally, after I had finished teasing four knots, unlacing, unbeading, rebeading and relacing, we were a minute or two behind schedule. "Susannah!" I yelled. "It's time to go!"

After I locked the door behind us she remembered that she'd forgotten her homework folder. That was important enough to open the door again, even if we might be late.

We ran to the car, which turned out to be covered with unexpected frost. I cranked up the engine, turned on the defroster full blast, and began to look for the ice scraper. Not in the glove compartment, not on the floor, not in the way-back, not in a box, not with a fox. By this time, the defroster had done its job and the ice scraper, wherever it was, was moot.

As we buckled up, I thought there was a chance we could just make it ... until we got on the Durham Freeway. I had never seen it so congested. We inched our way to the next exit and escaped. Unfortunately, a lot of others did the same, so there was a long wait at Swift and Duke University streets.

That was when I knew for sure. We would be late.

With my pen poised over that last column, my mind flitted over the possibilities. "Tried to squeeze in last-minute beaded-sneaker project"? "Couldn't find ice scraper"? Nah. Too long-winded. Besides, neither told the whole story. Traffic seemed like a good scapegoat, and easily summed everything up in one word, but it wasn't quite honest. After all, if we'd left the house at a reasonable time, one measly traffic jam wouldn't have made us late. (A friend later suggested "character flaw" as a good summation, but I wasn't quick-witted enough to come up with that on the spot.) I longed to be able to write "dentist appointment."

Finally I scrawled, "No good reason."

This kind of morning, while frazzling, is at least preferable to the other kind of bad morning--when both you and your child are slow and grouchy, one of you snapping, the other whining.

Long after the child is ensconced in the classroom, you continue to wonder why you can't get up earlier, why she can't get ready in a reasonable amount of time, and why you would use such a rude tone of voice with your child. A friend of mine once described such a morning when she said, "We all got up too late, and my daughter started crying and saying she didn't want to go to school. So I yelled at her." I said, "I bet that helped," laughing only because I've been there. This is also the kind of bad morning that sparked the following exchange:

Friend (cheerily): How are you?

Me (despondently): Susannah and I had a bad morning.

Friend (with look of real concern and sincerity): You have my deepest sympathies.

As the school year has progressed, several things have changed to make our mornings better. One is that I wake Susannah up earlier, not so she can get up earlier, but so we can snuggle in her bed, a delicious reminder of the good old days. After 10 minutes, she's fully awake and ready to get up. I started doing this after I found a note she had written that said, "I like school but sum times I am tierd." It occurred to me she might not be so grumpy if I didn't rush her out of bed before she was really awake. Better yet, a few weeks ago she asked for her own alarm clock. She likes to set it for 6 a.m. so she can read in bed for an hour before it's time to get up.

But the biggest improvement is our daily morning walk. Susannah takes the bus to school now, and the nearest stop is a half-mile from our house. We leave the house good and early because otherwise she worries about missing the bus. The walk smoothes kinks out of a rough morning. We pet cats, wave to neighbors, and check to see if there's ice on the puddles.

It's not quite true to say that the nearest bus stop is a half-mile away, because the bus would come right by our house if I asked. But I don't plan to. Even a rushed morning feels leisurely when it's capped off by a slow walk instead of a speedy car trip.

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More by Mary-Russell Roberson

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