I'm cool for like five minutes of our evening together. Five minutes between Laura and Chris sneaking out the door to Isaac's first meltdown. He's sitting in his chair at the kitchen table, and I'm the nice Auntie who's drizzling maple syrup and dispensing whipped cream and banana slices on top of his pancakes. This is all going very well, until he twists in his chair and reaches his little arm over the back, pointing and making frantic questioning noises. I don't speak "Isaac" all that well, but I know he's wondering where mom and dad disappeared to. I try to distract him. "You want more of these yummy pancakes, Isaac?" Food usually works, this I know. He swivels back toward his plate, regards me curiously with a sidelong gaze, and spears banana and pancake, stuffing his mouth like the squirrels fed by peanut ladies. I'm a little concerned that his mouth won't fit all this food, and I gently put my hand in front of his fork that's returning to his plate for more. "Isaac, chew what's in your mouth first, sweetie."
It all dissolves so quickly. His face scrunching, his lower lip pillowing out and quivering, his eyes filling with tears. This is when the crying first begins. I feel my coolness points rapidly dwindling.
"Hey, Isaac, it's ok," I reassure him in my best calming voice. "You want to go for a walk?" He nods, still crying. "Ok, we'll go for a walk. We'll bring a friend. You want to bring your bear friend? I think he'd like that." I hear a timer going off, the one Laura set for her pot of steaming potatoes. I turn it off and bounce Isaac on my hip up the stairs to find him a jacket and his teddy bear. I grab the Bob out of the garage and pray to God I can figure out quickly how to unfold it. Isaac is close to screaming now, and I wonder if the neighbors can hear. I maneuver him into the stroller seat with his back arching. He won't give me a clear answer when I ask if he still wants to go for a walk. I remember that walking usually calms him down, so I figure we'll give it a try.
Once out the door, he's dialed down to sniffling. I wrack my brain for kid songs to sing. "Twinkle twinkle little star" is a good night time walking song. One time around the block. I'm onto "Old MacDonald had a farm," wondering how many animal noises I know to keep this song going. Dog, kitty, cow, horse, pig, goat, baby bird, chicken, lion, I'm running out of ideas and then I notice he's totally quiet. I peek down at his face and his eyes are closed and he's snuggling his bear. I check my watch. 6:49 pm. His bedtime is somewhere around 8 pm. Shoot. I didn't expect the kid to fall asleep on me.
We stroll the block two more times and then I bite the bullet. At this point, I guess it'll take us 45 minutes to get him into bed, sleeping. Once inside, I successfully lift him out of the stroller and then I hear little hissing noises. I sniff the air and detect... something overcooked. Potatoes. Isaac slumps against my shoulder and I hurry up the stairs to the kitchen to turn the burner off, mentally smacking my forehead. I can do this, I tell myself. How hard can it be?
The real challenge is I'm eyeing the changing table, trying to figure out how to get a sleeping child out of his pajamas, change his diaper and put him back into dry pajamas without waking him up too much. I make it a third of the way into the task before his eyes open and he's really crying now. I talk soothingly, softly to him, trying to work quickly with as little disturbance as possible, but by the time he's been changed, he's fully awake. We sit down together in the Lazy Boy rocking chair, gather a few books, turn on his bedtime cello music, and I begin to read. He's still crying, but more quietly now. I read the same book three times, changing the story each time to include a bedtime theme. He reaches for another book, signs "more" with his little hands, and I continue reading. I tell him I love him and that it's time for him to go to sleep, and I kiss his face and lay him down in the crib screaming. We'll see how long this lasts, I think, not terribly confident of this method.
Five minutes of screaming goes by and then I return, pick him up, read a few more books, say goodnight and lay him down. Then ten minutes of screaming passes. I pick him up and we walk downstairs, saying goodnight to anything and everything I can think of. Chris says this is his nighttime ritual, and I neglected to do this. Goodnight Guppy Street, the pet fish. Goodnight arm chair. Goodnight remote control. Goodnight curtains, goodnight moon, goodnight puzzle, goodnight toys, goodnight cars, goodnight little hanging Easter eggs, goodnight lamp. He's waving adorably at everything with little sniffles. We turn the lights off and as I take the stairs, he breaks into screams. He's pointing to his parent's bedroom and I take him there, turn on the lights, explain to him that they are not here but they will be home soon, that first he needs to sleep. I'm not sure he understands any of this, and I feel rotten. Poor kid. He probably thinks he's been left with a crazy lady, who tells him not to stuff his mouth with banana and pancakes, who wakes him up from a nice sleep to change his clothes and then tells him his mom and dad aren't here. I might as well have told him Santa Claus isn't real.
I lay him down once more. He's bouncing around now, wailing, and I call my mom. "How long should I let him scream before I go back in?" She advises me to wait fifteen minutes, then go in and pray with him, hold him once more, tell him gently he needs to go to sleep now. I've tried that, I think, but one more time won't hurt. Fifteen minutes passes and I do just what she said. He doesn't calm down, but five minutes later, his crying is fading. I wait with bated breath for the screaming to start again, hoping for his sake he can finally surrender to sleep and feel calm. Silence ensues. Nothing but the sound of his blowing out sniffly breaths. I check my watch. 8:45 pm. All is well in the Harbert household.
It's not until the next morning, when I come into work, that Laura tells me the reason for Isaac's woes. He had no "plugs" around (i.e., pacifiers). I was hosed, she says. Now I know. Hopefully Isaac will give me a second chance. It's moments like these that are easy to dismiss, to wish they would pass quickly. But they are the ones that teach me a little something about hanging on in the moment, being present, trying to see life through the eyes of a little child, laughing through tears as I tell the story of the evening when Laura and Chris arrive home, expecting to see me frazzle-haired with Isaac bouncing up and down on the couch, but instead see me curled up in a puffy jacket, wrapped in a blanket on the sofa. My first night of parenting class and my teacher is sleeping soundly upstairs.