The Adult Game of Chicken


It’s 4:15 and I am ripped from slumber by the one sound that all mothers can physically feel – the sound of your child crying.  With my son, it’s less crying and more screeching. And like all good parents everywhere, I hear this noise and stay in bed – lying awake, hoping it will go away. I tell myself I am not procrastinating, I am carefully weighing the emotional well-being of my child with my own need for shut-eye. How long, I wonder in the inkiness of pre-dawn, can I ignore him without risking permanent damage? I’m not out to create a sociopath or anything.

Meanwhile, my husband lays next to me. Also awake. But neither of us has made any outward indication that we do indeed hear our child’s cries. I know he is awake because I can’t hear him breathing (which painfully is not the case when he is asleep). So I try to make my breaths slower and more audible as if I am slumbering blissfully away. It’s the parental game of chicken – who will cave under the unbearable shrieks and wails first? Who will give in, knowing that there will be no sleep for either if the beast is not appeased? Or worse, risk that another of the offspring will wake and need care and handling.

The longer this goes on, the angrier I become. What began as a faint hope that I won’t AGAIN be the sucker who succumbs, quickly fades into bitterness.  Bitterness about having to throw off the warmth of our bedclothes and venture out into the cold night, hazarding the stairs with my 45-year old plantar fasciitis and blurry vision to get a bottle that I should have – could have – made up the night before and left in the cooler in our son’s room. But in the dopey buzz of binge-watching some AMC show that I love-hate only hours before, I make the moronic decision that I don’t need to because…because, well maybe the baby won’t wake, or maybe my husband will get it, or maybe hell will freeze over.

When I finally do decide I can’t stand it any longer, I throw myself out of bed with such force that the headboard hits the wall, fling off the covers to maximize the cold draft that will hit my beloved and growl ‘seriously’ in my best, surly teenager-affect. My blood is boiling and I am ready to kill. In that moment, every one of my husband’s shortcomings and mistakes simultaneously floods my brain and I decide I must divorce him. Immediately if not sooner.

But when I have my warm, soft, delicious son in my arms, all the ire and resentment from moments ago dissipates and I am left punch-drunk on baby love. And that is enough to get me through another day.