Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Endorphins for Breakfast

My new alarm clock.
I come from a long line of powerful, smart, not-a-morning-person, Howland/Clark women. We can change the world, but preferably not before 10:00 am.

One of my strongest memories of my maternal grandmother is the warm sleepy smell of her bedroom that lingered all day long in that back room by the sea. In contrast, my paternal grandmother was true to her Ohio farming roots. Her bedroom was a place of action with a sewing machine and lots of space to walk around. Her bed was always neatly made and looked as if no one had ever slept there. I didn't get those genes. My sleepy grandmother had what I would describe as a lightly-made bed. The cover thrown over it was easily removed to facilitate napping or just a momentary lie down.

One of the joys of my fake life here in Copenhagen is that most days I can wake up at will and putter around the kitchen for awhile - in true Vovo form - before heading out into the world. But there have been some early mornings: Occasionally I would teach a 8:15 am class or have to catch an early train out to the prison. It was through this early morning action that I learned the merits of the bicycle as an alarm clock. You may be half asleep when you leave the house, but after you ride your bicycle through Copenhagen during the morning commute, you are awake. More than awake, you are ready.

In the US, we tend to drive to work. Sitting with coffee and NPR in the traffic. Especially in winter or rainy weather, the warm car is almost an extension of the bed, cozy and undemanding. For children, the commute is similar.  Either the warm car or the even warmer yellow bus that bumps along at a moderate speed, lulling its passengers off to sleep. So when we arrive at work and school, we are barely emerging from our REM and need a few class periods or cups of coffee before we are really ready to engage in the day. The tone is notably different in my Danish workplace: Colleagues and students alike are all fully awake at 8am.

So here is a solution to our problems: Bicycles for all. We worry our children don't get enough exercise, don't get enough out of school, and the yellow buses are notoriously late and lost. So let's auction off the buses and buy every child a bicycle.  The people who used to drive the buses can work as crossing guards and bike traffic controllers to ensure the children's safety. I bet test scores will soar. Adults will no longer have the "I have to drive to work so I can drop off the kids" excuse and get on the bus or a bike of their own. Come on America, wakey, wakey!