Arlo was taking his nap on the bed upstairs when a neighbor starting using a saw. I thought the high pitched sound was my baby screaming and my heart started to pound. I immediately jumped to my feet as my thoughts raced trying to find what could possibly be so wrong to make him scream that intensely. Since birth he has often woken up mid-scream, as if in the middle of the worst nightmare imaginable, but he's only six months old. What could he possibly be dreaming of? The screams are piercing and with every one I can feel little cracks riddling their way through my heart; I've been just waiting for the day when it finally shatters and I lose it.
I run to the stairs and as I pass an open window realize that it's just a saw. I take a deep breath, go peer in at him, calm myself down and come back downstairs.
An hour later he's still asleep. Napping has never been my boys' forte. They are difficult to put down and rarely stay asleep more than a half an hour. It was a scorcher outside, and the upstairs of our unshaded brick house must have been in the mid-eighties. I started to wonder if he was still alive up there and again made the mad dash up the stairs to check if he was ok.
As I approached the bed, I couldn't see his tiny chest moving at all and tears started rolling down my cheeks as I lunged towards him. The floor creaked under my weight and he stirred and exhaled. I stopped short and had to stable myself on the bed as the blood rushed back to my extremities and the adrenaline faded. I wiped my eyes and held my hands over my heart, so happy he was fine and feeling silly for having overreacted.
Still, something didn't feel right, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I was shaken up by the scare and didn't want to wake him, so I crept back downstairs and found my husband in the living room.
One minute later, as I'm telling my husband what had just happened, hands still over my racing heart, I hear it. A loud thump. I'm running even before I hear the screaming. That's what had been out of place! I hadn't surrounded him with pillows like I always do to make sure he doesn't roll off the bed!
He's face down in a giant pile of my husband's clothes and he's shaking and crying, and I'm shaking and crying and holding him so close I worry he might not be able to breathe, but I can't let go or loosen my hold. My husband is right behind me and sits on the bed next to us. I'm rocking and crying and shushing my poor baby, until my husband points out that Arlo is completely fine. He is smiling and laughing and making ba ba sounds, reaching for his papa to give him a bisou. I can't stop shaking and rocking and shushing and crying.
"Can I hold him for a bit?" my husband asks.
And I can't let him. I can't let go. It takes me a good five minutes until I finally relent and let him peel my knuckle-white fingers off his poor little body. That's when I suddenly remember we have a second baby and my husband calls out to me as I'm sprinting back downstairs.
Owen's fine, bouncing contentedly in his little chair, smiling at the world around him. I scoop him up and rock him, still shaking and crying. I cry because I let Arlo fall out of bed. Because he is the baby I didn't mess up and here I am letting him get hurt. Because Owen is the baby I did mess up and he is ok. He is breathing, he is alive, he is bouncing and smiling and for all intents and purposes normal when there is no reason he should be. I cry because I have two fat little healthy monsters and some people don't ever even get the blessing of one. Because an old classmate was recently found dead in the break room of the hospital where he was a resident; no foul play, no medical conditions, just dead, and it has made me hyper-aware of how fragile life is. I cry because life is short and terrifying and devastatingly beautiful and overwhelming and simple and I am way too lucky for my own good.
When my husband wanders downstairs with Arlo and sees me clutching Owen for dear life there is a moment when a panicked look takes over his eyes and I can't even make out through the sobs that he's okay and I'm just an unnecessary mess.
He takes the boys and tells me to take a few minutes to calm myself down. I try, but the sobbing and shaking keep coming back. I can't stop crying because I know that if my own heart breaks, I will somehow find a way to pick up the pieces and glue them back together. But I've brought these little beings into the world and they have their own little beating hearts and someday they will be riddled with their own cracks just waiting to shatter. I can protect them in every way I possibly can and they still will get hurt, physically and mentally. I can avoid thinking about it at all costs, but still someday they, too, will die. I am overwhelmed with guilt and the selfishness of having wanted a child so badly without really understanding that my precious innocent little babies feel pain, too.
If there is some form of a god out there, this must be how he feels about us. It all boils down to the paradox of free will. We want our children to grow up free to become whomever they wish to be, and yet want so terribly for them to choose the right path. I so want to give them a fighting chance to find their own ways, but as they get older there will be much bigger booboos than just falling off the bed and I won't always be there to comfort them. Nor will they need or want me to.
It's rough stuff, this being a parent. It's your wildest dream and most vivid nightmare all wrapped up into one eternal sleepless night.