The drive home took three and a half hours. One and a half of which was spent leaning over the passenger seat picking up a dropped iPad, sock, water bottle – and feeding puffs one by one to a screaming baby.
Dinner was no improvement. A rejected PB&J tossed casually into the trash, and threats of bedtime and lost books flung desperately across the room.
Dramatically and disapprovingly she inched up the stairs. A wounded toe and bad attitude further slowing the painstaking progress.
A fight over which book. Another trip to the potty. Too tight pajamas and not-bright-enough nightlight stalled the inevitable until I finally heard the click of the door closing, Dan’s footsteps heavy on the stairs, and the requisite screeching for mommy that inevitably follows an overtired bedtime.
I sat in the nursery rocking the finally-sleeping-baby and counting the moments until the screaming would end.
When it didn’t I lay the baby in her crib and moved next door to ensure nobody had lost a limb.
She’s crying so hard the whole of her little body is heaving. Her legs are scrambling in and out underneath her as she gasps for air and pushes me away while screaming for me to stay.
I feel her forehead. Inspect her toe. Gently rub her back and remind her to breathe. She fights me. Kicks me. Scratches my hand. She screams at me to stop and the exhaustion, frustration and too-quick temper boils over.
I yell back and decidedly close the door. A little too hard.
“I am DONE.” I proclaim to my already sound asleep husband.
He rolls over, irritated, and pulls himself out of bed. He’s in her room for three or four minutes. The screaming stops. The door shuts. The screaming starts all over again.
I lay in bed listening to her desperate wails. Watching her toss and turn in a fit of angst. Wanting out of her skin but not knowing why.
And suddenly, I have to hold her.
Guilt is pulsing in my fingertips as I watch her struggle to soothe. Without me.
Her cries begin to soften and her body starts to still.
I debate whether I want to risk waking her.
I was too harsh. I was too impatient. I was too angry. As usual.
I open the door to her bedroom and tip toe over to her now quiet bed. I crawl in beside her and stroke her hair. Rub her back and trace my fingertips across her sweaty forehead. She is still.
I massage her palms and hum her a lullaby as she sleeps soundly beside me. Her babyish smell is mixed with toddler sweat and salty tears. I watch her sleep. Her little chest rising and falling in perfect rhythm. Relaxed. Innocent. Beautiful.
And then finally I crawl to the end of her bed and slip carefully out from under the covers.
I kiss her one more time on the forehead and whisper under my breath that I love her.
“I love you, too, Mommy,” she replies happily.
I stop and spin around. Her eyes are closed and her body is still. Her chest rising and falling as it was seconds before.
I wonder, for a moment, if I imagined it. Until I see her lips curl into a tiny grin, just barely visible in the sliver of moonlight that has snuck in around the sides of her blackout shades.
I close her door and slip silently into my bed.
The love I feel is overwhelming. Intimidating.
Five little words. They heal my heart and restore my patience. For one more day.
Some days I feel hopeful. Some days I feel defeated. But every once in a while she reminds me that her love is unconditional.
And so it goes. This is motherhood.