The Baby’s Crying? No, Really, I Hadn’t Noticed

baby gull screaming feed me

Baby Gull Screaming, “Feed Me!” (Photo credit: minicooper93402)


Sometimes being a mother is the most wonderful thing in the world. Sometimes it’s a minute-by-minute battle, and I’m surprised at the end that there aren’t any casualties. Sometimes it’s just plain boring, and I can’t help but feeling slightly jealous of the footloose and fancy-free folks, going to the movies or even on a quick road trip on a whim, while I’m stuck at home. But after a particularly trying evening recently, when I felt like admitting defeat, I stopped myself in the middle of wishing for a mommy vacation. It’s the whole be careful what you wish for thing. I will take a trying evening with my children any night over the empty, nightmarish nothingness of not having them at all.

Right now, my thirteen-month-old, who is a challenge on a good day, is cutting five teeth, three of which are molars. Now, this kid doesn’t sit quietly by and let things happen to him. When he is in pain, he lets you know about it. He lets the guy down the street know. I’m pretty sure he’s trying to let our family in Colorado know. This is all new to me. With my elder son, cutting teeth was not fun. With Ian, it’s unbearable. I am pretty sure that hell is full of poorly written fan fiction, burnt popcorn, and a never-ending soundtrack of Ian cutting teeth.

I am not a stay-at-home mom. I’m a part-time-work-velcro-baby-on-the-hip mom. It worked really well with my first child, and it’s not that it doesn’t work this time, just that, when you bring your kid with you to work, it’s distracting when he starts to scream. And the screaming isn’t limited to teething.  It’s Ian’s mode of communication, and has been since he left the womb. Happy screams, sad screams, mad screams, screams when he’s hungry, screams when he’s thirsty, screams when he’s tired, screams when he wants attention, screams when he’s excited, even screams while he is sound asleep. But the teething screams are the worst.

Someone once told me, “I had a child like that; it was so hard until he learned to talk.” Granted, Ian’s vocabulary is limited, but he knows sign language and can communicate that way—when he chooses. That’s my problem, I know, because I haven’t enforced it like I did with Peter. But even if I were more vigilant, how much would it help? When he was only a week old, his pediatrician said (as Ian turned purple in the face and wailed at the top of his lungs), “Oh, this one likes to be held.” And I thought, Have we already ruined him? Is he dependent on another person to make him happy? What a terrible thought that he might not be able to self-soothe. At two months, when he would only go down in his crib if he was nursed or rocked to sleep, I called his doctor in desperation and finally got permission to let him cry it out. It was excruciating, but he eventually slept.

So at work earlier this week, Ian had one of his screaming moments when a little eighty-five-year-old lady came in. I cannot count how many times I’ve apologized to customers for how loud he is. Usually he’s just happy-loud, but it’s still distracting. Or with the teething, I get a lot of understanding nods and sympathy. But this particular time, this lady actually asked me to take him away. She said she’d never heard anything like it in her life and didn’t want any chance of hearing it again. And I thought, Really? Have you never been in a restaurant when a kid had a meltdown? Have you never been to the grocery store or a park or any place where children go? (Turns out she used to be a stewardess, which makes the whole thing even more baffling.)

I in no way condone parents ignoring their children when they throw tantrums or reenforcing bad behaviors by giving in, but there’s a big difference between the kind of public meltdown that children use to get what they want and real crying. It bothers and embarrasses me when Ian acts out in public (Peter, too, but nine-point-five times out of ten, it’s Ian), and if the normal methods of soothing don’t work, my husband or I take him out. It’s the polite thing to do and what I expect of other parents.

I guess what drives me nuts about the other day is that I fixed the problem; he was already quiet. I wanted to say, Lady, do you have to continue to make me feel like an inadequate parent? I know that I’m not doing as good a job with him as I did with his brother; you don’t have to remind me by covering your ears and looking at him like he has a third eye. I clung to Ian, feeling for him because I knew he was in pain. At the same time, I wanted to tell the woman that at least she could leave, while I was stuck.

But there I go again, thinking the wrong thing. I don’t want to be away from my baby, really. I want him to be well-behaved, a joy to others. But I also want him to be himself, and if that means he’s more spirited than his brother, I just need to work a little harder. I also need to work on myself, and my patience, in particular. And maybe, if I live to see eighty-five, instead of being judgmental and hurtful by saying, “Please, take him away. I can’t handle that. How can you stand it?”, I’ll remember my own trials (all water under the bridge by then, right?) and show compassion to harried young mothers.

Five Years of Blessing

Peter Patter – November 6, 2007

The morning I decided to write this, I walked out the door ten minutes late, forgetting the baby’s blanket and leaving a sink full of dirty dishes for my sleep-deprived husband to deal with. I wondered if I really wanted to write this when my life felt more like “Five Years of Frustration and Disappointment.” When I allow something like running late to get to me, I turn into a mommy monster, complete with devil horns, forked tongue, and yellow eyes. While Peter, my elder son, moved at the speed of molasses, I frantically did everything that I had already asked him to do, and with my hands full, I saw that the baby had kicked off his shoes. I almost threw the things I was holding on the floor but caught myself and resorted to disgruntled muttering. Then Peter said, “But you know you still love us.” That’s his go-to line whenever I lose my temper, and it did the trick, yet again. I calmly replaced the shoes on the baby’s feet while Peter waxed eloquent about how adorable his little brother is and how much he loves him.

“Blessing” won. Let’s be honest, I was going to write this anyway, but making myself go through the exercise has made me hyper-aware of how I choose to live every moment. You see, five years ago today, I became a mother, and even with those many moments when my patience is tried to the limit, it is no exaggeration to say that these have been the best five years of my life.

When Peter was born on November 6, 2007, I understood what a friend meant when she said she fell in love with her daughter. During pregnancy, I knew I loved my baby, but until he was born, I really had no idea how much love was in me. I in no way imagined what becoming a mother would do to me. Those first few days, my husband and I just stared at Peter in wonder while he did nothing more than just lie there–asleep, awake, cranky, it didn’t matter to us. Everything Peter did was (and still is) art.

Now, don’t misunderstand, I loved my life before children. Thomas and I had a great time going to movies on weeknights if we wanted or going across town on a whim, not tied down by nap times or the endless chores that come with child-rearing. And if I didn’t get my coveted eight hours of sleep per night, I only had myself to blame. But when I had Peter, it finally made sense how my parents could love me so much, could sacrifice everything for my well-being. I never could understand how, when Mama’s mother died, she was able to cope, to seemingly love me so deeply when she no longer had a mother for comfort. I know now. When my boys need their mommy, I only pray that I can be as good a mother as the women before me.

I am not overstating it when I say that Peter’s a good kid, but he does have his moments when he tries me past my last nerve (throwing a shoe at me, for instance, then not understanding why I’m irate). And as stupid as I’m sure I look and sound, doing silly things just to hear Ian laugh, there are those dark times that I hope to never relive. Parenting is not all rainbows and unicorns, folks, although it’s my choice to either keep going or to throw my hands in the air and give up. With Peter, the bad moments were just that—moments. And they weren’t often. Since Ian’s birth, there have been much longer stretches of time when I have felt like a miserable failure. For the first five or six weeks of his life, if I slept at all, it was usually on the couch, holding a pacifier in his mouth while he screamed. There were times when I had to put him down, close the door, and walk away–for his sake as much as my own. Of course, it’s not his fault that he had colic and reflux–but so did Peter, who didn’t seem to cry nearly as much, nor spit nearly as projectile-y.

But there are those moments of peace, when both boys are happy (if not quiet), and moments of triumph (like when potty-training finally clicked for Peter or Ian started taking naps without screaming himself to sleep). And when those rough times come, they still somehow love me, even when I’m in the midst of a Sigourney Weaver-turned-Zuul type tantrum (minus the levitation, of course).

What did I ever do to deserve such love? No, what did I do to deserve them at all? There are women who have lost babies late in pregnancy, due to no fault of their own. There are children who have leukemia or other rare diseases, but the worst either of mine has had so far is reflux and the occasional ear infection. There are so many women out there who would do almost anything to just have one child, yet I have two. Sometimes my husband and I joke that people will look at us and say, “Who let them have two kids?” and whisk our boys away. Because there is no good answer as to why we have this double blessing.

Five years ago, almost to the very day, the recession hit my parents’ small business, where I am the bookkeeper. If I hadn’t gone on a two-month maternity leave and come back with a severe cut in salary, I would have lost my job completely. It’s been tough on our family, even tougher with the second child. If we’d been strictly logical about it, Thomas and I would have waited (might still be waiting now) and then probably only had one child. I could have bettered my job situation at a time when it still would have been possible, and today, I might look back on five years of financial blessing. Instead, I am a statistic, but the trade off is that I see my parents every day and can bring my children with me to work. And, of course, I’m struggling to do something with this writing career that has been taxiing on the runway since I graduated from college. Maybe it will take off someday. But if it doesn’t, I’m enjoying myself, even if I’m not raking in the cash. I’m glad that we risked it all to become parents. I would never trade a chorus of “Ian’s a Rockstar” (that’s a Peter original) or “Albuquerque Turkey” (accompanied by Ian’s squeals and “bluh-bluh-bluh” in place of the lyrics Peter can’t remember) for a career.

I hope for many more years with my boys. In the moments when Peter feels the need to remind me that I love him, I can be thankful that I have fodder for my blog–but most of all, thankful that, as my grandfather always used to say, “I am blessed beyond belief.”