The night before my baby’s 8 week checkup I hadn’t slept at all. I’d spent the evening performing our soothing ritual: nursing, patting, diapering, swaddling, and finally bouncing on the exercise ball originally intended to help during labor. Two months later there I sat, bobbing up and down till all hours of the night.
It was the only trick that stifled the screams of colic.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. One of the many baby books that sat on my nightstand suggested that some babies really need a “fourth trimester”: more time in the calm and quiet of their mothers’ wombs. I regarded my son, still curled, legs not yet untucked from his chest, and it wasn’t that much of a stretch to imagine him still in the warm cocoon of my body.
My baby, at 2 months, was still just a bundle of raw nerve endings, and my job was to soothe and shussh and sway. I’d prepared for his birth with breathing techniques and frozen casseroles. I’d scrubbed the baseboards and laundered the tiny blankets and clothes. None of these things had prepared me for the screaming reality of colic.
It’ll be like someone flipped a switch, I remember the doctor telling me that day. He’ll be eleven or twelve weeks old and you’ll see. He’ll be just fine. But would I? On the way home I’d cried. I couldn’t foresee how I’d survive four more weeks of life with colic.
Fast forward five years.
My middle child is a force of nature. My heart cannot hold all the love I feel for him, and I know it’s mutual. After changing his diaper once as a toddler he stood up and exclaimed “OHIJUSTLOVEYOUSOMUCH!” before punctuating it with a smack across my face.
He’s smart. Intense. He calls it like he sees it and tells it like it is.
We joke that because of his stubborn resolve, life will either be really good for him or really bad. That is the essence of this child: there is no gray area where he stands.
One day recently he decided that he was going to work a puzzle. I offered him an array of age-appropriate options, oversized floor puzzles depicting dinosaurs, sea creatures, or a circus scene. The pieces were big and easy to grasp in hands that haven’t yet mastered fine motor skills.
He wasn’t pleased. The puzzle he’d decided to do was his father’s 1,000-piece mega puzzle of the Taj Mahal.
That’s too hard, I told him. It’s for adults. The pieces are tiny. He stood his ground and I stood mine. I worried that he’d lose the pieces or make a mess or become frustrated when he realized its difficulty. We went back and forth like this for a moment, before he stated calmly, You’re not understanding me, Mommy. That’s the puzzle I’m going to do.
This rigidity reminded me of my 8 week old child, hell bent on screaming until I gave in and assumed my position on the exercise ball.
You’re not understanding me, Mommy, he might have said then. You can pace these floors as long as you like but I’m screaming until I get my way.
In one of those baby books I kept on my new mommy nightstand, The Happiest Baby on the Block, Harvey Karp describes temperament as “the sea your child sails on.” There are “easy” babies, “challenging” babies, “sensitive” babies, and “intense” babies. I’m beginning to understand that for some, the waters of the temperament sea remain the same through infancy into childhood and beyond.
I see the vestiges of colic in my 5 year old today. Instead of screams, he holds his ground. Instead of a red face and clinched fists, I see intensity in his eyes as he goes about the work and play of his every day.
I see the baby he was. The boy he is. The man he’ll one day become. Will the sea on which he sails be turbulent forever? Perhaps. But maybe this is what makes him the amazing person I’ve been blessed to raise, and the seas of this mother’s heart are calm and ready for whatever comes my way.
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