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.
Dad's bag of tricksIf it hadn't been for Mark, we would never have discovered the amazing, works-every-time DE-FART! technique that he developed during one of Zoe's particularly heart-wrenching wails. It's actually a simple procedure -- Mark takes Zoe's legs, wiggles them around a bit, and then ever so gently pushes the fronts of her thighs into her tummy at just the right angle. The results are delightfully explosive.
I think this is the quality my dad referred to when he gave me his opinion of Mark when we were about to marry. "He's a bit of a magician," he said.
"What do you mean by that?" I wondered.
"Well, Mark is the kind of guy who thinks he can make things happen that really can't happen," he explained.
The things that Mark does may not sound so magical, but the fact that he thinks of them and then does them is a small miracle to me.
So whenever he takes a sobbing baby from my breast, I forget that I wanted to kill him 30 minutes earlier because he left out the breast milk I'd pumped on the counter to spoil. And when he takes her at 5 a.m. because she's fussy, I scratch my plans to move out and get my own place because he insisted on blasting Tori Amos all night while he painted. Suddenly I remember I'm married to the best man in the world. Suddenly I want to have sex again. Suddenly being married to a man who prefers painting on the bodies of his kids to doing laundry, cleaning the house, or food shopping is okay by me.
There are times when I wish I were as fun as Mark is. But between the breastfeeding and the bouts of fitful sleep I'm getting during the night, I'm a calamity of emotions -- intense love for my baby, severe exhaustion, frustration as I attempt to keep my 3-year-old from performing science experiments on her sister, and a general kind of weepy surrender for all that I cannot do. Honestly, I'm more than happy to turn a crying child over to my husband and escape to our room to read the paper or hide under the covers.
And this is part of motherhood, too. It just wasn't how I imagined it in the drawings I made as a kid. Clearly, no family picture is complete until you've drawn in a separate room for the mom to run away to every now and then.