22 February 2011
Slow to Warm Up (originally 8 February 2011)
When it finally became clear that snow would not, as feared, prevent our visit to Chicago this past weekend, I spent some time panicking. This would be Emmaline’s first flight since she was of the age when it might be reasonably expected for her to nurse then sleep then nurse again.
So I took the advice of a friend who had travelled with her daughter to Alaska (well done Heather and Lily!) and bought a variety of small novel items that Em would have never seen before. This collection consisted primarily of several small plastic figurines (Buzz Lightyear was a great success) and a small “suitcase” of Disney board books that snapped open and shut.
There was, of course, an episode of complete hysteria during which she was bounced up and down the aisle, but generally she did remarkably well on the trip there. She even learned the words open and help, as in “seriously, mom, help me open my box of books now or I am going to make the people in row 9 wish they had just stayed home.”
Then we got to Daryl’s parents’ house and I had another wave of anxiety. I honestly hadn’t thought that far ahead. She would have a pack-n-play to sleep in, yes, we had confirmed that. There would be some extra diapers and wipes. There was whole milk in the fridge and some bananas for snacking. Some of Daryl’s toys had been retrieved from the basement and wiped down with bleach. So, yes, they were prepared for Emmaline. But was Emmaline prepared for them?
After spending the first eleven weeks of Em’s life holding her or else sleeping directly next to her, a time during which I loved her (certainly) but was not always terribly fond of her, she has grown into a remarkably easy baby. It is nothing I did, though it would be lovely to be able to take credit. Still, the basically accepted tenets of early childhood development are that young children fall into one of several temperament classes: easy, difficult, and slow to warm up.
I was a difficult child. I did not sleep through the night until my family got a dog to keep me company at night, by which time I was already five or six. I did not do well in strange environments. I cried every morning upon being left at school until my mother made a sticker chart to reward me for at least getting out of the door tantrum free. Then I cried only some of the time. On our refrigerator while I was growing up there hung a clipping of a Family Circus cartoon that featured two little boys deep in discussion. “My mom says she hopes I have kids like me someday,” the caption read, “but I don’t like the way she says it.”
So it only stood to reason that Emmaline, at some point, would cease being the angelic creature she had somehow grown into and transform into a demonic being the likes of which this world has never seen since, well, since I was little. Walking into my in-laws' house and being greeted by the aggressive yapping of their mop-like miniature brown dog I had a premonition that my time was up. The barking was bound to snap us both out of the dream we had been living – one filled with more than my fair share of sweet baby kisses and pre-nap-time snuggles. Emmaline woke up and raised her head from its place on Daryl’s shoulder.
“Dog,” she said.
The dog continued barking, a high pitched yelping unlike any she had heard in person before. Emmaline was motionless in my husband’s arms, eyes wide, uncertain how she should react. I thought I heard her whimper softly.
“Dog,” she said again, but this time more as a question.
Dogs, as she had learned from Scout, were Emmaline-sized beasts who generally let you hug and pat and sit upon them and only scratched your face while trying to get away during those times you accidentally put your head between their back legs but afterward licked you to let you know they were sorry. This was not a dog. This was a faux fur decorative footstool that had somehow come to life under the spell of a genie or evil wizard, destined to roam the world nipping at people’s ankles and always wondering why it was so nervous about getting stepped on.
“Quiet,” my mother-in-law said brusquely from across the living room.
Emmaline got hugs and kisses and we put her down in the pack-n-play. I waited for her to scream. I waited for the cached version of myself that I know is lurking somewhere deep inside her DNA to surface and declare that all this change was just too much for her. I waited for the Family Circus cartoon to come true. But it didn’t. She slept. And the next day when the dog barked she said shhhh and noand she chased him around laughing manically with a gleeful grin sandwiched between her rosy cheeks.
She is an easy child. Even the early morning glimpse of both of her grandparents lying in their beds like sea creatures from the deep, CPAP masks in place and condensation noisily clacking in the hoses connected to their breathing machines, only caused a moment’s pause. Her grandfather removed his mask and smiled and she smiled back.
So the weekend passed without any major transformations. She cried while going down tonight, which is not strictly her norm, but I imagine some disruption is to be expected, even for the easiest of perfect and lovely babes. And last night on the plane, when she shrieked and screamed for twenty minutes and threw Buzz and Woody and Rex down the aisle during landing only to fall asleep thirty seconds before the wheels made contact with the runway, well she was tired. Even the best among us get tired. I felt terrible while it was happening, embarrassed mostly, but after spending another twenty-four hours with her – as she learned to say cereal and airplane and upstairs – I have begun to think that even while melting down she expressed herself clearly, wholeheartedly and with conviction. What’s there to be embarrassed about in that? I think I’ll choose to be proud instead.