Wednesday, September 22, 2010
"Routine Mission" by Jessica Jennrich by mommy shana
So, Jess wrote "Routine Mission", a piece of creative non-fiction around the time the twins were 9 months old. Right around the time Greta was released from the hospital after her seizure. I come off as "bad" in my opinion, Jess says I come off as “accurate”. In the courtroom of our marriage I’ve been proven to be an unreliable witness so I’ll take here word for it. But, I do feel you should know this was a time of great stress and lack of sleep on my part, so it is true that I wasn’t…myself when suddenly awoken, it is also true that Jess was breaking our family rules to let the kids cry a little before rushing in to hover over them (she’s a bit of a helicopter mom). The story is great and accurate and it got published in Paradigm’s current issue (http://www.paradigmjournal.com/ ) and I'm really proud of her. We both got no sleep for longer than we should of but we were in twin hell, it was war, and if no sleep was part of the mission well…mission accomplished!
So, here it is:
by Jessica Jennrich
He wakes up at night and waits for me under the hall light. Cross-legged on our doormat that leads to the garage. Impossibly skinny and yellow from the color of the lamp. He doesn’t call out or cry, he just sniffles, louder and louder till I hear him and find and carry him back to bed in the dead of night. I sleep with him then, he on the floor in a pile of blankets and pillows, me on his hard toddler bed. The lights blaze and the TV blares “Shrek” for the millionth time. I realize he’s right, the dinosaur bone stickers, nearly lifelike in size, and procured from the museum of natural history to adorn his wall, do take on a supernatural form at night. In the shadows they become three dimensional, grow extra limbs, and look like giant arachnids descending from the ceiling. They startle me each time I awake. It’s depressing to see how far from levity we’ve fallen.
I can hear them too from here. Snorting and tossing and turning like farm animals in their stalls. The infant twins in the room next- door. Sometimes they cry and I’m stuck there contemplating what to do. Should I risk getting up, fixing their blankets, getting them more milk, gamble with really waking them? What if they are just dreaming, tossing in their milky sleep from some infant nightmare? I sweat it out, listen to my heart race and the blood pound in my ears and look down at the floor to see if their bleating and crying is waking him up. For awhile it isn’t. When it does he looks at me for a long time, trying to see if I hear them. He says, “The babies are crying” in a patient way, like you’d rouse a teenager who needs to get up to catch the bus, “Momma, the babies are crying”. He is matter of fact and judgeless at two in the morning, then he rolls over and goes back to sleep in a frightening instant.
It’s clear that only one is crying and it’s not going to stop, so I make my move. Out of his room, stepping over his snoring body and past his dinosaur army. Through the creaking door and into the fuzzy darkness of the twin’s room where after the brilliance of the light that he refuses to sleep without, it is so dizzyingly dark, that I try to overcompensate by opening my eyes as wide as I can. It is the boy twin, sitting up in his crib clutching the bars, crying like a forlorn sailor lost at sea. I give him his milk back after seeing he’s thrown it to the ground, restart the music of his mobile, and re- cover him with his blankets. Smooth the tears from his red cheeks and wipe the snot from his perennially dripping nose. I can tell from the way he balls up his fist and mashes it across his squinted eyes that he will sleep now. I wonder why he got up at all, why he threw his milk, wadded up his covers, began shrieking. I like to flatter myself with the notion that he wants to see me at night, as though he can’t spend a full 8 hours without a glimpse of me, but I think it’s something else. On the bad nights I wonder if he wants to punish me.
I need to make a decision now. Back to bed in the brightly lit toddler dinosaur room? Risk going downstairs where I’ll be so far away from the herd that any little bottle/ cover readjustment will seem like running a marathon? Try going back to my big girl bed with my partner where I could accidentally wake her up? She sleeps like a hibernating bear prone to fits of rage when woken without warning and before she’s ready. I can practically taste the cool darkness and the smooth 500 thread count sheets. But the thought of trying to lie so still and so quiet as to not disrupt her makes my stomach heave, so I head back to the fluorescent den of sippy cups and half eaten bowls of cheese crackers. I take a big risk, I turn off the light. No sign of recognition from the floor. I slip back into the hard narrow bed.
I stretch my body and think that some might say I’m lucky. That I know people who would kill for this, for children, for this kind of needy love. I fall into a deep and dream filled sleep where I spend thirty minutes of slumber trying to find my way through a desert populated by burning sand and twisted trees while helicopters cruise overhead. A war is being fought and I must hide. I awake to a soft mewing that for a minute I mistake for a kitten. It’s her now. Her cries quickly become shrieks punctuated by the meaty thunk thunk thunk of her chubby feet bouncing off the mattress. Back over the toddler, through the creaky door and into the twin’s room where the air is wet with her tears. I spy her stuck on her belly wedged into the corner. Her bottle out of reach and her covers intertwined through her legs. Her head is turned towards the wall and she startles when I pick her up, she didn’t hear me coming. “Shhhh” I say as I put her back down, righting all her parts and tucking her back in, “shhhh baby”. She rips her bottle out of my hand and is asleep before I can even turn on her mobile. I wonder how long she would have cried if I’d have left her like that. Left her to cry it out. Sometimes I do. Their cries mean different things. How much self confidence do you have in your listening skills at 4 am? She can trick me. Her little broken wing and china doll foot, they just don’t let a mother trust her intuition anymore. At least not this one. That is how we got here in the first place, trust.
I trusted the doctors and trusted the books and trusted the relatives when everyone said she was fine. Six months later a chipper neurologist shoved us into an overheated room and enthusiastically pointed to the black blotches on her MRI that showed the damage to her brain from the stroke she had when she was born. It was like taking a bullet. Since then we’ve been spectators of a disaster. Picking up shards of a family. Tucking photos into dusty shoeboxes instead of scrapbooks. Pointing fingers and fighting wars over our kitchen counter. Choosing the color of orthotics and drinking wine on empty stomachs. There is more than one way to mourn a loss, to fight a war.
Toddler is full on snoring. I debate the validity in my head of calling him a toddler anymore. I should switch, I decide, to preschooler. It is much more accurate and after all, he goes to preschool now and is potty trained and doesn’t “toddle” in the least. And just as I’ve decided this I’ve begun to cry, facing the wall on this stiff bed. We have to get up in few hours and do this whole thing all over again, fight through another day just like the one before it. I decide to try and go back to sleep, and before I can even think about whether it’s possible to sleep with tears leaking from my half-closed eyes I’m out. It’s a coma-like dreamless sleep and I wake up to sunlight filtering through the curtains and to the twins chattering at each other like squirrels in the backyard. I walk in to their room and am greeted with identical crooked lack-o-lantern smiles and peed through pajamas. I smile before I’m sure if I mean it.