Everything sounds much worse when it’s being transmitted through a baby monitor. My daughter’s voice crackles, warbles, hits the limit of the transmission and blurs into static. I look at my watch. It says 7:23 am. It’s wrong, though. I never set it back an hour in November. She goes quiet. I drift back into sleep. Sometimes, I think, sometimes she fusses for thirty seconds and then nods off again. Sometimes.
I shouldn’t complain. It’s not a school day, and this is the first night she’s slept through the night in almost a week. She was doing it consistently before she came down with a fever over the weekend. Every parent fears the fever. Hell hath no fury like a sick baby at 3:00am. It’s harder, going from sleeping without interruption to swinging back into sitting up for an hour as your overtired baby throws a tantrum in your arms while you’re trying to nurse her.
She cries again. My husband rolls over. He and I have a schedule: whoever gets up with her during the night gets to sleep in while the other parent gets her out of bed, gives her breakfast, etcetera. It’s his morning, but she didn’t wake up last night, so I guilt myself into thinking that I should really get up and take care of her. I guilt myself into many things. I did it before I had a baby, and motherhood only exaggerated the problem.
He willingly offers to take care of her, and gets out of bed. I think about shutting the baby monitor off, and fall asleep before I do this. Time passes. I hear the baby crying again, and the shower running. He hasn’t figured out the trick of gating off the bathroom so she doesn’t feel shut out, and also gating the stairs so she doesn’t get ambitious and start climbing them. She starts slapping the bedroom door. She knows I’m in here. I get up and carry her back to bed with me. I try to doze while she nurses. She’s ill-tempered. She pops on and off, cries in between, bangs her hand on my collarbone. I blame it on teething. I blame it on the residual effects of being sick last week. Mostly, I wish she would lay calmly against me while I try to fit in another ten minutes of sleep, like the co-sleeping advocates talk about, except that my daughter never really liked co-sleeping, so the point is moot.
My husband comes back in to get her after his shower, apologizing. I tell him I don’t really mind. And really, I don’t. She seemed so sad and lonesome, out in the hallway, pounding on the door. He takes her out to give her breakfast, but I’m awake now. Listlessly, I scroll through Facebook, and then feel guilty again because my husband is caring for our daughter and I’m supposed to be sleeping. I get up. I start wandering aimlessly around the kitchen, taking care of randomly urgent matters and getting in my husband’s way while he makes coffee, gives the baby her breakfast, and gets his own. I feel dull and fuzzy.
He leaves for work. During yesterday’s weekly grocery trip, I forgot to buy myself some cereal for breakfast. She was fussing in the shopping cart, and I just didn’t think about breakfast until I was out of the parking lot, and there are very few things that would motivate me to find another parking spot, take her out of her carseat, carry her back in the store, buckle her into the cart, etcetera, etcetera.
“I’ll bake some sort of energy bar/muffin thing,” I promised myself.
She’s completely out of sorts today. Lots of leg clinging, arm-raising, begging to be picked up and then writhing like a madwoman once she’s in my arms. I eat cookies for breakfast, justifying it because they have peanut butter chips in them and peanut butter has protein, right? I distract her long enough for the really important part: coffee. She plays contentedly for about 6 minutes while I greedily clasp the mug in my hands and drain it down to the last gritty bits at the bottom. At least there’s that.
I go through the morning chores – making the bed, dusting the floor. She likes these chores. She watches them with rapt attention, and chases after the dust mop as I push it around the baseboards. It’s a bit late; her legs and the front of her pajamas are already coated in a black and white sprinkling of dog and cat hair. I fight a losing battle with the shedding animals and her fleece sleepers.
The floor is relatively clean. I haul her upstairs to get her dressed. My arms and shoulders are sore. I remember that I did yoga for fifteen minutes on Sunday. I should have done yoga today. I feel so much better when I exercise.
It’s fun to get her dressed. She likes it when I tickle her belly, or when I duck my face really close to hers and then pull away quickly. She likes the bird/acorn/pinecone mobile I made for her. We snuggle in the rocking chair when we’re done. She pulls at my shirt. I oblige.
She seems pretty happy after that. I sneak over to the sewing table to fiddle with a few projects. She changes her mind about being happy. She crawls over and wants to be in my lap. I put her in my lap. She wants to get down. She crawls away, and repeats the whole thing in five minutes. I feel sore all over now, in the joints in my hands, in my jaw. This isn’t from yoga. I’m probably getting whatever she had. I can count on one hand the times that I was sick before I became a mother. Now, I would need to borrow other people’s hands to keep track of it. Because I don’t sleep nearly as much as I should, and sleep deprivation means you get sick more often.
I open Spotify and turn on Tallest Man on Earth. She likes him. Well, I like him. She likes anything, even the really bad elevator pop in the grocery store. Normally when I play music she bounces up and down on her knees and claps her hands. She doesn’t do this today. I pick her up again. She pulls on my shirt.
While Christian sings about a woman smelling like smoke and honey in his arms, I think of camping. I remember how nice another person can smell in the darkness, in the tent, after a good campfire, and for the briefest moment, I wish it were just Jason and me again. I feel sad that the twoness, the comradery of being mere children ourselves off on an adventure, is simply not the same. Math doesn’t work the same way with families. It’s not two plus one equals three; its two plus some strange, infinite number equals the original two being all cut and scattered amongst the new sum.
I feel guilty because I wish I could go camping alone with my husband.
She’s so crabby. I don’t feel good. I’m tired. I nurse her again. She falls asleep. She wakes up as I’m laying her in the crib, cries for ten seconds, and then consents to an early nap.
The to-do list hits me with a vengeance. I need to call the school IT department because I let my password expire, and I already missed a minor assignment because of it. I need to order another textbook. I need to register for a workshop. I need to make breakfast.
Usually, when I have lots of small things to do, one or more of them turns out to be a large thing and I get very discouraged. Today, I’m in luck. I get it all done. As the breakfast bars are in the oven, I think about showering. I wonder if showering will make me feel better. And then, it occurs to me that I could take a bath with her when she wakes up. We like doing this together. It would be something nice for me, and something nice for her at the same time, and that’s sort of rare. I go to clean the tub. It’s quite grimy. The timer on the oven goes off. She wakes up.
You know that thing that mothers say? The “it goes too fast” thing? That plays in my head all the time. That makes me feel guilty, like there’s something really, really evil about me because I’ve never thought it goes too fast. I think it goes just right, and sometimes, just right can seem really long. The span of time between the end of her nap and bedtime overwhelms me some days, and I think, “am I the only one who feels like this?” I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not. Maybe we don‘t say it, though. Maybe we fear that saying it negates how much we love our children, how integral and fierce our connections are to them. Maybe we are uncomfortable with expressing the pain of motherhood because some women want to be mothers and can’t, or some women were mothers and now they aren’t. Maybe the best we can do is write something slightly humorous, something light, and easy to read, about being tired, about cleaning up someone else’s poop, and then quickly slap the bandaid of “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” on the end.
Or maybe I am the only one who sometimes misses not being a parent, or having the ability to catch up on sleep, or being alone with my husband, or just not feeling guilty all the time. I miss having space in my brain, because I went from being a person to being a radio tower, and she is the frequency that never turns off.
And after all of this, I’m going to run a warm bath, and enjoy the time with my daughter. I’m going to give her lunch and play with her and nurse her to sleep tonight, and before I go to bed myself, I’ll very likely pick up my phone and look at photos of her, and I’ll think of how I love her so much that it almost feels sinful to say it out loud, to strap it into the constraints of words and sounds. Because that’s what being a parent is like. It’s almost like being a superhero, like having the ability to simultaneously hold your frustration and your love in the same hand. And when I think of it this way, I don’t feel guilty at all. I feel mighty, and brave. I feel like I’m saving the world.