Just One Kid

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A157 pregnant2

I couldn’t sleep that night. Lior came home early, and we were careful with each other, trying to make up for the previous night. I made a vegetable stir fry, and Lior made couscous from a box, both of us standing quietly at the stove, stirring and not looking up. When the food was ready I set the table and Lior put on a Talking Heads album. We ate to ‘Burning Down the House’ and ‘This Must Be The Place’ and didn’t say much besides ‘pass the salt’ and ‘thank you for helping with dinner.’

Afterwards Lior took some work files out of his briefcase and spent a few hours sorting through papers and scribbling notes. At 10:30 on the dot he went to bed, but I was frustrated with him, and not at all sleepy, so I stayed at the dining room table with my own work spread out in front of me for a while.

At eleven I got up and stretched my legs, but didn’t feel at all tired, and didn’t want to face Lior—conscious or unconscious—in bed. I switched on the computer and played a few games of web boggle, read the news, and then, in an act of desperation, I googled “Chad Gadya,” the song Lior and I were supposed to discuss at the seder.

There were thousands of websites that mentioned the song, and I scrolled through some possibilities listlessly. The search also brought up a number of video clips of various families performing the song with embarrassing enthusiasm. In one video I watched a big clan of mostly red-headed children sing the song, making the appropriate animal noises as they wove through the verses. A number of online encyclopedias explained that each character in the song represented another foe of Israel that was ultimately vanquished by the power of God. I rolled my eyes when I read this. Typical hyping of victimization. Why couldn’t anyone agree that it was just a children’s song?

I clicked on a link to look at the text in English. The final verse was in bold.

Then came the Holy One, blessed be He!

And destroyed the Angel of death,

that killed the butcher

that slew the ox,

that drank the water

that quenched the fire,

that burned the stick

that beat the dog,

that bit the cat

that ate the kid,

My father bought for two zuzim

Just one kid, just one kid.

Chad gadya, chad gadya

It was less of a children’s song than I remembered, actually. More like a chain of destruction. It seemed suddenly bizarre that it was featured at the seder. Like an obnoxious footnote to the story of our freedom—none of us are free, everyone’s caught in the damn machine of Chad Gadya.

I closed the laptop and wandered back to the bedroom. Lior was lying on his back, snoring, and the noise reminded me of one of the children in the video—a little red-headed boy who had snorted loudly to represent the ox. I undressed and crawled under the covers, reaching out for Lior’s body. He moved towards me in the dark.

That Sunday I went to visit Leah in her apartment. On the drive over to the apartment I tried to prepare myself to see Noah again, but it didn’t work. As soon as I knocked on the door Leah flung it open and held him out to me.

“He’s so excited to see his aunt!” she said as I took him. Noah gurgled a little and settled down in my arms, looking around with interest, dwelling briefly on my face before he allowed his eyes to wander. He was calm with me, and Leah led us back into the kitchen where she had made lunch. I held Noah while she washed her hands and then she took him and gestured towards the sink.

I washed reluctantly, the blessing coming out as smoothly as it had during all the years I’d said it five or six times a day. Leah said the blessing over the bread and I held Noah, taking the small piece of whole wheat challah she gave me and eating it quickly, hardly chewing it. Leah let me keep Noah for the whole meal, even though I knew it was killing her to see me holding him with one hand, and spooning pasta salad into my mouth with the other. I didn’t want to let him go yet.

Noah fell asleep after we finished eating, and Leah took him to her bedroom and emerged a few minutes later without him. She tiptoed down the hall, pointing me towards the living room where we sat next to each other on her huge white sofa.

“Nayo,” she reached over, and I responded lamely. “Are you doing okay?”

I shrugged. “I’m still sad. Lior doesn’t like it, but I don’t know how to make it go away, and I just– I feel sad. I’m not going to kill myself or anything-“

Chas v’shalom,” Leah broke in.

“What? Oh, right. Well, anyway, it’s not that bad. It’s just—this is a hard thing, I guess.”

“It’s the hardest thing. I can’t imagine anything harder.”

“Well,” I could imagine things that would have been harder. If Lior was sick, or if I was. If the baby was born and then died right away. If the baby was born and was sick and died very slowly. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. I held the images of those things up to me crying on the toilet at work and there was plenty that would have been harder, but I didn’t feel any better. “I guess I just feel lost now. Lior wants to talk about adopting, but I feel paranoid or something. I feel like maybe I’m not supposed to have children.”

Leah was saying chas v’shalom before I even finished the sentence. “You’re being ridiculous,” she said. “Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah—they all had trouble getting pregnant.” I considered pointing out that her examples were characters in stories, and I was a real person, but I restrained myself.

“Do you remember Mrs. Weintraub’s class? Do you remember what she said about the womb?”

I shook my head, stunned at how passionate Leah was about this, her with her tender gorgeous pregnancy and light labor before Noah arrived, quickly and without fanfare.

“Mrs. Weintraub was teaching us about Hannah, and how it says her rechem was closed. Remember she said that the word for womb was related to rachamim, to mercy. She said Hashem always grants mercy in the womb. No matter what, he’s not vengeful in the womb.”

“How do you remember these things? You had Mrs. Weintraub five years ago.”

Leah shrugged. “I thought it was beautiful, and I remember thinking I wanted to make sure I remembered it in case I had trouble having a baby.”

“Well,” I sighed, “I guess that’s good to know.”

For a few minutes we were quiet, just sitting together. Somewhere in the building someone turned on their water faucet and we heard the pipes buzz and sing softly.

“Did we also learn about the mikvah with Mrs. Weintraub?” I asked suddenly, vaguely remembering a lecture about the ritual bath.

Leah looked at me strangely. “Yeah, we did.”

“Wasn’t there something about using the mikvah after a woman who just had a baby? It’s good luck?”

“Yeah,” Leah’s voice was cautious. “But it’s just a superstition. It’s not a law or even a custom.”

“Would you go with me?”


“To the mikvah. You have to go soon, right?”

Leah looked uncomfortable. “In a week and a half.”

“So can I come and go in after you?”

“Nayo, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

I could tell she was trying to be extra gentle and extra nice, but it irritated the hell out me.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not– It’s not magic, Naomi. Going to the mikvah is a serious thing and you can’t just—I mean, I don’t think it’s the best way to deal with this. I know you’re upset and everything, but I don’t think you should think of the mikvah as a quick fix.”

I wanted to slap her then. I wanted to hit her so hard, to hear the sharp sound of my hand against her cheek, to have her feel even the tiniest bit of the sting I was feeling. But I knew she was right, that I was being ridiculous. Since when did I believe in any of that crap anyway?

“Yeah,” I said. “Anyway, I should go.”

“Nayo,” Leah said plaintively as I stood up and adjusted my skirt, not meeting her eyes, “I didn’t mean to—“

“Don’t worry. No problem. Kiss Noah for me.” I hurried to the door, and Leah followed me. We hugged, but it felt like a wooden gesture, and I didn’t respond when she squeezed me harder and said, “You know I love you.”

I stepped back, opening the door. “See you next week.”

On the night of the Pidyon HaBen Lior and I bickered in the car on the way to pick up my mother. She had sent an email to both of us saying that if we wanted to try again she’d be happy to pay for IVF, and it made me think of the commercials for pharmaceuticals where the voiceover first says how great the drug is, how much better it will make you feel, and then rushes through a long list of possible side effects. May cause high blood pressure, blood clots, paralysis, and on rare occasions death. It doesn’t matter that the woman in the commercial is smiling, lying back on a hammock, and swinging slowly back and forth. She might be dead soon.

Lior hated anytime I made him come to a family event that required him to wear a yarmulke. He owned exactly one, a stiff black silk thing he took from a bar mitzvah when he was thirteen. He always complained that it looked ridiculous but refused to let me buy him another one that would have been less absurd. “It’s not like I ever wear it,” he said in the car, fending off my offer once again while trying to get the silk one to lie more smoothly on his head.

“Yeah, but you’d look like less of a moron if you had a nicer one.”

“Naomi, we’re going to a ceremony where your sister is going to buy her baby back from some old guy who’s not related to the baby and you’re worried that I’m going to look like a moron?”

I sighed. “Fine. Do whatever you want.”

We pulled up outside the house where I grew up, and I moved into the back while Lior honked the horn.

My mother came out almost immediately wearing a long forest green skirt, and one of her nicest hats, made out of soft black wool with a silver ribbon around the brim.

“Hello,” she said, opening the door and reaching awkwardly into the back seat to hug me. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” I said. I could feel both Lior and my mother looking at me in the rearview mirror. “I really am.”

“You know,” my mother said, “If you don’t want to go, you really don’t have to. I’m sure Leah wouldn’t mind.”

“I’ve been saying that for a week,” Lior said, and my mother clucked affirmatively. It was so strange to see them agreeing on something. Usually Lior did everything possible to piss off my mother, and she responded in kind. They had disliked each other on sight, my mother aghast that I would come back from a year in Israel with a secular Israeli, as if I had missed the point somehow, and Lior exasperated with my mother’s devotion to everything her rabbi at Young Israel told her. Whenever they were around each other he was always rolling his eyes at me from a foot above her head.

“I’m really fine. I want to go,” I said, trying to sound more convincing.

“If you’re sure…” My mother looked dubious, but I ignored her.

When we were looking for a parking spot in the blocks around Leah’s apartment when Lior suddenly said, “Last night Naomi and I started the adoption paperwork.”

I shot him a look. We had said we weren’t telling my mother for a while.

“Oh honey!” My mother turned around in her seat and looked at me. “That’s wonderful!”

“Thanks,” I said stiffly.

A blue minivan pulled out of a perfect spot just ahead of us, and Lior slid in to take its place, and then cut the engine.

“I think this is the best we can do,” he said. I knew he was talking about the parking spot, but the statement seemed universally applicable.

In the apartment there were already twenty people gathered in the kitchen. Women wearing snoods — jeweled snoods, but still snoods — arranged and then picked at trays of vegetables. Other women, in falls or hats or sheitels, passed around infants, a cloth constantly slung over their shoulders to catch the milky refuse that threatened to ruin new suits and nice sweaters. These were Leah’s young hip frum mommy friends. Here they were, stylish and withering in long skirts and wigs, their children fussy and their husbands swallowed by the crowd of men in the other room. I milled around the women until I found Leah, who had Noah safely held against her as people swarmed by.

Leah, who had Noah safely held against her as people swarmed by.

Mazal tov,” I said. I hugged her, and then the Rav was calling for attention in the other room. He took out a huge silver platter, and Leah walked towards him with Noah, who was sound asleep. She laid Noah on the platter, and the women began to approach, one by one taking off their jewelry and putting it on the platter, on Noah. In a few minutes he glittered, a baby covered in treasure.

The Rav stood next to the platter, and Yonatan and Leah stood on either side of him.

“In Egypt,” the Rav said, “our first born were spared, and Hashem declared them holy to Him. Kol peter rechem, he said. All of the first offspring of the womb. These firstlings were meant to serve Hashem in the Temple, until the sin of the Golden Calf. The Priests and the Levites did not take part in the sin, and so Hashem promoted them to the job he had promised the firstborns. But to the firstborn he was merciful. He allowed them to be redeemed, and today we gather to join in this commandment of redemption. Here is a firstborn, and while we hope he will spend his life loving and serving Hashem, we’ve come today to free him from a past he could not control.”

The Rav’s voice was strong and clear, though his mouth was hidden beneath a beard without any discernible opening. I saw Lior across the room, and he was giving me his, ‘Your family is full of whackjobs’ look, but I ignored it. A moment later an old man stood in front of the platter where Noah slept surrounded by gold. Yonatan handed five silver dollars to the man, and the man held them over Noah’s head as he spoke: “Ze tachat ze. Ze chiluf ze. Ze machul al ze. This instead of that. This in exchange for that. And this in exoneration for that. May this son enter into life, into Torah, and into fear of Heaven. May it be Your will that just as he has entered into this redemption, so may he enter into the study of Torah, the marriage canopy, and good deeds.”

“Amen!” the room roared, and the immediately the women broke out into the shrill klee-klee call of celebration, and the men began to dance in a tight circle around the table. Noah woke up, and all around him was movement and sound, the slick yellow reflection of gold, and the blessing.

Leah picked him up off the platter and as she smiled at him and clicked her tongue I had another flash of myself in tears in the bathroom stall at work. For the first time in years I closed my eyes and prayed for real to whoever was up there, to whoever would listen, “This instead of that, this in exchange for that and this in exoneration for that.”

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Author of Jewrotica's Double Mitzvah column, Tamar Fox is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She will try anything once, including open relationships, dating someone who is chalav yisrael, and going to Suriname.
  • Ayo Oppenheimer

    This is an exceptionally powerful story. Thank you for sharing your writing with us, Tamar.