Sunday in the Park | ParkRecord.com

Sunday in the Park

Teri Orr, Park Record columnist

I wasn’t always this nocturnal creature. I remember getting up with the sun. The rosy dawns. The dewy lawns. The quiet neighborhood. And those early mornings were a gift of a still world, before vehicles hit the streets and dogs and their walkers filled the sidewalks, and the birds weren’t yet singing all their songs.

My mother was a bit of a Tennessee Williams character when I was growing up. She was not tender. She was often, um, efficient in her actions. There were no gentle shoulder touches or stroking of the cheek to welcome the day for a sleepy child. There was a barking from the doorframe of my room. "Rise and Shine! Rise and Shine! Up and at ’em!" I groan now in memory of all those years of groaning then. Growing up, mornings were a jolt.

I woke to the smell of her strong coffee, which was a bitter smell to me. Mother, the divorcee, was never a cook; breakfast was often a can of soup. A doctor at a cocktail party had once told her it was filled with everything you needed and when in doubt, serve soup. She took his advice quite literally. I suspect I have eaten more bean-with-bacon soup than any other person on the planet.

I was an odd child with hand-me-down clothes and wild hair and shoes that rarely fit. We bought them large and I wore them until they were far too small. From the fourth grade on I wore glasses. I was an easy target for kids to make fun of. My home life was nothing like other kids and I was told never to share anything about my mother’s many gentleman callers. Mornings meant I would be facing another day of living a series of lies. I dreaded them.

In college I learned right away that sleeping through my first class felt great, with no one nagging me to rise and shine, but it came with serious consequences. I ended up dropping the class so as not to fail it. I was married at 19, gave birth at 20, and early mornings became my life for the next 20 years: babies and breakfasts and sleepless nights with sick kids and carpools and finishing reports and taking to the school, later in the morning, the lunches they forgot.

Somewhere around the time both kids were in college and lightly launched on their own, I started my mornings later. My sleep time became dream time and I hated to leave that space between dreaming and dawn. I didn’t have a job that started at 8 a.m. I could come in at 9, sometimes 10. My clock started to shift. My fixed 9 and 10 o’clock bedtimes started to stretch later, often until 11. Even midnight on occasion. Getting eight hours sleep meant sleeping later.

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My work life changed even more and started to flip even more I had to work many many, many nights. Mornings didn’t matter in my job. No one on either coast was in to talk to until afternoon. Locally, when folks would suggest breakfast meetings, I would counter with lunches. Meetings in the late afternoon felt grand. Early evenings out of the work box.

And so, in time, my clock changed. My body changed and my sleep patterns changed. I wake up naturally and tackle the day I have laid out, in part, the night before. My tea time is sacred, that hour to engage my senses and watch the world unfold. On occasion, I confess, I do wake up with the first light. I let the filmy feeling rock me between dream and dawn. I hear the birds start their conversations and love songs for the day. I think thoughts I don’t feel a need to share. I don’t Tweet, ever, I Facebook a little, I email too much. In those first hours I make a choice to re-enter the world again but I need more and more to enter it gently. Quietly. With purpose.

Recently I have made friends with a number of women who have different internal clocks. They rise at 5 a.m. They run and walk and make school lunches and carpool and, by 8 a.m., they are fully engaged in their day and they want to meet and tackle problems. I tried this with each of them out of respect. Once. They did not get my best self. There was no time to shower and feel "put together." That little girl in the hand-me-down clothes with the ill-fitting shoes showed up. The smell of coffee makes me slightly nauseous still.

The last time each called, I explained that mornings just didn’t work for me. If we needed to accomplish something in a timely fashion, I would happily (well, professionally speaking) talk on the phone in the morning before 10 a.m., but meeting just wasn’t going to be productive. We have now lunched and brunched and had an adult beverage at the end of each other’s work days. They get my best self in those hours.

I realize this is a luxury. And though my job is often difficult with long late hours, I have secretly come to love my nocturnal life. And my ability to slowly re-engage in the world each day. Especially on the mostly lazy Sundays in the Park …

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.