Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Mid-September Nightmare

"The thousand injuries of Fortunado I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." - Montresor - "The Cask Of Amontillado" - Edgar Allan Poe

I didn't have any idea what time it was, but I definitely knew something was wrong. I woke with a start, awakened by I didn't know what, and instinctively glanced at the glowing alarm clock next to my bed.

3:15 AM

The room was dark, but I soon knew what it was that had awakened me. My wife Jennifer was crossing the room holding our screaming three-month-old boy. I didn't know which of them was yelling louder, but it was clear that something wasn't right.

"He's been throwing up, he's screaming and nothing I do will comfort him or quiet him. It's been three hours!!" Jennifer exclaimed, clearly at her wit's end. Not that it takes much to find the end of one's wits at three AM.

I obviously didn't know what was wrong, but I immediately determined that the first step was to separate screaming mother from screaming child. Kids feed off of the emotions of their parents, and the calmer, if groggier, parent needed to break that cycle. Even at that indecent hour I remembered that from our parenting classes.

Amid the screaming I took little Luke from my wife's arms and headed for the door. In an effort to put some space between the upset parties I headed for the stairs, though as I made my way downstairs my wife continued to follow me, and also continued to yell at our son. Now she was yelling at me, as well.

Meanwhile I started softly talking to Luke, telling him everything was OK, even singing little songs very softly in his ear. He began to relax, the crying coming in fits and starts now instead of a constant stream. As I felt his body relax I continued to try to put distance between him and his seemingly-delirious mother.

To no avail.

"Where are you going?" she demanded as I walked through the kitchen. "You can't just give him a bottle!"

I knew that. She told me he'd been throwing up, and while I didn't know for sure if that was true, I didn't think adding milk to his tummy was the best thing in the middle of all this chaos. I kept talking to Luke and kept walking away from his mother.

"What are you doing?? Where are you going??"

She kept screaming questions at me, and I kept quietly talking to Luke, who amazingly was continuing to calm down and relax even as his mother yelled mere feet away from him.

After taking a loop through the kitchen and laundry room and back into the loving room, I sat down on the couch. Cradling Luke in my arms I did what I had begun to do any time he got fussy - I wrapped him up in his favorite blanket, gave him his binkie, and cuddled him into my chest, trying to shield him from his ranting mother as much as anything else.

"You can't just cuddle him and expect that to work," she raged on, now standing over me. "You can't just give him his binkie and expect everything to be OK."

At this point, I was starting to get annoyed.

"Could you please just give us 10 minutes?" I asked, in a voice barely above a whisper. "Go up stairs and leave us alone for 10 minutes. If he's still upset you can tell me my method doesn't work and try something else. You woke me up because whatever you were doing wasn't working, so why don't you let me try this?"

"Don't tell me I'm a bad mother!" she screamed. "Don't tell me how to be a parent. You don't know what you're doing and you should give him to me right now!"

She reached for Luke, but I put my entire upper body between the two, making sure she couldn't access him in any way.

"Please just give us 10 minutes," I repeated, still speaking very softly.

"Don't tell me what to do!!!" she raged. "I'll do whatever I want with my baby. You better give him to me right now. What you're doing isn't working . . ."

I motioned, and it stopped her cold. While she went on and on I had looked down to notice that Luke was asleep. Sound asleep.

"He's asleep, Jennifer," I said gently. "Maybe I'm onto something here."

Instead of being relieved that our poor, screaming infant was finally at ease, Luke's falling asleep seemed to make her even madder.

"You better get that binkie out of his mouth," she demanded, still almost screaming. "Take it out right now. And move him upstairs. He can't sleep on the couch!"

I looked her square in the eye and said quietly but firmly: "I'm not taking the binkie out of his mouth and I'm not moving him one inch. You said he's been screaming for three hours (which I knew to be an exaggeration), now he's finally quiet and you want me to wake him back up? That's not fair to Luke, and I don't mind sitting up with him to make sure he doesn't choke on the binkie or anything else."

"well, I have to get ready for work pretty soon and I have to turn lights on. He's going to wake up if you don't move him."

In my mind I did the math. It was now something like 3:30AM and she would normally have gotten up some time around 6 or 6:30 to get ready for work.

Before my sleep-muddled brain could come up with a calm, rational response to that little bit of irrationality she was off, turning on lights all over the place and making as much noise as possible. She turned on the light in the bathroom near the couch, then turned on all the kitchen lights on the other side of the room. She turned the water in the kitchen sink on full blast, started opening and closing cabinet doors . .

And through it all Luke was still asleep on my lap. He was sleeping like . . .well . . .a baby!

With my attention now fully on my baby I didn't see my wife come up behind us and reach down to snatch the binkie from his mouth. Amazing, even THAT didn't wake him up. He slept on as she dug through the diaper bag and grabbed his travel binkie. She then stormed upstairs, and I didn't have to be clairvoyant to know she was adding the nursery binkie to her collection. She had all three and was most likely hiding them.

She'd show me. If I was able to comfort our baby using a binkie she would hide them all.

Makes sense, right?

And I would have to drive a whole 5 minutes to the store where there were hundreds more of them waiting to be purchased.

Finally alone, though with water running and every downstairs light turned on, I had a moment to just relax and breathe. I looked down at my sleeping baby and knew that the two of us were in this together, for better or for worse. He needed me to protect me from episodes like this, and it was my clear responsibility to do so.

How many more would there be?

This was an unusual, but not unheard of episode. I don't know all of the background behind Jennifer's upbringing, but I know enough to understand that it wasn't ideal. Her mother is bi-polar, her brother is bi-polar, and Jennifer most certainly is, as well. She still carries many of the monsters from her youth around with her.

Normally these manifest in ways that are, taken individually, fairly innocuous. She murmurs profanity under her breath, though loud enough for me to hear, and almost always directed at me. She decides (randomly, it seems) that I don't think she's good enough at something, then tears into me for daring to think such a thing . . .though I never thought it to begin with. She turns conversations into arguments that certainly didn't need to be. She evokes other "experts" and openly lies in her own defense when she perceives that she might be wrong about something. She can't be wrong, and she has to have the last word. If it turns out that she IS wrong, she just argues all the louder and gets even angrier.

These are the "thousand injuries" I imagine when I read the words of one of my favorite authors. I don't know what Edgar Allen Poe was going through when he was inspired to write "The Cask of Amontillado," but I can certainly imagine it must have been something miserable. Someone was really being a monster (hence, "Montresor"), or being so bad as to bring a monster out of Poe himself.

How many injuries does one bear before they become insults? How long before one starts to think about learning masonry and leading the monster to a nitre-laced underground catacomb?

These are the questions that often preoccupy me . . .especially in the middle of a mid-September manic nightmare.


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