Saturday, February 08, 2014

Bright and early

So last week I had an early-morning meeting for a potential project. Okay, the meeting was not really that early in the morning, but it was in a land far far away, also known as 'the other end of the island'. I had to get up at 6 am to make it. "So what?" I hear many of you say, "I get up at 5 am every day. Including weekends." I have only one thing to say to you guys. Please make a single file and leave the bar. Ok bye. Jokes aside, I am actually not a not-morning person. Ok, that sounded confusing. I mean, I am a morning person. I don't mind an early start to the day. But by early, I mean get-up-at-7-am kind of early, and not Akshay Kumar's 'If you want me on the Koffee couch, we'll need to shoot at 6 am.' statement to KJ. Anyway, let's get back to the original topic because if I get started on Koffee with Karan, shutting me up will take a few hours.

Since I started working from home, I have stopped setting a wake-up alarm, and started relying on a very different kind of alarm clock - Xena. She's up, we're up. Because there is no alternative. If she's up and we're not, she'll do three reps of TT (toddler tandav) accompanied by four verses of "Good morning ho gaya! Wake up ho jao!" till we wake up. And since she wakes up around 7ish every morning, it works well for me. I work till about 11 pm after she's gone to sleep and manage to get my 8 hours of duty sleep.

So when I had to set at alarm for 6 am for this meeting, it was a sudden and big deal. To get ready and leave the house before Xena and Viv even woke up felt strange. I left all sorts of post-its with tips for him to get her ready for school. (Usually he's in charge of brushing her teeth and shovelling breakfast down her unwilling throat, while I get her, her bag, her snackbox and our breakfast ready). The toughest job for him that morning must have been her hair. Her tropical rainforest hair, to be precise, inherited directly from her mommy. Anyway, I left father and daughter to deal with things and quietly made my way out.

It was a loooong 2-hour journey, involving two buses and a train, and since I don't own a smartphone (by choice), I had plenty of time to reflect and people-watch. Something that I usually don't get time for. And as I watched all the half-sleepy people around me, I was reminded of the time before Xena when I was also a part of this corporate crowd, getting up early, running after the bus in my high heels trying to get the driver's attention, rushing to work, trying to look alert and professional in a super-early-morning videoconference when there was little stopping me from doing an auto-headdesk.

Another phase of my life when I had to wake up really early was when I decided to do a part-time Master's degree in a university which was, again, on the other side of the island. Far away from my home and far away from my workplace. Great. This is what I had done to my life. And it was very very hard to survive on such little sleep. I think that was partly what made me finish it in the not-recommended-at-all three semesters. I just wanted to get it over and done with so I could finally catch some sleep.

The last phase I could think of when early starts were a prerequisite were my school days. 1996-1998 in particular, when my dad was transferred to a tiny place I can only refer to as not a city, not a town, but maybe a... settlement? The local schools ended at Std X. If you wanted to study more, you had to go to the neighbouring settlement. The school bus picked me up at 5:45 am, so I had to wake up at 5 am and get ready. Because if you missed that bus, you pretty much missed school. And this nerd LOVED school. I loved it so much that I can't even remember finding the 5 am wakings-up a torture. The thrill of school and meeting friends and impressing teachers overpowered everything else. But I have to give my dad credit here who had a very strict rule - lights out at 9 pm and no exceptions. And I think that's probably what made the waking up at 5 am easier. I hope I can apply his rule successfully to Xena when she grows up and protests at her current bedtime of 8:30 pm.

The bus ride to school used to be about 2 hours long, and it was fantastic. The bus was completely dilapidated, and it rattled and jumped for most of the trip. But my friends were in there, and my best friend (why don't we have those anymore?) who got on the bus before me used to save me a seat, and we used to play antakshari (till the fateful day when some of the guys in our class threw coins at us as a joke and we didn't talk to them for a week and they had to literally come and beg us not to do that). The bus used to go through a jungle, and there was even a tribal kid who used to board the bus from a tiny hut in the jungle. I realised I had very very happy memories of the morning bus ride, and I barely remembered the waking-up-at-5-am part.

So I started thinking - what is it that makes early starts during school days seem not so bad, but a real torture when we grow up? Is it because we screw up our lifestyles so bad as adults that whatever little sleep we get becomes our life-support, and when we don't get it, we snap? Is it because in the race for other things, the most important ones get sacrificed first -- sleep, water, breakfast, etc.?

Being adult is no fun. Almost all of us have more fun and fonder memories of our childhood than our adulthood. But does that hold true anymore? Even childhood these days doesn't seem as carefree and bindaas as it used to be. Singapore is a stressful place for kids once they start going to school proper. The first national level exams, the much-dreaded PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination), are held when the kids are barely 12. And these exams will pretty much determine what they become in life. I think most of my childhood was spent up on a tree, and the first time I ever got serious about studies was for the Std X (O level) exams. That's when we were expected to stop being 'children' and 'grow up' and 'prove ourselves'. I try and imagine Xena as a 12-year-old studying seriously for the PSLE and it breaks my heart a little bit.

So here's my little wish for her. I hope she has as close a childhood to what I had, and even with the pressures and early starts, truly has a very very good time at school.


Sri said...

Wow...completely agree with you!

Even I used to wake up early during my school/college days..i was also a nerd who would spend every moment reading/studying...but now, I am not a morning person at all!

I guess we get really bogged down by responsibilities..ya, even LKG is stressful nowadays..thankfully, my daughter studies in a school that doesn't give homework in smaller classes but I see neighbours struggling to make their kids write pages of homework in LKG/UKG! said...

"why don't we have those anymore?" ... I keep trying to find an answer to that question myself :|

Arun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Varsha said...

:) Can now relax a little bit after reading your post. Vidisha is to get up around 5:30, 5:45 starting June, to catch her school bus at 7AM. Since I am particular that the kids have their glasses of milk and at least a medium filling breakfast before leaving for school, I need to space it out with at least one hour between the two. Hope she shall have a good time with her friends in the bus. Also, I need to implement the 9PM switch off time. Right now, kids sleep around 9:30PM and we, at 10:30PM.

Arun said...

Xena is both bright and early.