Today's Reading

Dr. Prashad looks at her with concern. "Colic is really tough," she says. "I can't imagine what it must be like with two at once."

"It's hell," Stephanie admits with a weak smile. "They're both awake crying from about seven p.m. until one or two in the morning. Every. Single. Day. Patrick and I have to put them in the swings and listen to them crying just to bolt down some supper. And then we carry them in circles around the living room for hours." She rubs her eyes with her hands. "I've read all the parenting books, we've tried everything, but nothing works." She hesitates. "Are you sure there's nothing wrong with them? I mean . . . could we have missed something?" She doesn't want to accuse the doctor, but . . .

The doctor sighs and says, "They're healthy babies. They've been fully checked. I know it doesn't make it any easier that we don't know much about colic, but I promise it will pass."

Stephanie steels herself and asks, "But when? How much longer is this going to go on?" She can hear the exhaustion—even despair—in her voice and hates herself for it. She sounds so whiny, like she can't cope. She can't stand women like that. She has always been someone who copes, and copes well.

The doctor shakes her head. "There's no way to know, I'm afraid. It usually stops pretty suddenly. They'll outgrow it. Like I told you before, most babies get over it at around three months, but it can last up to around nine months. I've never heard of a two-year-old with colic."

Stephanie can't bring herself to tell the doctor what prompted this sudden visit. She'd almost burned the house down while her husband was at work. Patrick had been beside himself when she told him. She can't even remember putting the pan on the stove. What if Dr. Prashad thinks she's an unfit mother?

She doesn't know why she bothered coming. Of course the doctor wouldn't be able to help—Dr. Prashad gave her the same spiel the last time she visited. "Am I doing something wrong?" Stephanie asks, rather hopelessly.

"No. Not by the sound of it. You've told me what your routines are. You're doing everything right. You're just unlucky, that's all." Dr. Prashad's voice softens. "This will pass." Stephanie nods wearily. "The important thing is that you take care of yourself during this time. Is there anyone who can help out? Can you get a sitter or a family member to watch the babies for a night—or even for a few hours—so you can get some sleep?"

"We tried that. But I couldn't sleep through the noise." The sound of her babies wailing in distress creates a visceral reaction in her that she simply can't ignore. She glances at them now. The twins are fidgeting less in their stroller, starting to look drowsy. She has to leave soon so she can get them home and have a nap herself. The two or three hours she gets in the afternoon and the four hours between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. are all she can count on. Most nights she sends her protesting, sheepish husband to bed by midnight and tries to handle the girls on her own so that he is able to go to work and function the next day.

After the appointment, she pushes the stroller out the door of the clinic to where she's parked on the street. She settles the twins into their infant car seats, wondering if it's safe for her to be driving—her reflexes have been dangerously slow these days. She's so tired that after she fastens the babies into their seats and closes the two back doors, she almost drives away without collapsing the double stroller and stowing it in the trunk. Jesus, she thinks, noticing the stroller at the last minute, sitting alone on the sidewalk. That would be a thousand bucks wasted. It's not like it would still be here by the time she realized her mistake and came back for it. Get a grip, she tells herself.

With extra care, she drives the ten minutes from downtown Aylesford to the comfortable suburb where they live. She turns onto their street, then pulls into the driveway and stops the car. She glances in the rearview mirror and sees that both babies are asleep. Thank God.

She brings them inside and settles them in their cribs. Both are down soundly. Why can't they do this at night? If she bundles them into the car late at night crying, and drives around town until they're asleep, they wake up when they're brought back inside. It's the most frustrating thing. She's never felt as powerless as she does in the face of a crying baby—or rather, two—who won't be soothed.

Relieved, she grabs the baby monitor and makes her way to her own bedroom, ignoring the pile of unwashed clothes in the basket just inside the laundry room, and the rank smell of the diaper pail that fills up too quickly. She only wants sleep. She's heard that people can lose their minds if they go long enough without it—they can start imagining things.

As her head hits the pillow, she wonders again why the smoke alarm in the kitchen didn't go off the other day—Patrick had found nothing wrong with it—and then she is asleep.
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