My children, like all Jewish children, are very, very advanced. They can perform higher calculus and split the atom. They have a 10-point plan for peace in the Middle East. As we speak, Josie, age 3 3/4, is directing an avant-garde production of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” in the backyard (she acknowledges that her stuffed Eeyore’s performance as Lopakhin needs work). Maxine, at 9 months, is spearheading a tutoring program for alcoholic men on the Bowery as part of her work with Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps.
Okay, so that’s untrue. Maxine is actually building houses with Habitat for Humanity, but I didn’t want to say that because it sounded too goyish.
Okay, that’s also untrue. But predictably, like most mothers (and especially like most Jewish mothers), I tend to think that my children are extraordinary. Unlike most Jewish mothers, however, I write about my children for publication. And I know that this column can be the equivalent of whipping out a butt-naked bearskin-rug baby photo to show to Josie and Maxine’s prom dates.
But give me my minute of pride. Josie just explained to our baby sitter what schadenfreude is. (Okay, she learned it from the “Avenue Q” album.) She asks philosophical questions, like “Are we real?” and “What is life?” She can show great empathy, soothing other children when they cry and making sure everyone at preschool gets a seat at art time. She’s very funny. (Her Noel Coward-caliber fave: “Knock, knock!” “Who’s there?” “Annie!” “Annie who?” “Annie body home?”) She has fabulous clothing sense, keen determination, soulful eyes and hot dance moves.
She also has a temper that can make a Level 4 Hurricane look like a gentle breeze across the Negev. And she ate crayons until she was 2 1/2. So there’s really no point in engaging in the sport of competitive parenting — all kids excel at some things and lag in others. Josie talked earlier and walked later than most kids, but eventually everyone walks and talks. We parents get worked up about things that don’t matter. As long as your pediatrician isn’t concerned, why do you care when your kid starts ambulating? Mobility just means having to put those ugly foam corners on the coffee table and drop 100 bucks at Stride Rite.
But because I actually internalize nothing I write, I still worry about my kids being “late.” (No matter what we tell ourselves, developmental milestones always seem to come either early or late. Like Hanukkah.) I was distressed that Josie drank milk from a bottle until very recently. Whenever she was tired or needed soothing, nothing but a “baba” would do. And because of that aforementioned Defcon 7 temper, we didn’t relish the notion of trying to wean her from it. I shouldn’t have scoffed at the baby books’ instructions to get rid of bottles at age 1. I should have factored in my kid’s powerful will and my family’s history of addiction. (Joke, Grandma! Joke!) I should have known the weaning process would only get harder as time went on, because Josie couldn’t fall asleep without a baba. As a baby, she’d suck one down, hurl it out of her crib like Roger Clemens, roll over and fall asleep. (My mother-in-law assures me that my husband did the same thing; every night she’d listen for the Thwack! of the bottle hitting the wall. She also says he used to chant, “Babu, babu, meat, meat, meat!” which meant, “Mother, I require a bottle and some meat this very instant,” but thankfully, Josie never took her babas with meals, and anyway, I told my mom I wouldn’t write about trayf.)
Last summer, I was finally going to bite the bullet and nuke the babas. But then Zayde died and Josie’s baby sitter was hospitalized (badly broken leg). How could I deny my little girl comfort at such a time? Then school started, and again, I didn’t want her to feel that I was forcing her to grow up too fast. Then Maxine was born, and I didn’t want Josie to feel displaced as my baby. So the babas stayed.
Josie knew I had Issues. She’d hold my hand and say, “Mama, this will be my last baba ever. Until winter.” Or “I will give up babas when I turn 4.” She’d beg for just one, only one more, just one last time, like a tiny junkie jonesing for a fix. But I didn’t want to wait. The dentist was making alarming noises about milk sugars and tooth rot. And if we waited another couple of months, she’d be starting a new school year, with new sources of stress. I had to, um, produce or get off the potty, to coin a phrase.
While I was in full shvitz about the babas, Maxine, my mellow, sweet-tempered baby, started proving she was no pushover, either. Shortly after I wrote the column about sleep training — in which I noted that while training Josie was hard, at least she never cried until she puked, and Ferberizing Max was much easier than Ferberizing Josie — Max began crying until she puked. (See what happens when you tempt fate in writing?) So we’re buckling down and retraining Max. And then, in full neurotic flower, I realized that Max wasn’t crawling at all. Had Josie crawled at 9 months? I have no clue, since I am way too disorganized to keep a baby book. But I looked at a poll on Babycenter.com and saw that 74% of the moms answering said their babies crawled at 8 months or younger. Well, bite me, farshtunkener Babycenter braggarts. And a fellow mom told me she’d gotten her child intervention services and physical therapy when her baby hadn’t crawled at 9 months, and it took two months to get appointments, so I shouldn’t wait. So I spazzed out and couldn’t take a Xanax, because I’m still breastfeeding.
While I was in insane chaleria mode, we went on vacation. Legoland was great. Disney’s California Adventure was fun. Spending time with my husband’s family was delicious (and my mother-in-law got Josie the most divine pink cowboy boots at Target in Van Nuys). And best of all, Josie gave up the babas almost effortlessly. Go know.
I didn’t pack any bottles. I figured we’d have so much fun and adventure and newness on this trip, we’d have an easier time breaking established patterns. And guess what? Josie asked for a baba only once. Jonathan told her we didn’t have one. Josie cried briefly but accepted it, and didn’t ask again the entire trip. We praised her to the skies for being such a big girl, for being so brave and so cooperative. She beamed. She told everyone she’d given up the habit. Grandma clapped and cheered.
The night we got home, at 2 a.m. (traffic in the tunnel, you know how it is) Josie asked for a bottle. We reminded her she’d given them up, and she sobbed piteously. I offered her a choice of warm or cold milk in a sippy cup (choice: empowering!), and told her she could drink it in bed, just this one time, because it was so late, but from then on, milk would be served in her cup during her nebulizer treatment and then we’d have tooth brushing and then she’d go to bed. She could keep a cup of water on the nightstand if she got thirsty in the night. And Josie immediately agreed. (It was pretty heartbreaking, actually, the rapid-fire nodding with the tears streamed down her cheeks.)
And that was it. Elvis had left the building. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we were free at last. We ostentatiously packaged up the bottles for a friend expecting a baby, because bottles are for babies. We sent them off. Josie made the baby a card. It was so darn easy. And with Josie, not everything is.
On the Maxine front, well, Maxine hasn’t barfed in her crib for a few weeks, but she’s still going down fighting. When we keep to a strict schedule, she sleeps more and better. When we travel or she gets sick, her nights go to hell in a Sleep Sack. I suspect it will always be a process with this kid. Like my brother Andy, she’s just not a big sleeper.
Also, we got a cat. A foster cat, technically, one we’re taking care of for a few months. (We’ll commit to a perma-cat soon. Six months after Sebastian’s death, I’m ready.) The minute Fritz arrived, Max started crawling after him like a fiend, giggling maniacally. She could crawl; she just hadn’t been sufficiently motivated. (It’s like that joke about the kid who didn’t speak until he was 7, then at the breakfast table suddenly says, “Excuse me, the oatmeal’s cold.” His family freaks out. “Gott in himmel, you can talk! Why have you never spoken before!?” He shrugs, “Well, until now, everything was okay.” I guess, until now, Maxine just had nothing to chase.)
So. It’s true that no one actually stands under the chuppa with a pacifier in her mouth, most colds are not in fact Ebola, and Josie will probably not grab other kids’ toys and books in college (unless she’s pre-law). The moral of the story, apparently, is “Chill out, Mama.”
Write to Marjorie at firstname.lastname@example.org.