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.