Like most parents of school-aged children, I find myself up weekday mornings before the sun. I turn the kitchen lights on low to let my eyes adjust, brew some coffee, and start the daily regimen: empty the dishwasher, pack the lunches, cajole the kids out of bed, make sure they eat something, oversee their getting dressed/teeth brushing/face washing, and get them out to the bus stop on time.
I could do this routine in my sleep, and some days, it feels like I do.
Juxtaposed with the predictability of my indoor activity is the thoroughly original show happening outside: sunrise. An explosion of color comes without warning from a dull sky, and fades to pale yellow in just a few minutes. Even on a day that turns out to be overcast, the sunrise is often something breathtaking. The sky can be a hot, glowing scarlet, cotton candy pink, or deep amethyst. A lavender cloud can have a bright orange underside. The sky can be streaked with a dozen shades of red and pink — looking like someone has dragged a giant paintbrush across it.
You have to watch closely to see it, and if you get distracted or walk away, you can miss the best part. You have to appreciate it in the moments it takes place, for it can't really be captured — no photograph I've ever taken truly does it justice. It's a fleeting gift that is easy to miss if you’re not watching.
In many ways, it reminds me of parenting.
So much of raising kids is repetition and even drudgery. The morning routine is certainly part of that, but there’s also homework (“I know homework is the worst, but you’ve got at least nine more years of it, so let’s make the best of it!”); grocery shopping (“How are we always out of milk!?”); dinner (“No — we cannot have chicken fingers and fries for dinner again!”); laundry (“You have five pairs of perfectly good pants in that drawer — surely one of them is wearable?”) — the list goes on. There's the what-feels-like-near-constant parental refereeing, breaking up the endless sibling bickering, and the negotiating ... oh, the negotiating!
I think of these tasks as the sky before the sun comes up. They are gray and plain. They must be done, but generally, they are not inspiring anyone.
But if you pay attention, if you really look, you’ll find that most days have at least one “sunrise moment.”
That quiet moment in the rocking chair when your 2-year-old falls asleep with her head on your shoulder.
The tearful, whispered apology from your 4-year-old at the end of a trying day, "I'm sorry mumma, I just had a bad day."
The “love you, mom!” as the car door slams shut and your 9-year-old runs off to soccer practice.
The note left on your pillow telling you that you are the world’s best mom — or dad.
Watching your kids be kind to one another or someone else, hearing them cackle with laughter about something you don’t understand, that big hug, sticky kiss, or handhold when you’re not expecting it.
These moments are the sunrises: The few seconds in a sometimes very long day that take your breath away.
And you think to yourself, "I can make lunches for the rest of my life, wash and fold tiny clothes for eternity, make a dinner that each child has a separate critique of and no one eats, until the cows come home. Because of this.”
The sky may turn gray after, it may rain for a week. But the memory of that sunrise is yours forever.