Once in a while, just to screw with us, he’d mix it up and pass out for a while. But if he was awake? Yep—he was bawling. And I’m not talking about lip-quivering whimpers, either. Hell no. I’m talking lung-expanding, arm-and-leg-kicking, bansheelike screeching.
Shaken baby syndrome? I totally get that now.
Not that we were gonna go nuclear on his ass, but honestly? It wasn’t fun.
My mother came over a lot, and at first I was relieved. I figured she’d done this twice before, she’d know how to fix him. Moms always make everything better.
Only . . . she didn’t.
All she did was smile in that infuriatingly calm way while she bounced our squawking newborn on her shoulder. Then she’d tell us it was normal. That all babies cried. That Kate and I just had to figure out our own way of doing things.
I’d never before had the urge to strangle my mother. I’d never understood psychos like the Menendez brothers or Jim Gordon. But in those dark days when sleep—and blow jobs—were a distant memory, I’m sorry to say matricide was looking pretty damn attractive.
Because I was sure my mother knew the secrets of a happy baby—that she held the Keys to the Kingdom in her grasp. But for some evil, vengeful reason, she just wasn’t handing them the f**k over. And sleep deprivation can drive you crazy. Even the most absurd ideas suddenly look like viable options.
One time, it was around four in the morning and I . . .
Actually, it might be better if I just show you, so you can get the full effect. Yes, it’s a flashback within a flashback—but you’re smart, you can handle it. I’ll speak slowly, just in case:
James, five days old:
“Whaaa, whaaa, whaaa, whaaa.”
In the time it takes my eyes to crack open and interpret the numbers on the alarm clock, Kate is already sitting up, ready to spring out of bed and scoop up the swaddled ball of angry in the bassinet beside the bed.
Mentally, I groan—because it’s been less than an hour since he fell asleep. Although my first egotistical instinct is to close my eyes and let Kate deal with it, the part of me that wants to help out while I can—because I don’t want her to lose her mind—backhands the selfish part.
“I got him, Kate.” I toss the covers off and slip on a pair of sweats. “Go back to sleep.” I’m kind of hoping she fights me over it . . . but she doesn’t. She flops back down against the pillow.
I pick James up and hold him against my bare chest. His cheek nuzzles my skin before he unleashes a heartbroken cry. I walk out of the bedroom with him to the kitchen. From the fridge I grab a bottle of breast milk, which Kate filled this afternoon with that weird dairy-cow pump thing she got from Delores at the baby shower. Holding James with one hand, I run the bottle under hot water the way the lactation adviser at the hospital instructed us to do.
After it’s warmed, I make my way to the living room with bleary eyes and tired, wobbly legs. I sit on the couch, cradling James in my arms, and run the nipple across his lips.
I realize it’s a bad idea to feed him every time he wakes. I know all about the importance of a feeding schedule and burping and teaching him to “self-soothe.” I understand he shouldn’t actually be hungry, since he just ate an hour ago. But sleep deprivation is a torture technique for a reason. So all that crap goes right out the window, in the hopes of getting him—and me—back to sleep as quickly as possible.
He takes two drags on the bottle, then rejects it, turning his head with an openmouthed squawk: “Whaaaaaaa.”
I look up at the ceiling and curse God.
“What do you want, James?” My voice has a frustrated edge. “You’re dry, I’m holding you, I’m trying to feed you—what the hell do you want?” I walk back to the kitchen and grab the checkbook off the counter.
“Will money make you happy?”
Ridiculous—yes, I know. Don’t judge me.
“I’ll give you ten thousand dollars for four hours of sleep. I’ll write the check out right now.” I wave the checkbook in front of his face, hoping to distract him.
It just pisses him off more.
“Whaaaaaa . . .”
I toss the checkbook back on the counter and return to the living room. Then I pace the floor, rocking him softly in my arms, patting his ass. You know I must be really desperate—because I try singing:
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word
Daddy’s gonna buy you a . . .
I stop—because why the f**k would any baby want a mockingbird? None of those nursery rhymes make any goddamn sense. I don’t know any other lullabies, so I go for the next best thing, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica:
Take my hand,
We’re off to never-never land . . .
When that doesn’t help, I sit down on the couch. I lay James on my thighs and support his head with my hand. I look into his little face—and even though he’s still bawling, I can’t help but smile. Then, in a low, calm voice, I talk to him.
“I get it, you know. Why you’re so unhappy. One minute you’re floating in amniotic fluid—it’s dark and warm and quiet. Then a minute later, you’re freezing and there’s bright lights and some ass**le is pricking your heel with a needle. Your whole world is turned upside down.”
The tide of tears starts to recede. Though there’s a sporadic whimper, for the most part his big, brown eyes keep contact with mine. Interested in what I’m saying. I know the accepted theory is that babies have no understanding of language at this stage, but—like men attempting to get out of household chores—I think they know more than they let on.