As an alma (i.e. a woman of childbearing age who does not have kids), it’s tempting to buy into the idea that being a Jewish mother is as easy as they make it look on TV. Maybe as we age, we do naturally start to force food on people who’ve already eaten and sweaters on folks who are perfectly toasty, and I do distinctly recall that I stuffed a bunch of napkins into my pocket before the last time I left home to go to a bar with a friend (what if my nose runs, what if his nose runs, what if the bathroom is out of paper?). But having children is a serious responsibility, a quest that should be thoroughly considered before embarked upon.
Sure, I’ve been single for years, enjoying it more than any other 27-year-old woman I know, and acquiring a partner is generally a required step on the path to Jewish motherhood, but let’s be real about the end game: baby clothes are somehow getting cuter all the time, and I can’t wait to buy them for my grandchildren.
Here’s what I’m doing to prep for the possibility of small humans who might have the gall to rely on me one day:
1. Fish & greens. Like WD-40® and Duct Tape for home repairs, vinegar and baking soda for cleaning, or Netflix and chill for avoiding serious relationships, fish and green veggies are apparently the dynamic duo of human health, keeping our cells energetic and healthy and ready to blast stellar babies into the world. Granted, it doesn’t take much to improve the diet of a woman who has a dedicated Instagram account for her wine and who readily admits to having lived off of Halo Top ice cream for days at a time, several times. But. This isn’t about me. Would you think of the children?
2. Spending time poorly. Everybody likes to talk about how much kids cost, but the amount of time they suck up is far more frightening to fathom. I know my hourly rates for different services, but I haven’t thought about what I’d charge for things like changing diapers or pretending that I’m not bothered by someone asking “why?” after every single thing I say, forget things like planning birthday parties or trying to teach someone to use a toothbrush. The thought of not getting paid for those things is mortifying. I skipped that class in high school where they give you the fake baby to take care of, but I figure that I can mimic the feeling of parenthood by just allotting a certain amount of time each week for things I don’t really care to do. For example: hanging out at my synagogue’s parent-child learning events, even though I don’t have any kids, and I’ve yet to find anyone there I’d be interested in calling “daddy.”
Speaking of daddies, I’ve still got to find one to make one. To that effort, some of my wasted time each week goes towards loitering around medical schools and the returns section at the neighborhood fine jewelers. You never know where you’re going to find Mr. Well-Alrighty-Then.
3. Hoarding books. I’ve always been in favor of homeschooling, but come on. I’m not paying someone else’s tuition while I’m still chipping away at mine. Jewish schools be crazy.
4. Actually reading the children’s books about Jewish holidays that my mom has been buying for my nonexistent kids. They’ve kind of been piling up. And some of the artwork is a little too avant-garde. I want to make sure that future generations have an appreciation for the classic religious art my generation was raised with.
5. Asking the couples I admire lots of annoying questions. What are the upsides and downsides of raising an only child? How do you cope with having a kid who has a birthday on a major Christian or pagan holiday? What is the best legal way to get them to stop making noise?
6. Making a totally Ashkenormative list of dead people in the family who had nice names and didn’t have bizarrely tragic deaths to name my kids after. So far, Magda seems pretty safe, but a lot of my ancestors (men, of course) apparently died of injuries related to being kicked by horses. Weird. Sounds like ayin hara (evil eye). Won’t test it.
7. On the subject of how people die, it’s been increasingly important for me to learn about my genetic risk factors. Fortunately, I don’t carry any of the truly devastating genetic conditions that it’s absolutely necessary to get tested for, but I do have an increased likelihood of developing Celiac and hemochromatosis. Celiac, I know plenty about. It was dramatic, a farewell to donuts, etc. But I don’t live with hemochromatosis, so learning about symptoms and treatment has been eye-opening. And yeah, it’s the fourth question I ask every guy who walks out of a building on the local medical school campus. If they’re going to be doctors, they ought to know.
8. Endurance training. Jewish existence is, itself, endurance training. We remind ourselves this on every holiday: if our ancestors could survive 40 years in the desert, we can survive a seder that lasts into the next morning; if they survived Haman’s harsh decrees, we can survive a bit of alcohol poisoning; if they survived the Greeks, we can survive deep-fried everything. The resilience of the Jewish stomach and Jewish soul are incomparable. The lower portions of the digestive tract, we won’t mention.
But this is about the Jewish mother’s psyche: all children are hellishly annoying as part of their proper development, and as people who demand the objective best for the kinderlach, we are obligated to make Jewish childhood as annoying as tolerable. In addition to filling my camping rucksack with books, bags of sand, and other hard heavy objects with an impeccable ability to resist my will, and hoarding all of the linens and other laundry until I have enough to do seven loads in one day, I have also been anointed by the most intense brainwashing available: listening to Jewish music, the same song, on repeat, for at least three days in a row.
Or maybe I’ll just get a corgi.
Top image via Flickr/Cheryl Hicks