How close, kangaroo?

9 11 2012

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“Kangaroo” is the name of the tiny-baby-cradling position of our Baby K’Tan sling, the only position Evanny will be big enough for for some time, and we’re both sling fans: she gets to sleep on me and I still get to move around the house and have approximately 1&1/2 hands while I do it (not really enough for dishes or laundry, but I can pick up clutter, eat a piece of toast, type one-handed if my machine is on a high shelf (so I can keep up the sway) and rinse out a teacup, anyway). It also means she’s literally stuck to me even in her non-barnacle hours (ie while not nursing). I take her even to the bathroom with me–the alternative, unpacking her to lay her down someplace cold to make her wait, would only lead to screaming.

At night, when she agrees to the standardised model, which is only sometimes, she’s sleeping in a bassinet right by my head (the far side of the room, where she started out, got too cold by the window in the season-shift) where I can rock her by stretching out only an arm, or hold her hand. You might think this would mean I got more sleep, but if you think that, you’ve never slept next to a baby. Every little sound or wiggle gets my attention, not so much because I’m worried about her as because it might be the precursor to a cry, which means I spend half the night half awake, waiting to see if I’m getting up again now or later. On days like this one, when last “night” was only 4 hours long anyway, those halves add up to some pretty brutal math, especially after a few in a row. And when the standardised model isn’t working, she sleeps in brief stints of stupor on my lap mid-feed (while I try desperately to stay awake enough to keep her from rolling off the bed) or lies in bed with me with neither of us sleeping at all. (Many lovely mom-friends have suggested that we just nurse lying down, and sometimes we do, but usually only when Daddy is around–and his middle of the night coma doesn’t count as around–to pick her up when she’s unconscious after, to try to get her back into the bassinet. Otherwise it’s too hard to get up out of the bed without disturbing her, and too much harder to sleep with her in among the danger-blankets and the cats in what space is left around Daddy-knees.)

By day, if we’re not tied together by a sling, she’s still either on me asleep, crying in my arms in demand of walking, dancing, patting, swaying, jiggling, etc., or, most of the time, attached to one of my nipples. Usually–but far from always–she’ll take one nap a day, likely in the morning, which lets me get a few two-handed things done, but today the nap is happening in the sling, so I will be unlikely to have a second hand until Matt and Caleb and the dog arrive at 6:30 or so. This is a false image, of course. I have hands. They’re just wrapped around, warm against, holding or patting or petting this little body, as her weight, increasing daily, ties knots in my shoulder muscles that might be mine forever. And when that’s all, when she’s fast asleep, heavy and hot like a too-dense loaf of new wheat bread, I can do without the hands, leave them to their new task only slightly frustrated by everything else that I’m not doing with them, and breathe in the overwhelming closeness of this steady little snore emanating from a nose only 8 inches from my own.

When she’s mad, though–mad at the cold, mad at the indignity of changing clothes, mad that I’m not feeding her again/already/still/continually, mad because she’s tired and doesn’t know how else to get to sleep except by milk or screaming, mad because there are bubbles in her belly, mad because her arms are swaddled, mad because she can’t throw her head around and still be on a nipple, mad because she’s worked up mad-momentum, even though the problem has been solved already–and it has to be me to solve the problem, even though I’m the one to blame, if it can be solved at all, and it has to be me to hear about the horror and injustice when it can’t be solved, for which I am also to blame–then these hands feel futile, like they’re all I have to navigate an underwater world where what I need are flippers; they’re crap at speed and worse at maneuvering, so basically they get me nowhere. In these moments, “close” is nowhere near close enough, as baby care is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades, so “close” doesn’t count at all. In the face of that scream, the world shrinks to baby, and failing at baby–which baby insists, with that insane shriek, is what’s happening–feels like failing at life altogether.

I do, in general, have more perspective than this. I know that I am not failing at life, or if I am, if failing to pacify an angry infant is really all that takes, then I’m failing in excellent company. I’m sure most of the human race, over the course of history, has failed to pacify an infant at one time or another, and certainly both Bono and our newly re-elected president have sunk down onto some bed or sofa somewhere in dark-of-night despair beside the bloodcurdling banshee-wails of these tiny dictators we call daughters. But perspective can be hard to locate at 1 in the morning, when we’ve been playing the “nurse-for-15-minutes, fall-completely-asleep-on-the-boob, refuse-to-be-roused, rouse-self-crying-with-hunger-within-six-minutes-of-being-put-back-to-bed, repeat” game for an hour and a half, Mommy has yet to get to sleep at all, and Daddy’s alarm will be going off at 5. Sometimes “close” reminds you fiercely of the verb inside the adjective: close the door, close the window, close your hand and whatever you’re touching is captured and can no longer get away. feels like watching the last glimpse of sky disappear as you slide underwater, into a surrounding buoyancy wherein you’ll never breathe, wherein even trying would kill you, wherein resignation is your only hope of buying any time at all, and you’re wholly at the mercy of the tide. Last night, I know I set her down on the bed more roughly than was really necessary, despite having tried to re-locate my aggravation by chucking the stuffed tiger at the window first (and what did the poor tiger do, anyway?), between pulling her out of the bassinet after round 3 and re-rearranging my nightshirt to facilitate another nap-inducing snack, and even though the words “set” and “on the bed” pretty much guarantee that I didn’t hurt her, I still had a cry this morning about being so mean and awful.

Because “close” is also psycho like that; sometimes it makes you hate the thing you can’t escape from, and then it wants to drown you in the guilt of having even wished for distance (because what if what if what if?). How close is too close for this kangaroo? We’re still working on that. Right now, the sleeping weight of her nestled against my chest, breathing softly in warm puffs down into my shirt, her limbs all curled like an over-sized mouse to my nest, fur-tufts stirring when I breathe back, it’s awfully nice to be close to the baby. When she smiles because of things I do, even if it’s only speak (say anything) or flick the toy hanging in the small scope of her gaze, it’s kind of magical. And yet last night, escape would have been a mercy; I could have slept somewhere. Anywhere. Even the cold closet floor would have been a marvel, had it come with a promise of 6 quiet hours without interruption. I know, intellectually, that one cannot walk away from a baby. She’s helpless, after all, and anyway we’re one organism at this point, two bodies connected at lip and nipple, and there’s no leaving that doesn’t sever some essential process, but emotionally, when I get tired enough, I don’t care; it would be just fine if somebody else wanted to be the mommy for a while. I can’t even get as far as the closet, not for long (although sometimes, when she falls asleep, I even sneak an entire floor away, for a few moments, to try to wedge food of some kind in my face, a necessary selfishness if I’m to keep being the eternal boob, the boat to her barnacle); her voice is my tether, insisting on its singular message in every wail or breathy little whisper.

Stay close.

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