It's two thirty in the morning and I feel her stirring. She is sleeping with her little body curled into my back, it's very easy to feel when she starts to wake up, when she shifts. I'm asleep, but not fully asleep as I'm never fully asleep anymore. I lay paralyzed, unwilling to make the slightest gesture, willing each breath to be silent- maybe she'll put herself back to sleep. What is it that woke her up in the first place?
But her motions becoming increasingly larger and more frantic and she begins to whimper and then to cry. I turn over, run a hand over the rumpled sheets to find her pacifier with the lobster attached to it. The game is to get the pacifier back into her mouth, and keep it in there for ten seconds, and then she'll fall back asleep and I'll be able to return to my half-dream.
It's a fight! A nightly battle. She thrashes her head from side to side, pushes her face down into the mattress, crying with greater and greater urgency. I have to focus. I have to focus! I stab for her mouth in the darkness, but it's a gentle stab- she's fragile as a peach, as an egg, as a shelled lobster. She's my daughter, I don't want to hurt her, I want her to go back to sleep. And it's imperative that I do it quickly, because the longer it takes, the harder it gets.
When I get the thing into her mouth- and I always eventually do- the results are immediate and gratifying. Her entire self goes slack, and wherever her head was at the moment when I won the battle, at whatever angle, she just drops it right down on the mattress. Her eyes close straight down, like someone inside is pulling the window blinds, and she sucks with great intensity and obvious relief. But it's not over, even though it seems like it is. I've learned that the hard way. I have to keep my hand against her face, holding it inside her mouth as she sucks for ten long seconds. If I don't wait that long, she'll pop back into fighting mode, and round two is always more vicious than round one.
This happens at least twice a night, in addition to roughly two feedings. It is - and I realized this last night as I was darting my hand around her head, pleading out loud for her to please just stop moving- my very least favorite thing about being a parent. It's trying to find her mouth in the dark and trying to hold her still while also being very gentle and soothing.
That, and picturing her as a climate refugee, or dead in the schoolyard. Those are my least favorite things. And they're related, because sometimes after she goes back to sleep, I'm wide awake with the whole starry dark night stretching ahead of me, and I fill the darkness with images of Olive dead in the school yard or living as a climate refugee long after I'm dead, filled with resentment towards her parents because we knew what was coming and we had her anyway.
Sometimes it gets so bad that I have to open the computer and look at pictures of craftily made wooden toys, which are something I find very soothing at this point in my life. When I was sick I would read the Moon Juice website, and that brought me comfort. How in the world could the idea of bougie LA ladies adding teaspoons of crushed pearl to their sex dust smoothies ever send me into a state of relaxation I don't know- remember, I used to have a wretched brain infection.
But now it's toys. Toys and children's books. I scroll through pictures of nesting blocks that look like waves, or flames, and colored boxes that fit pleasingly inside one another. Crates of play silks. Blocks cleverly carved into the periodic table of elements, wooden play ships with tiny masts and canvas sails no bigger than a tissue, animals carved from cherry and maple.
Last night I stumbled on a box of blocks that you can arrange to look like any city in the world, and I thought about how I'm going to take Olive to Boston this summer, and show her the Navy Yard and take her onto the Constitution if they still give tours. I thought about how on the way back up to Vermont I'll play her all the sea chanties I grew up with, and I'll tell her about Old Iron Sides and Johnny Percival and she'll fall asleep in her car seat.
I fell asleep thinking about that, and neither of us woke up again until morning.
*and was fifty long years in returning. With just nine months of school he departed the land, he moved up from cabin boy hand over hand. Impressed by the English to service the king, as he jumped overboard they could all hear him sing- 'from a sailor, from a soldier from a captain, a king, if you dare me to do than I'll do anything, I'll take up the fight, I'll even the odds, I'll do what is right or I'm not from cape cod, I'm Jack the cantankerous cus from Cape Cod.
- The Ballad of Mad Jack by Schooner Fare, written to honor the legacy of Johny Percival.