Friday, February 1, 2013

What Every Child Should Say to You

Finally, after ten minutes of frustration, I thought I knew why E.C. was crying. For five-month-olds, so much discomfort, I think, has to do with food. For one thing, E.C. has major trapped gas. Tiny, ineffective teeth are pushing through his gums and he can't numb them with booze. That he also can't get milk from his babysitter–me–must be disconcerting. I see him reach for carrots and crackers now and again, and I push them away because he's not ready for them. He's all white-capped gums.

In these moments, when I think I'm on top of things, I'm filled with hope. But, it's all a big, fat lie. Unless something's terribly wrong–like an ear ache–it's clear I'm just guessing at the real source of his discomfort. The other day, after my epiphany about food and infants, E.C. started crying again so I got him onto my hip and we sashayed around the room. As he quieted down a bit, I stopped to look at a row of books on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Nope, he wasn't having that. Keep moving, he seemed to say through his tears. 

In the kitchen, I rinsed some dishes and he smiled at the running water for about ten seconds. Nope, don't look at the lovely photographs on the refrigerator. Take me outside with the dogs at your feet. His sobs were slowly breaking my heart.

He does really well with walks, but his dad had already gone out with him, and he'd been tired enough for a nap. I was trying to take him that final mile. We'd go anywhere, I decided, as long as I didn't feel like a failure; as long as he and I could meet with some success. 

But, in terms of taking care of an infant, what does success even mean? And isn't the idea of trying to anticipate a baby's woes crazy-making? Wouldn't it be just as alarming if he never cried at all? As I walked out into the yard, I remembered that childcare is something akin to modern medicine. It's stochastic. A certain randomness is inherent and should be expected. It wasn't E.C. who was making me crazy at all. He wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. I needed to know this on a deeper level, to build some endurance around it.

Taking care of E.C. makes me appreciate my own mother who raised my sister and me and never once expected us to give her instructions. (She did, I might add, sashay around the house, thereby giving me a tip for later).

At some point when E.C. and I were in the garage looking at his father's artwork, he fell asleep in my arms. I'm not ashamed to say it. I was close to tears. As I walked him to the rocking chair, I was flooded with empathy and gratitude: for the baby, for my mother, for his parents. For any adult who's ever not known what to do, for any child who's been tired out of his mind.

That day, among his father's wonderful prints, I also found the memorable words of a child. It was a get-well card penned in purple crayon on a large white piece of paper.

Dear Uncle  ______

rest for a little while
get up and get on the couch
get a snack and maybe
some coffee
and feel better.

from Dr. _____

And here we have a child who appreciates how hard adulthood can be. These words are good advice for anyone. I'll remember them next time I've got E.C. in my arms.

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