My second child slid into the world after an easy labor and immediately latched. I took this as a sign of our blissful future together. Parenting would be so much easier the second time around.
Wrong. I was so incredibly wrong.
After I had naively sent my husband home to shower and deliver the good tidings to our firstborn, my daughter woke up. She screamed, and then she screamed some more. Her name means bright and clear, and her screams were exactly that. After an hour of trying to comfort her, I placed her in the hospital bassinet and hobbled to the bathroom, leaving the door ajar.
A nurse finally came in to check on us, admonishing me for leaving my baby alone. Was I supposed to bring her on the toilet while I pulled down my hospital-issued mesh underwear and used the peri bottle to squirt away quarter-sized blood clots? I was a postpartum human mama, not an octopus. Besides, I was sure a baby thief would take one of the quiet, peaceful ones.
I managed to shuffle back to bed and began devouring the pumpkin muffins my sister had brought me. I must have looked like a ravenous animal, my wailing baby cradled in one arm like a football while I stuffed fistfuls of muffin in my mouth with the other. Once the snacks were gone, I brushed the crumbs off of her head and began to cry along with her.
I would like to say things got easier when we got home, but they didn’t. She developed reflux and projectile vomited across the room like something out of an exorcism. I tried eliminating dairy and wheat from my diet. We put her on infant acid reflux medication.
The only thing that helped us survive her first year of life was the blue and white striped rocking chair in our living room. I am so glad I took our interior designer friend’s advice and purchased the expensive chair because we lived in it for a year. I would swaddle my daughter like a burrito, blast white noise, and furiously rock back and forth while my 4-year-old rolled around at my feet. Having memorized the scene outside the window facing the chair, I still took solace in the one-way street sign and scrappy trio of trees.
Then somewhere around my daughter’s first birthday, it was like the sky cleared. She was happy, delightful even. She started walking and smiled constantly at her big brother. I was so excited to take them to music classes and story time at the library. Unfortunately, this was February of 2020, so the easement did not last long. Soon, we were listening to nonstop ambulance sirens in our New York City living room, rocking in our favorite chair, and reading stories while the world shut down around us. I found myself staring at the one-way sign, hoping we would all move forward again.
When the world reopened, I had a toddler on my hands who gave new meaning to the terrible twos. My verbal girl used her words to tell me exactly what she wanted. If my vision did not align with hers, she would use her fists. I faltered through the first few months of toddlerhood, unsure of how to handle the nonstop tantrums. One day she worked herself into such a fit of rage that I had to physically restrain her in order to protect her. Stumbling back, we landed in the chair.
Muscle memory took over, and we rocked. I fixed my gaze on the familiar view of the skinny tree-flanked street sign, trying to maintain my own sense of calm. I noticed that her breathing began to slow and her tense little body began melting into mine. Soon, she had her arms wrapped around my neck. She even apologized.
I realized that when she had a tantrum, she actually needed to be close to me no matter how hard she was pushing me away. Over the next few months whenever she had a major meltdown, we returned to the chair and looked out the window, waiting for the storm to pass.
My daughter started nursery school this year. She is a more content child these days. We start every morning in our chair, grounding ourselves by rocking while she drinks a cup of milk. She still has meltdowns, but they usually pass as quickly as they come. The chair is also her favorite spot to reconnect after a long day of work and school, the place where she tells me what she learned and who she played with. I marvel at her confidence and enthusiasm.
We rest our heads on each other’s and look out at the one way sign while we chat, which reminds me that in parenthood, there is only one way to go, and that is to move forward into the future with your children, having faith that the really hard days will pass.