I Don't Want to be a Fussy Mother Anymore
Last summer, during my son's first week of life, a friend of mine frowned at his mousy little cries and asked, "Is he a fussy baby?"
To which I replied, exhausted, "He's four days old. How should I know what kind of baby he is?"
This question has popped back up from time to time, a conversation piece in the same vein as: "When was the last time you slept?" and: "I could just eat him up!" Mostly, I've answered that no, he's not. If anything, my son has become my instructor on joy--all the places to find it and all the harebrained repetitive ways to make it last. I can't count the number of times I've put him to bed in weary relief only to sink onto the couch and watch videos of him on repeat, missing him before even recovering from him.
But a handful of occasions, yes. I have declared not only that he is fussy today, but that he is a fussy baby. A spoiled, bratty baby. A baby that for no good reason will not stop crying. This is just what he does now. Apparently playing isn't fun anymore. Apparently nights aren't for sleeping. Apparently all he likes to do is cry.
Declarations like these--sleep-deprived, condemning declarations--elicit swift sympathy, I've found, even defensiveness on my behalf. "Why are you so fussy?" my friends demand, leaning in toward my son with faux curiosity. "Don't be so fussy!" Meanwhile my son sobs, scrubs a hand back and forth across his sticky nose.
The first time I called him fussy, he was two weeks old. He cried in the backpack, in the swing, in my arms and in the crib. He pleaded to nurse and then rejected the nipple. He writhed and kicked and resented the floor when I placed him there. "Fussy baby," I said. The next day I was told he had gained no weight since birth. My milk, it turned out, had failed to come in. I was ordered to take a long list of herbs and pump around the clock. Fussy had been maybe the wrong word, then. He was starving.
At two months, he wailed all day, a departure from his usual sunny self. By nighttime, I disliked him for it. I wondered if the unhappiness was genetic and therefore destined to always remain. I glowered and waited for bedtime. Twenty minutes before that magic hour, I discovered that one of his fingers was purple. A strand of hair had wrapped so deep and tight I could not remove it. In the emergency room, I cried and held him close, promising I'd never be so judgmental again.
A few months later, a dairy allergy--this, not a bad attitude, was why he squirmed at night, why he gasped and choked and stared at me dazed, like he couldn't believe the world had to be so cruel.
Last month, a fever of 104.3. I'd been frustrated that he wanted to sleep all night beside me.
And yesterday, toxic synovitis, an arthritis resulting from a previous high fever. For three days, I'd thought he sobbed because he was tired. I'd asked him, in that same lofty bewildered way, "Why don't you sleep more, then? Don't be so fussy!" Only when I saw he could no longer walk, that he crawled with his leg twisted and his hip held high in the air, did I rush him to the hospital. He spent the evening beating out rhythms on the metal bars of the hospital bed and waving hello and bye bye to the custodial staff. When I finally brought him home, after a torturous trial of X-rays and blood work, he fell asleep in the car seat, and then on the changing table, and finally curled up on one side--his good side--in the crib, his hands tucked beneath his cheek in a picture of serenity.
I stood in the doorway, staring teary-eyed at how perfect he is. How utterly beautiful. I swore I'd never chalk his tears up to his disposition again. That I'd love him fiercely every time he cried.
And then, in a bolt of orange like the hall light that fell across his face, I realized--he wasn't fussy. I was.
I was a fussy mother.
Mortified, I googled it to be sure. To fuss: to show unnecessary or excessive concern about something. It was a limelight of truth radiating through my exhaustion. Time after time, while Micah had cried from real pain, I had complained and griped and wheedled about something entirely non-medical, something that was only a problem at all because it clashed with the expectations which I had staunchly refused to change. This was it. It was true. I was a fussy mother.
I huddled breathless on the sofa as one day turned into the next, relieved and startled, determined to change my life.