She fights sleep. She thrashes in my arms, arches her back. Her hands scrabble frantically at my face, little claws. Short, bleating cries of distress. Then her head knocks against mine (ow!), and she rears up suddenly, scarily, a red-faced gremlin in my hands, and really lets loose: a long, ululating siren cry, a cry like a migraine, aimed right in my face.
Some nights it's not so bad. Tonight, for instance, she just seemed to fuss and cry intermittently from 5 pm on, but went right to sleep (hopefully for good) after minimal screaming. But scream she must. At least one holler, her signature farewell to the day, before she can conk out for the night.
What's wrong with her? my husband, the pediatrician, asks. Bean-girl wasn't this bad, was she? We keep asking ourselves this. Wasn't Bean-girl over her colic by now? Colic is supposed to last 3 months; that's what all the books say, that's what the definition is. It's almost 6 months now. Is it any better? Why not? Why is the Baby Legume still screaming?
Baby Legume, my husband announced this morning, is more high-maintenance than the Bean-girl was.
That's not true, I retorted. You have no idea.
When I think back on those early months with our first-born daughter, I remember long days trapped on the couch, a sleeping baby propped up against my numb forearm. She couldn't sleep by herself, woke up when she wasn't in contact with me. She cried when she wasn't touching me. I couldn't put her down. Oh, and she screamed at night! Far louder and longer than Baby Legume (or so I remember). From 9 pm to midnight, every night. She was so regular in her rhythm, you could set your wristwatch by her. We would all be watching tv in the living room, the Bean-girl peacefully asleep in my arms, and then she would stir slightly, and then, as though someone had stuck her with a pin, let loose with a piercing wail. I'd have only to turn my head and look at the clock to see: Yup, 9:02 pm. And it was probably the clock that was off, not her.
But the Bean-girl slowly did get better. Her colic started fading away around 4 months. Didn't it? we ask ourselves. Didn't it go away then? Wasn't it gone, completely, at the age that Legume is now?
The truth is that I'm not sure we really remember. There's a fog over that whole first year. Immediate and intense as it was at the time, the details are now blurred. When I was still pregnant with the Bean, I had a chance to travel back to the city where I did my Ph.D., and I met with my former advisor. He congratulated me on my pregnancy, and then he had this say:
Raising young children is hard, he said, leaning back in his chair. So hard, I think a kind of amnesia descends on people afterward, and they forget how hard it actually was. A good thing, since if we remembered, no one would ever have a second child.
I think my old advisor was right. He said a number of gems during the the time I worked for him, and this was another of them.
When I think back on that first year with the Bean, I wonder how I got through it. Yet it was no more than what countless mothers are experiencing right now, with their own infant beans. The colic. The endless nursing. The repeated night-wakings, every 2-3 hours, all through the night. For months on end.
What I'm trying to say, Baby Legume, is that you're not really that bad. You only wake up once at night. You can take a bottle and a pacifier. You can play by yourself on the floor during the day. It's really only at night that you get a little crazy.
And when you get older, we'll probably forget even that.
Or maybe we'll remember. I've written it down here in this blog, tonight. On November 17, 2007, Baby Legume aged 5 months and 3 weeks screamed as usual before going to bed. But then she passed out against me, her head on my shoulder, her warm weight on my chest. And I indulged myself. Before putting her in the crib, I pressed my cheek against hers. I felt the soft curve of that flesh, felt her warm, steady breath. I held her that way, not wanting to put her down. My infant baby, mine, sleeping and at peace in my arms.
May I remember that.