A flash storm blackened the sky and pelted us with rain as we scampered down Nana’s front steps towards the car. Although you’ve never been a big fan of car rides, I knew something was off. You were fussier than usual.
If I wanted to maximize my chances of putting you to sleep successfully, I needed to calm you down ASAP. With one hand on the wheel I fished around in the back seat for Kitty Kitty Meow Meow, a stuffed cat that lived in the car for just such occasions.
I propped Kitty Kitty up on the top of the passenger seat so that it was facing you. Meow Meow! I squeaked, fiddling with the cat’s head and limbs in a way that I hoped looked comical. Meow Meow! It worked. Your plaintive mewling turned into exquisite giggling. You thrashed your arms and legs with glee and cackled in the back seat. This distraction technique, like all distraction techniques with babies, yields diminishing returns. I had to keep the puppet show up to keep you satisfied. MEOW MEOW PEEK-A-BOO MEOW MEOW! I shouted, lifting the cat up and down to mimic your favorite now-you-see-me/now-you-don’t game.
With my other hand I navigated through blacked out intersections and block after block of darkened store fronts. Nothing along our street was lit, so I knew we would be going back to a hot and dark house.
I parked the car and hopped into the back seat with you to wait out the worst of the rain. Your ratio of cries to giggles began to even out and I knew I had to get you inside soon. Thankfully the two of us only had to wait a few minutes before the worst of the weather was over and I could ferry you inside.
Doggy greeted us as soon as we entered. I plopped you down onto the floor, took off your glasses, and corralled the dog outside. I looked back from the backyard door to see your face crumple. Your cry rose up and pierced the silence of the house.
You weren’t normally this upset. My brain wracked itself trying to figure out what was wrong, but I had no idea. Thankfully, doggy dislikes going outside as much as I do, so she was quick to come back in. I scooped you up off the floor, got your bottle ready, and snagged a clean binky.
You’ve always hated getting your diaper changed, so I wasn’t too phased by your back arching and binky chucking. The real problem began when I sat down on the rocking chair with you to administer your bedtime bottle. You finally committed to the complete and total explosion that you had been flirting with for the last hour.
You thrashed, bucking against me, clawing and pawing at everything within reach. Your terror wailing blocked out my vision and overloaded my circuits. You didn’t stop screaming. I had no idea what to do. I was afraid to move you too much too fast. I quickly lifted you up and did a 360 degree spot check. No blood or strange marks. I checked your fingers and toes but every digit was in the right place. The only thing missing from our normal bedtime protocol was a story. I’m pretty sure your explosion wasn’t caused by not hearing about how the pigeon doesn’t need a bath for the gillionth time.
Sweat poured down my face in rivers, soaking my beard and your polka dotted pajama onesie. I held you in place with my body. You roared and contorted, doing your best to escape my grasp. I tried to strike the right balance between giving you enough inches to move while still keeping you contained. You were deafening. You seemed to be in so much pain and I was helpless before you.
I remembered hearing a story once about a Buddhist monk who found himself feeling nervous before giving a talk to a large group of students. The monk stood in front of the audience, closed his eyes, and began naming his anxiety. He shut everything out and tuned into his experience. By the time he opened his eyes, the entire audience was in meditation with him. I couldn’t fix what was wrong with you, but I could hold you and be with you.
So I started talking. I verbalized everything that was going through my head. I needed to get my brain back online and refocused. Like writing, speaking forces me to put one word in front of the other.
okay so joelle so right now you are screaming really loudly and i don’t know what do and i’m we’re sitting here and it’s raining and the power is out and i’m sweating you seem to be in pain maybe i don’t know what’s wrong everything is going to be okay everything is going to be okay i’m right here with you i’m so nervous oh god what do i do everything is going to be okay i’m right here with you
Tremors moved through you in waves. I held you through the aftershocks. Finally, the only one shaking was me. Once you were still for at least five minutes, I put you down in your crib. Your hair, drenched from banging and rubbing against my arm, was plastered to your scalp in coils and curlicues. You were asleep.
I sat on the rug and watched you sleep. I don’t know how long I sat there. Finally the various electronic beeps of electronic machines turning on signaled electricity’s return. I felt confident enough to tip-toe out of your bedroom and into our bedroom. The exhaustion of my frayed nerves belied the early 6:30 hour. I closed my eyes and waited for sleep.