In my life as a mother, some days begin beautifully. On the mornings when my daughter Quinn doesn’t stir until the blessed hour of 8:00 a.m., I rise from bed fully refreshed after a decadent nine hours of uninterrupted sleep. When I’m good and ready, I make my way down the hall toward her room where I can hear her babbling away to her stuffed animals. I pause at the door and listen for a moment to her enchanting voice as she experiments with new pitches and syllables. After a few moments, I’m unable to wait another second, so I open the door, enter the room, and sweep a smiley, pajama’d Quinn into my arms and smother her with kisses. Next will come a cup of milk for Quinn, a cup of coffee for me, and lots of cuddles as we watch The Today Show and contemplate our options for the day. These are the beautiful mornings.
And then there are mornings like today.
The minute my foot touched the creaky spot on the floor next to the bed, I knew I was done for. Quinn will only sleep in if the house is dead quiet, so my husband Norm and I usually do our best to keep it that way until around 7:30 or so. The basic rules are: no shifting around too loudly in bed, no coughing or sneezing, no visiting the bathroom, and definitely no heading downstairs to make some coffee lest you trigger the chain of events that wakes up the entire Odeneal household. The problem this morning was that last glass of water before bed. I had lain in bed since 4:30 a.m. trying to decide if I could hold it or not. By the time the clock said 5:14, I’d decided I couldn’t.
As soon as I touched the creaky spot on the floor, our cat Owen bolted to the top of the stairs to start loudly meowing for breakfast, which in turn caused our dog Clifford to rush out of our bedroom, toenails click-clacking down the hallway, and skid right past Quinn’s door which was next to the steps. Fired up by the presence of the cat, Clifford then unleashed a full-body shake that sent every tag on his collar jingle-jangling together. And if Quinn wasn’t up by then, then the sound of Clifford thundering down the stairs after the cat would have roused her for sure. This was exactly the ruckus I was hoping to avoid.
I froze on the edge of the bed and listened for sound from Quinn’s room. To my relief, I heard nothing.
And then, the faintest rattling, which I immediately identified as her blankie with the rattling teddy bear head, followed by a whimper.
Norm rolled over and whispered, “You had to get up and pee, didn’t you?”
I offered up a pathetic, “Sorry!” but I knew it was too late; there was no way Quinn would settle back down to sleep again. Sure enough, the next sound I heard was a shriek like a wounded monkey. Unlike the mornings when she gradually wakes herself up, an abrupt early-morning awakening turns my girl into a total crankpot. I heaved myself back to my feet and told Norm, “I’ll get her. Go back to sleep.” He didn’t argue.
I opened the door to her room and found her moaning, slumped over a pile of stuffed animals that were wedged into the corner of her crib. She tried to scramble to her feet when she heard the door open, but the plushy pile was tripping her up. I rushed over to help, but I couldn’t get to her before she banged her head against the crib railing. Crap. Another forehead bruise for sure. The checkers at the grocery store are probably ready to call Child Protective Services for all the bruises Quinn manages to inflict on herself. The confused, sleepy moaning shifted to full-force sobbing, so I quickly scooped her up.
I carried her downstairs with her hot, wet face smashed into my neck and her arms like a vice grip around my neck. I’ll admit that though I hate to see Quinn ever get hurt, a part of me enjoys being needed in this way. There’s something very gratifying about playing the role of Quinn’s comforter, the kisser of boo-boos, the wiper of tears.
As I made my way through the darkened downstairs, Quinn began to settle down, so I assumed she hadn’t hit her forehead too badly after all. I turned on the kitchen light and considered the hierarchy of needs to be addressed. Even on a good day, Quinn only gives me about sixty seconds from the time she wakes up until she’s got a sippy cup full of milk in her hot, little hands, so I decided that was my first move. But I also had two animals swirling at my feet demanding to be fed, and Owen always has to come first because Clifford won’t eat as long as there’s a cat to harass. Then there were my own immediate needs: a bathroom and a cup of coffee, preferably in that order. It didn’t take a genius to figure those were automatically demoted to the bottom of the list.
On most mornings, I can take care of all these creatures and myself, but those are the mornings when all 24 pounds of Quinn are happily toddling around the kitchen instead of hanging from my neck. At best, I had one free hand, and managing a gallon milk jug and unscrewing ad rescrewing a sippy cup required both, so I was faced with a “lesser of two evils” predicament: Quinn’s crying when I put her down versus Quinn’s crying when she doesn’t get her milk within the next 45 seconds. I put her down.
Well, that did it. The second she was on the floor, she howled in protest of mommy’s heartless abandonment. I filled her cup in record time, but now she was too consumed by her fit to take it from me. The animals were swirling even more excitedly, probably feeding off of Quinn’s hysteria. Even though she was becoming progressively more upset, I decided to feed the pets because I couldn’t stand the meowing and the hot, panting, dog breath another second. I was all motion as I dashed around the kitchen trying to get the right kibble into the right bowls and within sixty seconds, I was finished. Owen scarfed his down and dashed through the cat door into the basement, at which point, Clifford lunged first toward the cat door for a few last sniffs and then into his own bowl.
Quinn had collapsed by now, completely overwhelmed by the morning’s events: a sudden awakening, a head bump, and now being plopped on the cold, kitchen floor all alone. She was a mess of tears, snot, and bedhead. Since the pets were squared away at last, I sank to the floor, sat down cross-legged and positioned my girl onto my lap so as to avoid putting all of her weight onto my full bladder. I knew full well that the carpet in the family room would’ve been a much more comfortable cuddling venue, but Quinn needed me right then, not seven seconds from then, and I’d made her wait long enough. The hard, laminate floor with the tumbleweeds of pet hair would just have to do for now. I sat for a while and rocked Quinn from side to side as she alternated between sniffles and sips of milk.
I looked at the clock on the stove: 5:21 a.m.
This is the part where you’re probably expecting Quinn to do something endearing that will make me say to myself, “Ah, but I wouldn’t trade this for anything!” or “This motherhood stuff sure is hard, but it’s all worth it!” I’ve had more than my fair share of those moments, but this wasn’t one of them. This was just plain hard, and I would have given anything to have gone back to bed for a few more hours. Couldn’t the cuddling at least wait until the sun was up? This was shaping up to be one of those days when I count down to bedtime—Quinn’s, not mine. I figured I had roughly thirteen hours before I could finally relax with my glass of wine and little bowl of pistachios and watch Access Hollywood in peace. I wonder who was more consumed with self-pity at that moment: me or Quinn?
After several more minutes of rocking and whispering “shhhh” into the curls on top of Quinn’s head, I finally got us up off the floor and took us into the living room where there was a toy box for Quinn, a TV for mommy, a couch for Clifford, and a window ledge for Owen. All of us creatures eventually stretched and settled into our chosen spots for the morning. I’d eventually take care of my own needs, but for now it was time to accept my chosen role for all the good and bad that came with it. Like it or not, I’m the comforter, the kisser of boo-boos, the wiper of tears, the lap, the mommy.