My mother has always said she doesn’t mind when babies cry.
She can pick up the smallest of squalling creatures, raw with hysteria, and remain calm. Her heart rate doesn’t speed up, nor does her respiration. She isn’t frantic as she tries to determine what is causing the upset. She methodically runs through the possibilities: Hunger? Cold? Wet? Tired? Gas? She is unhurried as she works. And if there is no answer to the crying, no way to stop the tiny tornado of tears, she is fine with that. The baby can cry. She will hold it. Rock it. Let it be, unsoothed.
I used to be horrified by her calm. I mean, what kind of person is not affected by the sound of a baby’s cry? Aren’t parents hard-wired for reactivity, for God’s sake? Isn’t there an evolutionary imperative that makes a baby’s cry a natural epinephrine detonator that sends panic shooting through parental veins so they can snatch their baby from the jaws of a saber-toothed tiger? Aren’t we supposed to be affected when babies cry?
When my babies cried, I took pride in the fact that I responded. It bothered me when they were caught up in a miniature tempest. I felt my agitation was natural, expected. Their cries were a call to action. After all, wasn’t the measure of my maternal mettle my capacity to soothe?
If my baby cried and I couldn’t soothe him, I felt I had failed.
I saw my mother’s calm in the face of a baby’s cry as proof of an unnatural immunity to pain, of a callousness I couldn’t even imagine, of a bone-deep coldness bred from narcissism.
Was I ever wrong.
She doesn’t get upset when babies cry because she does not take it personally. It’s not that she does nothing when a baby cries. She will try a new position, check the diaper, offer a pinky finger, determine if hunger is the culprit.
What she will not do is make it about her.
She knows that babies cry. Sometimes they cry for a reason. Sometimes they just cry. She does not feel required to make them stop.
Unruffled, she will hold them while they cry, pat their backs, rock back and forth on her heels, breathe in the milk-fed smell of them. She does not get sucked into the fury of their wailing. She does not run for cover.
She waits, a shelter for the storm.
***Unwittingly sparked by Bub and Pie