Cora’s Evening Routine

Cora usually finishes her dinner first. This is because Cora operates on the principle that, if either of her parents are eating, this means they have forgotten about her and she is going to starve to death. To protect herself from certain death, she shrieks at the top of her lungs, which causes her parents to drop their spoons and then feed her more food. 

Cora attacks her meals. It is war.

The problem is, her parents are not able to eat, and so when Cora has finished, they are not willing to get up and play with her since they still have food on their plates. Cora does her best to help the situation by demanding that they give her the food from their plates. But this never totally fixes the situation. Her parents still insist on eating some food. And so she is forced to crawl around the floor, whining and complaining. She pulls herself up on her mother’s chair, grabbing onto her mother’s arms to remind her that Cora is a sad, neglected, pitiful child.

When her mother finally finishes or gives up, Cora has to get her diaper changed and get on her pajamas. In principle she does not mind these things. The issue is, her mother insists that she lies down on her back while her diaper is being changed. This is problematic. She hates lying on her back. In an effort to be good, she will lie on her back for about seven seconds, and that is all. If her mother has not managed to change her diaper, well, that is her mother’s problem.

After the seven seconds are up, she wrenches her hips over very suddenly, and if her mother is not fast enough, she takes off, her tiny bottom wiggling free.

Usually her mother tries to hold her down, or grabs an ankle and pulls Cora back in an undignified manner. But they both know that the seven seconds are up. Cora will not lie back down on her back, unless there are at least two strong adults holding her down.

After grappling for several minutes, with squealing, and grunting, and cries of “just hold still! This would be so much faster if you would just hold still!” Cora is in her diaper, clawing her way to a stand on the edge of the bed. As long as her mother doesn’t force her back down, she allows her mother to put her pajamas on. And so she is ready for bed.

Cora has only just recently discovered the fun of reading. Previously, books were only useful to chew on, or to use to hit big sisters. But then her father got some books for Cora from the library, and they have been really fascinating. Her favorite is called “Dream Snow” by Eric Carle. Cora likes to turn the pages herself, which allows her to control the speed that her mother reads the book.

She sits on her mother’s lap in bed, and they read the book together.

“Up, there’s the man in the house, and there’s-”

Cora has already turned the page.

“…and there’s the sun! And the man is-”

“Dukkah,” says Cora, frowning at the smiling sun. She turns the page again.

“Now the man is having tea, see, there’s his cup of tea and his biscuit,” says her mother, speaking more quickly. The page is turned again.

And now Cora visibly relaxes. Thank goodness! She has reached the best part of the book. She’s read this book many, many times but she’s always a little worried it’s not going to be there, where she left it.

There are two flaps, one on each page. There is a lot of writing on the flaps but no one ever bothers trying to read it to Cora. She always starts with the right-sided flap.

“Look at that!” her mother says, looking very surprised. “It’s a horse!”

Cora looks very pleased with herself. She shuts the flap. Then she opens the left-sided flap. “And a man! Look, he’s sleeping!”

Cora laughs at the sleeping man. She reopens the right-handed flap. “Hi, horse!” says her mother. Cora automatically waves at the horse. Whenever anyone says “hi” she knows she is supposed to wave, although to be honest, she has no idea why. Sometimes she waves at people, but sometimes she finds herself waving at a person’s back, or at nothing, or, as in this case, an image of an animal. She is puzzled but by this point, the waving is reflexive, outside of her conscious control.

Cora shuts the flap and then opens it again. “Look, it’s a horse!” her mother says. “What sound does a horse make?”

“Duh!” says Cora definitively.

“Yes, that’s right, he says ‘neigh’.”

Cora opens and closes the flaps some more. Then her mother turns the page. Cora opens the flaps on these pages, and sees a sheep and a cow. She had her mother identify the animals, greet them with “Hi” for some unaccountable reason, and discuss their vocalizations.

“Tada,” Cora states. “Dum.”

But it’s the next page that’s the most humorous. Cora doesn’t know if it’s Eric Carle or her mother who is the comedian, but when she opens the flap to see the rooster, her mother asks, “What sound does a rooster make, Cora?”

“Dukkah!” says Cora. She likes saying ‘dukkah’. But then she waits for it…

“Cock-a-doodle-doo!” her mother crows.

Cora laughs uproariously. Cock-a-doodle-doo! Who comes up with this stuff? It is just hysterical. Cock-a-doodle-doo! Ha! It is the silliest thing.

They look at the rooster some more, and also the pig, which is fun to look at but not as entertaining as the rooster.

And then Cora slams the book shut. Yes, they are only halfway through. But the rest of the book is a letdown. There are no more flaps. Why bother? Sometimes her mother tries to read it to her. Cora is not interested. She always slams the book shut or returns to the good pages.

Sometimes they also read an entertaining book about food. It has pictures of food on all the pages. Cora is mildly interested in the pictures. She really likes this book as an exercise in control. She chooses when to turn the pages and when to slam it shut. She usually slams it shut several times while they are reading, and then opens it back up again at random.

After that it is time to be nursed to sleep. Or, that was how it used to be. The problem is, when Cora’s body is still for more than two or three seconds, she has an irresistible urge to kick her legs and wave her arms around and arch her back. This makes it very difficult to go to sleep, or, really, to nurse at all. Sometimes she flails her body around and finds her head is in her mother’s armpit. Sometimes she stands up. It is hard to nurse from these positions. Her mother shifts her around, and tries to hold her, to prevent her arms and legs from moving, but this angers Cora. How dare she prevent Cora from wiggling? She has a God-given right to move her body as she pleases, and it really gets her goat when someone tries to prevent her from moving exactly the way she feels like moving.

Sometimes her mother has the gall to try to read to herself while Cora is nursing. This is inexcusable. The book may be out of Cora’s line of sight but she always, always knows it’s there, no matter how sneaky her mother might be. Cora repeatedly throws her arm out behind her and if she feels a book, she will grab it, try to rip the pages, try to fling it off the bed. If her mother holds the book out of reach of her hands, Cora’s feet will find it, and she will kick it violently. If all else fails, and she senses a book but can’t reach it, she will writhe around more vigorously. No books allowed! Her mother is starting to learn. Some nights she doesn’t even try to read. Other nights, she tries for a few minutes, and then gives up and puts the book away. So Cora is winning.

The real problem comes when Cora is finished nursing and it is time to go to sleep. In the old days, her tiny body would slowly stop wiggling, her breath would even out and slow, and she would drift to sleep, and then her mother would put her into her crib. But now, even if her eyes start to close, she still has to kick her legs, wave her arms, stand up, etc. And this wakes her up. They would wake anyone up. This is frustrating to Cora; sometimes she would rather sleep. And the worst part of it is, her mother blames her for it, and speaks severely to her. And then after awhile, her mother puts her in her crib, awake. This is a fate worse than death. Cora cannot fathom a crueller torment.

At first she always thinks it is just a joke. Her own mother would never do this to her, would she? She stands up in the crib and gives her mother a winning smile. I know you’re just kidding, she says with her eyes. You can’t be serious, she says.

Her mother then tells her to lie down. Cora understands exactly what this means, but she assumes her mother is just kidding again. Her crib is a barren wasteland of sadness. There are no warm, maternal arms embracing her in her crib, no chest to curl up against. It is inhuman to expect her to lie down here.

Her mother speaks those horrible words again, and Cora again assumes she is kidding. And then she watches with shock as her mother leaves the room.

The wail that comes out of Cora’s tiny body is a mixture of betrayal, and heartbreak, and rage. The unthinkable has happened. Her screams pierce the hearts (or at least the ears) of anyone in the house at the time.

Eventually her mother comes back in the room. Cora’s tears disappear. It was all a joke after all! She gives her mother another winning smile. She is still standing at the side of her crib; she has not moved from that position. Her mother comes over to her. Her mother is about to pick her up, she just knows it, and the nightmare will be over.

And then… and then she finds herself on her side in the crib. Not in her mother’s warm arms. No. At the bottom of the cold, sad prison cell that is her crib. She weeps at the cruelty of the world and the cruelty of her mother. She rolls over onto her stomach and tries to push herself to her hands and knees. Her mother tries, fruitlessly, to hold her down. Cora reaches out a small hand and grabs the bars of her cage. She pulls herself back to her feet.

“Lie down, Cora!” her mother commands. “Lie down, or I’m leaving, Cora!”

Cora tries to smile at her mother as she stands at the edge of the crib again. Her mother walks out, and the wailing follows her.

And then her mother comes back in again. Again, Cora wonders if it was all a sad mistake, about to be rectified. Her mother surely has had a change of heart. She smiles at her mother, who is walking over, smiles at the arms that are reaching out to her… and then… No, it can’t be!… she is on the floor of her prison again. No! She starts to howl again at the frustration of it all. Her mother is rubbing her back as she lies on the bottom of the crib. Cora’s body twists this way, and that way. She is not capable of staying still. Eventually she somehow finds herself on her hands and knees again. And then she really has no choice but to reach out for the bars. And then to stand up… she has to… she has no choice…

“Lie down, Cora! Lie down! I can’t stay with you if you’re standing up!”

Her mother is kidding again. She must be. Cora smiles at her. Her mother leaves. The wailing starts again.

Sometime around the eleventh or twelfth time she stands up in her crib, Cora realizes that she is living in a waking nightmare that has no end. She is forced, by the inscrutable exhortations of her soul, to stand up in her crib. And her mother is forced to leave when she does. By the eleventh or twelfth time she stands up in her crib, she is weeping even as she drags herself to her feet. 

Again and again, she is put back down. Each time, it’s a little harder to muster the energy to climb back up. She tries. She has to. But at some point, she thrashes around the bottom of her crib like a fish out of water, but isn’t able to claw herself up again. Her mother silently rubs her back and pats her diaper. This helps but not a lot. Cora weeps to herself and continues to flop her body around. Eventually, the flopping peters into twitching. Her wailing becomes grumbling. And then she slowly… slowly… drifts to sleep.

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