Ode to Sam

The longer I spend with Sam, the more I marvel at the tremendous difficulties he endures. I'm amazed that any of us turn out sane. Not that Sam is having a hard time compared to other babies. He hasn't been sick a day, and has parents who adore him. Our only drawback might be that we are a bit awkward and are still in training in the most basic of little baby-care skills.

Nonetheless, being a baby is daunting.

You are born paralyzed, with your senses not fully developed. Wrenched into a world that is terrifyingly different from the nourishing one where you spent nine months, you are stuck with needles and subjected to various procedures before you even see your mother. In most cases, you are then stuck in a plastic bassinet and wheeled to the nursery where you are ... ALONE. If your parents are wise to it, you are tucked next to your mother from the first minute, and don't leave her warm body for the entire hospital stay. But poor Sam was away from me for the whole first day.

You feel sensations, you cry, and *maybe* but only maybe are your needs satisfied. Your poor parents are staggering around in a sleepless mode, doing their best but missing the ball for about the first six weeks.

You might get circumsized. Debate is still out on whether this is a good thing in the end. But many doctors still think you can't feel pain. If you're lucky you get some anesthesia. You fall into a deep sleep from the stress and everybody crows, "see, it didn't bother him a bit, he's sleeping!"

You fall asleep in your mother's arms and when you wake up, she's gone :@( You cry. She comes back and she is all smiles, although you have been in the throes of anguish. Sometimes she cries over you, too. She is told that all babies cry, that it is their only language, that it doesn't signify distress, it's just a way of saying, "I'm hungry," etc.

I don't believe it.

When Sam wakes up from a nap and I'm not in his field of vision, and he cries, there are real tears and real screams of sadness. After I pick him up and hold him close, he will stop crying, but then remember ... what? ... that he was upset and start up again even harder.

If I am going to take his smiles seriously, I think it behooves me to take his tears seriously too. Not that this is easy. It makes my days very stressful. I know that often I am not going to be able to figure out what is bothering him and that's just the way it is. I am not going to sidestep the whole problem though and say "crying is good for his lungs."

The experts all have expert advice. So far, I think most of them are lost. What do they really know about the experience of babies? Do they remember what it was like? I don't remember when I was a baby. I just remember the feeling of helplessness and woe. Or is this feeling from later? I will never know.

Sam won't remember this time. I will try to remember it for him.

I marvel at this gift I have been given to experience his first days and months with him. I'm the one blessed to carry the memory of this journey within me. I'm amazed that so many parents can say "After all I've done for YOU ..."

The kid should say it instead. "After all I've done for you, how can you be mad at me for x, y, z?"

Oh, it's very hard work. There are no coffee breaks, no potty stops, no bell that rings at the end of the shift. There is no end of the shift. If he's asleep at 2 am, that doesn't mean he'll be asleep at 3 am. I am on 24/7 for the rest of my life.

I get scared by this schedule, this awesome responsibility. There is no do-over. If I make a mistake, that's it. I try to walk carefully when I am carrying him around. If I stumble, he'll get hurt. If the stroller is out ahead of me in the crosswalk and a car comes along ...

But it is like being in the presence of G-d, being mother to this beautiful little baby.

© copyright, 1998, Anne Keller-Smith
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