I told you that I was going to carefully demolish all the romantic notions people have about childbirth and subsequent issues, right? I'm just saying—I warned you all. This story is as real as it gets.
But don't worry—it's going to be okay.
Just be prepared for a little angsty established relationship trouble in the meantime.
"So, how is everyone today?"
"Testy?" Glinda stepped into the hallway, turning sideways in order to share the close space with the General. She'd come through the back door, having left her car parked in the O'Neill's covered spaces behind the house. Shifting the casserole dish in her hands, she frowned. "You or Samantha?"
"Everyone. Me. Her." O'Neill shuffled to one side to let her pass, then closed the door behind her. Running a hand down his well-stubbled visage, he sighed. "The kid, too."
Glinda raked a look over her boss. He'd seemed to have lost a little weight in the week and a half since he'd become a father, and his face was drawn. But he looked more tired than she would have expected—bleary-eyed, tight-lipped, sagging shoulders. His normally unruly hair—well—there was no fix for that particular disaster. Glinda had accepted that fact long ago. She could no more influence that muddled shock of dappled gray than she could herd cats.
Of course, she'd seen the General several times since little Benjamin had made his way into the world. She had been entrusted with the keys to the O'Neill home when they'd realized that a new pair of chairs were scheduled to be delivered before Sam had been discharged from the hospital. And the day after they'd gotten home, the General had gratefully accepted her offer to sit with his wife when the President had strongly requested his presence on the Hill. Glinda had spent a pleasant afternoon puttering around the O'Neill brownstone, straightening up, washing things, tidying. Trying not to make noise that would wake Sam, who had fallen asleep in the brand new reclining chair. Or the baby, who had been cuddled on her chest.
So, she'd been helpful—and welcomed. Performed those basic functions necessary for the maintaining of order and cleanliness in the home. Not to mention the food. Dinner—twice—and then a large hamper of the groceries that she'd noticed were running low on the previous visit. Glinda now felt rather at home in the gracious house, familiarity with the residence and its inhabitants breeding comfort.
She'd expected them to be tired, but testy, as well? Apparently, the honeymoon period had reached its inevitable end. Resisting the urge to answer his sigh with one of her own, she raised her brows in inquiry. "Is there anything in particular with which you might need help?"
Flashing a random smile, the General plugged his hands into his jeans pockets and shook his head. "Nope."
"Because you well know, sir, that I am willing to do all in my power to ease this time in your life." With a little flourish, she indicated the covered dish in her hands. "Smooth the transition, so to speak."
His speculative gaze took in the offering, even as his shoulder rose in a tired shrug. "Well, I'm afraid that food—not even yours—won't solve this particular issue."
"Oh, my." Glinda couldn't quite conceive of a situation not made more bearable by the addition of edible comfort. Truly, the mind boggled. And everyone knew that in times of crisis, trial, or personal upheaval, the mere presence of a covered dish of food warming in the oven was likely the best harbinger of better times to come. Soup, perhaps, and fresh bread. A pasta casserole with melted mozzerella. Or, as in this current case, Funeral Potatoes infused with ham. A crowd pleaser, for sure.
At the General's silent urging, she walked the few steps through the back hall and under the archway that led into the kitchen. Making a beeline for the oven, she balanced the dish in one hand, extending the other to ease open the door. Bending, she settled the dish on the top rack, closing the door even as she reached out to set the temperature to "warm". When finished, she turned towards the General expectantly. "Well, sir. What should I do next?"
"Well." O'Neill's cheeks expanded with an exaggerated breath. Rubbing his palms together, he looked around. "Sam's sleeping at the moment. And so is Ben."
"Oh—isn't that a blessing?"
"Yes, well. I guess." He finished weakly.
She raised a brow. "I could dust, perhaps, or wash the linens."
"Don't feel obligated." O'Neill took a step backward. "We're doing all right, I think."
Glinda surveyed the scene and had to admit that it seemed to be true. The kitchen, while lived in, wasn't messy, and even though the doors to the laundry were open, the neat stacks of towels and clothes on the dryer seemed orderly enough. Passing what she hoped was a not-too-obvious glance into the dining room adjacent to the kitchen, she could see more linens folded on the table, and an empty basket sitting on a chair.
Further on, she could see the living room. Not quite as neat, but still nowhere near a disaster. A small mechanical infant swing sat in front of the piano, while a large overstuffed reclining chair had supplanted the lovely Queen Anne chairs that had once taken prominence in the room. The sofa had been moved from where she'd last remembered it, and a singularly large television had been hung on a wall where once had been a collection of antique sconces. What had once been a sitting room had become one more suitable for a family. No longer stylish, but equally as attractive.
Altogether acceptable, Glinda decided. After all—this home had now become something different than it had been just a few months before. If she squinted, as a matter of fact, she thought she could see it in three, or five, or ten years. Blocks instead of burp rags, skates rather than slippers. Video games instead of the swing. Hockey trophies on the piano, a tall, lanky boy with blond hair and brown eyes with his feet up on the arm of the sofa, chatting up girls on his phone.
Blinking back her own imagination, Glinda sighed, then set her spine. With an efficient turn, she faced her boss. "Well, then, sir. I guess I could just do a little tidying up."
"Pinky—you're here as a member of the family—not as a maid."
"General, I am here as a Grandma." Glinda corrected. Glaring at him down her aquiline nose, she harrumphed. "And any Grandma worth her salt would make herself useful, rather than decorative."
"Okay—well—I guess you could—" He stopped mid-thought. Frowning, the General took a step closer to the archway of the living room and peered up the stairwell, his face a study in concentration. "Aw—crap."
A rather unpleasant sound made its way downstairs, growing louder as the moments progressed. Footsteps padded across the floor on the brownstone's second level—muted somewhat by the carpeting that Glinda knew lined the wood-planked hallway above. A door opened, and the volume of the wailing increased exponentially, joined by a low, soothing voice.
Glinda winced. "I take it he's up?"
"Yeah. That nap lasted all of—" O'Neill scrunched his mouth up into an exasperated pucker as he twisted his wrist to peer at his watch. "Eighteen minutes."
"Oh, dear." Glinda was quite afraid that her own expression mirrored that of her boss. "I take it that this is the reason for the testiness?"
"Yeah. At least in part." The General squinted at her for a moment before edging towards the stairs. "So, if you'll excuse me."
"Of course." As he ascended the stairs, Glinda moved into the family room. Papers. Someone had left the morning's paper discarded in a pile on an end table. She gathered it up in her hands and tucked it under her arm as she took a turn about the room. Since her last visit, a small, circular table had appeared next to the recliner, on top of which sat an amalgamation of odd items. A few cloth diapers—she knew the Colonel used those as burp cloths—a small spiral notebook, a cordless phone. A large plastic mug with a bumpy straw. A collection of odd little circular pads of some sort, and a small purple tube of ointment. Not one but three remote controls. On the floor beside the chair sat a curious little pillow shaped like a "C". Glinda made a mental note to drop by the craft shop on her way home and find a basket suitable for holding all the items. Something both decorative and utilitarian.
That decided, she turned around. Across the hallway, in the entry foyer, the long mirror table held congratulatory plants and flowers in various states. The plants were flourishing—green and lush—evidence that one of the O'Neills possessed ample knowledge regarding the care of house plants. The cut flowers, however, were another matter entirely. Indecision never having been one of her failings, Glinda immediately grasped two vases of the wilting masses and headed for the kitchen. Setting the vases next to the sink, she turned and took the newspaper out from under her arm, spreading it out on the island in the center of the room. Back at the sink, she hefted one vase and held it over the sink as she lifted the flowers free of the gunky water as voices wafted down from the staircase.
"Do you think he's hungry again?"
"Jack, I just fed him." Samantha's words were punctuated by their feet on the stairs. Not to mention the squawking, staccato wails of the baby she held. "I don't know what the problem is."
"Maybe he's just not tired."
"Then why is he crying?"
Glinda didn't turn as they came down the stairs, continuing on with her work at the sink. But she could hear them quite clearly. The Colonel's voice sounded strained, and frustrated, and unbelievably weary. Her footfalls shuffled off the steps and across the wood flooring before muffling again, on the carpet. The chair made a little squeak as Sam sat down, and a faint shushing of fabric rubbing against fabric indicated that things were shifting, changing hands.
"Maybe he's just not getting enough to eat. You know—because of the—"
"The what, Jack?"
Glinda dumped the water from the vase into the sink, rinsing the glass container with the faucet sprayer. Lifting the cut flowers, she placed them on the island, reaching down to retrieve a pair of kitchen shears from a drawer. She didn't intend to peek in through the dining room and see them. Had no intention of eavesdropping. Hadn't wanted to see where they sat in a sort of family tableau—didn't want to intrude upon so private a time. And if she hadn't been elbow-deep in dead and dying daisies, she would have slipped out the back door.
Because Sam looked awful. Gray circles under her eyes, her long, blond hair pulling free from its braid and sticking up around her head like a psychotic halo. Wearing a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt that Glinda suspected had once belonged to her husband, the Colonel sat slumped in her chair, arms slung down over the sides.
The General stood in front of her, holding his son, his body swaying from side to side in some gentle, instinctive rhythm. "Sam, you know what I'm talking about."
"So, you're saying this is my fault?"
"Gah—no." O'Neill spluttered, then frowned down at the baby when he erupted into a new set of cries. He adjusted his hold on the infant he held, then raised him upwards, propping him against his own shoulder. "Why would you think that?"
"Because I'm the one insisting on nursing."
Glinda peeped up again, to where the General's face had softened, looking downward at his wife. She'd seen this expression before—in other unguarded moments, when he'd been seated in his chair at the Pentagon, gazing at her picture. As she'd fed their child in the hospital room, her joy so completely unfettered. As he'd held her in the cargo hold of a ship, his fingers never quite leaving her skin—as if he were afraid she'd disappear again.
A warmth crept up Glinda's spine as she recognized that look. She knew what it meant now. Not mere love, not mere feeling—it was a considering look, as if asking himself to choose between two instincts—tactical expedience or artless indulgence.
Glinda herself seen that same look just the other morning, only it had been directed at herself. She'd been choosing a new cellular telephone—an unfortunate accident with her last one necessitating such an excursion. While Glinda had leaned towards the basic model, her shopping partner had suggested an upgrade, and then smiled down at her in just such a way as he'd explained the benefits. The warmth in her spine blossomed up and onto her cheeks, the fancy new weight in her pocket suddenly evidence of something more than just a need for reliable communication.
With renewed vigor and a simple smile, she sorted through the flowers, discarding those that were beyond help, and setting others aside. Gathering the worthy blooms in her hands, she turned back towards the sink and ran a little lukewarm water into the vase, then set it aside as she raised the flowers and shears.
"I'm not telling you what you should do." His deep base sounded calmer than Glinda would have thought possible. Obviously, this was his private tone—one reserved for specific people and times. "I just want you to be healthy and comfortable."
Glinda had snipped the ends off four flowers before she heard an answer. "I know, Jack. I just feel like I'm failing him. He's not happy."
"What does he know, Sam? He's ten days old. He's a creature of immediacy." The General had managed to keep his voice easy. "He eats, he poops, he cries. What's there to be happy about?"
The clipped ends of three more stems joined their brethren in the bottom of the sink, and Glinda set aside the vase and returned for the rest of the flowers. The baby had settled down a bit, crying a little, but not howling as steadily as before. As she sorted through the second pile of stems, the secretary-turned-Grandma glimpsed the General still standing, still swaying from side to side. He'd added a little bounce into the mix, patting the baby's well-diapered rear end for good measure.
"Still." Sam raised a hand to her forehead, her fingers pinching at the bridge of her nose. "I'm his mother. I'm supposed to be the one that calms him down. That gives him what he needs."
"There's no rule that says that anywhere. Besides, you're hurting, Sam." His gaze was frank. "Maybe it's time for plan B."
Glinda frowned, watching as the Colonel leaned back in the chair, scooching back further to curl her legs under her. Her sigh seemed over-loud. Over-tired. "Jack—I—"
"Listen. I know that this is what you want to do." He cocked a brow at her. "But it may not be realistic."
"I can deal with the pain." She narrowed her eyes at her husband. After a long, long, time, she continued. "I've dealt with more than this, you know that."
As if on cue, little Ben jerked and started to squall in earnest. Glinda looked up from pulling ferns out of the mixture of greens to see Sam sit up and hold out her arms, her face one of quiet acceptance. "Give him here."
"Are you sure?" The General stopped swaying. "I can open one of those little bottles from the hospital."
"Jack." Her tone brooked no argument. She reemphasized her hands, outstretched, and heaved a sigh when her husband placed the baby within them. "I'll deal with it."
Glinda gathered up the useless greens and wrapped them up in a piece of the newspaper. Setting them aside, she looked up again to see the baby obscured now by the t-shirt, and Sam efficiently arranging things in order for him to eat. Even from the kitchen, Glinda could see the grimace that blighted Sam's face as the baby began nursing. She could even hear her faint gasp, followed by a inhale. Through her teeth, she bit out, "I just don't see why he can't latch onto this side properly."
"They say that if he gets on there right, it doesn't hurt like this." The General shook his head, his dark eyes impassive. "They say it's a natural thing."
Fingers curled into the soft arm of the rocker, Sam groaned even as the delicate skin of her eyelids fluttered. Her jaw unclenched just long enough to say, "I'd like to know who 'they' are, and why don't 'they' just shut up?"
"You could just use a bottle."
"No." She shook her head, her braid bobbing over one shoulder. "No, I'm determined to do this right."
"Who says there's a right way and a wrong way?" The General raised both brows, offering the beginnings of a shrug. "Vala bottle-fed hers."
"She had two babies at the same time." Sam glared up at her husband. "I think that she was right to get Daniel to help with feeding them. Besides, how could you breastfeed two babies at once?"
"Two babies—two—uh—spigots." Jack gestured awkwardly towards his chest.
His wife rolled her eyes, then cringed anew as the baby changed positions.
"All I'm saying, Sam, is that she could have breastfed, and she didn't. It's not mandated by law that you do it." Jack breathed out through his teeth. "Maybe you should try—"
"We talked about this already, remember?" She hissed more than spoke, her teeth clenched. "No bottles."
"Not that. The other position I told you about."
"Have you ever done this?" She covered her eyes with her unoccupied hand, but her discomfort was still plainly visible in the tightness of her jaw, and the lines deepening around her mouth. "Is your plumbing hooked up? No? Well then, no offense, dear, but what do you know?"
Glinda turned her attention to O'Neill, who had shoved his hands back into his pockets, his face carrying something—hurt. As if he were sharing, somehow, in the pain with his wife. His jaw tensed. "Sam, you have to do something. This isn't working. Turn him around like—"
"What do you want me to do, Jack?" Her voice sharp, her blue gaze pierced him even more so. "Reverse their polarity?"
"Sam—" He faltered, dipping his chin. "Is it really worth it?"
She stopped him with a wave, reaching to her side and picking up the large plastic cup that sat on the table next to her. "Could you just get me a drink of water?"
The General sighed, then stepped forward to take the mug from her. Without another word, he turned on the ball of his foot and walked away.