My cousin Alicia is a second-time-around new mom, and I’m a veteran with three boys between the ages of ten and sixteen. Alicia’s firstborn, an active little boy who loves tools and cords, was having a daddy-and-me day, while Alicia and I met for brunch. I hadn’t been in the house for more than five minutes, when Alicia made the offer I’d been waiting for: “Do you want to hold her?” I reached out my arms and gathered in that sweet baby girl. She was solid with beautiful chub on her legs. And lungs. That girl had lungs. She started crying within a couple of minutes. Alicia sighed. “Do you want me to take her?”
Absolutely not. I know what to do with a crying baby. Besides—and here’s the thing I never really understood as a young mom —those cries that tear at your gut, that rip at your heart? When they’re coming out of someone else’s baby, they just don’t have the same effect. I’d heard from my aunt and my stepmom that this baby could cry. At night. For hours. Alicia wasn’t getting much sleep, and she had recently returned to work from her maternity leave. None of my boys were good sleepers. The demons of sleep deprivation and I were intimately acquainted.
“I’ve got her, Alicia. I’m not afraid of a little crying.” So I stood up. I swayed. I cooed. I jiggled her. I turned her around so she could face out. Eventually she stopped crying. And Alicia and I talked. She told me about how her sweet baby girl had been evicted from the newborn nursery for crying too loudly. Seriously. I laughed. But, wow.
When the food was ready, Alicia offered to take the baby so I could eat. “No. I’ve got her. You go first.” Moms of newborns—and especially moms of a newborn and a toddler—never get to eat first. Rarely get to eat when the food is still hot. I could wait. So Alicia ate. And then she took back her sweet baby, and I ate.
And I was happy to do it.
And I’d be happy to do it again. And I’d be happy to take care of that sweet baby girl and her brother too, so her mom and dad could have some grown-up time. Or better yet, so they could sleep.
I’m not writing this to make myself out as some kind of martyr-hero. I’m writing this to say that I remember. I remember when I was the frazzled mom of young kids who didn’t sleep, I had family members who offered to help, and I never took them up on it (as a matter of fact, one of them was Alicia, who at the time was a single professional fresh out of college). I suppose I was so exhausted that figuring out the logistics of getting help were more than I could handle on a Friday night after a full work week. And I didn’t want to bother anyone.
So, if I offer to help and you don’t take me up on it, I get it. But I’ll keep offering. Because I mean it. I’m happy to help. And even though I’m glad my boys are bigger now, I do love snuggling babies (even babies who cry) and wild-child toddler boys, too.
Because I remember.
Jennifer Hernandez lives in the Minneapolis area where she teaches middle school ESL, wrangles three sons and writes for her sanity. Her work has appeared recently in Mothers Always Write, Silver Birch Press, Talking Stick and Visual Verse. She has performed her poetry at a non-profit garage, a bike shop filled with taxidermy and in the kitchen for her children, who are probably her toughest audience.
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