Colic struck my first-born daughter the way the muscular, chocolate Labrador retriever who lives next-door sideswipes our fluffy, marshmallow colored puppy. Out of a holly bush or the row of emerald pines on the side of the yard, the sturdy dog makes a run for the puppy’s abdomen, knocking her off balance, and practically flinging her into the air.
Waves of colic would attack our three-week-old infant in the same manner—without cause or warning. No matter how bland a diet I adhered to or how much sleep the baby received, for nearly seven hours a day, our tiny child would wail. I bounced her; rocked her; nursed her; walked her in the stroller. I held her in my arms and rode the elevator in our apartment building up and down. I put her in a car seat and placed her on top of the dryers in the building’s laundry room. I inserted pacifiers into her perfect, pink mouth. I sang to her. I prayed. I switched holding her back and forth with my husband. I cried.
Then at twelve weeks, just as mysteriously as it had arrived, the colic vanished. Although occasional tears would flow, now the baby cried for discernible reasons like having a wet diaper or being tired. As she grew into a toddler, she cried even less, although her lower lip would tremble when she scraped her knee on the sidewalk or when she watched her favorite video of Mary Poppins flying off, blown gently into the clouds by the West Wind.
By the time her daily tears had ceased, we had another baby. Although this child was quite placid, he, too, cried each day for typical baby reasons: wanting to be held or receiving a vaccine. Just after he turned two, our third child was born.
I remember wondering what it might feel like to experience just one charmed day in which none of my children shed a single tear. No one would cry entering or exiting a warm bath. No one would cry about a missing toy. No one would cry that it was bedtime. In that elusive tear-free twenty-four hour period, I would consider my babies to be growing up.
An adage about parenthood claims that the days are long, but the years are short. The backward facing car seats flip forward and are replaced by booster seats. Now my daughter, proudly grasping her learner’s permit, drives our car. On one unremarkable Tuesday, baby food and diapers no longer appear on a shopping list. My ten-year-old walks himself home from school and knows how to enter the locked house and take the dog out and get a snack. If they are healthy, and we are very fortunate, they grow up.
The tears, however, still make an appearance every now and then. A poor grade on a much fretted over project, a heart wrenching loss in a baseball tournament, and the news that a good friend is moving away can elicit a good cry. Tears wash away the stress, cleanse the soul, help restore the balance.
A few years ago, my youngest child broke his arm in two places during gym class in school. When I picked him up, he wasn’t wearing his winter coat, and his right hand dangled in a peculiar angle. “Why aren’t you wearing your coat?” I scolded. “It’s freezing.”
“I can’t move my hand,” he confessed and started to cry bitterly. After the x-rays were taken and the cast was put on, I spoke to his teachers. They told me that he never cried in school, even after physical education class when he insisted that he didn’t need to visit the nurse’s office after his crashing tumble from the gymnastics’ rings. At the age of seven, he didn’t want to seem like a baby in front of his friends. He didn’t want to cry in public.
We have entered a phase of family life in which a day can hold a promise of no tears. The children are growing up. They have tears now for friends who are having a hard time, tears for children who are ill or suffer terrible hardships. They still cry for themselves, too.
I’m the one, though, who cries more now. My eyes have softened, as the years pile up. I spot an elderly neighbor sitting outside in her wheelchair with her chatty home-healthcare worker, and I go home and cry. I hear good news, and my eyes well up. My mother tiptoes around news from my hometown and finally tells me which old teachers and pillars of the community have passed away this week. I cry a lot more than I used to. Maybe I’m tired from the new puppy. Maybe this tearing up will all settle down again, as I keep growing up, too. In the meantime, since my children do not cry very much anymore, I’ll try to appreciate the quiet blessing of a tear-free day.