I just need five minutes.
I take a seat on the concrete floor, lean my back against the washing machine, and close my eyes as I try to catch my breath. Though it's chilly out here and the air smells of paint thinner and fabric softener, the garage has become my sanctuary—the one place in our house where I can escape the sound of Gregory's ear-piercing cries. It's been a hard day, and so I've come here for just a few moments of solace.
For the most part our son is a pretty happy kid, but sometimes in the late afternoon he starts getting really cranky and nothing I do seems to soothe him. By four or five o'clock we're both pretty exhausted, but I seem to be the only one who wants to take a nap. And despite my best efforts to make sure he's fed and dry and comforted, some days he just breaks down into a screaming mess of tears, drool and snot.
When I'm well rested and in a normal mood, I can handle these meltdowns with tenderness and humor, but at the end of a long day when I'm fatigued and irritated, I find I begin to lose patience with my son. As his cries crescendo, so my anger begins to boil up inside me.
I've learned to recognize that when I feel this anger rising, it's time to take a break. I never want to interact with my son in the heat of anger. And though it may seem heartless, the best thing I can do at this moment is to simply set my screaming child in his crib, close his bedroom door behind me, and head out to the garage.
I just need five minutes.
The first order of business is get this pent-up frustration out of me. There's a broomstick I keep next to an old rolled-up piece of carpet and, with the stick firmly clinched in my hands, I begin taking huge whacks against the rug. Most days it only requires about five or six swings to get my aggression out, but on really hard days it may take a baker's dozen.
Between swings, I realize that I'm not really angry at Gregory—after all, he's just a baby. For me the frustration comes as I feel absolutely powerless to calm or comfort my child. It's humbling to realize that I'm not in control of things like I thought I was.
Once I'm winded I drop the broomstick and take a seat against the washing machine. I'm not sure if I feel better now or just too exhausted to notice. I close my eyes and try to bring a little perspective back to the situation.
Though it sounds obvious, I have to remind myself that babies are not just small adults: what is normal behavior for an infant is not normal behavior for an older person. It's kind of like saying that a caterpillar is just a small butterfly. Plus, I'm sure I would be pretty grumpy too if my gums always hurt, I couldn't blow my own nose, no one could understand a word I said, and I had more than doubled my body weight in just ten months. It's hard work being a baby.
My five minutes are up.
After a short prayer, I rise from the cold concrete floor and head back into the house. As I draw near to his room, I can hear that he is still crying. Nothing about the situation has changed except, hopefully, my attitude is just a little bit better now. When I enter his room, he's standing in his crib looking up at me with huge tears streaming down his puffy cheeks. It's sad but I also can't help but laugh a little.
"Oh, my little buddy," I say as I lift him into my arms. He leans his head into my chest and continues to sob, though a bit softer now. I'm thankful that babies are so forgiving.