Egging 'em on

Across America, the "morning scramble" is not a breakfast dish. It's the mad dash to get the kids out the door to school.

In a fit of blind optimism, parents start each day with the notion that everyone in the family will be on schedule, and we won't have to race around crazily at the last minute. Each school day, we hopeful parents watch those expectations dashed.

As is the case with so many things, the children hold an opposing viewpoint. The children do not care if they are late. They're not thrilled about spending the day in school anyway. They maintain that they would happily live forever as uneducated goatherds if they could be allowed to sleep for only five more minutes. Thus it begins. Every day.

Once they're up, younger children tend to wander off. Teens are too busy text-messaging their friends to actually get ready for school. Sleepy kids of any age seem to have difficulty with the question, "Where are your shoes?"

When our two sons were small, the culprit was distraction. They'd forget they were supposed to be, say, rounding up socks that weren't crunchy. Instead, I would find them watching cartoons, or barefoot in the yard with the dog. Or dressing in a ninja costume, "just to try it out," five minutes before departure to school.

And there was always a last-second disaster of some sort. I spilled my milk. I can't find my homework. The dog won't give me my shoe. We'd scramble about, solving crises, until the last possible moment, then zoom out the door, trying to reach school before the final bell, weaving through traffic like an ambulance on Saturday night.

Now that they're older, our boys require only minimal overseeing. The struggle is at the front end -- getting them out of bed -- rather than forcing breakfast down their gullets or locating their missing science project. It goes like this:

5:45 a.m.
Mom: "Good morning! Time to get up. Here comes the light! Get up!"
5:55 a.m.
Dad: "Good morning! Rise and shine there, boys!"
6 a.m.
Mom: "You guys must get up now. You're going to be late."
6:10 a.m.
Dad: "Hey, come on. What's the matter with you? Did you stay up all night?"
6:15 a.m.
Dad: "Get. Up. Now."
6:20 a.m.
Mom: "I'm coming back here in two minutes with a pitcher of ice water. Whoever's still in bed gets it."
6:30 a.m.
Boys reel around house, yawning and sniffling, wolfing food and throwing on the rags that pass for their clothes. Mom and Dad nervously hound them with questions -- "Did you brush your teeth?" or "You call that breakfast?" or "Is that the way you WANT your hair to look?" -- all the way out the door.

One day, as younger son sprinted to his room to fetch something he'd forgotten, the older one waited by the front door. A veteran of years of racing off to school, he gave his parents a wry smile and said, "We were almost on time today."

As a hopeful parent, I thought: There's always tomorrow.

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