On being needed

Ralph-1 Ralph-2


Ralph has nightmares. He has since he was quite little. We often wondered what it was in his little life that could feed his nightmares. Not receiving milk in a timely fashion?

During the day, Ralph is the happiest baby you could ever meet. And that's not just his parents talking: friends, doctors, daycare teachers, everyone comments on how cheerful and loving and easygoing he is. Ralph's real name starts with H, and from Week 1 of his little life, his big sister was calling him Happy H. She still does.

But at night - not every night but most nights - Ralph cries out. It is a sudden, piercing wail that has me leaping from the dinner table or couch or bed at double-time, and racing up the stairs to his cot. More often than not, though, the crying stops before I make it to his door. I tip-toe into the unmatched peacefulness of a bedroom with a ticking clock and a sleeping baby, softly sucking his thumb. On the other side of the room, Scout sighs in dreams of her own.

Last night Ralph's nightmare must have caught me in the middle of a REM cycle. I was out of bed and into his room and reaching into his cot before my brain had even registered that the crying had stopped and he was peaceful once again. It was too late. I picked him up, and snuggled him to me, feeling tiny shudders as his sobs subsided. Ralph rested his head on my shoulder, snuggling just under my chin. One arm reached around mine and tiny, chubby fists opened and closed, opened and closed, on my arm, just the way he used to do when he was still nursing.

Before bed, I'd washed Ralph's hair. Scout had helped me. He smelled divine. So I just stood there in my babies' room, feeling Ralph squeeze and release, squeeze and release, on my arm, listening to Scout's regular and heavy breathing, and inhaling this tiny, close, intense world of early-motherhood that I'm in.

Sometimes, being the mother of tiny humans can feel claustrophobic. I'd read about this before but didn't really experience it the first time around with Scout. Partly, I think, because she would only sleep during the day if it was in the pram or the Ergo, so at least twice a day for several hours at a time, I could walk and walk and walk, with only my own thoughts for company, and that gave me the precious alone-time to think and imagine and process and renew.

But by the time Ralph was born Scout was walking, and soon after that talking, and there has been no rest since then. Not one day. Probably not an hour, or even a minute. They talk and cry and play and laugh and gurgle and eat and wail and crawl and grab and smear and break and yell and squeal and kiss and tumble through life from sunrise to sunset, and a good few hours either side of that. I'm not alone, I'm not exercising, I'm not renewing.

Even of an evening when they are in bed asleep and I pull out my computer to write this blog or pull out some pencils and paints to send some snail mail, half of me is still on mama-alert. I'm listening for the sounds of someone being sick, I'm checking the temperature in their room, I'm packing bags and preparing menus for the next day, I'm racing upstairs at the nightmare-call.

All of that can wear you down after a while, and leave you feeling closed in. Where am I, in all this?

And then I stand in the stillness of their bedroom with Scout shifting and now snoring softly, and Ralph's hand relaxed at last, limp over my arm. His jaw drops softly open and he is fully asleep. Gently, I place him back into his cot, tucking him in tightly the way he likes it. I listen to my own breathing, deep and slow now. I think about these exhausting and all-encompassing days and nights with my babies and I remind myself, "This too shall pass." But I don't want it to. Not yet.

Being needed can sometimes feel like a burden. But not being needed is heavier to bear.