Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pulling Over

"Why don’t I drive him home in the van, and you take the car,” the husband suggests. I nod quickly, still a bit shaky from the car ride that took two hours instead of forty minutes, with the baby crying for most of it, despite my pulling over to calm him four different times.

We start out fine, with me fantasizing he’ll sleep through the drive home because he should be exhausted from the busy day we had at the park. When he starts to fuss, I wait for the next stop sign, reach back and give him his soother. He starts sucking happily and I smile, thinking he’ll likely suck until he’s snoozing. After another couple of minutes, he is fussing again and I look through my rear view mirror into the mirror we have hooked onto the back seat, and I see that, of course, he has lost his soother. I pray for the traffic light to turn red but it is a sea of green. As the volume of fussiness increases, I have no choice but to pull over behind a parked car. I see he is worked up now, arms and legs wiggling all over, the soother popping out every time I try and put it in. I pop the soother back in, wait for him to start sucking on it rhythmically, start up the car again, pull back out into traffic, then reach back with my right arm and hold the soother in. Maybe I’ll just drive like this. But as my shoulder starts coming out of its socket, and I veer one too many times into the other lane, I decide it might not be too safe. I hear the soother pop out and then the crying starts. And doesn’t stop.

After a couple minutes, I think maybe he’s hungry even though I fed him before we left. I think nursing him will at least bring him some comfort and eliminate one possible reason for his upset. I pull into a residential neighbourhood, get into the seat beside him and pull him onto me. He quiets instantly and latches on happily. Ah, I think, that was all it was, my babe was hungry. I let him eat for fifteen minutes, give him a burp, then put him into his seat again with his soother. He’s calm now, and I'm certain we will drive safely and quietly home. I thank him and the universe for the peace.

But it’s broken in about six minutes when he must realize we’re driving again and lets out a piercing cry. I look back at his mirror and see mouth is in a perfect pout. It’s so cute you’d laugh if he wasn’t screaming, face turning red, forehead wrinking with frustration. I turn on the radio station that has nothing but static – white noise, I’m told, can help calm the baby. I find myself turning it louder and louder, I think more for me than him, because it drowns out the sound of him. Maybe he’ll tire himself out, I tell myself and try and focus on the radio and the road. I take note of the time and think, I’ll give it five minutes, but I don’t even last three, before I’ve pulled over at the side of the highway. I open the door and try and replace his soother, but his mouth is open so wide in screaming that it doesn’t even fit and certainly does not do its job of pacification. Reluctantly, I unbuckle him and pull him out as cars whiz by us. He lets out this enormous belch then and suddenly I feel like the worst mother in the world. Guilt overwhelms me as I realize my babe has been screaming in pain from gas, and I’ve been drowning out his only form of communication with the damn radio. Sorry, sorry, sorry, I say to him, kissing his little head. He seems fine now – his eyes big and looking around at our surroundings. I burp him for ten minutes, just in case there’s anything else, then put him back into the seat, confident I’ve solved all his problems.

This time he lasts for only two minutes before it’s an all out scream again. No gradual build up – just high pitched wailing. The sound pierces my body, goes straight through to my uterus, where there must is still be an imprint of him, so connected that we are. I pull over again at a corner store, run around and rip open the sliding door, unbuckle him as fast as I can, and pick him up. He is so worked up, he doesn’t quiet immediately, as I’m used to. I rock him, shush him, tell him I love him, kiss his sweaty head, pray to every god I know to help him calm down. Finally he stops and buries his little head into my shoulder. I hold it there, relieved. When he is totally calm, I decide to change him there in the parking lot of this corner store. By the time I’m putting his pants back on, he is smiling at me, tears long forgotten. Delicately, I lift him back into the car seat, distract him with the toys dangling from the car seat handle, and buckle him in quietly. I kiss his head and then race over to the driver’s seat and take off. He is quiet then, contemplating the hanging lady bug toy that is rocking with the motion of the car. But, in that moment, it’s like he realizes we’re moving again, and we are back to square one. I bang my head down on the steering wheel, my motherly energy fading, since he seems to have had all his needs met. “C’mon, Lucas! What else do you want?” I yell, a little too loudly, a little too strongly, a little too angrily. I’m getting as frustrated as him. I pull out my cell phone and speed dial my husband. He can barely hear me over the screaming. “I don’t know how I’m going to get home,” I tell him, and he can hear the desperation in his voice. He tells me to just drive, to let him cry, to turn the radio on; he reminds me that I’m only fifteen minutes from home.

I pick up speed, turn on the radio again, screw the white noise, and find a station I like. I turn it up as loud as it will go. I need to drown out the screaming now or I will crash our car just to make it stop. The song on the radio is Nelly Furtado’s “Powerless”. I glance at the sky and the god who finds this irony amusing. Hearing the lyrics, I find I start to cry too. I pull over at a gas station, hit redial on the phone and tell my husband, “come get us”. He doesn’t even ask, says he will be there as soon as he can. I turn off the car, the loud radio ceases, but the screaming does not. I lay my head on the steering wheel. I don’t even trust myself to go get him, think I may just squeeze him too hard, rock him too harshly, know I need to calm myself down first. I take a few deep breaths, then slowly go to him. I methodically open the door, move his toys out of the way, unbuckle him. He doesn’t even see me, so wrapped up in his crying is he, that when I pull him out, it takes some time for him to even notice. I am not rocking him, kissing him, or talking to him. I am just doing as much as I can, just holding him still as he screamins. A gas station attendant looks like he is going to come over and tell me not to park there, but I give him a look that would freeze a desert and he stops in his tracks, heads back into his little hut. Eventually, my baby’s stiff body loosens, the cries quiet, and the red face turns white. We are both, I notice, still shaking.

The husband comes then, jumps out of our 2nd car, and wraps his arms around us both. Then he gently takes the baby from my arms. “Why don’t I drive him home in the van, and you take the car?” I nod, take the keys from him, and walk over to the car, realizing I haven’t said a word to him, feeling bad for not thanking him, but not bad enough to getback out of the car. I sit down in the seat and all my muscles sink into the upholstery. I start up the engine, back up, and drive out of there. The peace is almost deafening.

I drive towards our home, but when I get to the street where I’m supposed to turn right, I just keep driving. I could just keep driving, I think, just keep driving. There is breast milk in the freezer if I don’t come back. I contemplate just driving and driving.

I shake my head from this thought, shocked it entered my brain. Suddenly, I am one with every mother who has left their child; suddenly I understand those horrific stories of abandonment that previously were unbelievable to me. I get a glimpse of how the strength of emotions so deep, so intense, so real might make you do something like that. I am sickened that I have even entered this part of my mind. After 24-7 with the baby for I don’t know how many days, and the past two horrible hours, I guess I have reached the edge.

I pull over the car one more time as if I see the precipice before me. It's like I can see the choice clearly – to go over the edge and keep driving, never looking back, or to go home. I take seven or eight deep breaths, imagine a future without crying, then take three or four more breaths. My hand goes down to the gear shift and I put the car into reverse. I back up and pull a U-turn, heading back. Of course I do. Of course I go back, back to my baby and my husband. I pull into a gas station and fill up the car, so I have some reason for being late in getting back. Some reason other than the fact I contemplated not coming home. No one needs to know that.

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Note: a mix of fact and fiction

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