Five decades ago, I understood “babies” to be that class of objects to which belonged the loud, red-faced little thing my mother brought home from the hospital when she also brought home a large, stuffed semiaquatic marine mammal. The Disney film Sammy, The Way-Out Seal was popular at the time, and as a two year old, I was easily distracted by a plush toy. Our family history records no immediate sibling jealousy.
Truth be told, though, the above is strictly hearsay. The 1960s Disney movie I best remember is The Three Lives of Thomasina, a story about a cat’s beneficent interactions with humans. That feline motion picture was released when I was four years old, a time when I was sufficiently verbal to store events in my long-term memory, to regard cats as mysteriously powerful, and to forget about the importance of babies. It would take decades before I would be old enough to visit a vet with my own pointy eared progenies and to listen to him chastise my newlywed husband and me that we treated our pets like children.
In the period in-between, the one spanning my preschool years and my enrollment in elementary school, not only did my lone sibling grow past infancy, but so, too, did my awareness of the nature of babies. Whereas I preferred stuffed animals to dolls, like most girls of that era, I owned a full complement of two-legged young. Accordingly, I assigned my smallest toys the roll of “children” and I took, for myself, and, begrudging gave to my little sister, the role of “Mommy.” I liked playing school more than playing house, but the two of us, nevertheless, spent many years mothering our playthings through our acts of “cooking,” “cleaning,” “changing diapers,” and “giving a bottle.” My sister and I even had containers packed with pretend liquid that “magically” refilled after each use.
A little later, playing school and house yielded to tutoring. In both high school and college, I preferred helping with homework more than with housework. By graduate school, I was facilitating my own sections of college courses. Domestic topics had fallen off of my radar.
Except, of course, those ideas did not get lost; I was not totally insular. Girls I knew from high school and from college got pregnant out of wedlock. Most of their babies resulted from “oops” moments in premarital experiments. A few, horribly, were the results of rape.
At the same time as I was relying on late night dorm chats and campus gossip to learn about the many ways of becoming a parent, my college boyfriend, “Computer Cowboy,” and I were planning to get married. We deliberated about our future domicile and we talked about how we would divide household chores. Parenting was a topic that we elected to save for the future.
After the chuppah, my husband and I pursued our professions. He became an expert in artificial intelligence during a point in time when only a few universities and a couple of semisecret government agencies were investing in such matters. I finished my terminal degree and became a full-time professor.
About a decade after we became spouses, life circumstances caused us to reevaluate our priorities. In brief, we began to grasp that if we postponed the inevitable any longer, we would never have children. When we were thirty-one, we were blessed to have our first baby, Missy Older.
In two year intervals, three more babies followed; Older Dude, Missy Younger, and Younger Dude. Production stopped thereafter, despite numerous subsequent pregnancies. Even in our fifties, when we were given the merit of a “change of life pregnancy,” we received no other children.
Meanwhile, parenting changed our world. Three of our kids were homebirthed. All of them were nursed into toddlerhood. Protocol for the sake of protocol was no longer attractive to us. Education for the ends of empowerment remained okay, but education whose chief goal was promoting social status got questioned.
It happened that our belief system had gotten turned on its head. We realized, for instance, that weaning a child at twelve months, arbitrarily, because it was “normative,” made no sense. We grasped that it was silly to employ neighborhood “standards,” for engaging children under ten in daily extracurricular activities, in our family. We refused to give up on one of our own children as being merely “good enough,” according to local wisdom, just because a cutting edge intervention for that child’s particular learning difference was, at the time, unfashionable. Simply, during that portion of our shared life, my significant other and I became willing, b’ayin tova, to do just about anything that we thought would help insure the best possible future for our sons and daughters. Our consciousness blossomed. The critical thinking we have learned in the 1970s allowed us to be mindful in the 1990s.
I stopped teaching full-time. As well, I switched my research from work on the history of communication ethics and on contemporary communication theories to work on the nature of communication among medical institutions, medical practitioners, and pregnant folk. I took certification in herbal medicine. I studied to be a childbirth educator. Concurrently, Computer Cowboy switched from research to development. He gave up playing bridge, participating in long distance biking and spent less time on other hobbies so as to make more time to be with our family. He changed a lot of diapers and went on a lot of rain walks.
We joined a nearby community supported agriculture effort. We spent most of our discretionary time with families who weighed the worth of each vaccination their children received. We spurned sugar. Most notably, we became religious and, a few years afterward, we moved to Israel.
In the process of our trying to be good parents, my help opposite and I learned about marital harmony, about familial duties, about finding and supporting a suitable community, and about the multifaceted nature of personal wellbeing and development. Parenting gifted us with access to experiences that had been blocked by the weight we had earlier given to professional kudos. Parenting lifted us from artificial brightness to true illumination as that latter light was made manifest through mud cakes, trips to parks and farms, slow recitations of the aleph bet, bracha parties, sukkah hopping, bushels of laughter, and much palpable joy in every aspect of Creation.
We rescued earthworms, acknowledged Hashem’s supremacy at sunsets, and learned the names of all sorts of flowers. The time we had spent with footnotes became the time we spent playing the sock matching game. Our hours of “critical” professionally phone calls gave way to hours of priceless adventures with stuffed animals (stuffed animals have continued on as a constant). Essential meetings, for which we had formerly sacrificed, lost their worth when there were clover crowns to braid, forb-based baskets to weave, and wild, edible treasures to glean.
Years passed. My partner and I grew comfortable with our roles despite its lack of guidebooks; not one of our children was born with a users’ manual. Sometimes, we anticipated our children’s needs. Sometimes, we didn’t. Sometimes, we made wise choices. Sometimes, we didn’t. Despite the side roads and the temporary failures, our children grew.
Presently, Younger Dude is a 10th grader, who is a resource for many things mechanical or digital. Any device that dies in our home is considered fair game for his workshop.
Missy Younger, who is in Sherut Leumi, helps out in an urban children’s center and seems preoccupied with the fads and fashions of child psychology. She’s quick to posit that actions and consequences, especially in the parenting domain, constitute a vital topic. Older Dude has become an IDF sniper. The army gave him a long distance rifle, an HTR 2000, in place of his FN Mag. Missy Older, a near graduate of college (save for her finishing her student teaching year), is the first of her siblings to get married.
Missy Older is also the first to become a parent. She became a mother a few days ago. By dint of that reality, my husband became a saba and I became a savta.
It is the Jewish way to thank HaKadosh Baruchu for the goodness of grandchildren. In several places, Tanach mentions the merit of attaining such a height. No words of Torah are extraneous. Besides dripping tears of appreciation and making an effort to help insure the comfort and safety of Missy Older’s new family, I’m not sure what to feel or what to do about this change. I’ve never been a savta before.
Additionally, I no longer have the dolls I possessed in my childhood. I no longer crave teaching over parenting. I no longer have young children, though I still love to go with Computer Cowboy on rain walks. My comprehension of the essence of “babies” has greatly evolved. My life has become an entire cosmos of possibilities. Double nachas. Triple gratitude. “Savta.” One word. Two syllables. Three generations.