This morning, I pressed the snooze button ten times, at which point my alarm rolled its eyes and turned itself off. I was tired with a capital T-I-R-E-D and deflated by the realization that even after all the midnight oil, I had still gotten only halfway through a project I planned on finishing weeks ago. I thrive on both completion and sleep, so this really wasn’t my ideal wake-up scenario. Plus, thanks to my snooze button calisthenics, we hit the ground running late.
I don’t remember how many snippy things I said to Dan and the girls as we drove to their school—my cappuccino hadn’t gotten a chance to make it from the thermos to my bloodstream where I count on it to turn on the lights and unlock my brainwaves every morning—but I’m sure I wasn’t overly endearing. As we piled out of the car and jogged onto the school grounds, I mostly thought in cartoonish scribbles and thunderclouds. We’re late, we’re late, we’re latelatelatelate! WHY won’t the girls’ legs move any faster? And why did Dan have to park across the street when there was a perfectly good crosswalk unoccupied space here? Are they just trying to inconvenience me because they know I’m late for work? Grumble, grumble, thunder, lateness, doom, etc.
Just ahead of us, an equally rushed mama was leading two little girls, her arms spilling over with backpacks and an adorable toddler boy. “Still with me?” she panted toward her girls, and as she glanced back to check, her foot snagged on the uneven pavement. She and the backpacks went sprawling, but her little boy didn’t so much sprawl as he did thud. I made it to his side just as his cries began. His mama’s instincts kicked in immediately as well, and she scooped him up without seeming to notice me. We all saw the smear of blood. Dan ran to get some help, and she followed with blank desperation, the little boy’s wails transmitting across the schoolyard to his sisters.
I knew he would be okay. He hadn’t fallen out of his mom’s arms until she was already halfway down, and the bump hadn’t affected his vocal cords in the slightest. However, I couldn’t help aching for his sisters. The younger one in particular was frozen in place with tiny hiccupping sobs, so I picked her up hoping it wouldn’t land me on the five o’clock news as a child abductor. I comforted as best I could while bringing the girls into the school where their brother was loudly protesting treatment, and then I left them. There wasn’t really anything else Dan or I could do, and the minutes were racing full speed ahead toward work. I hated to leave them though—the little boy wailing in pain, his sisters hugging each other in bewildered tears, or their mama whose lifesaving instinct would undoubtedly turn on her in blame. They had my heart’s full attention; all the scribbles and thunderclouds had been replaced by compassion.
And then, not three minutes later, I was snapping at Dan over his driving.
I couldn’t tell you the exact moment when my mental state shifted back to doom and snark, but snapping at my husband was every bit as sudden and involuntary as rushing to help a child in pain. I mean, I was clearly going to be latelatelate!, so my brain followed its problem-solving protocol to its natural conclusion: Make sure your husband understands his crime of failing to drive just like you do. Hugging him goodbye was a halfhearted mix of irritation and regret, and I booked it to work feeling like I probably should have snoozed that first alarm with a sledgehammer.
There are two things I just can’t understand about the morning. One is that somehow my instinct for compassion can coexist in such tight quarters with an instinct for criticism. Despite the visceral strength of my heart-ties to loved ones and hurting ones alike, those bonds can be sidestepped by something as paltry as being late for work. Do I even need to mention how scummy this makes me feel? The last thing I want is for tragedy to have to strike my little family before I stop taking them for granted; I just need to learn the delicate art of instinct override.
The second thing I can’t understand is that somehow, even after everything, I made it to work on time.