shelter for the storm

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

7 thoughts on “shelter for the storm

  1. Why is it that the older we are, the better we are at understanding babies and kids? My mother often remarks, with a lot of regret, that at 70 she’d make a phenomenal parent in so many ways except for one key factor: her physical stamina. And I think she’s right. Isn’t it ironic that we, who still have the physical energy to parent (at least most of the time!), often do not have the emotional maturity to bring to the table?

  2. Ooh.
    I’m here because I’ve been drinking red wine and I don’t want to join my husband and brother in law watching previous episodes of The Sopranos. And because randomly I stumbled onto Post Of The Week….
    …and I’m a new mother
    …who’s sleep deprived
    …with a baby boy, in a house of boys (brother in law has three sons under 10, we share a house, sort of a hippie/sitcom situation)
    …but I’m from a family of all girls…
    I’m just going to stop rambling now, but I think I’ll have to bookmark you and come back…
    …your post on death is a gift. Thankyou.

  3. I can picture the woman as a rock of solidity and strength. What a great verbal painting. I think I’m more like that than I used to be but as a young mother I could never relax with a crying baby–babies weren’t supposed to cry. But I’ve mellowed quite a bit since then and it doesn’t bother me quite the way it used to.

  4. Michelle, yes there is something about getting older that takes some of the anxious bite out of it all.
    cryitout, not taking it personally ranks right up there with the all time great parenting lessons. It takes a loooong time to learn it. For my mother, it came very naturally.
    Oh, The Joys, trust me when I tell you my mother has some qualities that you would not wish to have. That said, I think the practice of not taking our children’s unhappiness too personally is well worth taking up.

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