Monday, August 18, 2008
She cries, and the sound stabs the night. It is time for a night feeding, and one or both of us rushes to soothe her. Sometimes she wakes up in pain, from gas in her still-developing digestive system, and her cry is angry, desperate. Sometimes she is hungry, and her cry is clear and hard. When she is uncomfortable from a diaper, she whimpers restlessly. When she is lonely and wants to be picked up, she wails in short little bursts.
I know some people are driven crazy by the constant cries of newborns, but right now, Maude's cries just fill me with pity and tenderness. Why, why, little one? Why so much sadness for just a meal, or a diaper? I toss her a little, up and down in the way she likes, to startle her out of her jag. I say her name over and over. It often works, and she stops crying and gazes long at me with her dark, expressive eyes. She doesn't want to have to cry, any more than we want to have to listen to it. It's a terrible job she's been given, and her mute look tells me there are no hard feelings, just limited means of communication.
Yesterday she grew angrier and more desperate, waiting for food that was a little long in coming, and when I kissed her eyes I tasted salt. "She cries real tears," I reported to GF, and she told me it was a kind of baby milestone. Crying real salt tears means you are growing up.
In the night I change her one-handed, holding a bottle in her mouth while trying to wipe her clean and fasten a new diaper. I wrap her and sing her songs--mill songs, mining songs, slave songs, Christmas carols. If she likes a song she grows still and listens with her whole being. Her face locks into one expression and her eyes grow dark and far away, yet rapt. Maude loves music, and strains even now to recognize songs she knows.
She has a "sleep sheep" that plays white noise for her--rain, a stream, the ocean. The sheep is a traveling model, one with velcro straps to fasten to a bassinette or a stroller on the go. When she has eaten and been changed, she is rocked and bundled, and we sing her songs, and eventually, carefully lower her to her bed, where we turn on the sleep sheep. The ocean crashes over her head and her feet in the little bed, the ebb and flow of the waves hissing back and forth in a round hollow echo in the darkness. I wonder if the ocean is for her, or for us, imaginary waves breaking on the shores of our rental bedroom, in a city far from the sea.
We are from the coasts, one of us from each side, meeting in the middle of the country. Sometimes I think of the nineteen-seventies country childhood I had, with fields of tall summer grass hot with the sun and tall sticky pines trees to play in, roll in, climb, smell, and dream by, and I could weep for Maude and her programmed urban future. Will she ever know a summer week in York Beach, Maine, running from the icy salt waves on the barren coastline that was my childhood ocean? Will we take her to swim in the hippie swimming hole that is a bend in the river in Sandwich, New Hampshire? Will she know what crickets sound like? And horses--what if she is horse crazy and I, unlike my parents, don't have an acre of field to fence in for a 4H horse for her to buy with her babysitting money?
The sleep sheep blows a dream of oceans into her ear, and I remember what it was to choke on Wordsworth when I tried to explain him to a class of Florida freshman ten long years ago. Then it was homesickness for New England that made my eyes tear up when I tried to explain what he meant by:
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
Now I think it is also some sense of calm trust, some sense of knowing the way the world works, and feeling the interconnectedness of all things, that Wordsworth's speaker misses when he speaks longingly of the ocean. How far I feel from the ocean sometimes, here in the middle of the country, far from the coasts, far from home. Deep in the middle of life, it seems like a long way back to the beaches of childhood, to quiet contemplation and a peace beyond words, to the origin of things that is the ocean.
In the quiet night, though, my child cries and I hold her and comfort her, and it makes me feel oddly calm. She is simple right now, and her simplicity makes me simple too. All that matters is food, and sleep, and comfort, and trust in the arms that are there to hold you through the dark hours. The sleep sheep sings its salty ocean song, breathing the waves of my childhood, and maybe hers, in the early hours of morning. I like the sleep sheep, for all its artifice. It is a bird that sings of Byzantium. Maude is my immortal sea, and I am the waves of her ocean, patient, rocking her body until she trusts her eyes to close. It is still night, and Maude, the sheep, and I rock together to the sound of waves.