Blah Blah Blahg

A little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of blah blah blah....

Friday, August 18, 2017

Happy Anniversary!

Violets aren't blue, but roses can be red
Some wives buy anniversary gifts
You get a blog post instead

When people ask me how my husband and I met, I usually tell them "the new old-fashioned way." As in a website run by shadchanim. In the fall of 2011, I had a half-baked, hair-brained idea to move cross country (again) and live in Albany, NY. I had grown up in the area but had not lived there in over 15 years by that time. I hardly knew anyone there but it seemed like a good move to make after completing my college extravaganza that spring. I would find a place to live, a job, and maybe, if I was lucky I would also find a spouse. You see, in the last 9 years of living in Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington, I had met a lot of great Jewish single fellas. Some were 3 years old, the rest were about 63 years old and I was looking for someone more in the crowd between Highlights Magazine and AARP Magazine. Anyway, you know what they say: you change your location, you change your mazal, so I packed up 15 boxes, 3 suitcases, one bicycle and 2 carry-ons, boarded 4 planes (because to board only 3 cost $50 more), and made my move.
I found the place to live. Then I found the job. Then I unpacked and set up house and waited. And waited. And waited. My mail was all arriving to the correct address now, but where the heck was my shidduch? The community in Albany quickly became like family to me, adopting me for Shabbos meals, grocery runs, day trips and unsolicited dating advice. Unsolicited dating advice like "Hi, nice to meet you, why are you here? There are no single men here!" and "You're not getting any younger. If you want to have kids, you might want to get on the ball!" and "You should look for a younger man. I married a younger man. Here's a roll of toilet paper, the bathroom is out." By the way, to the kind rebbetzin who shared the latter advice and the roll of toilet paper, I really appreciated that toilet paper. The bathroom was indeed out.

I had dated before the "other" way and was new to the world of Orthodox dating. Some friends of mine set me up on a date with a mutual friend. It was not totally awful in any way. He was a great guy and even spoke fluently in Mandarin, which came in very handy when I got us lost in Chinatown and needed a bathroom. Needless to say, at the end of the evening, we were both awkwardly checking our calendars on our Blackberries for a date on the 13th of Never when we might be able to get together again...and then we both politely agreed that we would probably both busy that day as well. Not to worry, I didn't leave without some more unsolicited dating advice from the guy--he told me to join this website run by shadchanim, that although it was true that Hashem finds us our soulmate, we need to do some of the work to open that door. A rather bold and presumptuous break-up statement, but not the worst I'd ever received (that was a text in college from a guy who quoted a movie title and said in all lowercase letters with no punctuation "im just not that into you").
Some weeks later, I went to a friends' home for Shabbos. The husband, a rabbi, greeted me at the door with a sparkle in his eye saying "I was just singing l'cha dodi and got to the verse, 'bo'i'kallah,' and in you walked! Michali, I check my mailbox every day for a wedding announcement by you!" 
"With all due respect, Rabbi, you might want to reduce that to once a week or maybe even once a month..."
I was not overly eager to follow any unsolicited advice from a failed shidduch but I was very eager to complain about it to my friends. Who all agreed with him. How annoying. So, on January 1st of 2013, I took on a challenge. I was going to prove to them that 800+ couples successfully matched on this website was just a fancy and possibly made up statistic. I was going to give this one month and $9.99 and then I was going to tell them "I told you so." Because that last part is worth more than $9.99; it's priceless. The "suggestions" came trickling in. Not flooding. Trickling. It's not that I thought for a second I was good at picking 'em--if I was, I would not be 28 years old and still single. (Let's all take a moment to remember the guy with an impeccable memory for popular movie titles but poor grammar skills.) The suggestions were...creative, innovative, unique... The 41 year old living with his mother. The religious from birth fellow who wanted to be a pulpit rabbi, seeking a girl from a similar family background (did they even read my profile?). The dude who lives in Russia but speaks some English and was willing to relocate for the right woman. It was almost midway through the month and I was getting more and more excited to shout those gleeful words "I told you so." I was even rehearsing it in the shower, where the acoustics are simply flawless.
And then came another suggestion. It wasn't so out there...he even kind of sounded like a nice guy. He had a similar family background and a uniquely similar hashkafah. He lived in Virginia--a state I can spell but cannot identify on an unlabeled map but he was willing to travel for dates so long as it was no further than Albany, NY. (Albany, NY?! Good thing I didn't move to Buffalo!)  So when the message came that he would be contacting me in the next few days, I did what any respectable 28 year old woman would do: I panicked. I hate only one thing more than I hate talking on the phone and that is talking to guys. But on January 16th, I took the plunge, or at least I took the call. I was nervous beyond all belief, but we chatted for a while and he really was a nice guy. He had a kind sounding voice and seemed calm and collected. That weekend he was taking his mother to a kosher food festival. How cute is that? So when he asked me if I'd be interested in meeting him in Brooklyn the following month, I opened my cotton-dry mouth to say no and by mistake "yes" came out.
I quickly called a friend of mine who was serving both as one of my references and as a mentor to me and asked her what I was going to do now? Like could she maybe call this guy back for me and explain to him that I was not actually going to meet him in Brooklyn. "You're going to go to Brooklyn." she said. Crap. I hate when that happens, don't you?
The morning of the pending trip, I woke up from a very deep sleep and heard a strange voice say "you're going to meet your husband today." That was odd since I had a terrible ear ache at the time and couldn't actually hear anything from my right ear. But I am living proof that really weird things can happen in your sleep. So I boarded a bus to Manhattan where I quickly learned that I had been ill advised by my father on how to successfully hail a cab. Forty five minutes later, I was in a cab and headed to Brooklyn with a very angry cab driver who just realized that I was headed to Brooklyn with no return fair. It was soon going to be Shabbos and Tuvia and I were supposed to meet after Shabbos for our first date, but he was excited to meet me and offered to take me out for a drink beforehand. I obliged and we met face to face for the first time. He had the sort of face that seemed oddly familiar, like I had known him my whole life or maybe even longer. We walked around for a bit before walking into a candy store where I got a bottle of water. (A bottle of water?!) I apologized for being completely deaf in one ear. His phone rang and it was his office calling. No, actually, it really was his office calling. There was an emergency at work that he needed to tend to and somehow, he remained calm and present with me and still took care of business all before Shabbos in the span of just 40 minutes.
That Shabbos, as I geared up for our big date, my big ear ache turned into a burst eardrum with a raging infection. I showed up to our date at a fancy kosher steak joint looking like just the type of girl that every man dreams of: one who is wearing a winter hat inside with a steady stream of bloody pus dripping down her neck. I think that second to childbirth, that was the worst pain I have ever felt in my life and that was the best date ever. So great, in fact, that when I returned home with cotton balls in my ear to find that there had been an attempted break-in to my apartment while I was away, I was still smiling. I knew, without a doubt, that I was going to marry Tuvia. He says he knew from the first phone call. Over the next three months, I took three rounds of antibiotics for that raging ear infection, went on two more dates with Tuvia, regained my hearing and got engaged. We were married four months later.
Our wedding was the first Lubavitcher wedding I'd ever attended. And it was perfect. Who am I kidding? It wasn't perfect! Relatives fought.Some even uninvited me from the first of our sheva brachos. My husband's grandmother was on her deathbed. He had been locked out of the house he was staying nearly the entire night beforehand. When we got to our chuppah, he found another chosson and kallah standing underneath it. So I waited in the car with my mother and future mother in law for 45 minutes hearing them discuss the finer points of being divorced. And said Tehillim. And then we got married very quickly because there were still 3 or 4 more couples waiting for the chuppah that day (have I mentioned how much I love Crown Heights?!) and we danced the night away to the melodious tunes of my dear friends singing "I told you so!" Thus began our perfect marriage.
Yes, our marriage is perfect, but to be quite honest, I am imperfect in my marriage. I am human. My husband might be a unicorn but that's a story for another day... We're not supposed to air our dirty laundry, but we have two beautiful sons, ka"h, three and under, and there's a lot of dirty laundry here. Some air might do it good. Our marriage is perfect because I was wrong and that is the best thing that ever happened to someone who loves to be right. I thought a spouse would just show up on my doorstep; I was wrong. I thought that website was a bunch of crock, and I was wrong (at least about Couple #851). I thought I should stay home that weekend in February, and I was wrong. I thought I loved my husband on the day we were married, and I was wrong. I loved the idea of loving him and of starting a life together. I loved myself enough to allow for the opportunity. But after 3 months of dating and 4 months of engagement and only meeting in person 4 times, I barely knew the guy! Love happened after that and it happens again and again and again.
It happened when he finally proposed to me the way I had always envisioned...
...and then I ate one of my engagement rings...strawberry, just like I'd asked for.

Love happened when 3 months into our marriage we got pregnant and I developed horrible insomnia during the first trimester. One night, I lying on the couch all night watching reruns of Cheers on Netflix while Tuvia lay drifting in and out of sleep on the floor. It was my worst night ever. He says it was his best. He was so happy just to spend the time with me even when I was miserable and neither of us were sleeping.

Love happened when at 32 weeks pregnant, our only family car was totaled by a well intended family member with me in it and not only did Tuvia not lose his sh*t (um, I did), he made peace and made sushi and made plans to get our second car.

Love happened when during my very long labor, he unexpectedly became my doula and my doula's doula. He's the best doula I've ever met! I wanted to go home. Or to Busch Gardens. I wanted a cookie. He said "yes," just as soon as I got that baby out, I could have everything I wanted. Little did I know that holding our first son, I truly would have everything I wanted and more!
I still got my cookie and we still got to go to Busch Gardens:

I carry the tunes in the family and I carry the babies through pregnancy and delivery; Tuvia carries everything else. Nobody wins those giant stuffed animals at Busch Gardens. Nobody, except me.

Love happened in sharing the journey of becoming best friends, husband and wife, and then in becoming parents. I worried so much in my first pregnancy [about everything] and what would happen to my relationship with my husband. I even mourned the loss of being "just us," until I saw how much I gained in becoming parents. If I had loved my husband before, I was head over heels with the man who was now "Tatty."

Love happened when Tuvia supported and encouraged my desire to go back to work and then encouraged and supported my desire to stay home. I am full of half-baked and hair-brained ideas and no matter how successful or unsuccessful they are, he looks at me with the same pride and awe my parents used to when I played "twinkle twinkle little star" at a piano recital. He taught me to drive and no matter what (even when I ran a yield on green left turn signal almost crashing the car on the way into the DMV to get my license), he bit his tongue and smiled. He still bites his tongue and smiles when I give ample amounts of unsolicited advice on his driving from the passenger seat.

Love happened when I cried and cried through months of trying to get pregnant again and through laughter over cancelling the fertility consult I'd finally scheduled because I'd just had a positive pregnancy test. Love happened again when I complained bitterly over the next 40 weeks because, "boy, when you knocked me up you really knocked me up!" And he's still the best doula I've ever met. He was there to talk me off the ledge of wanting to go home and there to hold our second son when I was too busy holding the doctor's hand, apologizing in a drug-induced haze for thinking I might have fallen asleep. He was kind enough when I asked him what had happened and why I had been so heavily medicated during the emergency C-section that followed 3 hours of trying to get our son's giant head out the other way just to say "Well, you were in a lot of pain. You were crying and screaming...and sometimes worse.." (What the hell was worse than crying and screaming??) (Thank you for never answering that question.)
And three became four and love happened again. It's one of those one size expands to fit all type things. There's always enough room on his lap and there's more than enough room in his heart.

Our house is not always clean and dinner is not always ready "on time." I forget to call him "Tuvia" and sometimes we are just "Mommy" and "Tatty" all day long. I forgot our anniversary the first  year after we were married and went back to work instead. I have a terrible temper and he's seen it. He says he has a terrible temper; I've never seen it. I worry. A lot. He knows me well enough that even if it's 3AM, he says "tell me your worries," because he knows once I say it, it's gone and we can both go back to sleep. I get frustrated and nag over the small stuff; I forget to acknowledge the big stuff. I am a morning person only after I've had a cup of coffee. He always has oatmeal and hot water ready and waiting for me. Even after spending the whole night with our baby and getting up to work 3 hours earlier than I do. He is one of the most hardworking, self-determined and patient people I've ever known. He also usually forgets where we parked the car and admittedly, that used to drive me crazy until a friend advised me to see that aimless parking lot walking as our "date time." I do not say our marriage is perfect because I believe it lacks flaws. I believe it is perfect because two flawed people share and grow in it. Because he can see me, imperfections and all, and still find me as beautiful and charming as he did on that first date. (Come to think of it, that leaky ear infection might have been a good low precedent to set...)

Another friend of mine once told me that you'll know you've met The One when all the shdus it took to find him seems like nothing at all. It took us both a lot of shdus to get to today. I went on 2 first dates over the course of 2 months. He went on 402 first dates over the course of 2 years. I am thankful to Hashem for allowing us to be in the right place at the right time to finally find each other and I'm even thankful for all the unsolicited advice I was given that helped me reach that day, pride, cockiness and all.

To my darling husband, I could have bought you an awesome anniversary gift, but we are in the life stage where we sit on the couch picking out our anniversary gifts on Amazon while watching Netflix. We are taking our kids on our anniversary vacation and I can't think of a more perfect way to spend 3 days together! You sweep the floors and you sweep me off my feet. I will likely one day be able to identify the state of Virginia on an unlabeled map, and by then we'll probably be living somewhere else! I can't promise I'll never mix up the cumin and cinnamon in a breakfast cake again or burn the applesauce and call it "caramelized." I can't promise I won't worry or nag or lose my sh*t. I can promise I'll always keep trying just as hard as you do and as hard as our sons do because that is who we are. You always manage to get us out of a pickle even though you hate pickles (and that's ok, you have redeeming qualities--not everyone can have impeccable taste). You even know how to tell great stories about a fictional pickle named Sowie. And how to find a stuffed version of this fictional character as a present for me just because. I often see mountains and you remind me that they are only molehills. Either way, I am honored, privileged and so very happy to share this great ascent with you. May we keep on climbing for many many many years to come!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

And Now We Are Three!

To correspond with the 6th day of Tammuz, June 30, 2017
My dearest S,
Today you are three! Three years ago (according to the Jewish calendar), with all the reluctance followed by fervor and zeal that you continue to display toward new environments today, you arrived into this world. The third birthday is a very special milestone in a Jewish child's life. It marks the beginning of chinuch [formal education]. Today, we will cut your hair for the first time. You will begin to wear a yarmulke and tzitzis every day. We will celebrate this day just as you asked, with just our family, with cupcakes, with an aleph-beis game and jelly beans, with three balloons and a trip to Chuck E. Cheese, with reciting the pesukim, giving tzedakah and riding your new tricycle. Soon, we will wrap you in Tatty's tallis and carry you into your first school. You will have many teachers in your life. I'd like to think that Tatty and I are counted in that important and special group. But I am here to tell you today that it is you, dear S, who has taught me. Before this day three years ago, I knew everything. I knew my birth plan and where you would sleep and how you would eat and how we would spend our days and our seasons and our years. And after two full days of medically luring you out of my very cozy womb, it was finally time to push. You arrived 22 minutes later! And in that moment, I became Mommy.

Motherhood is the phenomenon of shedding a significant part of yourself and simultaneously becoming whole. It's not as though I ever felt I was broken or that part of me was missing before, but rather that with your arrival, I somehow became more complete. And at the same time, this wholeness can only exist in separate entities--where the end goal is really that you walk your own walk. My role in it is to foster in you the love, confidence and curiosity to see this world as your playground and no longer an extension of mine. And in that, I see you becoming you, writing, illustrating and illuminating your own story. Your world is huge now. You experience every detail to its fullest. I hope that intensity never dulls; I also hope it never hurts you.
Three years ago, when I realized I knew nothing, I decided to find a place where I knew something, and I went back to work. You were just five weeks old when I started teaching preschool again. If you'd asked me then, do I know what to do with seven children belonging to other people, I'd confidently say yes. If you'd asked me then, do I know what to do with one child belonging to me, I'd confidently say no. And so for half the day, I did what I knew and gained the confidence to do what I know now. I gave teaching 110% those first two years. I gave parenting 110% those first two years as well. Even you, at three years old, know enough about math to know that this is impossible. And yet, many times you graciously accepted the short end of a stick that was never big enough to begin with. You taught me how to receive the gift in every moment even if it comes in unlikely packaging. Beyond that, you taught me that most times, if not all times, the packaging itself is the very best part of the gift!

Time is a funny thing. Time bewilders you at three years old. It's time to do this and now it's time to do that. There are two more minutes before we need to go. We can do this later. We can have that tomorrow. This business of time is so out of your control and so incomprehensible. You dig your heels in. You want longer. You want it now. You want more. You hate to wait. I wish I could tell you it will make more sense when you are older, but at nearly 30 years your senior, I am still bewildered by time. Those early months were a mix of hours that would last for eons and moments that would wait for no one. And somehow we got through them, or maybe around them...

Parenthood in the early days left me with the look of a deer in the headlights. Like somehow, this tiny bundle of cheeks and chub that I was supposed to know had all caught me quite by surprise. And then you would smile. And laugh. And sit. And scoot. And stand. And fall. And climb. And scrape your knee. And walk. And bump your head. And run. And jump. And dance. And soar... And you would surprise yourself and surprise me and through it all, have more determination in a day than I could muster up in a year.

When you are three, everything is new. Everything is novel. Everything is wonderful and fascinating and terrifying and incredible. And you take it all in with a sensitivity and curiosity that I aspire to. You gather ideas into boxes and categories of sense in a world that is really quite nonsensical. "How does it work?" is one of your favorite questions to ask. It is one of the most difficult questions to answer. But I try my best to calm your worries. To calm my own worries. To tend to your curiosity and to fearlessly say "I don't know," when I need to because I hope that you are never afraid to say the same. It is OK not to know. It is wonderful to always be learning. And that is when you teach me the most. How to hug a tree. How to make going to Walmart every day the best part of your family vacation. How to love those rides and games that cost a quarter without ever spending a penny. How to be satisfied with a trip to the car wash and our storage unit when everything else is closed on a Sunday morning. How to love a rock. How to build a microphone out of tinker toys. How to be a robot. Or a dog. Or a doctor. Or a rabbi. Or a train...

And how to still be you. Completely and unequivocally you in every moment without pretense. That's one that we grown ups are still trying to figure out...

And time is funny in that those endless hours turned into a year and two years and now three...

...and I forgot what it's like to be bored. I forgot what it's like to be lonely. I forgot what it's like to go to the bathroom with the door closed. I forgot what it's like to not kiss those squishy little cheeks a thousand times goodnight. I forgot what it's like to just be me and not someone's Mommy. And just as quickly as I forget it all, you remember everything. But memory, too, is one of those funny and bewildering things. I hope you will carry many fond memories with you along the way. I hope you will also still carry with you a rock, a plastic giraffe and maybe a couple of blocks to build with on the go, because, as you candidly put it the other day when I asked you about the Duplos I found in my diaper bag...we might need to play while we're out. You have a talent for knowing how to play anywhere. With anything. No matter what. It is from you that I gained the confidence to do the chicken dance while folding laundry in the living room.
 And the confidence to become Mommy again. When it was time to welcome baby Y into our family, I didn't know how I could make room to love anyone else as enormously as I already loved you. I had none of those first time Mom worries I had before you were born and only worries about how becoming a brother might be for you. Would you feel betrayed and lost? Would you feel left out and left behind? Would you, did you feel this sense of loss that I felt even though we were gaining something so special and beautiful and unique? And then Y arrived. All of our talking and playing and reading culminated into an hour of you sobbing the next day. Y was a little scary. And loud. You missed Mommy. Mommy had a boo boo. You were sorry. Did we still love you? My heart broke and then my heart opened. Sometimes things have to break to open. It opened for you and for Y and for the lesson you were about to teach me: there's always enough room for more of a good thing. Whether it is jelly beans or time at the playground or space on the couch or little brothers--there is always enough room for more of a good thing.

Today you are three. Today you will lose your pony tail and gain a notch on this beautiful totem pole of life.  And as it is customary to offer blessings to those celebrating a birthday, I bless you, dear S, that you should always enter new situations with a healthy level of cautious optimism as you did three years ago and as you do today. I bless you that you should feel confident in being a student and in being a teacher; in knowing what you know and not knowing everything. I bless you with continued determination to pursue your dreams and the clarity to recognize what those are. I bless you that you should pass the hours at a comfortable pace--a pace that you, as much as possible, will set for yourself. And I bless you that the moments you wish to savor do not slip away from you too quickly. I bless you that each of those moments and hours, days and seasons, months and years will grow to be fruitful and multiply into beautiful, vibrant memories. Ones you will share with many teachers and many friends and many loved ones. Ones that you will share with Tatty and with Y and with me. I bless you that the life you live should be as abundant as the love you give. Today, as you embark on your official journey toward chinuch, I bless you that you should always merit to continue learning. And teaching. Sometimes I marvel at how many times in an hour you can ask me "how" and "why" and "when." And then I remember the true meaning of chinuch. The one I wish to impart on you. The one I wish to impart on myself. Those questions are not part of the lesson, they are the lesson.
Happy Birthday my little bochur!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Leaving Mitzrayim: A Pre-Pesach Birth Story

This time of year, the social media world is full of posts about planning and preparing for Pesach. In light of that, I would like to introduce you to the only thing in my house that has yet to come into any contact with chametz and is, therefore, kosher l'pesach: with gratitude to Hashem, we were blessed with the birth of beautiful baby boy! He made a punctual arrival into the world on his due date this past Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 12:19AM weighing in at 8lbs and 2oz!

Planning for Pesach and planning for parenthood actually have a lot of unique parallels if you think about it. You make lists and excel documents and type out intricate plans; then it's time to implement them. One way or the other, the result is eminent: Pesach will come (or birth)! But along the way, we like to organize and nest, purchase and purge, scour, clean, burn and search--all to give ourselves the illusion that any of this is the means to an end, rather than the beginning of a journey that, G-d willing, repeats itself infinitely for generations to come. Pesach commemorates our people leaving as slaves from Mitzrayim [Egypt] and entering the freedom of the Holy Land. Birth commemorates leaving the womb and entering the physical world. But at the end of slavery lies the responsibility of freedom. At the end of labor and delivery lies the responsibility of parenthood. It is a journey that cycles again and again from moment to moment, from generation to generation.

At the very beginning of my pregnancy, I came across this photo gone viral of a mother in labor holding her older daughter and saying goodbye before her next child is born. Articles written about it indicate that this captures the "moment" mothers realize they will cease to be "just the two (or three, or four...) of them." And yet, this photo made that moment recur for me through the duration of my pregnancy. I waxed and waned with excitement, fear, grief and hope. I analyzed and agonized over a sense of desperately wanting to be the mother of this new baby that was growing within while simultaneously feeling a sense of loss to the son who had made me a mother in the first place. I talked about it and thought about it and grappled with it. Just as nesting instincts kicked in and I washed, cleaned and organized, fear of "that moment" held me back from packing that hospital bag. I wondered and wondered, even ruminated over "that moment." What would it be like to say goodbye to my only son?

And so I did what I always do when I cannot control something. I planned, plotted and I organized. I came up with all of the logical and reasonable reasons I could not give birth on a certain day and why I had to wait. I could have the baby after I finished teaching my pre-k reading class; I'd made a commitment and I needed to fulfill it. I could have the baby after Purim; I didn't want to ruin Purim for my family. I could have the baby after my son and husband returned from their day trip to Baltimore to get food for Pesach because we NEEDED to have food for Pesach so I could have the baby before it got too close to Pesach. I was fairly certain we would be having another boy, so I needed to make sure a bris would not fall at a time too close to Pesach, making it impossible to get a mohel. And I did not want to be in the hospital over Shabbos, so I needed to go into labor on a Sunday or a Monday, maybe a Tuesday the latest. And while I planned, plotted, and organized, I did some cognitive re-framing to get me through. I trusted that the hormones that were inducing this paralyzing fear of leaving the house for the hospital would kick over to the hormones that would make my heart somehow stretch twice as wide to accommodate a love big and complete enough for both of my children. I remembered, after all, feeling similarly fearful of "the moment" I would say goodbye to my husband in the delivery room during my older son's birth. I had that same feeling of eminent doom that I was about to lose my relationship as wife to my husband in becoming a mother. What really happened (after a period of sleepless adjustment) was that I fell deeply in love with the man who was once only my husband and now also a Tatty. The expansion of my heart to accommodate love for my son also made room to love my husband as a father. Perhaps my heart would grow again to include a love for both of my children and both of their roles as siblings.

Nonetheless, Sunday, March 19th, my son and husband made their trip to Baltimore. While they were away, I decided I should probably pack my hospital bag. I knew this time what to bring and what to leave home. I washed the last of the newborn hats and swaddle blankets. I drove to Walmart for a few essentials and got home a little before my husband and son returned from their trip. We enjoyed a dinner and made our way to bed. Before I went to bed, I texted my sister: "I finally packed my hospital bag. Now I can have a baby."

I couldn't fall asleep for some reason. I have horrible pregnancy insomnia that wakes me multiple times in the middle of the night, but never trouble falling asleep. I needed to buy a screw driver to open the battery case on my toddler's new Batman toothbrush. I needed to wrap a present for an upshernish the following Wednesday. I needed to renew four library books about becoming a big brother. I drifted off at around midnight. At 2:30AM, my water broke. This never happened with my first (who we joke would still be in there if it were not for medical intervention), but everything looked OK and contractions were very mild and sporadic. I went back to bed and opted to let my husband sleep; he would need it! A few hours later, I woke him to tell him we would need to call the OB shortly and that today would be the day we go; he should take off work and go back to sleep. I lay in bed drifting between sleep and wakefulness, waiting, and wondering.
In the morning, we called the OB and made plans for a babysitter to come. When my son woke up, I got my dream come true of "that moment." Contractions were still mild and sporadic. I invited him into my bed and to bring his favorite book, ironically titled Shimmy the Youngest (Shimmy is my toddler's name). We read and we snuggled and I explained to him that today was the day Mommy was going to go to the hospital so the doctors could help our new baby to be born. We tried to give the illusion of calm when we were probably a bit frantic. We made breakfasts and arrangements. We packed a few last items. I renewed those library books and tried to wrap the present but delegated that task to one amazing multi-tasking babysitter! We packed up a present for soon-to-be-Big-brother. And we left. Goodbye to my son was not so different than when I left for work (only I cried in the car a lot more!) and he would be OK. We all would.

We arrived at the hospital and settled briefly. I sent my husband home to tend to a few other tasks and help a bit with our toddler. I was not yet dilated at all so I decided to try walking. Walking and waiting; waiting and walking. As I got on the elevator back up to labor and delivery, a friendly older woman boarded and said knowingly "my, you must be bored!" I thought for a moment and smiled: "I'm not bored, I'm embracing the moment. My older one is at home and my younger one is still in here for now...the waiting will end and the chaos will begin and I will likely miss being bored for quite a while!" She gave me her blessing and I returned to my room for a small dose of Pitocin and continued walking (more locally now with the company of an IV cart) just as my husband got back. Contractions began to pick up; labor was beginning.

The labor and delivery room was a beautiful scene of delicately orchestrated nurses all trained as doulas supporting me through comfort measures and the most supportive doula of all: my husband. After my first labor, I knew a lot of what I like and a lot of what I don't. Many aspects of this labor were the same. I loved laboring on the ball and when I was done with that, I loved laboring in the tub. And this time I knew to ask for Zofran as soon as the queasiness started. And I knew when I hit the wall that it was OK to go for that epidural. I talked with the nurses about my birth plan, about the parts of the process I love and how important it is to me to feel good about having a plan and empowered in it but that I also feel a huge part of "the plan" is the willingness to adjust and adapt if things change; the most important part is healthy baby and healthy mommy.

My body kicked in on its own, eliminating the need for Pitocin and a further check revealed that I was fully dilated. It was time to push. My older son was born within 22 minutes of pushing and after being so impressed that this time my body was doing all of the work on its own, I had no reason to assume this part would be any different. I pushed and pushed and watched the clock. When things did not progress within an hour, we added a bit of Pitocin again and took a break. My husband came back to the room, we labored and kept at it until we were ready to try again. What took place over the next two hours I can only say must make up for the lack of taking prenatal yoga classes with this pregnancy. I tried a variety of amazing postures and positions to try and lower the baby in preparation for birth, all while pushing, waiting, breathing and having a hand inside of me like a puppet for more of that time than I care to admit. The nurses and doctor worked amazingly together, bouncing ideas off of each other and supporting me through trying all of them. In between pushing, we talked about pets and kids, books and school...and we also talked about the situation. We talked about the options and the potential outcomes. I felt informed and supported and at a certain point, I felt OK to admit that in spite of my "very open feelings" about adapting and adjusting during the labor process, I felt "stuck" in this one. And I cried. I named the feeling of potential loss that if this one last position did not succeed in helping baby to move down, that a c-section was the next step. I released that, we tried one more time and when it was time to move to that next step, I felt at peace. I knew both baby and I had done everything and anything possible to move forward and he was probably just too big to fit through my pelvic area.

We found out there was an hour wait for the OR, which was a little frustrating but it was a chance to spend with my husband. I asked him to come with me for the parts that he could and he was invited to scrub up in another room. One nurse I had grown particularly fond of had her shift ending at midnight and at 5 to the hour, they were finally ready for me. I thanked her profusely for her help and apologized for not being "done" before she had to leave. She met me in the hallway as I was being rolled to the OR to tell me she was joining us to meet the baby! I felt so grateful and humbled and I was ready as well.

By "ready," it may be I thought about things the wrong way. I rolled into that room thinking "I worked really hard, now I get to have surgery." I cannot even recall all of what happened next, so much of it is what was relayed to me by my husband and the doctor. I remember talking to the anesthesiologist about how I binge watched Grey's Anatomy and House, so if he needed help I could probably still not help him! I asked him to keep an eye on my husband and that if he looked like he needed to leave to tell him it's OK. And then my husband came in and sat behind me. They administered the epidural and asked if my legs were numb. I said I wasn't sure, tapped my thighs and confirmed that they were. And then I felt them begin to cut. Wait, I felt it? I shouldn't be feeling it, I thought, and I really really felt it. And it stung and burned and the pain was unbearable and then there was some burning smell and a mask and then I was in a different room. A room that was so long and there was a baby crying who was so far away. And voices. One of them was mine. "I think I fell asleep." One was my husband's. "You were in a lot of pain, they gave you some medicine." And the baby crying who was so far away but I think it was my baby and I think it is a boy. And the voices and the blurry people and then I was out. And back. And more voices. And here's the baby. He is a boy. He is mine! And my husband. And I'm so thirsty. When can I have water? Did I faint? Was I asleep? Are you OK? We had a baby. We had a baby boy!

Our son was born at a whopping 8lbs and 2oz, very healthy, thank G-d. He was, in fact, too big to fit the original way! I had a hard time with the pain during the surgery and required additional medication during and right afterward to help. Baby and I were taken to the maternal ward to recover and rest. Several hours later I began remembering bits and pieces of the surgery and over the next couple of days did a lot of asking questions about it and talking about it to reconcile some of the fear of not really understanding what had happened.

When it was time for Big Brother to come meet his new baby, he picked out his own outfit, complete with a button down shirt and mismatched tie! He brought his Batman toothbrush (that still had no batteries because I never made it to get that screw driver) to show "new booba." My toddler is nervous about babies crying and as soon as he heard the sound for the first time, both he and his younger brother simultaneously made identical gestures of shoving their fingers nervously in their mouths! And now we are home. A family of four, taking it minute by minute, laugh by laugh, tear by tear. And this is what I have learned:

  • I still love and am fascinated by the process of labor and delivery: the planned, the unplanned, the moments of empowerment and the moments of helplessness.
  • Your heart does stretch to accommodate the love for a new baby even when other parts of you do not.

  • The woman who in labor can move mountains comes home to feel as though she can barely move a muscle; this is frustrating
  • There are beautiful moments of brotherhood developing. There are sad moments of brotherhood developing. A heart that opens twice as wide now breaks twice as hard. On the day after his baby brother was born, my older son cried in his Tatty's lap for half an hour saying "booba scary" and "Shimmy sorry" and "Tatty still love Shimmy." We read books, we watched videos, we played about it and I know this is all his way of healthfully processing everything. I am so proud of him and so humbled by him and so sad and sorry for his enormous feelings that I feel so responsible for. He is happy I am home; he is angry and scared that I left. He loves his brother so much; he also does not love his brother so much--that is OK. 
  • My husband supported a very cranky and nitpicky version of me through pregnancy. He supported a very needy and dependent version of me through labor. He is supporting a very sore and tired and emotional version of me now that we are home. He is an amazing husband, an amazing father and a great doula to boot. I love him so much, and I hope he hears that in between all of the requests and the occasional snapping.
  • Labor contractions are pains that allow for growth and birth. During labor, you reach a point at which you feel they will never end and fear the next one. After the baby arrives, they cease to exist and you forget they were there at all. Now that I am home, they have been replaced by postpartum heart contractions. My heart expands with love and hope and contracts with fear and sadness as I watch my older son struggle to grapple with his new role as one of two. Each contraction grows stronger and lasts longer, but the release is twice as sweet. We will reach a new normal and all of our hearts will continue to expand. The pains of this labor and delivery will soon be a story of the past that we will relay at the table as we remember this family's entrance into our own promised land.

Mitzrayim is not a place; it is a state of mind. Mitzrayim is needing to have control over everything and anything around you. Mitzrayim is believing that you can. Freedom is letting go of that and being open to the result: the love, the fear, the pain and the victory. Our children are our tickets out of Mitzrayim. May they know only freedom and next year may we all be in Yerushalayim!