Groggily she pushed back the warm blanket and pried herself out from between the sheets. On weary feet she plodded from her room down the hall to the nursery. Using the glow from the night light, she peered into the mahogany crib at the little bundle of joy that had become a little bundle of screaming. This scream sounded like all the other screams. Was he hungry? Wet? Gassy? Did he want to be held? Rocked? Sang to?
She opened the blanket swaddled around him and felt his diaper. Heavy. She picked him up and put him on the changing table. The velvety cover was soft, and she smiled thinking about the way he liked to grab at it and feel the texture. She popped open the snaps of his footie-pajamas. Little legs kicked as she undid the diaper. She balled it up and put it in the diaper pail. Before she could slide the new diaper in place, pee spurted up from her darling baby boy. Again. It was over as quickly as it began. She took a wipe from the drawer and patted down his face… and the wall. She’d wash the changing pad in the morning.
The new diaper went on without further incident. She re-snapped the footie-pajamas, loving the little dinosaurs for the feet. The last snap did not have a corresponding half. Alas, she had missed the first one and they were all offset. Emitting a tired sigh, she did it again. Now dry and warm, still he screamed.
With the little six-pound body snug in her arms, she went into the kitchen. She flicked on the kitchen light. The brightness hurt her tired eyes. She filled the bottle with two ounces of tap water, then clumsily she scooped formula one-handed. By the time she had put two scoops’ worth into the bottle, she had a ring of powder on the counter around the base of the bottle. She tried to screw the top on, cross-threaded it, and then knocked it over trying to undo it again. She swore softly. She wiped the counter with a dish rag and started over.
She finally had a bottle made. A tiny mouth latched onto the nipple and sucked greedily. He chugged until there was no more. Before she could even get the empty bottle into the sink, he spit up, regurgitating formula all over her shoulder. She wiped it up with a towel. Her shirt was wet and cold and she wanted nothing more than to change, but still he screamed.
She took him back into the nursery and sank into the rocking chair. She settled him on her dry shoulder and rhythmically moved the chair forward and back again. She rocked for what seemed like eternity, but still he screamed.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star,” she sang softly. “You are screaming, yes you are. In the nursery, in the dark. Let mommy get some sleep tonight. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, this song doesn’t even rhyme.” It was a fiasco of a song, but then, he probably couldn’t hear her anyway because still he screamed.
She stood and swayed gently while patting his back. He let out a massive burp. Then, mercifully, he was quiet. She kissed his forehead and laid him on the swaddle blanket. Left-right-bottom. No, she was folding it wrong. Right-left-bottom. Still wrong. Bottom-left-right. If she did some creative tucking with the edges it was good enough.
She went back to her room, collapsed on her bed, and wondered if she’d ever be a good mother. Would she ever know what her baby wanted? Would she ever be able to give him what he needed without spending forever screwing it up first?
One month later she vacated her warm bed and went into the nursery. She scooped the tiny screamer into her arms. She placed him on the changing table and unwrapped the swaddle. She unsnapped the footie-pajamas. Holding the new diaper over the old one, she removed the soaking old one with a spray-guard in place. New diaper secured, she redid the snaps with practiced ease.
Baby held to her chest, she padded into the kitchen and flipped on the pantry light, enough to see by but not enough to stimulate the baby. She poured two ounces of water into a bottle that already held measured formula. Deftly she screwed on the lid and shook it up.
He sucked at the bottle like he’d never eaten before, but she wasn’t going to let him chug it all down. Every half ounce she pulled the bottle out of his mouth to pace him. He shrieked every time, but by now she had a system and no amount of shrieking was going to dissuade her.
She threw a checkered towel over her shoulder and propped him up. She patted his back until he burped. The spit up soaked into the towel instead of her nightshirt. She wiped his mouth with a dry corner of the dishtowel and laid it on the counter.
Tiny fingers clutched at the neckline of her shirt, and he relaxed in her arms. He was quiet. What used to be an hour of guess and check was now a practiced routine pared down to twenty minutes, max.
She held him as he drifted off to sleep. In the nursery, she laid him on the swaddle blanket. She wrapped the right side around him, tucking it underneath his little body. She folded the bottom up and crossed the left side around him. He stirred. She held him against her chest. He nuzzled at her, and she smiled in the dark.
Her precious baby boy was dry, warm, and fed. She had wasted no time in taking care of him. He didn’t have to scream for an hour begging her to help him. She had mastered motherhood. Well, this stage anyway. There would always be more to come, but she felt confident that she could adapt.
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Sarah, I found your writing compelling. Honestly, this is not a subject that should hold my attention (not good with babies), but your language and pacing put me in the room. It made me think of soft things: blankets, lights, sounds. And the victory at the end. Keep it up!
Thanks, Harvey. I appreciate the feedback.