It’s four in the morning, and the coyotes are calling. I look out the window, even though I know I won’t see a thing. It’s not the kind of dark that covers night in the city. What I’m looking into is the black you get when the moon is not even a sliver, when your house lights are the only ones on for miles, and a coyote could be 500 yards away or standing on the other side of the windowpane and you wouldn’t know the difference.
The howling starts again, and I wonder how long it’s been since I’ve heard the coyotes in the middle of the night. I decide three years. Where could they have been all this time? Roaming another stretch of countryside? Spending too much time at the bars with all the night owls?
But of course, it wasn’t the coyotes that stopped howling. I started sleeping.
Three years ago, my son was still a newborn, prone to behavior that makes control freaks — also known as first-time parents — completely freak out. He ignored clocks. No one tells you this about babies, that they can’t tell time. But it’s true. And just as a heads up to people who think they want babies of their own, not only do babies ignore clocks, but they also can’t tell you when their diapers are about to explode all over your brand-new sofa, and no matter how many times you ask, they can’t confirm for certain beyond all reasonable doubt that they will one day make as much money as Ted Turner so that you can spend your golden years playing Go Fish with a butler at the Ritz-Carlton.
In short, babies are cute, and yes, they are your guarantee that your most annoying habits will be passed on to the next generation, but as far as being useful, they rock a 1 on a scale of 1 million. And that 1 is just a sympathy point because who among us is willing to give a zero to a helpless creature who just squeezed himself down a birth canal the size of a No. 2 pencil.
With our first son I remember sitting in his nursery, carefully crafting a list I not so affectionately named I Can’t Believe I Did That Instead Of Sleeping. This list included things I did in the weeks before the baby came that I thought were crucial but came to find out didn’t help nearly as much as some extra sleep would have. Has any woman really looked into her baby’s closet in those wee morning hours and thought, “Oh, thank heavens I stayed up late the night before I endured that excruciating labor to organize his socks!” If so, I would like that woman to know we are willing to pay double the going rate for babysitters and — whad’ya know! — we have a 4 a.m. slot open tomorrow night. So, come on over, sister!
Of course, I’m kidding. I don’t let complete strangers into our home unless they are wearing UPS outfits and carrying boxes that look too heavy for me to lift. And this second time around, much to my surprise, I have been oddly resistant to offers of help with the night shift. It’s not that I’ve decided it’s fun to be up in the middle of the night. Nor have I rediscovered the stamina I had in college, when I thought 2 a.m. was a logical time for a party to begin.
In fact, there have been plenty of nights when it’s just me and the baby and oh so many hours before the rest of the house wakes up, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to make it. There are those times in life when another hour seems like a mountain you need superhuman strength to climb. And this is what I’ve discovered. In those moments, it’s best to not be human.
We humans, we think too much. We categorize experiences, we define emotions, we extrapolate what’s happening in the present to the future, we chain ourselves to numbers on clocks. Animals do not suffer from these afflictions. You’ll never catch an animal in the wild Googling HOW DO I GET MY BABY TO STOP CRYING. Because they have a resource better than the biggest supercomputer — their instincts.
And instincts are what we have distanced ourselves from. Instincts are what we have decided we can do better than. Maybe there are parts of life this benefits, but based on my own small slice of experience I have decided that in the realm of motherhood, it is most untrue.
The first time around I would have let anyone with an opinion — including burglars dressed up as UPS men — weigh in on the best way to get my baby to stop crying/properly perform tummy time/roll over sooner than any of his baby compatriots. In the end I realized I would have done so much better just forgetting what everyone told me and going with my gut. So now on the nights when I am waiting for an hour to pass, I do my best to stop and listen for the coyotes. When I hear them, I remember something that is actually crucial: The most important thing I can do right now is take care of my baby. Even if that means throwing sleep and efficiency by the wayside.
It has been said that with the first child you fear that the crying and the sleepless nights will never end, and with the second you know all too well that, unfortunately, they will. At a point not so far in the future, I will bid farewell to the coyotes again. But this time I will take what they taught with me.