There have been a few changes in our home life since Adrian and I welcomed our newest edition, Alma, to the family. One of these changes has to do with some sound advice a nurse at the hospital gave me before I brought Alma home. “My dear,” she said, “If you think that you are going to pay more attention to this new baby than to your toddler, you’ve got another thing coming. Almost all of your attention will be directed at your toddler. I know. I have three girls.”
At first this seemed impossible. Helen Rose, my first daughter, has never been overly needy. In fact, sometimes she is so independent that I forget she is 2 years old and not 45. But, the nurse at the hospital, who handed me witch hazel and a plastic bowl for the toilet before I left, had a wisdom I could not have foreseen.
The first week that Alma was home I found myself feeding her, and then putting her down so that I could play with Helen. I put her down so that I could to read to Helen, cook for Helen, color with Helen, dress Helen and comb Helen’s hair. Little Alma spent her first few weeks in this world on the sidelines waiting to be held. At one point, after ignoring Alma for most of the day, I popped open a beer, opened a bag of Doritos and cried for an hour and a half on the floor. After all, I was and still am a second child.
Something had to be done. I wanted Alma to have the same welcome into the world that Helen had received just two years prior. That’s when I remembered the baby naming ceremony. When Helen had been just two months old, we had a baby naming ceremony for her at the synagogue next door. It is a synagogue that accepts and welcomes interfaith families such as ours. For Helen’s ceremony we had the service at the synagogue and then invited guests over for lunch. I was determined to do the same kind of celebration, if not bigger, for Alma. I was adamant about shining a spotlight on her. Of course I had devised this plan as I was drawing “I Love Helen” hearts at the kitchen table with Helen, while Alma sat in her swing with a dirty diaper that I had forgotten to change.
The next day I planned to leave the house with Adrian, Helen and Alma and visit the director of the synagogue in order to secure a date for the event. Here’s something the wise nurse at the hospital didn’t tell me when she handed me my plastic bowl for the toilet and patted me on the back. She didn’t tell me that getting out of the house with two children is like that scene in Armageddon when Ben Affleck is almost positive he’s going to die and explode into outer space. That would have been a nice tip—I even would have accepted a war movie metaphor.
Instead, I found out the hard way. At 9 a.m., my apartment looked like Elmo threw up all over Sesame Street and took Cookie Monster hostage. While Adrian was in the shower, Helen had opened the fridge, opened a yogurt and fed that yogurt to ALL of her stuffed animals. I had finally finished getting dressed myself when I saw a teddy bear foaming at the mouth and realized it was only strawberry yogurt. Alma was screaming from hunger. When I finally fed Alma, cleaned up the living room and started to get Helen dressed, my pants split. Nothing like feeling fat a few weeks after giving birth to make the day brighter! When I changed my pants and finished combing Helen’s hair, I turned on the Teletubbies for her. Then I started to get Alma dressed. But then, Helen had a dirty diaper. Then Alma had a dirty diaper. Then Helen had another dirty diaper. By the time Adrian finally got out of the shower, there was only one pigtail in Helen’s hair, my hair looked like Diana Ross and Cousin It booked a vacation at a five-star hotel on my head and Alma was wearing a onesie, but without any pants.
“Need any help?” Adrian asked drying his face with the towel. I glared.
When we finally made it next door to the synagogue, it was almost noon. I carried Alma on my chest in a baby carrier, and Adrian carried Helen, who was too tired to walk after having watched twelve Teletubbies episodes back to back. I was still determined to make Alma’s day special. The director asked us numerous questions and, because he was a different director from the last naming ceremony, I explained our family background. “We are raising our daughters in an interfaith family. Adrian is Mexican-Catholic and I am American-Jewish.” The director also has an interfaith family. His daughter, who is 5 years old, is both American Jewish and Korean Protestant. Already we felt at home.
While I was filling the paperwork out, Helen started speaking to Alma. At first I didn’t realize what she was saying, but then I remembered that she had been watching the Teletubbies. The Teletubbies is a children’s show that got its start in England. The characters all have British accents. As my hand filled out the baby naming ceremony form, and I wrote Alma’s name in Hebrew with my pen, I heard Helen say, “Oh dear” in a full Charles Dickens-like inflection. The director looked at me and then at Adrian. He seemed confused. Helen kept speaking, and everything she said sounded like a Paul McCartney interview. Here are some examples, “I have dirty knees,” “Who spilled the Tubby toast?” “Don’t step in the puddle, Tinky Winky!” Finally, after a short while the director interrupted, “I’m sorry,” he said, “but why does your Mexican-American, Jewish-Catholic daughter have a British accent?”
Adrian tried to answer but he was at a loss for words. I started laughing. Helen started to cry. Then I realized that I hadn’t looked down at Alma for the entire duration of the meeting. I was planning her event and it hadn’t occurred to me to even look down at her in the carrier. I was so focused and amused by Helen, Alma seemed to have slipped my mind. She must have known! The pangs of being a second child had already left their mark. I’m sure she knew, because when I finally did look down, she had fallen asleep. Her sweet face was as peaceful as a cherub. She was dreaming of clouds, blue skies and rainbows. She had drifted off, but not before spitting up all over my side ponytail and down the front of my shirt.