“I don’t want my water out of my bath!” “I don’t want my water out of my bath!” “I don’t want my water out of my BATH!” he shrieks over and over while my husband and I sit on the couch, looking at our phones, exchanging glances with each other. Whispering so he can’t hear us.
“Should I go in there?”
“No – just ignore it.”
“Did you set the timer and tell him that when it went off that it was time to get out?”
“Did you ask him nicely, patiently?”
“Did you tell him that we were going to read a story?”
“Should I go in there?”
“I don’t know.”
Eventually, the wails quiet, and we hear the pitter patter of footsteps down the hall. His head pokes around the corner. His face is tear-stained. He is naked, heaving.
“Come here, baby,” I say.
He sniffles: “I don’t want my water out of my bath.”
“Are you ready for bed?” I ask
“Can I pick out which story to read?”
“Sure,” I say.
Later, after he is asleep, I go to the bathroom to put towels away, tidy things up, and I see that, in an effort to keep his water from draining out of the tub, my darling boy has stuffed all of his bath toys in the drain where the stopper is supposed to go. The stopper that we took away from him when he wouldn’t stop turning on the water. The stopper that we took away when it was past bedtime and we gently told him, set the timer, gave him warning, and said sweetly, “Time to go to bed.” Those toys crammed in the drain are enough to break my heart.
Tomorrow ,we begin again.
Three years prior, it’s weeks after my boy is born and I’m nursing nonstop. I’m waking up every two hours, even if my boy isn’t awake, so that I can rouse him from his slumber and attach him to a boob.
He’s a little guy, below 5% in the newborn weight range, and spent time in the NICU for jaundice, so I, an anxious-at-the-best-of-times person, am riddled with anxiety. After one of our feedings, I change his diaper and swaddle him back up in the blankets, place him in the crook of my arm to soothe him to sleep, and wake up from a deep sleep myself, what seems like hours later.
I panic, realizing that I’ve been sleeping so soundly with my infant in bed next to me instead of the bassinet. I bolt upright, bringing him with me.
“He’s not breathing!” I scream to my husband. I’m already rapidly unswaddling my boy when he opens his eyes groggily and begins to cry.
“What’s happening?” my husband asks, voice heavy with sleep. “Do I need to change him?”
“No. I just… I thought he wasn’t breathing.” I’m shaking, almost crying.
“Baby, he’s fine, he was just asleep.”
“Yeah,” I mumble as I rock and nurse him again, trying to calm him back down. Trying to calm us back down.
My husband is back asleep within moments. I finish nursing my boy, change his diaper, swaddle him back up, and place him gently in the bassinet. I turn on my lamp and lay there with my hand on his chest, counting breaths until the sun comes up.
My husband gets up before me and goes to make us breakfast in the kitchen. I startle awake to find my boy still snoozing and get up to head to the kitchen. When I see my husband, I start to cry.
“Nothing, it’s just that I think maybe I shook him last night when I tried to wake him up. What if I gave him shaken baby syndrome? What if he’s sleeping late because he has…brain damage?!” I gulp and sob.
My husband stares at me as if I’m off my rocker because, at this point, I am.
After a moment, he embraces me and says gently, with kindness, but firmly, “Our baby is fine. You are overreacting. You need to go to the guest room right now and get some sleep.”
“I have to pump first,” I say between sniffles.
“Ok.” He strokes my back. “It’s ok.”
I pump, give my husband the milk, go to the guest room, and sleep.
When I wake up actual hours later, my husband and my boy are in the living room. My husband is watching football. My boy is in his lap, cooing and thrashing around with the jerky movements that one makes when life and limbs are brand new. I kiss my husband and scoop up my boy. I hold him close and make silly faces and talk to him in that silly baby voice until he’s ready to nurse again and nap again and wake again.
Tomorrow, we begin again.
Sometimes when I look at the future, I get scared of what may be.
Having a child has made me more acutely aware of mortality. I see it barreling down on me with every new step my child takes. With every leap towards independence, I see it looming closer. And part of that is my anxiety, at least that’s what my therapist says, but part of that is inherent to being a parent.
Being around all that hope, that unbridled enthusiasm for the things still undiscovered, things like giant leaves in fall, how it feels to hold your breath underwater for the first time, putting his shoes on himself, can make a parent feel downright old. Even if that parent may still be, comparatively, of course, young.
That’s why those toys crammed down the drain broke my heart. Because my boy wanted something so badly, and it may seem small to those of us who have already grown up. It may seem trivial to those of us whose dreams have been shattered in a million different ways over the long years, but to him, it was worth fighting for. That extra time in the bath. He fought. He fought bravely, loudly, with passion and heart. And he lost.
Discipline is necessary. Living is necessary. Having your heart broken is necessary. Lessons must be learned, and through all of our defeats, even when there is no water left in the bath. Even when rest seems to evade us and peace seems a distant dream, tomorrow, we begin again.
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