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As has been noted, Rio hates the car. Not really willing to give up my entire life to act as a combination bed/snack bar, I keep taking her out in the car. Tonight, I took her to belly dancing class. This was a big deal. It’s the first time, almost since her conception, that I’ve gone out on my own, without M or a supportive friend, to do something I wanted to do, just because it interested me personally.

While Rio normally sleeps most of the day, this day she had only napped for about forty minutes in the nine hours we’d been up – far too little sleep for a newborn baby. Around four she started crying and fussing. She didn’t want to nurse, she wasn’t wet, she simply screamed the entire time I was trying to make dinner. Putting her in her sling so I could get a hand free amounted, in her voice, to total abandonment and abuse, as did walking around with her, sitting still with her, laying her down in a bassinet, holding her in my arms and anything else I could think of.

It was, needless to say, a difficult afternoon. Her father came home about ten minutes before I walked out the door, and for ten blessed minutes, she slept – from the moment he took her in his arms until the moment he strapped her into the car seat to go out.

Then we were off, alone, and while she was awake and fussing unhappily, she was doing it quietly, more like background noise than actual crying. I drove through, figuring she’d be happier driving than not. I also, honestly, wanted to go to my class, and if I’d had to stop we would have been so late I’d have missed it.

As I pulled off the highway, she started to wail. Not just crying, but the big, terrifying screams she saves only for the car. Always before, if she cried like this, I’d stop as soon as it was physically possible to do so, but we were a mile from our destination, and I decided, again, to keep driving.

We got there, and she stopped crying the moment I took her in my arms. For about thirty seconds. I changed her filthy diaper, and by the time she was clean again, she was screaming and flailing her little body. I tried to nurse; no dice. I tried rocking her – nothing doing. I put her in the sling to snuggle and promptly took her out again because she became so violently upset I was afraid she’d hurt herself. I took all her clothes off because crying had overheated her, and then wrapped her in my shawl because she was cold. I danced through my class with her held against my chest, screaming vehemently for the entire hour. As soon as the class was over, she calmed down and quietly looked around, smiling. We nursed, I dressed her to go home, and we went back out to the car.

The truth is, she started wailing before I even put her down in the seat. And I did it anyway. What the woman, the mother, I imagine myself being would do was rock her gently to sleep in my arms while pacing up and down a stranger’s driveway in the damp night, being eaten by mosquitoes while I comforted my distraught child. For as long as it took.

I put her in the seat and drove away. She screamed. I was so tired by this point. It felt like each scream was ripping the bright loving energy right out of my heart, sending it tearing off into the dark sky. I felt defeated by her angry crying, and in my defeat, allowed myself the dirty gift of stillness. Of doing nothing to stop it. I just drove home.

It was like eating a Slurpee. It tastes horrible, and even while doing it I can feel the nausea creeping over my body. I know it’s bad for me and the world in the long run, the medium run and the short run, from the moment I put it in my mouth right through to the extra time my body will take to decompose because I swallowed those preservatives. I don’t even like them. But some self-destructive urge compels me, a few times a year, to eat one anyway.

Driving through her tears felt like that.

It’s not that I was angry with her. At this age, Rio is no more capable of malice or reason than any other force of nature. It would be like being angry at the storm. It was just that I knew, with certainty, that I could do nothing to comfort her. My breasts, my arms, my voice, all the tools of my body that sustain her life and her joy were powerless in the face of her restless, exhausted outrage. Taking comfort in my powerlessness, I gave in to her screaming. I sank into this neutral place where she cried and her crying was the soundtrack to my driving and we both existed in this horrid emotionless state. Things felt gray. A part of me, in that odd space, was curious how long she really would cry.

Thirty three minutes. Then she lost conciousness, and for awhile she whimpered painfully in her sleep, but eventually even those little sounds stopped.

While she cried, I told myself two stories: the first was that I am a terrible human being and an unfit mother, and that I was doing this because I don’t really love my daughter, know matter how much I think and feel and act as if I do. The second was that I do really love my daughter, and that I always choose what is best for her, but sometimes what is best is complicated, and stopping to care for her on a dark highway shoulder in the rain was not a safe choice. The risk, the story said, was not worthwhile when I knew she wouldn’t be comforted anyway. Any mother would do this, even though it was painful for both of us.

The darker more complicated truth was my surrender. She was suffering and in my defeat I became simply her witness. Unable to muster the heart energy to reach out to her. It’s true that I stopped at the first place I safely could, a gas station about thirty-five minutes away from the dance class. By then she’d fallen asleep, so deeply even the car stopping didn’t wake her, for the first time in her short life. I cried, seeing her exhausted, limp little form lying in the car seat and knowing she’d passed out from exhaustion because I let her suffer while I looked for a place I wanted to stop, instead of staying wherever we were until she grew calm. But I didn’t wake her up. I drove home in the first moments of silence I’d been granted all day, in a puddle of guilt so sticky and thick I was unable to enjoy the solitude that might have helped me replenish my energy. In fact, the silence was the worst. I missed her crying; the painful noise was my punishment for not making it all better for her, and without it I lost my anchor in her unhappiness.

What does all this say about me? That I’m not a wholly good person. Which is a good thing, or I’d be a terribly dull writer. That I’m susceptible to human weakness and committed to self-examination? Ultimately selfish in a manner incompatible with my vision of motherhood? I will, it seems never be perfect. I couldn’t dream, even a day ago, of desiring to be apart from this child, but now…

We’ve been home for about half an hour, and she’s wailing upstairs with her father. I don’t even want to see her, let alone touch her. We nursed mechanically as soon as we got home, and I know she doesn’t really need me now. It’s not that I’m angry with her, it’s just that I’m drained. And that nasty gray mechanical self has learned a vicious lesson: if I ignore her long enough, she will just go away.

me: are my breasts really that big?

M: yeah. don’t you see me orbiting around them?

(in other words, we downloaded another set of pictures. you can see them here. lots of cute baby, plus awesome fire dancing shots, pagan gathering and party pics)

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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