Abraham's First Laugh


Last night as I laid Abraham on his back in our bedroom for his nighttime massage, I looked down at his soft round baby belly and thought about how distant I have felt from God lately. My ritual practice has essentially gone on hiatus. (Yotam and I not only didn’t kasher our kitchen for Passover, but when we heated up the waffle iron the day after the holiday we found a whole waffle already in it from who knows when!) My prayer practice could be boiled down to “Please God help me make it through the day” (which may actually be the purest prayer, but still…) Most striking and hardest to describe, since the perinatal depression of my last trimester, I can’t feel God around me the way I used to.  

Then I remembered, in a moment of grace, a comment made about eight years ago by a new mom colleague in a conversation about hiyyuv (religious obligation). She was holding her baby, and said: “Miss a mincha? Sure. Miss a feeding? NO!” Her voice was fierce and tender at once. She was making a point about what was truly obligatory in her life at that moment – feeding her child – and putting it into conversation with the Jewish relationship to God. It occurred to me that maybe I can’t feel the transcendent God I used to feel because that isn’t what’s important now. I mean, when I look at Abraham it is like looking into the light, like right beneath his skin shimmers the force that started the universe. He was lying on the bed, and I got off the bed and kneeled, and bowed my head to touch is belly, just letting myself soften and be in service to the God in him. For a moment, this was enough.

A few days ago, while feeling exhausted and anxious, I realized that my body must be a good place to live, a place I might inhabit with some grace and joy, because a whole person had grown there and lived there, and was now a healthy and happy human being.

This afternoon I picked Abraham up and went to the bedroom and held him and cried. A deep belly cry. I cried for how tired I am, how beautiful a baby he is and how I wish I felt more joy. I cried for how much I love him and how much I am hurting from the whiplash of this life transition, and how much I want to feel more gratitude than overwhelm. I lay on my back with my head on a pillow, and held Abraham standing up on my low belly.

He looked at my face while I cried big splashing tears. He rode up and down on my diaphragm – and then, then: he laughed. He laughed! A real belly laugh, for the first time. I cried more from how moved I was he was laughing, and he laughed more, and then I started crying and laughing at the same time. I said the Shehechiyanu blessing, thanking God for enabling us to reach this moment. I said, “A fairy was just born,” because Peter Pan says that when babies laugh for the first time a fairy is born. Abraham’s eyes were wide and his mouth was a huge, open, lopsided circle.

I have been trying to hold it together, at least a little bit, for so long. This was the first time in a while I have let go and felt all my heart break open. It reminded me of the time I finally cried in couples therapy with my long time boyfriend, and the therapist said, “It’s nice to finally meet you.” My son knew in his wise old baby heart that I was being real and genuine, and he loved it. Plus, if you’ve never seen another person cry before, how fascinating it must be!

There is something wise about protecting our children from our rawest selves. They need us to have regulated nervous systems, to be steady and calm as much as possible. This is necessary because they need a wall to bang against that doesn’t crumble, a tether to yank away from that doesn’t loosen, a fence to flail inside that doesn’t break. They need to learn over and over that they will not break us, that they are allowed to have their feelings, that their feelings are safe and will pass.

Yet I wonder if there isn’t also, in age appropriate ways, something wise about letting ourselves be real with our children. Abraham was so tiny he didn’t know I was upset, and I don’t picture wanting to sob in front of a child much older than he is. But that doesn’t mean not sharing my own vulnerability (Check out Brené Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto for some good language around this). I may not cry in front of Abraham like that again, but I do imagine saying to him someday, “Yes, I’m having a hard day. I’m tired and feeling sad. Sometimes people feel tired and sad, and it’s ok. Do you want to cuddle? Maybe we can read a book together.”

Last night, in the afterglow of that first sacred fairy-creating laugh, we stayed there together for a while snuggling, two people seeing each other with wholehearted eyes.