As even Kveller has reported, actress Mila Kunis has given birth to her first child, a daughter. The dad is her former “That 70s Show” co-star, Ashton Kutcher.
On Friday, they revealed the baby’s name: Wyatt Isabelle.
And my first thought was: Mila’s parents will never be able to pronounce it.
Let me backtrack a little. Mila Kunis was born in the former Soviet Union, in the republic of Ukraine. Because they were Jewish, she and her parents immigrated to California when she was 7. That’s almost identical to my story. (Except that our families did it about a decade apart, and she moved from Chernivitsi to Los Angles while we made the trek from Odessa to San Francisco.) Still, there are enough similarities that, whenever I hear about Mila in the press, I automatically translate whatever they put out into what I imagine is really happening in the Kunis family.
For instance, the name Wyatt. There is no “W” sound in Russian. Most native Russian speakers turn it into a “V.” Even I, who am constantly told I have no accent, learned a long time ago to avoid any words or phrases that have a “V” and “W” too close together (example: wave, worldview, Volkswagen, very well, warm vodka).
So for the imaginary Kunis family in my head, I see Mila’s parents trying to say Wyatt, and, at best, coming up with “Vie-ette,” because the vowel is hard, too. Or maybe, like my own grandmother, who never liked my daughter’s unusual (and very un-Russian) first name, they’ll just insist on calling her by her middle name, possibly even going so far as to turn it into the very Russian Jewish Bella.
But that’s not all that I imagine about Mila Kunis and her new baby. For instance, when she went on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and announced that she wanted a no-epidural childbirth, I could practically hear Mila’s mother bemoaning, “There were no epidurals in the USSR. For non-medicated birth is not why we come to America!”
I also imagine that, while Mila was in labor, her parents opened all the cabinets and drawers in their house. It helps. (Think about it.)
Then, once they brought the baby home, they added a drop of milk to her first bathwater to ensure her mother having plenty of breast milk, and tied a red string around the crib to keep the Evil Eye away.
Another technique my own mother taught me is that, whenever anyone compliments your baby, you stick your thumb in between your middle and fourth finger. This is because those who say nice things about your child are actually jealous and sending bad vibes your way. The clever finger trick nullifies their power. (But you should put your hand in your pocket while you do it, so the other person doesn’t know you’re onto them.)
Alternatively, you can lick your baby’s face three times, then spit on the floor. That works, too.
And don’t let anybody see your newborn for the first six weeks. Maybe that’s why, instead of releasing a photo of little Wyatt, Mila and Ashton posted several different pictures, with the tagline, “Can you guess which one is ours, or does it really matter? All babies are cute.” They are diluting the Evil Eye’s power by spreading it across several innocent babies. And a few puppies, for good measure.
Other things I imagine being done to Mila Kunis’ baby, by way of Soviet Jewish baby superstitions:
1. Feeding her crusts of bread so her hair grows in curly, but never finishing any bread she leaves behind, lest her health be compromised.
2. Never stepping over the baby. This will cause her to stop growing.
3. Dripping hot oil in her ear if she has an infection.
4. Smearing mustard on her chest if she has a cough.
5. Putting her feet in boiling water to cure sniffles (for more Soviet Jewish cures to common childhood ailments, click here.)
6. Not letting her sit at the edge of the table, as that means she’ll never get married (hmmm… Mila and Ashton aren’t married. Now we know why!)
7. Checking the nape of her hair for clues as to what Ashton and Mila’s next baby will be. If it’s straight, it will be a boy. If it grows in a point, it will be a girl. (Celebrity prognosticators take note of this scientific method!)
8. Finally, I imagine her grandparents playing traditional baby games with her, like “Saroka Varona.” You hold out the baby’s palm and run your finger around it in circles while telling the story of a crow who had five chicks. She asks each one to help her with household tasks, like chopping wood, fetching water, etc. Four of the chicks help; the fifth one doesn’t. Meanwhile, the crow has been preparing porridge. When it’s time to eat, she gives some to the first baby (squeeze the thumb), she gives some to the second baby (squeeze the pointer finger), she gives some to the third (squeeze the middle finger), she gives some to the fourth (squeeze the index finger), but she gives none to the fifth (shake the pinkie back and forth while baby laughs).
When my American-born brother was a toddler, unfamiliar with the Soviet dictum that he who does not work does not eat (not that those who worked had much, either), he asked, “Why not? Was the fifth baby crow on a diet?” (Ah, American innocence…)
And when it’s time to learn to count, Wyatt’s “Baba” and “Deda” will teach her the pithy rhyme about the rabbit who went out for a walk (one, two, three, four, five), was shot by a hunter, and lay dying (six, seven, eight, nine, ten).
Mila’s family is ‘much more traditional and less Hollywood…. Think Coney Island-style Russian immigrants. They want Jewish babies and Mila wants to give them to her family. Tradition is very important to her. It’s a dream for Mila and Ashton, and even if he doesn’t fully convert, he’s very much into the idea of having little Jewish babies.’
As I’ve said before, I have never met the Kunis family. For all I know, they are completely assimilated and thoroughly Americanized, down to having no trouble with the “W” sound.
But, just in case they’re not, let’s hope Ashton knows what he’s getting into…