I’ve stopped keeping track of the time at night, even though a clock sits, ticking relentlessly, not three feet from the bed. In the day, I mark the time obsessively – this many minutes before the girl goes to preschool, this many minutes before she comes home, this many minutes until the boy should be ready to try another nap, this many minutes before he’ll probably wake up, the minutes counted like a miser’s pennies, added and subtracted, piling up and disappearing as I settle my accounts with daily chores and this persistent exhaustion. But at night, I avoid the clock, afraid to see the minutes and hours ticking by too quickly or too slowly, afraid to settle my accounts with my body, with the night.
Last night, however, the bill came due, and I was not prepared to settle up.
It was in one of those moments where the boundary between sleep and wakefulness is so blurred that you’re not sure whether you’re awake or dreaming – are you lucid while dreaming, or are you dreaming while awake? – is that a baby that you’re holding, or a kitten, or a bundle of straw? – is that crying you hear, or the wind, or music? – and I was groggy, confused, disoriented as I held my squirming baby in my arms. He fussed, breathing heavily through a stuffy nose, truffling for the breast and then pushing it away. He squirmed and kicked and protested and snuffled and grabbed and pushed and with every kick, every push of his fierce little legs and arms I struggled toward wakefulness, needing to be awake, needing my strength and my composure but wanting oh so badly to just let the darkness overtake me and to slide back into oblivion. But he wouldn’t let me, he was too uncomfortable, poor thing, hungry and snuffly and demanding, he would not let me let me go and he would not let this be easy and in a flash, in one moment, I felt the frustration course through me like a current and there it was, for a split-second – a split-second and an eternity all at once – ANGER – sharp and hot and as I felt the tears prick my eyes and a sob burble in my throat I was overwhelmed by the brief flash of an urge to just drop the baby, just drop him to the mattress and throw myself off the bed and stomp away into the night.
It was over almost as quickly as it had begun; the violence of the emotion woke me, woke me completely, and I froze – there’s no other word for it – with fear and I’m certain that if anyone had been watching at that moment they would have seen my eyes flash open, wide, and I caught myself, mid-breakdown, and stopped. I laid him down and pulled myself into the corner of the bed and took a breath. And was afraid.
It was just one moment, the briefest flash of a moment, but there it was. I had felt anger. I had wanted to shove my baby away from me. How close was I to wanting to shake him? How close? How close was I to becoming a monster, to crossing over from Mama Jekyll to Mother/Monster Hyde? I want to say that I was fine, that I am fine, that it was a completely understandable loss of emotional control that only lasted for a second and that I never, ever, would have actually just dropped him onto the mattress (and even then, such a soft mattress, so innocuous a fall, right? right?) and I hadn’t wanted to actually shake him, I hadn’t been angry at him, I was just tired, too tired, and it could happen to anyone and nothing would have happened and I’m fine.
But the fact is that no matter how brief that flash of uncontrolled emotion, it was uncontrolled; it was sharp and hot and angry and I no more want to risk exposing my baby, my little heart, to that anger than I would want to place his bassinet on a train track. Not even for a second.
So tomorrow we go to the doctor. Tomorrow I get some help. Pills, talk, anything: whatever it takes. I need some help with this, with the sleep, with the emotions running amok. Tomorrow I get some help.