One night, when my daughter was around four months old, she was teething and just miserable. All afternoon she had been fussy, she hadn’t napped well, and by bedtime she had worked herself into quite a frenzy. It’s not like she had been an easy baby up until now—she was colicky well into her third month—but that day was just a doozy. I had called my mother for advice; she swore by a wet washcloth put in the freezer for some time. Didn’t work. My friend Alice recommended letting her suck on a cold binky, but my daughter was born without a suck reflex and had never learned to take a pacifier. My other friend extolled the virtues of a little rum rubbed along her gums. No, thank you. Not only did I really not like the idea of giving alcohol to a baby, I’m not a drinker. I didn’t even have wine in the house much less hard liqueur.
With each passing moment, I was feeling more and more desperate, more and more incompetent. A good mother would know what to do! A good mother would find a way to comfort her baby! The baby was bawling streams of tears down her hot, tense face. I was crying, too, as I tried to mop up the snot out of her mouth and nose so she could breath. My first tears fell, and I couldn’t stop. I felt so alone. It didn’t feel like anyone would have the advice I needed for my teething baby. I was ready to stick her in her crib and run away. This mothering thing was not all it was cracked up to be!
Hot and sticky from having a sweating baby pressed up against me, I finally walked outside into the night’s air. Though almost November, it was warm for a fall night, but blessedly cool after the closed air of the house. The moment I walked outside, I felt myself begin to calm down. But it was the full harvest moon that really did the trick. High in the sky with that sort of textured gold that looks like velvet rubbed the wrong way, the moon seemed to blaze with a light of its own.
I was mesmerized. And so was the baby! She stopped crying and just stared. My heart stopped beating so fast. Her heart stopped beating so fast. As we gazed at the moon, our collective blood pressure dropped breath by breath.
We lay in the hammock and let that golden light wash over us like it had some kind of magical force. I felt one with my baby and one with the world. I was powerful and strong and whole. I was Mother. I was my baby’s rock, her center. I had figured out the secret code.
That’s not a feeling you forget. That’s something you carry with you. And harvest moon gold is a color I carry with me, in my mind and in my heart. It is my secret parenting weapon.
One day some time later, a grandmother on the street tsk-tsked me for not having enough clothes on my baby, at first I saw red and then I pictured that harvest moon in my mind’s eye. “Thank you; I said and smiled and pushed blithely on. You don’t know my baby, I thought, but I do!
When we hit the toddler stage I remember a mother in my daughter’s gym class warning me that I better get her under control and nip her stubbornness in the bud. Such a deflating comment! For a moment I was as limp and grey as Eeyore’s broken balloon. Visions of my wild child growing up ever wilder swamped me. I looked at that woman trying to think of something to say. Ah ha! She was wearing a ribbed, gold turtleneck that at once reminded me of my old friend the full moon. I felt a surge of energy rush through me. “Do you think so?” I asked as calmly as if she had commented on the need for an umbrella. Victory again.
Bit by bit, harvest moon gold infused me. I was Mother! This was my child. I knew her best and I knew what was best for her. Hooking into the image of gold gave me the courage of my conviction. I couldn’t rely on what other parents were doing with their babies. I had to trust my own instincts.
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