There are morning people, and there are those who simply are not. My elder daughter rises early, and on those rare occasions I need to wake her, it takes only a kiss on the forehead or a gentle shake of her shoulder to elicit a warm, if sleepy smile. Not so, with my younger daughter.
In infancy, my younger daughter didn’t know the meaning of sleep. She refused to go down at night – we lived in Philadelphia at the time; my husband or I would put her in the Baby Bjorn, leash up Gryffin, and walk the city streets into the wee hours of the morning so her colicky screams didn’t wake up her sister – and she rose long before the sun. By the time she was a toddler, she could sleep until sunrise. When she started kindergarten three years ago, that changed. She didn’t become a late sleeper; weekends she was still up by eight. But weekdays she needed a little encouragement to get up in time to dress, eat, and catch the school bus.
Neither the kiss nor the nudge worked. Instead, I would sit on the edge of her bed turning her favorite stuffed animal into a puppet that would sing made-up wake-up songs and cover her face and belly with kisses. When her angry eyes blinked open, I was greeted with whining or groaning.
I dreaded most mornings.
Australian shepherds are herding dogs and as such, they were bred to work. Our dog, Galen, is part Aussie, and as a wild and overly-energetic pup, she would herd my daughters by nipping at their heels. A dog trainer I phoned for advice – I was afraid Galen was going to draw blood or send one of the girls tumbling down the stairs – told me that herding dogs, like Australian Shepherds and Border Collies, need a lot of exercise and even a sense of purpose.
Apparently, I needed to find Galen work around the house to make up for the absence of sheep and cows in our yard.
When Galen was about seven months old, I saw my older daughter sitting on her bed, encouraging Galen to jump onto it. I had high hopes of keeping Galen off all furniture, but my daughter undermined me. Evidently, beds aren’t furniture in the eyes of an eight-year-old. (In her defense, we had allowed Gryffin on our beds, thus why I wanted to keep Galen off. Obviously, I hadn’t made myself clear.)
Galen loved jumping onto the girls’ beds, especially when they were in them. And at some point – I can’t remember when – it dawned on me that I could outsource my morning job to the dog.
Now every weekday morning, whether the girls are rising for school or for summer camp, Galen wakes them up. It’s pretty incredible, really. I call out, “Galen, time to wake the girls!” and from wherever she is in the house, Galen dashes to my older daughter’s bedroom. I open the door, Galen jumps on the bed, sniffs my daughter awake – Galen is not a licker – jumps off the bed, and proceeds to my younger daughter’s room. I open the door, up on the bed she hops, a few sniffs, and my younger daughter wakes… with a smile. Then her hands snake their way out from under the covers to pet Galen’s head, as she quietly and lovingly says, “Hi, baby.”
It’s been a year-and-a half since I’ve had to wake my younger daughter. Instead, each morning I get to watch my dog and my daughter connect in a way that is so powerful and so beautiful. Best of all, though, a child who once began her day with a scowl now starts the day with a smile.
Weekends can be a problem. Sometimes at 7:00 on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I find Galen standing, tail wagging, in front of my older daughter’s closed bedroom door. I gave Galen a sense of purpose, and she’s given my girls a reason to wake up happy; but still, I like her to take weekends off.