The morning started out good. First, I woke up at 7:30. Miracle! The kids went to bed late, and then my baby mama and I stayed up late, and I was sure I was going to be zombieied today. No such luck. I soundly ignored my vibrator-but-not-the-good-kind of an alarm clock, heard the baby singing in her cot, and jumped up to get her. Five minutes later, she was soundly clamped on a maternal boob*, the 3-year-old was clamoring awake, and I was simultaneously packing lunch, getting dressed, getting her dressed, and trying to say the morning prayers.
Our older kid is an impossible dresser. First of all, she has a new favorite color every day, and she will only wear that color. Secondly, she has of late developed an aversion to wearing anything below her waist. Also, she is militantly against eating anything until two minutes before she has to leave.
So you can imagine my surprise when she sprints straight for her clothes drawer. She hands me a shirt (weather-appropriate!) and pants (that match!), and patiently waits for me to tie her shoes. I slam down my upstairs prayerbook — I’m up to the point where I need to put on a tallis and tefilin, and that is downstairs — and yell back over my shoulder to her, “Come on! I’ll make you breakfast or you can play with your toys or whatever!” I touch ground at the first floor. Whereupon I hear her voice over my shoulder, wafting down from the second story: “CARRY ME!”
Could you not have asked me thirty seconds ago? That’s thirty seconds, one flight of stairs climbed, that I’ll never get back. “Don’t worry about it,” I say. “Just walk down yourself.” After all, she’s been climbing stairs for years. She’s a stairmaster.
And the mouth flies open. And the crying starts.
I don’t know if you know about kid-crying. It’s not like grownup crying (or even like teen-angst crying, which I am way more used to). It’s a combination guttural yell, swallow, choke, and burp. It’s totally tear-less, at first. In fact, behavioral scientists in my imagination have hypothesized that kid-crying is genetically related to crocodile crying, which is to say, it’s not actually sadness-related or pain-related at all, but is instead a technique specifically designed to lure in sympathetic victims until they’re in biting distance. Actually, I think kid-crying brings on real crying if you do it long enough, thus preparing your child for a bright future as a stage actor with the rare talent to cry on command, or possibly as a manipulative future ex-girlfriend to someone exactly like yourself. Did I say that aloud? Okay, moving on.
I tell her, come on, it’s fine, I can make you breakfast if you want, and we have those new organic Puffins that actually taste good and that you love. The onslaught continues. I ignore her. My day-job beckons, after all. Not to mention G-d. So I wrap myself up in tefilin, grab my downstairs prayerbook, and start prayin’ like there’s no tomorrow.
She keeps crying.
There is a thump. A rhythmic thump upstairs, of clumsy wheels guided by clumsy feet. “What that?” my older daughter demands, and I can hear my wife explaining that the baby just got a walker.
“I want a walker too!” That sentence doesn’t actually end, per se, so much as the too fading into another wail.
And then a pause. “You got the baby a present and if you got the baby a present than you will get me a present too,” she says — and you’ll notice, of course, that there is no breath in between the crying and the talking, no wiping away of tears or swallowing of mucous that comes with real crying; it’s been crocodile yells this whole time — “What present did you get me, Mama?”
Alright, there’s no getting out of this. None of that parenting-book stuff we try to adhere to, where you try not to connect the presents with the temper tantrums, either as a reward or as a punishment. A tantrum is a tantrum, and both work and preschool are calling. In a few minutes, she will trundle down the stairs, on her own, and show me her brand-new baby hammock.
But for now, I close my eyes. I pray. Not drowning out the chaos of our morning, but becoming one more voice in the chorus of it.
* — Yes, she’s still breastfeeding, although we have to supplement. Read here if you’re not yet entirely sick of the whole boob-sucking debacle.