Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Whatever it takes

There are things I didn't understand until I became a mother.

How I could function on so little sleep.

How going shopping would turn into passing by the women's section to check out the sales on baby clothes first.

How being done with work and home at night to bathe and put my baby to bed would be the highest priority of my schedule. Every single night.

That regardless of how career minded I might have been in the past, the fact that so many of my students have graduated or quit this year? Just means that I have more time with Bird now. And I'm happy about it.

I didn't understand that my life would change to accommodate his. I honestly thought that I would fit the baby into my life as it already existed.

You can stop laughing now.

My friend T has been my only friend with children. I have watched her children grow and listened intently to the things she has said about parenthood. Most of the time, I would nod and agree, but often, I wouldn't really understand.

For instance, there is a fear of choking. She watches her little ones eat carefully, making sure that the bites are the right size. Making sure that they chew and swallow. Making sure that they aren't left with something in their mouth that might choke them.

I didn't understand why, even if I did believe her and feel that she was justified in her motherly worry.

Then, a few nights ago, I gave my little Bird a Cheerio.

He put it in his mouth, squinched up his nose, and was quiet. He didn't make chewing motions or swallowing motions. He didn't make any sound either.

My heart leaped into my throat as I reached to pick him up and save him from choking.

My heart was faster than my legs, and by the time I had stood, he was gurgling and cooing at the Cheerio he had spit back out of his mouth.

It was a split second, but that was all it took for me to connect with that fear and understand all of the things that T worries about with her kids. They turned from things I knew to things I understood.

What I don't understand yet is how I can lose my patience with Bird when he is just a baby. I don't get why it upsets me so when I try to put him down after having rocked him to sleep and as soon as I let go of his sleeping body, his eyes pop open, he flails over onto his back, and begins to wail.

I don't mean a little wah-wahing. I don't mean some "I don't want to sleep here, please pick me up" tears. I mean full out, panic mode, red in the face, gasping for breath, unable to focus wailing.

He can't seem to stop. Leaving him there for five minutes? Only heightens it and makes it worse. Simply letting him lay in his crib and stand there with him? Only heightens it and makes him mad on top of it all.

So we do this. Rocking to sleep and then into the crib. Over and over again. My shoulders and back ache from the holding and the rocking. My one good nipple is sore from the hours he has been latched on in the past day and night and day. My patience is gone.

I lose my temper. I tell him "no," as if he is doing it to be a naughty baby. I leave him to go try and calm down, closing the door behind me not gently at all and going into another room to let out my own wailing.

Reason pounds through my head in bullet points.

  • He is just a baby.
  • This isn't manipulative.
  • There is something behind his clinging.
  • Maybe he has gas from the cheese I ate.
  • Maybe he is teething.
  • Maybe the painter man who he whimpered at earlier scared him and he doesn't want to be alone.
  • I will figure out why later and hate myself for losing patience.
  • There is always a why and no such thing as a bad baby.
  • I am an adult and should act like one.
  • I wanted this more than anything.
  • Is it so wrong that he just needs me to hold him right now regardless of the million mile list of things I have to get done?
No. There is nothing more important on my list.

I walk back into the room and pick up my child. I'm still shaking from how much the wailing has worked me into a frenzy. I look at him sternly and call his name. He looks at me and fat, wet tears roll down his face. Pushing past my frustration, I kiss him, hold him, rub his head, nurse him, sing to him.

I sit long past the time he passes out in my arms, snoring softly. And I wonder about myself. I wonder why I have to go around that horrific circle of impatience, anger, frustration, and selfishness just to get back to where I started? Back to understanding that he needs me and loves me just as I need and love him?

Rocking him. Holding him. Nursing him. Is it really such a bad way to spend an afternoon? Or from 4:00-6:00am if that be the case?

I don't travel around the circle often. Honestly, I think it is hormonal. It hasn't happened in a few months - ever since I felt like the postpartum hormones were leveling off. Then yesterday I welcomed my period back into my life. Joy. And today? I'm feeling edgy. Frantic. Impatient.

Instead of a Midol, I'm having a beer.

Maybe I'm a terrible mother after all, but Bird is now sleeping peacefully, and I'm feeling up to attacking that list now.

Whatever it takes, some days. Whatever it takes.