Her Bad Mother

Monday, February 5, 2007

Acquainted With The Night

I was listening for her, last night, as I lay awake in a tangle of sheets and Kleenex and wakefulness. I had expected to remain awake, even though the bottle of Nyquil - acquired primarily for its cough-suppressing, rather than its sleep-inducing, qualities - warned of likely drowsiness. (Do not operate heavy machinery, it cautions. All right then, but only if we suppose that my psyche is not heavy machinery.) I expected to remain awake, even as the doxylamine succinate coursed through my throbbing veins, my tired, congested body sinking with the weight of a thousand bodies into the mattress. I knew that it would take a far stronger narcotic to slow my racing mind, racing still, even with weight of my flu-ridden body slowing its pace.

I was listening for her, expecting to hear, at some late hour, the sleepy mewls and whimpers that come as she begins to stir, lightly wakened by some glimmer of moonlight through curtain, some creak of aging wood bent against winter wind, some slight chill, the breath of some wayward ghost. I was listening, and hoping. If she wakes, I told myself, I will bring her here, into this warm tangle of blankets and tissue and cats and parents. I will press her to me, curl around her, feel the whisper of her downy hair against my lips, and I will sleep.

A whimper, a cry; I hear her stir. I hold my breath. I shouldn't wake her; I should let her soothe herself, find her own way through the forests of sleep (for some, a dense thicket; for me, an isolated copse, as of cypress, exposed to but weathering a cold winter wind.) The nursery falls silent, and I exhale, relieved, and disappointed.

And then, and then... the cry, the shout, the whimpered protest against the follies of sleep. I am up in an instant, padding down the hall, slipping silently into her room, to her crib, reaching for her, pulling her up and pressing her to me, whispering sweet maternal nothings against her tousled head as we glide silently back to the big bed, to the tangle of blankets and tissues and warm skin. We fall quietly into the softness. I hush, I murmur, I whisper words of love as she curls into me, her fleece-clad back pressing against my chest, her head against my cheek. I pull her closer, and feel our heaviness as we settle, as one, into sleep. My eyes are heavy; my heart is eased; my psyche relaxes its grip on my soul; I rest.

There seems so little time, now, for holding her. She moves so quickly; her babyhood is slipping away, even as I sleep. I want to keep her pressed against me. I want to keep her safe; I want to keep myself safe, my heart safe. I want - even as I shake my head against the thought - to keep her small, pressed to my belly, my chest, my heart. I want to keep her near me.

This probably has much to do with winter, with howling wind and icy skies and gusts of snow, with long nights and dark days. It probably has much to do with nattering nabobs of doom, oracles foretelling environmental disaster and global violence and, everywhere, human cruelty, human failure, human sadness. It has everything to do with the cold hard truth of a world in which people hurt. In which children hurt.

We can't even bring ourselves to look, sometimes. We don't want to know. I don't want to know. I skim the headlines, and turn away, my stomach churning, wanting to not know, to block the images from my mind's eye. (When I read this post by Adventure Dad, I wanted to click away from the image. I didn't want to know; my heart recoiled at the image - babies being gagged to silence their cries! - I didn't want to know.) I clutch my baby to my chest and press my hands against her ears (it's easier here/just to forget fear) and wish, fervently, that she might never know that the world contains such hurt.

But it does contain such hurt. And the only hope that we have is to face such hurt, fight such hurt. We must confront it, and register our outrage, and act on our outrage, even if that action is only manifest in words.

I'm still struggling with this; I've wanted to write about my responses to stories like this for some time, but am always unable to formulate coherent thoughts. I wanted to write something in response to Adventure Dad's post, but the only words that came were these: I want to keep her safe; I want to keep myself safe, my heart safe. They're gagging babies in Russia; young mothers are living in poverty; infants are abandoned on doorsteps; our planet is hurtling towards environmental disaster; and war, always war, somewhere always war.

How do we keep our hearts strong, against such darkness? Does parenthood make us stronger, or immeasurably more vulnerable? And if it does both, how do we ensure that our strength derives inspiration from our vulnerability, that it not be diminished by that vulnerability?

We cannot always keep our children pressed tight against our chests; how will we ever sleep easily...?

...when the world outside is so gray?


Better than a narcotic... Jen and Mad are hosting their Just Post Awards again this month: go and seek out those posts that are brave enough to tackle the issues, scary or otherwise, and nominate one or two or many. Better yet, write one yourself, and nominate yourself (or tell me, and I'll nominate you. And add you to the old-but-still-relevant blogroll of the Call to Action project.) And - put this button on your blog. Visualize peace. Hug your children. It might not eliminate all the hurt in the world, but it's a start.


Blogger Lynanne said...

Such a heart wrenching post...beautiful but so very true. I've mourned the passing of infancy twice now (and headed for a third time) but it never gets easier. On one hand, watching your child grow and develop and become an independent person is so beautiful. Yet it means giving up things so dear. I only wish life had a pause, fast forward and rewind button.

Feel better soon!

8:10 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Yes. Just ... yes.

I do the same. I hold and I hope and I wish and I fear all in the same moment.

Now I know we are not alone.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post. I think we're at the same stage of our children's lives where they are sprouting into little toddlers.
I am continually fighting the urge to hold Carter back, cuddle and (over) protect him. I cherish every moment that he will just sit with me, hug me and beg to be held because they are becoming few and far between.

Thank you for sharing!

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes - I feel you and know exactly where you are. I have no answers. We are stronger and more vulnerable at the same time. It is in accepting vulnerability and trusting in others and believing that there is still good in a world where so much is wrong that makes us stronger. It's knowing we're not alone that will let us rest.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, damn. I need a tissue, now, too. What an amazing post - thank you. Were my own babe not just asleep herself, I'd go give her a cuddle now but, as it is, I'll have to settle for reserving a spot in bed for her morning nap tomorrow.

I haven't had the chance to watch much news - timing more than a conscious decision - and I can't say I miss it at all. One day it'll catch up to me, but until then...

10:14 PM  
Blogger Mad said...

Bad, you take hurt and make honey.

I love those nights with her in my bed close to me, close to my husband. The breath of us all and the smells of us all.

I want to write a post soon about sleep deprivation. There are a million bits that need to go into this post but part of it is the thought of mothers, struggling with all the same struggles we have, but then waking to the sound of gun fire as well. Hell, the world can be hell. Yet not for us. What freakin' f-in' luck that we have this place and these warm beds and warm babes.

Thank you.

10:28 PM  
Blogger S.T. said...

Such a gorgeous, heartbreaking post containing so much truth.

11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you... thank you so much for such a beautiful, articulate post. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, awaiting the moment where my own daughter snuffles awake, so that I might carry her to our own big bed.

It really seems that for each milestone to be celebrated, there is a stage just passed to be mourned. As someone who only ever wanted one child, I am only now beginning to understand why others choose to do it all over again and again. I think despite the many protests of completing a family or providing a sibling - that perhaps the greater element of truth lies in reclaiming those small moments.

11:52 PM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

Yes, Yes, Yes. That is EXACTLY how I feel about my little guy these days. The babyhood is slipping away, the times to hold him are fewer and far between. My heart simultanously aches and is proud to see him grow.

Thanks for putting it so eloquently.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Scribbit said...

Wondereful prose. Thanks. I like "the forests of sleep" image.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Susanne said...

Thanks you very much for this post. Sniff! That's how it is, the social and the global mixing with the personal and intimate.

5:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your title is my favorite Frost poem, one of the few I can recite from memory. And I have to agree that parenthood makes us more vulnerable. I can already feel it happening although it hasn't hit me with full brute force yet. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing.

5:21 AM  
Blogger Jezer said...

You took my exact feelings and wove them into these beautiful words.

And I vote for More Vulnerable.

6:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written post.

I rather enjoy taking time to comment on news items I read about that apply to families or children or parenting. In fact, once a week (Tuesdays) I set aside an entire post to the subject (you know, in case you're ever looking for links to more sad/weird/strange stories)

7:23 AM  
Blogger Mamacita Tina said...

I had to wipe some tears, the Russian story is horrible. I have no answers for such atrocities. How do we help others that live so far away? It seems overwhelming, but we need to try. Awareness is a start.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is so much ugliness in the world. Like you there are times when I just can't look or read about such things as they leave me feeling wretched for days and days.

I cuddle my daughter all the time now because I too feel like she is growing up so fast.

A beautiful post, once again you articulate so well what I have been feeling lately.

8:54 AM  
Blogger karengreeners said...

i haven't needed an excuse to cry lately, so this was gravy. beautiful, painfully accurate (but heartwarming too) gravy.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Beck said...

Remaining vulnerable seems like such a risk. How much better, it seems sometimes, to raise our children to be callous with little breakproof hearts.
And of course, we stay vulnerable, we let our hearts break, and we raise our children to be good, vulnerable people with hearts that will in turn be broken by how sad and horrible the world is.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That story about the gagged chilcren? It makes me sick. I could not bring myself to click on the video for fear that it would haunt me all week. I can't imagine why there isn't at least one person working in that Russian hospital who thinks this practice is beastly. Where is that person and why isn't she/he speaking out?

9:29 AM  
Blogger moplans said...

I feel exactly the same way but of course would never find such beautiful words. I completely understand the urge to cuddle up with the baby who is growing up too fast and protect her from the dangers of the world. In those moments I wish I could just stop time.

9:46 AM  
Blogger megachick said...

i'm weeping.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. I wish I could write like this.

The story about the Russian babies is just too cruel to handle. I can't believe no one said "No!". That it took another patient to stop this torture tells me we will hear more about gagging babies.


10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son is 2 1/2 years old and he sleeps in bed with my husband, Doug, and me. Doug doesn't really like "the bad habit" I've created, but I love when little Dawson is in there with us. I love his "baby smell" even though he's far from a baby. I justify my actions by saying "he won't be little for much longer."

Reading your post made me realize it's okay if the little one sleeps next to me.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

catherine what a sad post today my heart feels heavy.when are our children going to have rights that better protect them from this worlds ugliness.i have enjoyed my babes so much...my 2 year old is getting ready to sleep in her own big girl bed and be completely weaned from me.but i still gets lots of hugs and kisses.and i think children has made me stronger and more vulnerable.you see i have someones to fight for now.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I heart you entirely. Entirely.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If some publishing house hasn't contacted you yet to write...damn near anything (I'd read your grocery list!), something is dreadfully wrong in the literarary world.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Redneck Mommy said...

Well done, Catherine.

One of my most treasured memories of Bug are the times I held him close to me in the stillness of the night. When our breath mingled together and his hair tickled my nostrils. Of course, I hold those same sweet memories of Fric and Frac too.

Thank you for such eloquent words and again, once more, the call to action.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh HBM, that's a wonderful post.
Again, such eloquence!

Our 2 year old snuggles in with us, and I keep feeling the pressure of the world to put him back in his own bed, for "his own good".

What about my good? You post so convincingly, yes I should enjoy this time! The little fingers that reach out and twine into my hair, the soft breath in my ear, the arm that reaches out to my heart.

He'll be a surly teenager soon enough...

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have such a beautiful style of writing. You bring tears to my eyes far too often.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

oh god. oh god... i'd not read about this and now i am just teary and horrified. no. no no no no.....

12:45 PM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

I felt much the same way you do when I read an article about the death of a toddler recently. I will spare you the details, because they still haunt me. Suffice to say that I have been hugging the Boy overmuch these days.

1:59 PM  
Blogger AngelHawk said...

Simply beautiful- thats all I have to say about that- you're amazing!

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wish that one of my children would sleep with me. just once. they aren't the cuddling type. if they are near me...they won't sleep. crawl all over me and stick things up my nose, sure.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Kristi said...

An outrage against those poor Russian babies. My God, do those workers not have warm blood running through their hearts?

3:42 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

I feel so much more vulnerable. I can't even bring myself to click on your links right now.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my little one was born I remarked to a friend how protective I felt of the little bundle, and the wise friend said "uh-huh, now your heart is out walking around in the world".

4:47 PM  
Blogger Kyla said...

Wow, HBM. This was heartwrenching and bittersweet and raw, but perfect at the same time. That is it...the feeling of motherhood. The love, the fear, the protection, the sadness...all of it, right there. This was excellent.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Bobita said...

I love this so much.

You have captured it perfectly...

5:23 PM  
Blogger Kaybeejae said...

Hey there, that was a beautiful post, I had the courage to click the links and it reminded me of the Romanian children that are forgotten in orphanages too. I want to bring them all home with me, but at the same time I want to protect my children from that kind of knowledge. Thankyou for reminding us of our humanity.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It never gets much easier but we equip our children with the right tools. Bossy sometimes kisses her son and sends him off - behind the wheel - for a night out with his friends. He may be seventeen, but he will always be just 204 months old to Bossy.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Catherine. Beautifully said (written).

7:55 PM  
Blogger Village Mama said...

I think that more people should spend time cuddling with toddlers - there is no greater cure than the warmth of a child's embrace, or the rhythm of their breath while they sleep. What an absolutely honest and wonderful post. Thank you.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Spectacular, HBM. I'm floored.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you do this? How do you take everything that keeps ME up at night and put it into one beautiful, excruciating post? Thank you, thank you, thank you.

11:41 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree- it's so hard to fight the instinct to just scoop them up and soothe them when they fall, when you know how bad it is out there. It makes me worry about the future and wonder how I will protect her from everything that is bad.

1:02 AM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

Thanks for encouraging me to connect my motherhood and this world. (and yes... it does make us eminently/eternally more vulnerable.)

2:09 AM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

Oh Catherine. I still cling to my children in the night. Funny how they, in their vulnerability are actually my strength.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Jeni said...

Monday was your day to post about NyQuil, Tuesday was my day... and who will post on Wednesday?!?

Any takers?

We should get paid for this stuff.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Radioactive Tori said...

As much as I complain when my son sleeps in my bed, it is really my favorite time too. I know for absolute certain that he is safe, and it is only then that I can truly relax. I have felt this way with each of my children and then eventually I let go, and just hope for the best as I do my best to keep them safe.

Great post!

4:37 PM  
Blogger Cristina said...

What an amazing post. Everything you said is so true and so beautifully said.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Ru said...

thank you for having the thoughts and for sharing them with us so freely and beautifully.

5:34 PM  
Blogger natalie said...

I haven't been able to articulate it but feel this way every day... avoiding the news is easier than accepting the fact that there are children out there who are being hurt. Thank you for your writing.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Namito said...

Oh, my. yes. I don't know how to deal with the knowledge that someday, this idyllic time will pass, and my little one will lose her innocence.

How can I teach her to be strong in the face of this world? I don't know. All we can do right now, it seems, is love the hell out of them.

6:36 PM  
Blogger NotSoSage said...

Beautiful. That's all I can muster for now, but that's a lot.

10:38 AM  
Blogger S said...

This is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you. These issues are ones I am facing as my youngest has just turned five. An era has surely passed. I am mourning it.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Yes. I feel all those things. Thank you.

On the nights when my six month old won't sleep, and I desperately want to, it seems silly to me that on the nights when he does, I sometimes lay awake hoping for his cry, my excuse to bring him near me, just as you have told.

11:41 PM  

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