oatmeal with Star Wars actions figures

This is the worst oatmeal in the entire world and no one will ever want to eat it.

At least, that’s what my nine-year-old son said when he first made it. Then he ran off to the living room to grouse about his cooking. While he vented, the too-runny oatmeal absorbed the extra water. By the time I coaxed him back into the kitchen, it was perfect. It just needed a little rest, kinda like everyone in my family.

Mornings are a battlefield in my house. My husband leaves for work at 6:00 am, so I’m solo for the whole school preparation. If I only had my son it wouldn’t even be a scuffle. It’s my five-year-old daughter who turns it into the Wake-Up Wars.

My son has always been an early riser. When he was two years old he would start jabbering in his crib at 5:00 am. I thought it would pass when he got better at talking. Instead, he got better at waking up the whole house. Once we taught him how to fix his own breakfast and occupy himself until we got up, though, there was no stress with his morning personality.

My daughter, on the other hand, was born a teenager. She prefers to sleep until 9:00 or 9:30 am, hiding under a mountain of blankets. We know she has risen when we see a shuffling, disheveled creature wander into the dining room. Even then we know not to look at her directly or, heaven forbid, speak to her. She’ll roar like a Wampa.

For this five-year-old girl, school starts when she still needs more time in her meditation chamber. I am the unlucky Admiral who must interrupt her slumber. In doing this I endure crying and screaming and the most vile use of the word ‘stupid’ as I prod her into clothes and shoes and a backpack. No matter how we adjust her bedtime and cultivate nighttime sleep hygiene, the morning brings out the worst in her.

As with most everything I experience as a mother, I am sure this is payback for my childhood. My attitude was so bad that my mother gave up on mornings altogether. My dad was responsible for waking my sisters and me. He had a gift for it.

Like my son, my father was an early riser. Perhaps from his days in the Navy, he had a routine of getting up at the crack of the dawn, making coffee, smoking cigarettes and reading the paper. Lying in bed I could hear him go about the ritual, even loading the dishwasher, and have no problem getting back to sleep. But, the sound of his ankles cracking as he crossed the den would set my heart racing.

He didn’t have to turn on lights or make any threats, he just had to say one word, “Girls”. The word wasn’t the problem, it was his voice. Deep, gravelly, a tone from a black hole, when my dad said, “Guuuuuurrrrrrllllllzzzz,” the sound of his voice irritated my molecules. I’d scream, “Shut UP!” It wouldn’t faze him. He’d keep talking, like the voice of God, “It’s time to gggggeeeeetttt uuuuuppppp”. I’d usually stand up just to get him to be quiet. On the worst days, if I resisted his ear torture, he’d come in and tickle me until I fell out of bed.

There was one time my mother got stuck with the job of waking us. She had to use an Amigo scooter by that time because of Multiple Sclerosis and couldn’t fit through the doorway back to the portion of the house where our bedrooms were. She also didn’t have the vocal magic that my dad possessed. She had to rely on being crafty.

I remember hearing a “THWUMP!”, then silence. I figured something fell in the kitchen and drifted back off. Then, a minute later, “THWUMP!” Then silence. Then “THWUMP!” The sound came at irregular intervals, impossible to sleep through. Finally, I got out of bed and walked into the den to find my mother pulling a book off the shelf, then slamming it back in place. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” I was incredulous. She gave me a syrupy sweet smile and said, “I’m just rearranging the bookcase. Is this not a good time for it? Well, you have to get up anyway.” Then she drove her scooter back to her room for the rest of the morning.

In my memories my parents are the torturers, making me leave the bliss of slumber for the gulag of school. Now that I’m a mother, I am painfully aware of the monster I was. I honestly don’t know why they put up with me. Based on my experience with a cranky daughter, I’d expect them to exile me to the rabbit hutch.

Those memories came rushing back as I faced down the blistering screeches of my own five-year-old teenager the other morning. Sadly, they offered no insight into a possible truce for our Wake-Up Wars. I turned to my husband for advice, “Help me Britton-wan, you’re my only hope.”

Like a good Master, he kept his own counsel on the matter for a couple days and then came back to me, “I’ve been trying to think of what gets me out of bed in the morning. I hate doing it and would scream like that if I could. But, the only reason I get up is coffee.” I considered the possibility of a family espresso machine, but my husband kept talking, “You can’t give her coffee.” Damn. “But, what if you told her she had something she’d like to eat waiting for her? That gives her a reason to get up that seems fun, nice and it’s not just about going to school.” He suggested I enact breakfast.

Breakfast and I are not friends on weekday mornings. Sunday brunch, I love. But on Thursday morning I’m more likely to eat cake at the counter than fix cereal. I took a deep breath, preparing to  lecture Jedi Dad about the chains of domesticity, my own aversion to mornings, how Mrs. Brady had a housekeeper and why, in the 21st century, did he think I’d embrace some 1950’s fantasy… We’ve been married fifteen years, I didn’t get a word out before he continued talking.

“Obviously you’re not the one to do the cooking. But, we both know who’s raring to go at oh-dark-thirty…” My son! Yes, there was a reason I had two kids.

My son has been itching to get cooking in the kitchen. He once said, “The best thing about getting older is you get to use more knives.” I didn’t want to unleash him on an omelet bar, but he has been learning how to make slow-cook oatmeal in the microwave.

As a culinary padawan, he jumped at the chance to be responsible for something, “Okay, I can be in charge of breakfast.” We started out this week with three bowls of piping hot oatmeal, set out on the table. My daughter rose for her breakfast without rioting and even smiled at the table. We had restored balance. For the moment.

The rest of this week has been hit and miss. On Tuesday we found that she likes oatmeal, “but not every day”. We made it through breakfast Wednesday, but there was a dresser drawer melt-down. And by today, Friday, my son was taking it personally. My daughter refused to even respond when I asked her to come downstairs. So, when the oatmeal didn’t cook up right, I felt a great disturbance in the Force.

I listened to my son recount the abuses he suffered as breakfast cook and stared at the Pyrex measuring cup full of half-cooked oatmeal. This was not winning the war. I had to re-examine my objectives.

For me, winning the Wake-Up war meant getting a sunshine and roses daughter, one who fluttered her lashes at sunrise and sang gaily as she donned a fresh frock for kindergarten. Basically, I wanted her to be totally unlike herself, and certainly unlike me. I’m still pretty surly before noon.

And that’s when I had an awful realization, it was Luke’s moment “in the cave”.

The only thing I remember about my parents in the morning for most of my childhood is that brief moment of wake-up. After that, I think everyone just steered clear. As far as I know, my parents did consider moving me to the rabbit hutch, but settled on benign neglect once I emerged from the covers. I didn’t grow out of it, I grew into it. I learned over time how to navigate mornings in the way that worked best for me. My daughter is a bad morning person JUST LIKE ME.

As this insight gelled in my head, the oatmeal reached its proper consistency. I called my son in to witness the miracle of transformation and told him how much I appreciated his dedication. Then, I put my arm around his shoulders and told him that his sister would probably always be grumpy in the morning and it wasn’t his responsibility to change her personality.

As with most everything I say to  my kids, that last statement also applies to me.


Good Motivator Oatmeal

serves 3-4

2 cups water

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal

dash salt

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 Tablespoon maple syrup

1/4 cup half-and-half

Frozen fruit


Stir together water, oats and salt in a microwave-safe bowl or Pyrex measuring cup, 4 cup capacity or larger. (The oatmeal rises a lot during cooking and you don’t want it to overflow or you’ll be scrubbing the microwave.)

Microwave at 50% power for 8 minutes.

Stir oatmeal, then cook at 50% power for another 3-6 minutes, until the oats are thick and creamy and you can no longer see oat flakes. If it’s still a bit watery, try letting it sit for a couple minutes on the counter. It will keep cooking while it rests.

Spoon oatmeal into 3 or 4 small bowls. Sprinkle with brown sugar, drizzle with  maple syrup and splash the top with half-and-half. Spoon frozen fruit over the top.

If, like us, you’re running late and don’t have time to take a walk in the woods – or a spin in the TIE Fighter- while your porridge cools, stirring the frozen fruit into the hot oatmeal brings it to a palatable temperature in mere moments.

May the Force be with your Morning.