04/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mommy Vs. The Suction Bulb

The Princeling has the sniffles. Well, he's had them on and off since November, when the air in New York City becomes so dry it's practically made of sand. Our pediatrician recommended propping up his crib mattress on a wedge so he'd be in a more upright position when he sleeps, but that particular solution lasted less than a night after I woke up at 2am to find the Princeling stuck on his belly, his face firmly planted in the mattress. Although he now regularly rolls around in his sleep, I'm still too traumatized by that experience to prop up his crib mattress again. Instead, we've been doing a few other things the doctor suggested, including a cold-mist humidifier in his room, sitting him in a steamy bathroom for a few minutes a day, and using the dreaded suction bulb.

For those who are not familiar with the suction bulb -- which would be pretty much anyone who has never had to take care of a sniffly baby -- allow me to explain. The suction bulb is a device designed solely for the purpose of torturing infants, and by extension, their parents. It is impossible to use the suction bulb correctly on your own baby without feeling like some sort of Medieval Grand Inquisitor. I've yet to hear of any baby who actually enjoys the suction bulb, and I'm pretty sure therapists the world over are making a fortune off grown-ups suffering from post-suction bulb emotional trauma.

The first time I ever had to use the suction bulb on the Princeling was when he was about 6 weeks old. It was 4am and I woke up to what sounded like someone unsuccessfully trying to start a rusty chainsaw in his room. The poor little guy was having so much trouble breathing through the juggernaut of boogeys in his nose that it was keeping him awake, so I dug out the suction bulb we received upon leaving the hospital when he was born, and proceeded to freak the hell on out. Certain I would end up suctioning out his brains or causing some sort of irreversible damage to his sense of smell, I scanned each and every one of the baby guides we have for tips on not accidentally killing my baby with a suction bulb. None offered much advice beyond "Babies hate this!" so I plowed ahead, apologizing to the startled and squirming child in my arms the whole time.

In the months since, I haven't really moved past that state of mind when I have to suction the Princeling's nose. Most of the time I sit with him in the bathroom, hot water running through our shower-head to create a steam-room (which doesn't take that long, really, as our bathroom is the size of a phone booth), and feel like the evil witch in a fairy tale, luring my boy into a false sense of security as I bounce him on my lap and let him play with the shower curtain. He thinks it's Fun Time With Mommy, when really I'm waiting for the boogies in his nose to loosen enough that I can suck them out. Somehow, this little nugget of parenting never came up in any of the hundreds of conversations Husband and I had before we had a baby. Once I feel certain the boogies are nice and moist (yum!), I tilt the Princeling back, cradling his head in the crook of my elbow so I can hold it still, and tucking his arm under my armpit. And a little part of me dies inside as I realize I am actively restraining my son from his own natural sense of self-preservation, because if I don't do this he'll block his nostrils or turn his head and this will get real bad real quick. So now I have the Princeling as immobile as I can possibly get him without duct-taping his arms down and his head in place, and it's time to gently insert the suction bulb into the lower part of his nostrils. One at a time I squeeze the bulb, stick it up into a nostril, and then release, activating suction and, hopefully, grabbing some boogeys. Sometimes they stream out after the suction bulb and I catch them with toilet paper. Other times all that happens is I trigger the Princeling's sneeze reflex and he blows his boogeys all over me, and though he's not even five months old yet, I'm sure this is not an accident. He squirms and protests, but he does not cry. He's his father's son, stoic even under the most cruel and unusual torture. I, meanwhile, fight tears and the urge to self-flagellate when this is all over. If I were Catholic, I'd go to confession over this.

When we're done I tell him what a good boy he is, how proud Mommy is, and how sorry I am. I hug him and kiss his little kepi. He hates snuggling, so he wriggles in my arms until I let him go. Truly, hugging me and enduring my kisses are far worse, to him, than having bright green plastic shoved up his nose and the contents of said nose being brutally sucked out. The hugs and kisses, then, are for my benefit only. As soon as I release the Princeling he looks at me, smiles that gummy, toothless smile that only babies have, and belches long and loud into my face. I think that means "We're even."

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