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The Jewish Thing I Did When My Niece Was Born

Focus on the hands of a 3 month old baby girl holding the fingers of her father. Vintage style color filter.

My niece. My niece is coming. I heard those words in my head throughout the day, in a constant loop. It was a challenge to focus on work since I read the text. And everything’s happening on the other side of the country, so there’s not much I can do.

My sister-in-law and her boyfriend live in California. We see them a few times a year, when they visit us on the east coast. My husband, children, and I haven’t made it out west yet. Work schedules and school schedules and airfare costs and the logistics of lugging two small children across time zones are all challenging to reconcile. My husband planned to fly out later this winter, but I don’t know when my daughters and I are going to meet the new baby.

But I so want to be part of this baby’s life. My niece. My first niece. Thanks to technology, I’ll get to see her grow up through social media and FaceTime. But it’s not the same as smelling milk-scented newborn breath as I read her a story. It’s not the same as watching her chase after my daughters on holidays. I’ve been told that it’ll make our visits more exciting and special. But the knowledge of missing the day-to-day events in her life still stings.

My work day ended, and I made my way through the parking lot. Rush hour traffic slows my driving speed to a crawl. It gave my mind a chance to wander. An idea forms.

I arrive home, finally. My children and my husband meet me at the door. I pull my husband aside. We choose to tell the girls that their newest cousin is on her way. And we decide to do something with them, for her.

I find a large candle and a lighter and place both items on the table. My 4-year-old looks up at me, confused. “Is it Shabbat already?” she asks. My 6-year-old is unusually quiet, but her eyes ask the same question.

“No,” I tell them. “But the idea is kind of the same. We light candles on Shabbat because we’re happy it’s here. And tonight, we’re lighting a candle for your cousin. We’re happy that our family will have someone new to love.” I touch the lighter to the wick and watch it flicker to life. I think of the new life making her way into the world, 3,000 miles away. Her birth date will fall within days of my daughters. Three birthdays wedged between the start of the Jewish New Year and the end of the American calendar. Three November girls.

We go around the table, and each one of us makes a wish for the baby. My husband smiles, but his voice trembles a little as he speaks about his wish for his little sister’s health and safety. When we finish, I move the candle to the counter, and I take a moment to watch the tiny flame dance.

We go to sleep, and wake up, and go through the crazed marathon of our morning routine. At work, I keep my phone on my desk. Finally, in early evening, I get the message I’ve been waiting for. “You’re an aunt! Everyone is OK!” I inhale deeply, relieved.

My sister-in-law and I set up a FaceTime date for our daughters. I gather my family around the kitchen table. The phone rings, and we’re greeted with an image of a peaceful little face. And we tell them that we’re going to say the Shehechiyanu. My six year-old asks what the blessing means.

“It’s a blessing that we say for moments that are extra special. It’s how we take a picture with our heart,” my sister-in-law explains. My children nod, understanding. We speak in unison. Our internal cameras flash. And I have a picture in my heart that I will carry with me, wherever I go.


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The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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