She sharply inhaled, suddenly awake and aware of a noise that cut through her dreams and demanded her attention. There it was again: her baby's cry. The mother waited, wondering if the child would go back to sleep, but no, the cries were getting more insistent, echoing through the darkened house. Her husband lay beside her, the baby's cries not even registering a break in his deep, even breaths.
The mother rolled out of the warmth of the bed and half stumbled through the darkened room and down the stairs to the nursery. As she entered the baby's room, she flicked on the hall light, her eyes involuntarily blinking against the harsh glare before opening on the stilled and quiet form of her baby, who had been startled to quiet by the sudden light. The next second, the child looked up at her mother, and her arms and legs began moving again in earnest, as she made soft grunting noises. The mother scooped the baby up and then lay her across the changing table, quickly unzipping the fleecy sleeper to get to the sodden diaper beneath. The baby was incensed at this unwanted turn of events, and bawled angrily, her fists clenched alongside her reddened face. Even in her groggy state, the mother was able to make short work of the diaper change, placing a fresh one around the baby's bottom, and expertly stretching the tabs across the child's body in under a minute. Making quiet shushing noises, she carried the baby over the rocking chair and dropped down while simultaneously lifting her shirt and pulling the baby towards her. Immediately the cries were replaced with gulps as the baby hungrily nursed. The mother settled more comfortably in the chair, and rocked gently for several minutes. Outside the world was slowly awakening and she could hear the distant rumble of trucks along the highway. Now and then the soft swooshing sound of tires on the wet street below followed the sweep of headlights across the wall and ceiling. Lulled by the soft patter of rain against the windows, the mother's head dropped and her eyes closed as she tried to piece together the fragments of the dream from which she had been awakened. Drowsily she realized that the baby was finished and was now sleeping with her mouth open, a glimmer of milk in the corners. The mother drew the baby close and breathed deeply of her scent, warm, milky, and a touch of lavender from the bath the night before. Crossing the room, she kissed the downy fuzz on the side of the baby's head before placing her in her crib. The child startled briefly, and cried out, protesting the loss of her mother's warm arms and body. Again, the mother shushed quietly as she laid her hand across the baby's back and tucked the blankets closer, before slipping out the door and switching off the light.
Once in the hallway, she turned towards her older children's room checking to make sure they were covered against the chill of the house. Her son had characteristically kicked off his blankets earlier in the night and was now in a hunched ball on top of his pillow, his thumb planted firmly in his mouth. She drew the blankets up around his neck, kissing his cheek that once was as soft and round as his baby sister's, but in the past year had lost most of the baby fat and was lengthening into the face of the boy he was becoming. The mother then turned to her daughter, also in a ball, but this time, hidden in the tangle of blankets and the various members of her precious stuffed "kitty family". The mother stroked the long silk of hair that lay tumbled across the pillow and kissed her on her forehead, the only visible part poking out of the covers.
Moments later, she was at her own bedside, pulling back the comforter and feeling the puff of warm air that greeted her as she sank into the softness of her pillow and bed. As she had woken earlier to the baby's cries, her husband now instinctively turned toward her, drawing her chilled body against his own before settling back into slumber. She tried to calm her mind, to keep it from racing towards what needed to be done in the day ahead. Morning would come soon enough, with children to be dressed and fed, lunches to be made, and later laundry, shopping and household chores to be completed. But now, in the last two hours of "night" she forced herself to think only thoughts of sleep, knowing that she would need the energy and strength for the day ahead. She shut her eyes against the weak light starting to outline her window shades, nestled deeper into the covers and her husband's warmth, and exhaled.