Part 2: Harley Finds a Way
Last paragraph of Part I: He didn’t even like grade school now that he was a big kid. But at least it got him away from Arden.
Especially from her crying. There was something about the way she cried that just made him cringe. Her screeching wasn’t ordinary crying. Even though she couldn’t talk, her screams sounded like “Help me. I’m so unhappy, please help.” She sounded so miserable, he’d go in his room and bury his head under his pillow. It helped muffled the sound. But not the tight, nervous feeling in his stomach. He didn’t want her to be so sad. He couldn’t explain why but more and more he thought he had to do something to make it better.
But that was crazy. If Mom and Dad couldn’t stop her wailing, what could he possibly do? If Arden started crying during dinner, his parents took turns eating while the other one walked with her from the dining room to the living room, down the front hall and back into the dining room, juggling her up and down and singing to her.
Usually the baby kept crying, but it seemed to calm his mom down.
Dad would suggest checking her diaper, but wet or dry, Arden wailed. Mom would try feeding her again even if she’d just eaten a short time before, but often the baby arched her back away from Mom and kept screaming. Some evenings, Mom couldn’t take it anymore. She left the dining room, walked quickly into Arden’s room, slipped her into her crib, patted her back, and left, closing the door on the howling.
It never worked. Arden wouldn’t fall asleep. She wailed until Dad rescued her. That’s how Harley thought of it. He’d watch Dad get her from her room. Arden’s face had turned all red and flushed like she had a fever. That was scary. Still crying, she would clench her tiny fists, drawing up her knees to her tummy and then arch her back. Harley hated to watch, but in some ways he couldn’t take his eyes off her. His dad had told him that Arden had colic. There wasn’t any cure for it, they just had to comfort her and she would outgrow it. Outgrow it! Like when she was big like him? The situation was way out of hand. He had to find an answer.
And for once, going to school paid off – big time. Now that he and his classmates were in third grade, they made regular trips to the school computer lab, a small room to the side of the library. Miss Winterbrook had warned them that their twice a week time slot was strictly for doing research. No game playing. No social media. Harley didn’t mind. Even researching on the computer was fun. So far that year, he’d written essays about astronauts, Abraham Lincoln, abolition, and atomic fusion. He challenged himself to stick with topics staring with the letter “A.” That way he made a game of it.
After a Monday night when Arden had seen to it that nobody got much sleep, Harley just stared at the screen during computer hour, his brain numbed from lack of rest. He tried punching in aardvarks, artists, and Aztecs, but the words in the articles blurred and wavered. He couldn’t focus because Arden’s cries still rattled through his skull.
“Harley,” Miss Winterbrook came up behind him and shook his shoulder gently, “You had best get going. Computer lab will be over soon.”
Oh, great, now Arden was making him a bad student on top of everything else! And then suddenly he knew what he wanted to research. He typed “colic” into the subject box and tapped “enter.” The screen filled with tight lines of text and pictures of babies – most of them looked just as upset as Arden usually did. He was going to find out everything he could about this problem Arden had. He was determined to find out what he could do about it.
Tiny babies, he discovered, miss being cozy and warm inside their moms, listening to the swishy sound of the fluid they float in. Like filling the tub with hot water, laying back and closing your eyes. Yep, that’d feel great. To calm a crying baby, he read, it can help to recreate that calming environment. Mostly Harley had studied improving the outdoor environment. He’d never thought about inside as a type of environment, but he did know you can make a change for the better. He read on to find out how. He studied the pictures of how to swaddle a baby in a blanket so she would feel secure and then to hold her on her side and on their stomach. – but only as long as they were awake because it was dangerous for babies to sleep on their tummies. That scared him. As much as life had been better before Arden, he wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her.
He already knew about the shushing noise. His parents had a noise machine in the baby’s room that sounded like the ocean. It didn’t work. Arden yelled much louder than the machine. But then he read that a vacuum cleaner could work too. Even Arden would be hard to hear above the vacuum cleaner. Another idea in the article was the sound of the clothes dryer. Harley bet Arden might like to have her little bouncy seat put on top of the clothes dryer. Then it would vibrate and she would hear the shushing noise of the dryer and it was warm up there. He would definitely suggest that to his mom.
Babies, the article said, like to be moving because their moms moved a lot before they were born. But Harley knew walking her didn’t do a thing for Arden. Sure, she usually fell asleep on car rides, but they couldn’t go rushing out to the car in the middle of the night. Aunt Pattie had given them a musical baby swing. Arden hated it, crying harder than ever when they put her in it. Harley wished that the doctors who wrote this article could meet Arden. They wouldn’t be so sure of their answers then.
Finally, the article suggested giving the baby a pacifier. But he knew his mom was dead set against that. She was a dentist and she said she had seen too many kids who needed orthodontics just because they’d sucked on a pacifier too long. But maybe it wouldn’t hurt for just a little while. . . though. Still he could hardly give his sister a pacifier if his parents were against it.
Then he read something that really surprised him, “Babies are emotional beings and experience feelings of happiness, sadness, joy, and anger from the very first moment of life.” Somehow, he’d never thought about Arden that way. Did she really feel happy and sad just like he did? Sometimes he got so sad or angry he felt like crying. Of course, he couldn’t. He was too old for that. But she was just a tiny baby. She didn’t know not to cry when she was sad. He wished she wasn’t sad so much.
Did she know he wasn’t happy that she had come into their family?
That thought filled him with shame. If he learned to be happier about having Arden in their family, maybe she could learn to be happier being there. In that moment, he realized he didn’t want her to go away. She was his sister. She belonged in his family. He just wanted life to be calmer and quieter, for Mom and Dad to be themselves again.
Thinking that made him feel a little better. It wouldn’t make it any easier getting through the long nights without sleep. He looked up at the clock- just a couple minutes left. He hurriedly finished the article. Take some time out, he read, it will put you in a better mood. He’d have to think about that. Also, the author suggested, “Find a mantra, a sound, word or phrase you can say over and over again to yourself. You’ll be amazed how much better it will make you feel.”
The whole idea of mantras was awesome. He could use them for a lot of things, not just for coping with Arden. But he’d start with the baby.
Harley was excited. For the first time he felt like maybe he could help his mom and dad, could be a real big brother.
He got his chance that evening when his mom was trying to fix his favorite dinner, mac ‘n cheese. Mom couldn’t seem to get anything done, not even grate the cheese because every time she put Arden down, his little sister began to wail.
“I can help, Mom,” he said. She looked surprised and doubtful.
“No, really, let me try.” His mother gently transferred the crying baby into his arms. “Be careful to support her neck.” He nodded.
Arden’s own arms were milling around in angry circles and her knees were bunched up tight against her stomach. Harley took her into the living room and laid her on the carpet in front of the TV. Mom stood in the kitchen doorway but didn’t say anything. Harley laid a soft flannel baby blanket out beside Arden and lifted her onto it. She was still wailing and agitated but he didn’t let it faze him. He kept saying the mantra he had decided on. “I can do this. I can do this,” over and over. He carefully wrapped Arden in the blanket just like the photos on the website showed for swaddling a colicky baby. When she was wrapped, he picked her up and swung her in his arms in a wide arc, back and forth, back and forth. His mother gasped, but didn’t move.
At first, Arden kept crying but he kept telling himself. I can do this. I can do this.
Slowly, her cries subsided. Her eyes stared at his face. She was really looking at him. Her eyes weren’t all out of focus like when she first came home from the hospital. She looked like she trusted him. He could do this. He could be a big brother.
When he glanced at the doorway, his mom had returned to the kitchen.