I’m sitting in the kids’ service for Sukkot, my 38-week-pregnant body uncomfortably positioned on a folding chair. In front of me is my 14-month-old daughter, Baby G. She is sitting for the first time in a plastic toddler school chair, in a circle with other kids.
It’s clear that she is profoundly mesmerized by the proceedings. It is blowing her mind how the service leader knows her name, and how she is asked to clap at regular intervals. She keeps turning around to look at me with her huge, gap-toothed grin on her face, as though she’s saying, “Can you BELIEVE this?”
She is sweet, and innocent, and beautiful. I stare at the little Florence Henderson-esque blond curls on the back of her neck. In an act of tremendous restraint, I somehow refrain from leaning over, grabbing her and covering her with kisses. I love her. And I pity her.
This gorgeous baby, light of my life, is totally and completely screwed.
At the most, she has about two weeks left. She has two unacknowledgedly blissful weeks left of being the baby of the family and the indisputable center of everyone’s attention. At that point, though, things are suddenly going to change in the World of Baby G.
One day or night sometime soon, Baby G’s mother will mysteriously disappear for a few days, leaving her to be plied by grandparents with chocolate milk and other goodies. Other than her mother’s incomprehensible absence, all will seem well.
But one day soon after, her mother will come home, a little skinnier (God willing), and carrying a small breathing, screaming lump surrounded by blankets. Baby G’s world will be turned upside down forever.
Giving Baby G a t-shirt that says “I’m a Big Sister!” won’t make a difference: the kid can’t read words any more than she can read the metaphorical writing on the wall. Baby G is utterly clueless about what’s to come. As I realize this, I wonder if this is how God feels about people in general: “Those poor people,” God says, “They have no idea what lies ahead of them.”
I thought we had made headway in understanding what was about to go down last month. I asked Baby G, “Where is Baby Sister?” She patted my belly sweetly. Cute, right? Then Jon asked her, “Where is Baby Sister?” and she patted HIS belly. Sometimes she lifts up her shirt, sticks out her stomach, pats her own tummy and says “baby.” So, just as an FYI, “baby sister” apparently means “stomach.”
“Give her a baby doll,” people have told me. “Then she’ll get used to the idea of having to be careful with and taking care of something smaller than her.” Well, I gave her a baby doll. You know what my Lego-loving, always-running Baby G did with it? She deliberately stepped on its head, threw it out of her crib and kicked it under her dresser. THAT bodes well. It was so egregious that one of my sons said to her, “Baby G, you’re a terrible mother.” And you know what she did? She grinned. Have you seen the Joker’s smile in those Batman movies? It was sort of like that. Shudder.
This girl likes being the baby. Who wouldn’t? She has a wardrobe I’d kill for (slightly bigger sizing would be nice), older brothers who adore her and parents who think she’s amazing. Wherever she goes, whether to a New Jersey synagogue or a Parisian bistro, she is told by complete strangers that she’s the best thing in the universe. Who needs to be a Kardashian when you get that kind of attention?
Baby G adores being the center of attention and gets mad when she isn’t (it’s hard to say where she gets this from, but it’s probably her father). A few months ago at music class, a little 18-month-old girl I didn’t know smiled at me, came over and sat down in my then-unoccupied lap. Baby G, after a minute of playing in the center of the circle, turned around and saw this abomination taking place. First she gave the girl “Mean Eyes,” a ridiculous facial expression she makes once a month or so which invites comparisons to Dirty Harry. Then she came over and, out of nowhere, whacked Little Girl across the solar plexus. Holy crap.
Okay, let’s back up – Baby G isn’t a homicidal maniac (yet). But she’s a confident kid who likes her turf and likes her life. And it’s about to change, forever. I totally get it: I myself was the only child till I hit age four, when my parents decided to bestow three more siblings on me in fairly rapid succession. I remember being happy about the last one, but the first two left me decidedly unthrilled.
But maybe that’s a good argument for having the kids so close together – Baby G can’t really articulate, or nurture, her discontent. And by the time she can speak up in full sentences, hopefully she and her new sister will be like her older brothers (18 months apart): inextricably connected to each other and literally unable to imagine life without one another.
My siblings are treasures to me, and one day Baby G will feel the same way about her younger one. That day, though, may be many months away. But I know it will come.