I always worry, when I’m writing this column, that people are rolling their eyes at my narcissism. Do I act as if I’m the first person ever to have a child? Am I annoyingly convinced that everything Josie does is brilliant and adorable? Am I the literary equivalent of your neighbor who constantly forces you to look at his vacation photos?
I’d like to think people read The East Village Mamele and see their own beautiful, funny, wise children superimposed over Josie. The gazillion joys and frustrations of parenting are idiosyncratic and personal, but universal too. Every kid is a miracle. Every cliched sunset-on-the-Caribbean picture is the best sunset-on-the-Caribbean picture when you’re the one who saw the sunset.
Back when I had time to ponder the imponderables, before I was covered in someone else’s vomit, I wondered about the existence of God. Is God a presence? Is God all-powerful or all-benevolent? If there is God, why is there evil and pain? Now I do not ponder. I sing “The Wheels on the Bus” 47 times a day. I vacuum up the far-flung Cheerios. I peel the baby off the long-suffering cat. Maybe I’m just too tired to ask existential questions. I certainly don’t think the world is a better place now that I have a baby — Josie was born in the wake of September 11, into a world full of violence and poverty, shortly before two of my closest college friends died unfair deaths at the age of 34. Yet I find I pray so much more now. I have to; Josie fills me with so much gratitude and wonder, there’s no place for it to go. I need to say a Shehecheyanu blessing to release the pressure of feeling, as if my soul were an over-inflated tire. The gratefulness for the good stuff just forces its way out of me, a little gasp of air.
Shehecheyanu is the blessing of firsts, of thanking God for the little miracles of being alive, of realizing you’re lucky to reach this special time. I’ve said before that having a baby narrows your world down to a pinpoint. It’s elemental. There’s poop, sleep, breasts. It’s like water torture crossed with a hallucinatory sequence in a Bollywood musical. But gradually, as you get into a rhythm, you can pull back and appreciate the amazing amount this tiny person is learning every day. It really is the wonder of creation all over again.
Here’s a random list of my Shehecheyanu moments in the past 14 months, which I hope are also some of your Shehecheyanu moments:
• The smell of Josie’s head.
• The first time she giggled in anticipation before I blew the raspberry on her belly.
• All of us and the cat cuddling in bed in the mornings.
• The first “mommy.”
• Josie’s favorite game, in which I lie down on the floor and pretend to sleep and she climbs on top of me, laughing her deep maniacal baby laugh, thrusting her face into mine, then laying her head on my chest — one of the few times my tornado baby slows down enough for a long hug.
• Her first “E-I-E-I-O.”
• When I ask, “Where are Josie’s eyes?” and she squeezes her eyes shut and open, like Barbara Eden casting a spell in “I Dream of Jeannie.”
• Josie laying her head on her Grandma’s knees, or calling “Bobe, Bobe!” when the doorbell rings — I’m so grateful that my child has two wonderful grandmothers in her life, and that I have the opportunity to talk about parenting with them.
• Reading “Everywhere Babies” or “Guess How Much I Love You,” the two sappy books that make me teary like a big doofus every single time we pick them up — because I really do love her right up to the moon and back.
• Her determination in climbing the slide (the slide-y part, not the ladder part!) again and again.
• Her expression of surprise and triumph after she first toddled across the floor.
• The first time she consciously made a joke (hamming it up in Elton John-like white flower-shaped sunglasses, offering me a Cheerio, then whisking it away and popping it into her own mouth with a mazzick-like grin).
• The first evidence of imagination — the first time she tried to share her bottle with her stuffed cow or pretended to pluck and eat little bits of fur off the cat. (I know, she’s weird.)
• Seeing her dance to techno music, bouncing her knees and bobbing her head like an old-school ’80s popping-and-locking hip-hopper.
• When she insistently holds out a book to people in the subway, and they smile in surprise, and suddenly New York is a smaller place. Strangers of all ages, races and accents have taken up the challenge and read my daughter “The Snowy Day” or “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb” while the rest of the F train listened, grinning.
• The very first time I held her, in the hospital, when she was placed, all goopy, on my chest, and her perfect little fingers curled around mine, and all I wanted was to make her comfortable in this scary new world.
• The knowledge that there will many more moments as special as this.
Baruch ata Adonai Elohaynu melech Ha-Olam Shehecheyanu Vekiyemanu Vehigiyanu lazman hazeh. Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this day.