The Night Nurse
The baby wakes up crying. He is almost a year old; he does not need to nurse at night. I put a pillow over my ear. It doesn't block the noise.
I nurse the baby.
The toddler wakes up crying. I rush upstairs thinking he's wet the bed. He scowls at me: "How much longer do I have to sleep?"
"Several more hours. It's nighttime. Lay your head on the pillow and rest."
I shut the bedroom door behind me. His screams wake the baby, who starts screaming too. My husband heads upstairs to scold. I walk to the baby's crib and rub his back, which only upsets him more. He just nursed two hours ago, he does not need to nurse again. I go back to bed praying they both fall back asleep.
I nurse the baby.
When I lay him back in his crib, he resumes screaming. I have nothing left to give. I leave him, crawl under the covers, cram earbuds in my ears and blast new age music that's clinically proven to slow down brain waves and induce relaxation! I pretend that the baby's screams are just part of the ambience. He quiets every few minutes, and each time I melt into the mattress thinking: This is it. Sleep. Then he screams again.
My husband brings the baby into bed with us. The baby crawls toward me and face-plants against my chest. I stare at the ceiling, pinned to the bed, and try to fall asleep.
The baby has found his life's purpose: Dropping his pacifier between the headboard and the wall. He keeps crawling toward the headboard; my husband keeps pulling him back. Finally my husband gives up, or falls asleep—I'm too tired to tell. The baby reaches the headboard and pulls himself up. Then he loses his footing and falls backward, cracking his skull against mine. Judging by his reaction, this hurts only me.
The baby is summoning me from a great distance as I row my boat through a dim, complicated dream. He's on the shoreline, crying.*
"I think he wants to nurse," my husband says, poking me.
I nurse the baby. It's almost time to wake up, so I pluck my phone off its charger and scroll Facebook for the morning's news. Scary Mommy has an article about a mother whose night nurse dropped the baby, cracking his skull.
Her night nurse, I think. What a weird allusion to breastfeeding. Perhaps the writer wanted to distance the mother from blame, so she changed the verb construction. Instead of "She dropped the baby while nursing him at night," it became the fault of "the night nurse."
I'm driving the kids to their grandma's house for the day, where I'll drop them off before going to work. It dawns on me, the real meaning of "the night nurse." It has nothing to do with breastfeeding. The mother had a literal nurse, at night.
That bitch, My inner mean girl spits before I can force my thoughts onto a more charitable track. Some women have more than others, but we're in this motherhood thing together. You do you, girl. Coffee and Cheerios and Kumbayas for all.
The baby sleeps the whole way there.