Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Witching Hour

The minutes just before midnight carry a real angst for me. First of all, Ben was born just a few minutes before midnight on Jan. 30. In the weeks after his birth, my medical crises always happened around midnight. So midnight has truly been the witching hour. And around midnight tonight, Ben finally seems to have gone down for the night. It’s frustrating to be dealing with sleep problems at nearly 4 months.

But the witching hour today wasn’t midnight. It was earlier this evening:

It’s 5 p.m. I’m on my hands and knees, mopping the kitchen floor while the baby screams hysterically from his bassinet. I can barely see what I’m wiping since I’m close to hysterical tears myself. Since Ben had spit up a good portion of his lunch, he was starving by 4:30, but I’d hoped he could hold out another 10 minutes. I needed to put on my makeup. Yes, I’m an evil, selfish mother-type who lets her helpless babe cry while she smears on Silver Mist eyeshadow. I have no excuse. All I can say is that I’d been trying to put on my makeup since 10 this morning, that I couldn’t leave the house without it, that makeup is essential to feeling OK about myself. I’ll leave the house with a child’s neon green scrunchie holding up my bangs, but you won’t catch me without makeup.

So I made the “Mommie Dearest” choice and put on my makeup, albiet with frequent interruptions to reassure Ben that I hadn’t disappeared forever. And I pulled it off; he wasn’t too bad and now I was dressed and painted and ready to go. Feeling slightly cocky, I put Ben’s bib on him, then sauntered to the refrigerator to pull out a bottle.

I shook the bottle, causing the inadequately fastened nipple to fly off, and nearly 8 ounces of formula to slosh all over my face, my clothes and the floor. Ben screamed as if he’d seen the whole thing. I raced to his bassinet, shedding clothes as I went, to plug in his pacifier. But I couldn’t feed him now; I had to clean up the formula. It would attract an army of ants, not to mention the cat. so I ripped off paper towels and sopped up puddle after puddle as Ben screamed and goosebumps covered my arms and the cat watched interestingly from under a nearby chair.

I pulled out the swiffer mop and ripped open a new box of floor wipes. As I viciously pumped the mop back and forth to the tune of Ben’s screams, a litany of self-defeating thoughts pounded in my head. I should’ve closed the bottle tighter, I shouldn’t have waited so long to feed him; why did I put my makeup on; why is this floor so disgusting. I’m just not cut out for motherhood, my spacey, aimless self-absorption is completely unsuited to such responsibility.

I heated up a second bottle, found some clothes and settled down with Ben in an amazingly short period of time. Ben calmed down enough to take the bottle well and took a nice nap afterwards and I had the chance to get a grip. Then he woke up and we were able to visit the dry cleaner, the photo shop and the grocery store in an hour’s time.

That’s when I realized that Ben wasn’t a newborn and I wasn’t an invalid and things were OK. I remembered when taking the baby to Big Boy’s was terrifying. When I lost his only pacifier in the mall when he was a month old and I had to feed him in the back seat and somehow get to Wal-Mart and find a new pacifier. I remembered the first sponge bath I gave him, when I repeatedly scraped his head against the plastic basin. How I kept nipping his fingers when I clip his nails. Motherhood is the great equalizer for women.

So I’ll have more witching hours, but it won’t be like that first month. That is over. Whew!


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