Sunday, September 12th, 2010
Sometimes, there are moments of incredible sweetness – when Ruby grins and coos and gurgles, or when I sing to her, and her eyes lock on my face like it is the only thing tethering her to the world.
Other times, there of moments of annoyance – when I spend 20 minutes soothing her to sleep and she wakes up in 15, or is calm and content if you’re standing up with her but starts fussing the moment you sit down.
Then there are the car rides. The first two weeks of her life, Ruby fell asleep automatically every time we got in the car, but back then, she slept all the time anyway. We actually had to struggle to get her to wake up for her two-week photographs. My, how things have changed.
At some point, Ruby decided she hated riding in the car. She’d start out fussing, escalate to screaming, then culminate in crying loudly and pitifully, complete with real tears. She didn’t wear out. She didn’t fall asleep. It went on and on and on.
And it’s still going on, three months later. Nearly every car ride is an experiment in torture. My friend Tracy said riding in a car with a screaming baby is like being stabbed in the face repeatedly, and that seems about right to me.
A typical 30-minute drive to town goes like this: Before we leave, I make sure she’s fed and dry and reasonably cheerful. She starts fussing the moment I put her in the car seat but calms again once we’re outside. The quiet lasts 5 to 12 minutes, while she looks at herself in the mirror and plays with her hands or blankie. I listen to music and wait tensely for the fussing to begin. It inevitably does, and I launch into my arsenal of attempts to quiet her. I scramble on my iPod to play one of the songs that has most recently calmed her – “You Are My Sunshine” or “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” from the O, Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack; Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon”; “Baby Don’t You Cry,” from the movie Waitress; anything by Buena Vista Social Club; or the Allman Brothers Band’s “Little Martha.”
If I hit the right song, she will go instantly quiet a few bars in, fall asleep and stay that way until we get off the interstate and to the first red light, at which point she usually starts back up and nothing, NOTHING, will calm her until we reach our destination.
If I don’t hit the right song, she will keep crying and crying, her face red, her chin trembling, her cheeks wet with tears. I sing to her, I talk to her, I roll down the windows for the white noise, I adjust the canopy of her seat to block intermittent sun from shining in her eyes, I endanger our lives trying to reach back and stick a pacifier in her mouth. Sometimes, one of these tricks works. Other times, I am reduced to tears right along with her.
In the past, I never really minded our little 30-minute commute, especially once I wasn’t having to do it every day anymore. It was a time to listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks, talk on the phone, think. Now I dread getting in the car, where my angel and I both suffer a kind of hell on wheels.
I’ve scoured books and the Internet for solutions, but basically everyone says, “Just wait it out. There’s nothing you can do. Whatever you do, don’t give in and take your baby out of the seat for even a short ride.” Well, duh.
We’ve tried figuring out what the problem is – at first we thought this exceptionally hot summer was the problem, but she cries even with the A/C blasting, and we thought maybe she’s car sick. But then we realized she never (or rarely anyway) pitches a fit if someone rides in the back with her. Doesn’t matter who it is, as long as she has company.
We concluded the problem is she’s lonely. True, the child hates to be alone in general, so it makes sense. But once again, what are we going to do to fix it?
When we go to town together on the weekends, I ride in the back and we all go in peace. But most of the time it’s just Ruby and me. Even just short car rides from place to place in town are nightmarish because stop-and-go traffic is her particular kryptonite. I fear stopping at the bank or any drive-thru because it’s likely to create a tidal wave of misery originating in the back seat.
I keep hoping time will fix this problem, as she gets older and more able to entertain herself with toys. So far, her expanded ability to grasp things and stuff them in her mouth hasn’t helped at all, though at home she’ll often play alone in her vibrating seat on the bathroom floor long enough for me to take a shower and get dressed. Still, those times she can lay her eyes on Mama now and then, and in the car, hearing me is apparently not enough.
And I worry it may get worse before it gets better. She already thinks she’s far too big a girl to lie back. She wants to sit upright at all times, and will struggle to lift her shoulders up, even in the restraints of the car seat. Won’t this just get worse as she gets stronger and more capable of actually sitting up?
In the mean time – for better or worse – we are stuck. Unless someone invents a robot to sit in the back and keep her company.