J.J. is teething. His gums are red and swollen next to the eight front teeth he already has. He's tired but can't sleep. And he's not eating much, so that's a red flag right there.
Being in pain, he wants to nurse, but his teething makes this impossible. So I sit on the couch, crying as I feed him a bottle. Not because bottle feeding is sad but because it's not what he's used to.
He lets go of the bottle and says, "Mama," in a sad little voice.
It seems like he's asking, "Why can't I just nurse? Why are you weaning me now, of all times?"
But he's probably thinking something simpler, like, "Owie."
I've heard that if grownups cut teeth, we would need morphine to cope with the pain. Yet we give babies children's tylenol. Or a little bourbon on the gums. Or a frozen carrot to chew on.
While grownups are prescribed cutting-edge pain medicine, babies get Civil War-era remedies.
"Well, of course you're in excrutiating pain, little fella," we say. "Here. Chew on this plastic ring."
Can you imagine if a doctor said that to you after you got your molars yanked out?
It's not just J.J.'s pain that makes me sad. This is like the end of our little partnership.
J.J. and I rarely leave each other's side. When I say, "I'm going to throw some laundry in the dryer," J.J. smiles at me as if to say, "That is so funny because I was just going down to the basement. Do you want to go together?"
So any changes involving him make me a little sad.
However, this is a drama that I'm going through on my own. To Justin and the boys, this is akin to switching from Hy-Vee brand to Anderson Erickson milk. And feeling sorry for J.J. is like fretting over a football player getting tackled.
Whereas I see J.J. as the infant I brought home from the hospital and nicknamed "my little angel miracle love baby," after his valient fight during an emergency c-section, his brothers and daddy see him as a sasquatch. As Baby Paul Bunyan. As one of two people in our house that isn't afraid of our cat. (Skippy tried to eat J.J.'s grilled chicken one time and he grabbed the often cantankerous cat by the scruff of the neck and held his head on the highchair tray for a second, smiling. It was a playful wrestling maneuver, but Skippy took note.)
Johnny came into the living room from outside as I was lamenting the end of nursing.
"What?" he said. "Why is there black stuff under your eyes?"
"I don't know," I said.
"Oh. Do you want to see my stickery thing collection?"
Fir tree branches he'd piled on our front stoop.
At dinner, I told Justin about this tragedy I was going through.
"He's fine," Justin said. "It's probably time to stop nursing anyway."
Then he said, "The barber cut two retarded guys' hair today."
"While you were there?" I asked, thinking, what does that have to do with J.J.'s and my problem?
But maybe Justin was trying to cheer me up. Not to make a sweeping generalization, but I love retarded people. I worked with a group of mentally retarded adults at a department store in Arizona. I mean, a lot of people say they work with retarded people, meaning their co-workers aren't exactly geniuses . But these people really were retarded. Our job was to put security tags on clothes and purses. We had that place looking like the Fort Knox of high-end clothing stores.
It was a fun job. We'd drink coffee in the employee lounge in the morning and talk about movies. Or a
movie, actually. Baby Geniuses
was everybody's favorite. They'd remind each other about the funny parts and crack up.
So yes, that did cheer me up.
At bedtime, I went in the boys' room to kiss them goodnight, and J.J. was standing in his crib for the first time, holding onto the rails.
"Do you know what that means?" Johnny asked.
"Yes," I said dramatically. "He's an adult now."
J.J. stood there in his white onesy chewing on a pacifier.
"No, it means he'll walk when he's one year old," Johnny said.
And then, I thought, he'll drive. And he'll be too busy to visit little old mom. (You have to practice these guilt trips early to get them down pat.)
I picked up J.J. and read him "I'll Love You Forever," a book Justin's mom gave Johnny when he was a baby. It's a real tearjerker. Only I didn't cry. It actually cheered me up. I don't have to worry about J.J. not being a tiny baby anymore because he'll always be my baby.
As for J.J., I gave him a bottle this morning and he spit it out.
"Here we go again," I thought. "He wants to nurse."
But it was just gas. He burped and drank the rest of the bottle.
Justin's right. J.J. is fine. It was me who was having the separation anxiety.
As a mom, you're always coping with your kids' dramas: scraped knees, hurt feelings, fights with brothers. You can't understand why something so small is so big to them.
"My God, it's not the end of the world," you think.
Going through your own little daytime drama helps you understand. Heartache doesn't have to make sense. And it doesn't have to exist in proportion to what caused it. It just has to be met with a hug. And J.J., for someone in excrutiating pain, sure is generous with his hugs.