Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Squall of Duty

Today, for the first time in months, I drove with a screaming baby in the back seat. It's a half-hour drive from our new house to the community center we started visiting when Westley was just a crawler. Both on the way there and on the way home, my four-month-old passenger yelled her head off for about 20 out of the 30 minutes were on the road. Forty-something minutes of crying total.
I thought Westley would be distressed by the noise. After all, it was some serious crying. Like, "What the fuck is wrong with you, you crazy bitch?! Take me out of this car seat now! Waaaaaa!" But Westley just looked out the window and nodded along with the music, occasionally asking, "What's 'is song called, Mom-mee?"

A few minutes after registering Westley's nonchalance, I realized that there was nothing I could do to help--no amount of my driving one-handed while dislocating my right shoulder, trying to pop a pacifier into a tiny, screaming toothless mouth was going to soothe her--I just...gave up.

All right, I said to my elevated heart-rate, she's just going to have to cry.

And I felt suddenly, strangely okay with that idea.

It was an okay-ness that I'd never really experienced with respect to Westley's crying. When Westley would holler, I'd run through the possible causes--hungry, tired, sick, too cold, too hot, pissed off--and whether or not one of them popped out as the likely culprit, I'd feel guilty. Guilty for not nursing him right that minute. Guilty for not holding him. Guilty for being in the stupid fucking car in the first place (what business did I have taking a baby in the car anyway?). Guilty for having done whatever it was I'd done to make him cry so. Because clearly, as his mother, I was at fault. Clearly.

Some of that guilt--which is the only word that seems to fit with my overwhelming sense of "this is all my fault" when Westley would cry--was the voice of my depression. A practical joke from The Dirty Tricks Department of my mind. However, some of it, I'm sure, was just a nasty side-effect of being so physiologically connected to the crying party. When someone whose DNA closely resembles mine is upset, it's hard for me to avoid being upset, too.

Not being physiologically connected to the loudly miserable child allowed me to see some of that yelling for what it really is: a four-month-old's only way of expressing, "I hate this plan!" (And possibly also, "How dare you not be my mother?")

My hope is that, now that I've experienced this moment of perfect surrender to the Gods of Vehicular Sorrow (and everything turned out fine), I'll be able to apply the same attitude to someone a little closer to me, biologically speaking. As Westley gets increasingly vocal about his distaste for any rule, schedule or idea that comes from me, I'm hoping to take a page from my nannying book. If I've done everything I can, and he's still miserable, he may just have to be miserable for a little while. And that's okay.

Less physiology, more philosophy.

It's not personal, it's fussiness.



Necessity is the mother of invention..........................

Amber, The Unlikely Mama said...

Sometimes I think back and remember how unaffected I was by my friends' kids crying. How I thought nothing of it when they were trying to sleep train. Why oh why can't I be so OK with it with my own?

Jessica said...

I experienced this sense of calm recently when I visited my sister and her 6 week old son. It was amazing to just cuddle and hold him and then hand him over if he was crying (because I couldn't do a thing about it). I sorta get the whole grandparent thing now. And I can totally see all the benefits of your nanny gig. I'd love to be able to hand over Hollis some days hahaha.