Leah McFall: Wake up and smell the con job

"The only people I know of who start their day before dawn, aren't getting up voluntarily at all."
Alistair Hughes

"The only people I know of who start their day before dawn, aren't getting up voluntarily at all."

It's 5am in America and all over its 50 states, lights are clicking on. An industrial-chic desk lamp in Manhattan; a pull-the-string lightbulb in Missouri; perhaps even an oil lamp in an Amish farmhouse in Michigan. In silky kimonos, terry-towelling dressing gowns and smocked cotton nighties, American women are staggering out of bed, yawning like cats, having set their wake-up alarms an hour in advance.

Why? Because Samantha Ettus told them to.

Oh, Samantha! There you are, graduate of Harvard Business School, mother of three, with your disciplined Stairmaster muscles, California beach hair and expensively whitened teeth. You've got that all American no-carbs-no-yolk-no-dairy look of success about you; the rictus grin, the super-sized Starbucks coffee, a newly published self-help book in your manicured grasp. On your way to Good Morning America, I bet.

"Working women can have it all," I imagine you'll admonish your viewers. "My book, The Pie Life, explains how. You see, every woman needs seven slices for a balanced life. Only one of them is motherhood. Another, career. Then (tick them off), your relationship, community, health, friends and hobbies.

And one way to fit them all in? Honey, you need to get up earlier in the morning.

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"Get up, girls! Get up! The sun will be up before you know it! Catch up on your emails, strike a yoga pose, stew, batch and freeze a month's worth of pizza sauce! While your husband and kids are asleep, this is the moment to pay bills, write birthday cards and alphabetise your spices! This is your only shot at uninterrupted "me" time before pumpkin hour comes, when you turn back into Cinders and spend the rest of your waking life cleaning up after the rest of the household and driving them to the ball!"

God, Samantha. Why didn't we think of that? Well, you are a professional "balance expert", after all. You're helping thousands of women fulfil their professional dreams, using baked goods as a metaphor and your own body-con good looks as a brand. You're like a self-help first responder, arriving with your paddles and battery pack to shock the modern woman off her spongy, somnambulant ass, back into the game of life.

What would we do without you, other than nail eight uninterrupted hours of sleep a night?

A few questions, though. What if you do try to get up early, padding softly around the living room as you unroll the yoga mat, and you hear the tell-tale thump-thump of three-year-old feet charging down the hallway and an insistent little "Mummy…" at the door?

You see, the minute I get up, my kids will get up. They're like baby sharks following a bleeding fish, in this regard: they can just SMELL that I'm awake. So if they see me doing a downward dog by candle-light at 5am then they'll be up and at me, and swinging off my Third Eye before I can say om shanti shanti shanti.

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Here's the other thing – I was already up. I was up at midnight, giving my son a bottle of milk. I was up at 2am, filling the humidifier to put in my daughter's room, as she has a cough. At 4am I needed the bathroom (you know how it is! Pelvic floor) and then I had trouble getting back to sleep worrying a little about money (you won't know how that is; I can tell).

I'm not complaining, I'm just saying. Are there any men voluntarily getting up at 5am? I ask because, you know, feminism.

Also, who else is actually doing this? Is it just me? Really, the only people I know of who start their day before dawn, aren't getting up voluntarily at all. They're cleaning, policing or building the roads; they're punching in at the canning factory, or starting shifts at the hospital. If night-workers are busy at 5am then do they have to get up at 3am to squeeze in that hour of "me" time? You know, I'd hate for them to get only six slices. Please make this part clear.

If I were totally honest, Sam, I'd tell you I'm a little tired of being the only one who bends. There's always something that smells like punishment in books like yours, like I have to pay in sweat for the effrontery, really, of wanting to have kids and a paid job at that same time.

Most of us have already given up quite a bit for our families (senior roles at the office, for example. And I can't go trampolining any more). Giving up on sleep as well seems a little Guantanamo, don't you think?

I made my bed, Sammy; yes, I surely did. And I'm sure as hell going to lie down in it.

 - Sunday Magazine


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