Oh, baby! Russell was screaming. At the top of his lungs. Whisked quickly to a distant room, he continued his vocal displeasure. The wailing persisted through the first necessary task. It showed no sign of abatement.
Approaching 5 days old, Russell was teaching this new relative, whom others were calling “uncle,” how crying was done in the late-night hours.
U.V. had driven to South Mississippi to add his to the voices of others welcoming Russell to planet Earth. “As long as I’m here,” he said, “I’ll change a few diapers and give a few bottles.” Mother Nancy, Daddy Tyler and Aunt Mary Martha were glad for the additional help.
U.V. keenly felt what all present must have known existed – the void due to the absence of Sister/Mother/Grandmother Nancy – a.k.a. Mimi. In her prime, she’d have been present with bells on and running the show. But such is life … and death – each a part of the other.
The first day, U.V. learned the thing to do before a feeding was to mix up the baby formula half an hour in advance. Having actively parented two offspring of his own, to say nothing of participating with nephews, nieces and other great-nephews and nieces, he was up to this task.
The second night, the amount of formula was increased. The effort to get the newborn to “sleep through the night” as soon as possible was under way. Optimistically, all were predicting slumber from 8 to 10:30. But Russell stirred at 9:30, just after his parents had left the room to grab some much-needed shuteye.
U.V. managed to get Russell from the crib in the den to the changing table in Russell’s room before the start of the caterwauling. That first necessary task was no piece of cake, as Russell kicked, bucked and screamed, but the diaper got changed.
It now being a foregone conclusion that the 10:30 feeding would occur at 9:35, U.V. pondered how he might mix formula with Russell crying like a banshee. Without thinking it through too carefully, U.V. began to speak in a whisper:
“Russell, I have a plan here. I think it might work.” (He spoke in short sentences. He thought it’d be easier. For an infant to understand.)
“We’ll take this donut-shaped pillow. Put it on the floor. Prop you up in it. I will wedge you in. With this nice little blanket. I’ll rush to the kitchen …” And then Russell went silent.
Five-day-old eyes don’t really focus. U.V. knew this, he thought. But eye contact seemed to be what Russell was striving for. There they sat, one in the other’s lap, rocking back and forth. U.V. continued whispering, in five-word sentences: “Mix up that delicious Similac. Bring it here to you …”
Russell enjoyed the rocking. His eyes rolled as U.V. had, a half dozen times now, seen them do before they closed for sleep. There was also what U.V. was calling “stutter-step breaths,” little baby puff-puffs that get regular, slumber-worth breathing rhythm back in place.
U.V. placed Russell back into the crib at 9:45, and he didn’t stir again until almost 11. At which time U.V. administered the 10:30 feed amid relative silence. And Russell was back sound asleep before midnight.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.