There are dark feelings out there in the wee hours. When your tank is low, from too little sleep and too little affection and too little adult time, you are particularly vulnerable to the dark feelings. They will stalk up behind you and seize your shoulders and engulf you, headfirst.
Logical you says, “He’s only a baby. He is sick and upset and sad. He is angry that he’s woken up again, angry that his diaper is wet, angry that he can’t breathe through his nose, angry that it’s not time to go play with the soft blocks that squeak and quack and rattle. He can’t help but make this abominable sound, this tumultuous screeching bellow, and it’s biologically wired to grate on your ears. If our ancestors hadn’t been able to make a noise that would alert and upset all the adults, none of them would have survived. It’s not as if he is trying to irritate you, bother you, wake you up and jar your nerves. He can’t help it. He’s only a baby.”
But the you that is now deep inside the belly of the darkness says, “Ohmygod, shutupshutupshutupshutup. I gave you Tylenol, I changed your diaper, I offered you two breasts and you pushed them away or bit down or scratched and clawed at them with your tiny little hands. I rocked you in the dark and I want to getsomegoddamnsleep so please please pleasepleaseplease for the love of all that is holy, just shutupshutupshutup.” And in the dark recesses of your mind, a moving picture starts to play. It is a scratchy, jumpy, black and white, grainy sort of image, but it is horrifying nonetheless. The movie opens right here, where we are, sitting in the rocking chair. But wait, what is she doing? She can’t just stand up and let him roll out of her lap! She can’t run away, smacking at the door frame and hitting the sides of the crib and shouting at the top of her lungs! The movie stops, and a part of you recoils and shudders and moans.
Eventually you can stagger back to bed. The tiny little body is satisfied, full, dry, peaceful. The larger body is exhausted, scared, and anxious. What if, next time, you forget that it’s a movie? What if you think it’s real? What if, next time, you don’t wriggle your way out of the dark thoughts, and you curl up inside them and just decide to stay there? The ceiling looms, the clock ticks by, and it is hard to remember what happiness looks like.
But the morning dawns and the baby sleeps and the mommy gets to rest. A friend calls, a husband says ‘thank you for all you do’ and ‘how can I help?’ and ‘go get yourself a pedicure’. The darkness recedes and maybe it will be a long time before it stalks up again. And maybe next time, you’ll be strong enough to push it away from your shoulders. And maybe you won’t give in, won’t listen, won’t wait until things get that desperate. Maybe so.