Five days we’re here in Portland, ostensibly for Susanne’s participation in a work conference, but I managed to finagle a reading on our last day, so both of us have a career moment or two while we’re in town. The rest of our visit we get to see friends and some family, and take in the riches of urban life. While there are several nice upsides to living in Walla Walla, like no traffic or smog, cheap rent, and gorgeous sunny skies on most days, we’ve discovered we need frequent small breaks to nearby cities. Portland is three-and-a-half hours away by car, most of the drive along the picturesque Columbia River, the gem blue water reflecting the rusty, hard etched hills until the Cascade Mountains take over and pepper the terrain with thousands of evergreens. Leaving southeast Washington is a joy when the weather is agreeable.
On the downside, all three of us are crammed into a decidedly not large hotel room, and nowhere in the complimentary Book of Mormon is there any advice on sudden downsizing of life and provisions with baby. I’ve looked.
First off, the baby expects life to be the same today as it was yesterday. When he needs to be changed there’s no changing table. Want a specific toy? We only brought a few with us. No refrigerated teething ring? I know kid, it’s a travesty. No really, it is. If I had teeth slowly emerging through my gumline, I’d want something to numb the pain, too. And yet, neither of the caregivers in this picture remembered any such thing.
Worse however is trying to foster sleeping in such a small space. The baby’s portable crib is a scant eighteen inches from the bed. Not only is it another short-term replacement in the baby’s life, but there is no sound barrier to muffle the adult goings on in the rest of the room. When it comes right down to it, nearly everything makes noise. Keys on a laptop. A pen moving over paper. Shifting in a swiveling office chair, opening a drawer. Even with the bathroom door shut all of the sounds related to one’s business in there are transferred into the main room, and god forbid there’s some squeaky plumbing to deal with. I also have a gripe with whoever made the light switch plates snap with a loud clack. You were not thinking of slumbering babies, were you? No, you were not.
No sooner would the baby finally nod off then one of us would cough, sneeze, or continue our normal respiration and then he’d be awake, wailing with the misery of it all. A few occasions found him slightly happier, and mumbling in that way that babies do–ah ba ba ba da ba eh. While these may be adorable sounds, I’m not especially excited to hear them when it’s 3:27 in the morning. Or at 4:14, as it turns out.
I crept to the bathroom at some point, a thin slice of light my only guide. I knew that somewhere in the room was the–ouch, yup, there’s the stroller, crushing my big toe. Poor big toes, always the scouts of the foot world, always the first to take heavy damage in a collision encounter. Now there was a veritable smorgasbord of sound: plastic and flesh in contact, the “oof” of the foot bearer, and the pinched roll of the wheel against carpet. Nothing that would hold up against, say, a jet engine by GE, but because it was within eight inches of my child’s eardrums, was more than enough to wake him. He has never crushed those eardrums at a concert overused a set of headphones, after all. Those puppies are pure, and hear the International Space Station up in orbit.
Squeal, said the baby. Hush, you’re okay, said the papa, trying to sound reassuring and not at all discombobulated. I’m sorry you’re offended by my inadvertent self-injury. I’ll try not to stub my toe in your presence again.
Slowly he settled down. I limped into bed as quietly as an exhausted person can. The sheets moved as I slid over.
The baby woke. And we started our soothing process all over again. I’m happy to have some time out of Walla Walla, but perhaps next time we should rent a condo.