I mean, it's the only way, right? I take my job as protector to an extreme, which I'm fine with, but that means that I'm acutely aware of the fact that it means when something does go wrong, I have failed. I know what you're thinking--My God, Mary Pat, that's not really true at all! Thank you. But no matter what you say--and I highly doubt I'm alone in not thinking it, but feeling it--this is what keeps me awake at night.
Well, okay. I had a baby three weeks ago, so right now, technically speaking, he is what keeps me awake at night. But generally, and even when baby is asleep and I should be, too, I find myself wide-eyed and staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out one of my more haunting fears: If an attacker is making his way upstairs, how will I keep all three boys safe?
The thing about life, however, is that it just keeps teaching me how wrong I was about whatever I firmly believed. Seriously. I think the thing that is hitting me hardest right now is the fact that Joey is eight, and that he was born when I was twenty-five. I really can't get over what an idiot I was at twenty-five. At how little I knew about anything. At the fact that my fears were silly because I was so completely unaware of the bigger things I had to fear. I really can't believe the hospital handed me a baby and trusted me with him, even if he was legally and biologically mine.
I worried, for example, that I would ever have to leave him to cry. In the hospital, I pulled the emergency buzzer in the bathroom because when I'd had to put Joey down to go to the bathroom, he'd started to cry. The nurses came flying in (like, with their hair blowing back) and they must have thought I was insane. Looking back, I think I was insane.
However, the whole crying thing was something I continued to take really seriously. "I'll never let my baby cry it out," I'd proclaimed repeatedly, and I'm not going to lie. In my head I was snidely criticizing the nameless people who did it any other way.
And then came Noah.
Noah was a miserable complainer for the first year of his life. Pretty much until he could talk and communicate clearly, he was crabby. And at night? He really believed, and believes to this day, that night sleep is optional and, furthermore, not for him. As a baby, he cried every night at two a.m., until the doctor looked at me, a frazzled, frizzled, circles-under-her-eyes, hands-shaking mother and said gently, "He's too old to be crying in the middle of the night. He's not hungry, and he's clearly healthy, so you need to just let him cry. He will be okay."
And guess what. Noah is Noah. It was even worse than I could have imagined. Noah doesn't "cry it out." He cries until you cry it out. Because he's that stubborn. I will never forget sitting on the edge of my bed at six o'clock in the morning, staring in disbelief at the brightly lit monitor as my baby continued to wail, as he had been doing since, you guessed it, two a.m.. Joe rolled over and said, "What's wrong with him?" and I had said, in a sleep-deprived, zombie-like voice, "He's crying it out." Joe's reply: "I don't think it's working." Yeah, thanks.
And now, five years post-Noah, we have baby number three. Max. With an eight-year-old who was never left alone, and a five-year-old who is just that stubborn, well, sometimes Max just has to cry. Sometimes Joey needs help with math homework, or Noah whacks his head on something because he's an idiot, or someone threw up, or someone had a nightmare, or someone...something. That's what it comes down to--there's always something. And my official life rule is nobody is more important than anybody else. We have to let the uniqueness of every situation guide us, and that means sometimes I have to put Max down in a safe place and take care of his big brothers. And sometimes he cries. Sometimes he holds his breath. Sometimes he loses his binky. Sometimes we don't even know where the binky is. And he cries.
Is it easy to squash the memory of my twenty-five-year-old judge-y self? Not really. A large part of me still jumps immediately to the F word--FAIL--and worries about all kinds of completely unfounded fears, like he will grow up to be an angry axe-murderer or is plotting against me. Or that he won't read as well as Joey did in first grade because on November 12th he cried too long in the car while somebody ran back into school to get the homework page he forgot.
But the real answer? Life is just teaching me another lesson. It goes back to something my mom used to sing to me often when I was a little girl, and I'm only now just realizing that sometimes moms sing for themselves as much as their children. But for myself, and any moms out there who ever feel like I do, just remember: Every little thing is gonna be alright.
And in the meantime, here's to remembering to enjoy it all along the way, every little thing:
(photo by Natalie Komosinski)