all through the night

by bam

let’s see, doctors in med school do it. fire fighters do it. airplane pilots, if they’re flying ’round the world, do it. but, no, i think they get breaks. i’m pretty sure some federal regulator decided it’s not a good idea to fly a locomotive with wings on two winks of sleep.

but mamas do do it. papas too, plenty of times. work through the night. forgo the pillow they so long for because someone who’s little is crying, is whimpering, is making bold proclamations such as the one that bounced into my ear at 4:38 this morning: “mama, my tummy is gurgling. should we go to the bathroom? because i may throw up.”

that was merely crescendo to what had been building for hours. started with a hot body, hot like a rock left in the oven, tucked in the sheets beside me, a true furnace for my always-cold toes. the hot body needed bubble-gum fever-killer. the hot body needed cold washcloth, pressed to head, just like my mama used to press to my own. the hot body left his bed, was airlifted by papa, to our bed. that was at 1 something. the hours between are a blur. sort of like the type on this screen through my eyes with no sleep. (you’ll understand, you’ll forgive, if verbs they are missing this morning; they would be found, i assure you, under the pillow i did not get to use during the night of the hot body beside me.)

it’s certainly a scene i’ve played before. not a one of us who signs up for this gig, this parenting gig, gets a free ride, an escape-from-the-night-on-the-bathroom-floor clause. but lying there, counting the sides of the hexagon tiles, over and over and over again–snapping just the one picture above because this is photojournalism, darn it, and my bathroom floor was a war zone and we wanted you to have a feel for the mood there in the trenches–lying there in between gurgles i had plenty of time to ponder.

to ponder the infinite power of the pull between mother and child as you groggily push away sleep, push away every note in your brain calling you back to the bed, because you are ministering to a sick little child, one who in the dark and the black of the night calls out your name, not anyone else’s name, because you are the one chance he’s got to make it all better. the child has powers invested in you. he believes in you. and you, darn it, had better come through.

so lying there together, we fumble. we try rubbing that tummy. re-wetting the cloth. we sing lullabies. and we both moan together. it’s all voodoo really. but it’s the voodoo of love. i know there’s a virus in there running amok. took enough physiology to know a silly old washcloth will not make a dent. but i grab that cloth anyway, crank the faucet to cold, but not too cold, drape it over his brow. i wonder if my mother’s mother did the same. i wonder if the cold cloth on the head is buried deep within my maternal wiring. or if it’s deep in all mothers, all women, all humans.

i lie there on the floor ’til the whimpering stops, ’til the gurgle stops gurgling. then slowly we rise, grope through the dark back to the bed. the light out the window is shifting. not far away it is dawn. the hot body, still hot, climbs in first; i climb beside him, entwine.

slowly his body goes still, his breathing is steady and soft. i, too, drift off for maybe a quarter of an hour. then, blaring, the alarm tells me nighttime is over. it’s time to get up and get moving. it’s morning, and i, like the doctor, the firefighter, but not the pilot who’s federally regulated, i am on 24/24ths of the day. unlike the doctor, the firefighter, all of whom get to go home, i am 24/7. this is home. this is my job that won’t stop.

yup, it’s a job that leaves you, me, all of us, plenty exhausted. but not for the life of me would i not want to be the one counting the tiles at 4:38 in the morning.

i close my eyes and still feel my mama’s thick hand on my brow, bracing my shoulders as my little gut wrenches. forty-some years down the road, my little guy might close his eyes; i want my hand on his brow to be the thing he remembers. it’s my prize for endlessly counting the tiles.

and your tales of mothering all through the night? you, or your very own mama?