With my first newborn I acquired a gift, hyper-auditory sensitivity, which I call “Mothers Ears.” It seems to be an automatic side effect of giving birth. When each of my children was an infant, I could hear every breath and the tiny whish of a wave of an arm from the crib, even when I was busy at the opposite end of the house. Once they were toddling around, poking screwdrivers into electrical outlets, ripping labels from all the canned goods and dunking the kitten into the toilet bowl, I developed an auxiliary function, “Eyes-in-the-Back-of-My-Head,” useful for alerting me to exactly what each child was up to that he shouldn’t be. My x-ray-like ability extended to detecting teenagers sneaking up or down the stairway.
When they reached adulthood and left home, the gift atrophied and disappeared.
Imagine my surprise, when I signed up to care for my granddaughter Lexi in Issaquah, Wash., while her parents tour Italy, to discover an unknown but related gift, “Grandmothers Ears.” The very first night alone with Lexi, I could not sleep. I heard every sound from her room across the hall from me. Gift or affliction? There isn’t an “off” switch.
Then one night this week neither she nor I slept. Or perhaps she slept. I did not. Lexi tossed and turned like a fish on the end of a line. I heard mutters of her dream conversations. I considered bringing her to my bed. Then the sounds abated. I began to drift off. Before I could fall asleep, Lexi began a re-run of restlessness. I wondered if she might be coming down with something. Probably a cold. Or possibly a dread disease. Or maybe something so rare as to have no name. And all these while she was under my care. Her parents would never forgive me. What should I do? I put off making a decision and floundered in worry.
At 2 a.m., a storm blew in. Rain pounded the roof, tree branches scraped the windows. Wind threatened to strip the siding off the house. Thunder crashed. Lightning flashed. Holding my breath, I listened. Every ghost the house harbored was up and about.
Finally, wide-awake and exhausted, still aware of Lexi’s restlessness, I said, “Enough of this foolishness.” I got up, hovered over her and rubbed her back. I felt each muscle relax. I tip-toed to the door. Her little voice stopped me, “Grandma, don’t leave me.”
So I brought Lexi to my queen-size bed. We had plenty of room. I rolled into a comfortable position and willed my own muscles let go. Then I had to get out of bed and go to the bathroom. When I returned, I rearranged Lexi, who had stretched crosswise in the bed. Again, sleep approached. Two little feet, one after the other, landed smack in my face. I straightened out her little body, rubbed her back, rolled over and prepared to finally get to sleep. Lexi flipped around and plopped her feet on the back of my head. I cuddled around her. Her feet landed back in my face. No matter in which direction she flopped, like homing pigeons, her feet found my face.
By this time I knew I would not get enough sleep. The next day, which it already was, I would be tired, which I already was. Finally I gave up, lay my head against her feet and prepared to wait out the last hour before 6:15, her usual wake-up time. As I was about to sink into that nebulous state prior to dreaming, Gen. George S. “Blood and Guts” Patton’s Seventh Army Tank Division rumbled and crashed through the front line of 249th Avenue. One after another three tanks reconnoitered into our cul-de-sac. The first tank screeched and clanged to a stop at each house, scooped up the garbage container, ground gears and dumped the contents into its gaping maw. The second picked up the recycle bin. The third crunched yard refuse. One at a time, they attacked at each and every house. Rumble. Clank. Grind. Rumble.
“Grandma, what time is it? Grandma?”
“It’s only 5:30, Honey, go back to sleep.”
“Grandma, I want a snack.”
Grandma wanted a drink.
But we rolled out of bed, ate breakfast and played quietly indoors all day. The rain fell steadily. We both took a three-hour nap. And when bedtime finally came, we slept through the night.
Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.