Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steamboat Springs Fourteen years ago, if there were an award for “Exhausted, Confused New Mother,” I would have won. When I wasn’t nursing or changing a diaper, I spent large blocks of time in my bathrobe crying, or sitting on the couch staring vacantly into space. I vividly remember calling a friend who had twins and wailing, “You made it look so easy.”
I was a sorry sight. A long labor, sleep deprivation and hormonal derangement gave me a front-row seat on the emotional roller coaster. This was not the Hallmark card introduction to motherhood I’d imagined during my pregnancy. Instead, I was a basket case. If the phone rang, I cried. If the phone didn’t ring, I cried. If I saw a dead ant on the sidewalk, I cried because surely in a nearby anthill a mama ant was mourning the loss of her sweet child.
Everything about a newborn overwhelmed me. Cradle cap. Immunizations. Gas. SIDS. Danger and disaster seemed to lurk at every turn. Despite everything I’d read (and believe me, I’d read dozens of recommended books), I was completely and wholly unprepared for the 9-pound baby boy that entered my life.
Right off the bat, I flunked swaddling. Swaddling is the art of shrink-wrapping your baby in a blanket for warmth and security. Despite endless demonstrations by the nurses (“fold the top right corner six inches …”) I never got the hang of it. I was slightly better at breastfeeding, but nothing was going to get in the way of Peter’s hearty appetite. And did I feed on demand or try to put him on a schedule? Then there was this horrifying-looking bulb syringe I was supposed to use to suction boogers from his little nose if and when he ever got a cold.
My husband was in Denver during the week, and if not for my mother, I’m not sure Peter or I would have survived. Winning the lotto would not have been as welcome as the sight of her. She arrived to find a weepy dishrag for a daughter and took over.
“The dog growls at him, he won’t sleep and I’m so tired.”
“Give him to me and go to bed.”
“I can’t figure out swaddling, and look at this syringe thing for boogers.”
“Go to bed.”
“He needs a bath.”
“We’ll do it when you wake up.”
While I slept, she turned the thermostat up until it felt like a hot summer day. She lined up the baby soap, diapers, clean clothes, creams and lotions on the kitchen counter. She positioned the miniature bathtub in the kitchen sink and warmed up the towels in the dryer. When I woke up, everything was ready. She filled the baby bathtub with a few inches of water, tested it with her finger and in he went. With her by my side, I was no longer terrified he’d drown in 3 inches of water.
“He’s so precious,” she said.
“Adorable,” I agreed.
“You know, after you were born I stayed in the hospital for three weeks.”
“Three weeks?” I was incredulous.
“Yes, in those days the mother, not the insurance company, decided when she was ready to go home. My mother came and took care of your brother and sister, and I stayed in the hospital with you.”
“That sounds great.”
“It was great, and I promise you this will get easier.”
Of course she was right. We gave up on swaddling and laughed over the bulb syringe. At night, we lit candles and made Peter the centerpiece on the dining room table while we ate peanut butter toast and oatmeal for dinner.
Every time I see a baby I think of those exhausted, confused days and how my mother came to my rescue. I think of how one generation of women helps the next. And I think about how important it is to appreciate and honor our mothers, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.