Since my eldest daughter, Ruby Grace, was born three years ago, I've learned a lot of things about myself -- one of them being that I have a pretty low tolerance for crying. So when my 4-month-old, Zoe, starts to whimper, I go through the same ritual I did when Ruby was an infant: I check the diaper, and search for the burp, but nine times out of ten my remedy is to aim my breast straight for her mouth. Bull's-eye.
God bless breastfeeding. It's instant, plus I get to sit down, space out, make a phone call, or just stare into the blue eyes of my babe. And best of all, it can usually make the tears go away. It's practically the only thing that I do really well without even trying.
But when it doesn't work, I've been known to wince, to cringe, and even to put my hands over my ears after the baby has been at it for a few minutes. Maybe it's because I'm not getting much sleep and feel thin-skinned. Or maybe it's because crying makes me feel like there's a five-alarm fire in the house and I'm the only firefighter in town.
My husband isn't nearly as fazed by these inconsolable sobs, but then, he also thrives on situations that seem doomed. Give him a broken computer and his eyes light up. Give him a wailing kid and he grins. And not having his own milky breasts to whip out in our sobbing baby's face has made him a very resourceful guy.
It started when Ruby was 4 weeks old. Wearily, I turned her over to Mark and retreated to our room. When I came downstairs half an hour later, I found the two of them sitting in lawn chairs in the yard looking up at the stars. Mark was deep into a story about our cat Smokey and the Ten Thousand Arabian Nights. Over the next few months, Smokey got into some amazing trouble that only Mark and Ruby could help him out of.
So now when Zoe can't stop crying, Mark takes her and they lie on the floor listening to ambient music, or they go into the garden to have a conversation with a very beautiful, slimy salamander they discovered under a piece of wood.
Laurie Wagner is the author of Expectations: 30 Women Talk About Becoming a Mother.