“So this morning, Mommy is going to be in charge!”
(That is, instead of being the bum who lets the nurse do everything as Mommy denies the fact that just tomorrow, the nurse is out of here, Mommy’s flying solo with the two kids while Daddy’s at work, and Please, Ariel, Don’t Do Anything That Necessitates a Call to Poison Control or the Fire Department.)
The morning began filled with promise. The glorious July sun beamed into our home through wooden window blinds, and the house was brimming with the sort of potential that obviously means disaster looms menacingly on the horizon. I was feeling strong, inspired, and ready to take on two little girls. Ingrid the Nurse (AKA the Baby’s Parole Officer/Jail Warden) was still sleeping, which meant I would be free—at least for this one short hour—from any unsolicited discussion of her menopausal yearnings for sex (when “I ain’t got no mans!”), as well as her smelly breakfast delicacy of an orange covered in garlic and salt.
Lila’s little, warm three-year-old hand cradled itself into my palm as “the Baby,” who has not yet been deemed significant enough by anyone in our house to have earned name status, rested on my shoulder. Ingrid the Nurse was snoring away, dreaming of Trinidad and the thousands of dollars she could milk from other clueless mothers, whose children she would similarly dress in woolen earflap hats and snowsuits in one hundred degree weather. Daddy was in the shower. The house was oddly quiet, the way it is in horror movies right before someone is dismembered.
It was Mommy time.
In the kitchen, Lila was contentedly drinking her fifth Danimal yogurt drink, and the Baby was in my arms, shaking her head back and forth vigorously as she began to do that “I’m going to eat my hand, I’m going to EAT MY HAND! GIVE ME MY FUCKING MILK, BAR WENCH!” dance that newborns do when they’re hungry, so I popped out the boob and gave the girl what she wanted. The window blinds were open, but really, who cared? Once you’ve had a baby, privacy is merely a concept—a whisper of a suggestion that you can quickly silence through nonsensical rationalization (“Doesn’t everyone have nipples?”). The Baby nursed, Lila ate her breakfast, and I was even able to shovel down a bowl of cereal myself, only occasionally dousing the Baby in an errant oatmeal square. Well, hell’s bells! This was actually manageable! Bow down, cretins!
It was burping time—which is unarguably the most tedious task of newborn care because it’s both time-consuming and thankless (actually, that pretty much describes a lot of parenthood). Lila and I sang “I Like to Burp it Burp it” to the tune of “I Like to Move It Move It” and had a burping-dance-party in the kitchen. But the baby wasn’t feeling particularly cooperative and didn’t give us a burp after five minutes, so we did what any mother in her right mind would do: we dumped that kid in a swing and did our best to forget about her.
But this was no ordinary baby swing: this was the Ferrari of baby swings—the “Mamaroo”. For those of you who have not yet met the Mamaroo, it is a baby swing for royalty, into which I can plug an iPod so that the baby doesn’t have to groove away to inane shit that will inevitably make her brain even mushier than it was when she came into the world. Additionally, it has five motion settings that include “Car Ride,” “Tree Swing,” “Ocean Wave,” “Kangaroo,” and “Rockabye.” The premise of this glorious machine—or Neglectatron, as we like to call it— is that it can be the parent when you don’t want to be. It will rock your baby in all the right ways so that she drowses off into drunken oblivion while you do important things like check your email, write thank-you notes, and wonder when she will wake up again and then how much time you have until you can dump her in the Neglectatron again.
Having never used the Mamaroo before, Lila and I were excited for our test drive. I cheerfully turned that puppy on and let the Baby rock out on “Car Ride” mode. How fast could this bad boy go? I cranked the Mamaroo up—not turbo, mind you, because I’m no idiot, but let’s just say that it was on Nascar speed.
That was when the crying began.
In case you were wondering what the clinical definition of “clusterfuck” is, here you go: put Mommy in charge of two kids for the first time. Leave her alone for an hour. Watch the magic unfold!
I picked the Baby up, not yet shaken by her banshee-like screeches that suggested I had ripped off each of her toes off like little raisins and then carefully slipped each one into the blender. Could Daddy really not hear this in the bathroom upstairs? Was Ingrid really still snoring away?
Helpfully, Lila offered, “I think she’s mad.” Lila looked at the Baby again. “Really mad.”
Trying to remain calm, I said in my best cloying Mommy voice, “No, honey, she’s not mad, she’s just—”
Spontaneously-vomiting-out-of-her-nose-and-her-mouth-all-over-me-all-over-her-all-over-the-table-all-over-the-chairs-into-my-cereal-bowl-all-over-my-pajama-pants-all-over-her-clothes. Disgusting, soul-crushing vomit. Everywhere. All over hope, possibility, redemption, and happiness.
Lila pushed her chair away from the table with the force of an Olympian. “GROSS, Baby! Daddy? Can I watch Sesame Street?” Lila ran out of the kitchen, without even looking back.
With shame, I looked down into my lap, where the Baby weeps in my curdled-milk-covered arms, her little face crinkled into a crimson walnut of anger, resentment, and despondency. If walnuts could talk, mine would have said, “You heartless, selfish monster! How dare you abandon me in my Mamaroo without a burp! And then put me on that fast setting? Didn’t you see the ‘shaken baby’ movie at the hospital?! I AM CALLING CHILD SERVICES THE SECOND I LEARN HOW TO USE A PHONE!”
With sadness in my heart, and a sadder baby in my arms, my heavy feet dragging against the bright veneer of the day’s dearly-departed possibility, I lumbered up the stairs, back to the baby’s “real” Mommy: Nurse Ingrid.
I hung my head in shame, but somehow still mustered up the energy to make a literary reference to Of Mice and Men. Under my breath, I muttered to Ingrid, “I done a bad thing, George.” Sure, I didn’t kill a woman in a barn by stroking her hair too forcefully, but all the same, it had been a bad thing that I had done.
I had made the Mamaroo into a Puke-a-roo.
Ingrid rolled over in bed and wiped the sleep from her eyes as she asked, “You breakin’ my baby? Don’t be doin’ that! What you do now, Mama?”
“I think she exploded.”
“Don’t you be sayin’ that! Come here, Baby! Lemme see what Mama did to you!”
Ingrid’s sure hands take the Baby from mine, and as I turn around to see how the Baby is doing, both Baby and Ingrid refuse to make eye contact with me. They are a team, and Mommy is on the outs. For a brief second, the Baby glances at me, and her bloodshot cross-eyed face says it all, “Mommy? NOT COOL.”
And with that, it’s time to take Lila to camp.
I walk away from the Baby feeling horrible and depressed and woefully inept to the bedroom to get Lila, where she is watching Sesame Street, contentedly oblivious to all of Mommy’s moral failings. As I take her off the bed, I am reminded of a line from “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse,” a book that Lila happens to be obsessed with at the moment. (A strange side effect of parenting is that you begin to read personal moral significance into children’s stories; this is because your brain is aching to analyze something—anything— so it won’t atrophy from lack of use.) Anyway, the book is the story of a mouse teacher and his mouse pupil, Lilly. Lilly becomes angry with Mr. Slinger when he doesn’t let Lilly show her purse to her class. On her way home—after mocking Mr. Slinger and slandering his venerable rodent reputation—Lilly looks in her bag and finds a note from her teacher that reads: “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.”
And it’s this message that lingers in my head today, perhaps sitting quietly in my brain all the time when my abilities as a parent come up short; after all, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. As for today, it may be a difficult day. But tomorrow? Tomorrow will be better.
Thank you, Mr. Slinger.