When you first have a baby, some of the literature thrust into your hands – from the hospital, the pediatrician, fliers in the mail, books – warns you about "shaken baby syndrome": when a mother loses her mind because of an inconsolable screaming baby and shakes that baby out of pure desperation, damaging her. Why this has the privilege of being called "a syndrome" rather then "an incident," I do not know. In any event, the advice offered in said literature is to put the baby down some place safe and leave the room.
This morning our house was in danger of shaken toddler syndrome, shaken mother syndrome, the whole house shaking syndrome.
I've decided that though Maeve looks like a sweet dimpled little girl, she is in fact one of those cartoon babies with evil eyebrows, plotting her next move as we go. She eyes the folded laundry, eyebrows raise, and just as I stand up, she unfolds the entire pile in one fell swoop. Yesterday, I noticed she was no longer sitting at the table with a bowl of yogurt. After looking around for a minute or two (no answers to my calls), I found her silently sitting on the closed toilet seat in her underpants, hands coated with yogurt like gloves, smearing fingers all over the face of my phone, she'd stolen.
This morning the impulses of the evil eyebrows were more subtle: she woke me up at 5 AM crying but fell back to sleep. After tossing and turning, I finally slipped downstairs at 5:25, closed myself into the kitchen, and settled on the floor with my laptop, kettle boiling, to work on a poem. At 5:44 who should scream awake again but Maeve, evil eyebrows arching, some sixth sense radar-ing my movement in the house. Down she came, and my silence, naturally, abruptly ended. It wasn't just that intrusion, though, it was the screaming and complaining, the constant clinging to the leg, the constant refusal of anyone else's comfort or hands or help, that ensued for the following THREE hours that pushed me back to those early days, to the edge where every fiber of the body is bent toward wanting to shake the baby.
I did put her in her bed and leave the room.
Now, at 9:47, the small eyebrowed one has sabotaged the 9:30 yoga class with little-boy-who-cries-wolf potty hollers, a skinned knee, and a terrible attitude. We sit in the car in tense silence, where perhaps this small wonder is wondering whether she over did it this time, and her mother offers no answer, just grips the steering wheel in an effort to keep her hands to herself.