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I canâ€™t believe my first baby girl is already 2! In the beginning of this journey into parenthood I can remember the wise women of the synagogue next door to our apartment shouting, â€śEnjoy this time! It goes so fast,â€ť as Adrian and I whisked Helen off to the park, to doctorâ€™s appointments, to family functions and to the market. There was something the knowing eyes of those women told me that only a look can convey. Now, two weeks after Helenâ€™s birthday, I understand what they meant.
Adrian and I wanted Helen to have a birthday that represented our family and who she is. For three nights before the big day I stayed up until two a.m. drinking coffee and making mini piĂ±atas. I found a link on YouTube to a very organized young woman who seemed to know her way around a hot glue gun and party paper. Because of the recent damage done to Adrianâ€™s village in Mexico, I also wanted to make the Mexican/Catholic tradition more visible this year so that he would feel included.
The one major event my American Jewish family and Adrianâ€™s Mexican Catholic family have in common is that we love to party! We also love to decorate and cook and we love the element of surprise. Iâ€™ve also hated the color pink since I was a child but once I had Helen all of that changed. I was the toddler with the black converse sneakers, black jeans and black t-shirt. My daughter has become everything rainbow and butterflies have to offer. This too may change, but I doubt it.
Our menu was a mix of American and Mexican and so was our guest list! I made a cheese spread, a vegetable platter and fruit for the kids. I scoured Pinterest for ideas of how to make the snacks kid-friendly and I ended up spending over 45 minutes trying to get a red bell pepper and four slices of cucumber look like a train car. The cake was tres leches with Peppa Pig on the top. But the night before Helenâ€™s big day was probably the most special for us as a couple.
As soon as Helen went to sleep, Adrian and I started moving furniture and blowing up balloons. We wanted Helen to wake up to a living room filled with piĂ±atas and balloons. As we decorated, we spoke about how amazing the decision to start our interfaith family was. We remembered thinking that it was going to be hard to balance two religions, two traditions and two vastly different cultures. But then we laughed while we wrapped Helenâ€™s gifts, which were: An Abby Caddaby doll, giant Hebrew flashcards and a book in Spanish and English. What could be difficult about real love?
We hung up most of the balloons but let three loose so that Helen could play with them in the morning. As soon as she woke up she walked into the living room and said, â€śbuuubuuu.â€ť Thatâ€™s her version of â€śballoon.â€ť I think thatâ€™s because in Spanish the word balloon is â€śgloboâ€ť and she mixes the sounds. She loved the balloons and the gift-wrapping more that the actual gifts. She did yell, â€śAbbyyyyyâ€ť a few times before she threw the Sesame Street doll on the floor and went after the balloons again.
That day we ran around Brooklyn getting the last few odds and ends for the party. Finally, at six oâ€™clock the guests began to arrive. My mother was the first, of course. She couldnâ€™t wait to give Helen her gift. Because Adrianâ€™s mom is in Mexico, my mother fills in for her and bought Helen two gifts, one from Grandma and one from Abuela. Then my nephews trudged up the stairs of the apartment and I could hear my sister-in-law and my brother behind them. Finally, Adrianâ€™s brothers came, all four of them!
Our apartment is a small one-bedroom but people are always surprised at how many guests we can squeeze into such an intimate space. As I brought out the snacks and Adrian began making his cheese enchiladas, I looked around at our diverse living room. There was happiness and celebration all around and Helen was so surprised.
After we ate and opened gifts it was time to cut the Peppa Pig cake. My nephews love chocolate cake but this cake was filled with strawberries, peaches, cream, condensed milk and vanilla cake. Tres leches cake is traditional in Mexico and when itâ€™s done right it tastes like a sugary cloud. We turned off the lights and first played â€ślas maĂ±anitasâ€ť on the stereo. This is a traditional Mexican birthday song. Then we sang Happy Birthday in English.
My nephews were shocked when they saw that the cake wasnâ€™t chocolate and even more shocked when they tasted how delicious it was. They are just three months older than Helen and they love her. They ran around after the cake cutting singing, â€śHelen Rose, Helen Rose, Helen Rose.â€ť And I wonder what Helen wished for when she blew out her candle. Was it a pony? Was it candy and ice cream? Or was it my wish? That our house, no matter where we live, will always be filled with two religions and love that knows no limits.
First words. What was my own first word? Probably â€śMama,â€ť though now my mother doesnâ€™t remember. She does remember my brotherâ€™s first word, which was â€śarrow.â€ť This is because she was constantly driving around the block with him in his car seat trying to put him to sleep. He would see the arrow on the speedometer and my mother would say â€śarrowâ€ť and so he too repeated â€śarrow.â€ť It was inevitable, he spent most of his time trying to get to sleep in the car.
What will my daughterâ€™s first word be? Adrian and I wonder this often. We speak Spanish and English in our house. Adrian is Mexican Catholic and I am American Jewish and we have Hebrew letters all over the house. There is a Virgin of Guadalupe in our room and the Hebrew alphabet on the fridge. We wonder if little Helen is confused. She has begun to make many noises and just a few weeks ago she was saying â€śmamamamamamama.â€ť At first we thought it was me she was calling. Sheâ€™s eight months old now and itâ€™s a bit early for her first words. But I was ecstatic when I heard â€śMaaaaaa!!!â€ť come out of her mouth. But then,Â she stopped saying it. Now sheâ€™s making noises. We are happy with noises, too.
What we wonder most is what language she will choose. We speak Spanish at home, English at Grandmaâ€™s house and Hebrew on holidays. Also, we hope her first word will be something nice. We live in New York and our language here can be, well, special. We really hope her first word doesnâ€™t fly out of her mouth unannounced during rush hour traffic so we, mostly me, have had to tone it down when in her company.
Every Thursday when Adrian goes to work I pile Helen into the Chevy and we go pick up my mother and head off to my sister-in-lawâ€™s house. My brother works as well so itâ€™s usually a girlâ€™s day except for my twin nephews, Jacob and Nathan, who are just two-and-a-half months older than Helen. We look to them for what to expect with words. They havenâ€™t started speaking yet either, though they make a lot of different sounds as well.
In the Torah there are two sets of famous twins. First, there are Jacob and Esau. They are the most well known because they are famous for being the â€śgoodâ€ť twin and the â€śevilâ€ť twin. But, if I am going to make comparisons Iâ€™d like to compare my nephews more to Tamarâ€™s twins, who the Torah describes as both being righteous. Tamarâ€™s twins also came early, as did my nephews.
Our Thursdays are spent playing and observing and waiting for words. This week Nathan can stand while holding onto something and he makes a low gurgle and smiles. Jacob can stand, too, but he doesnâ€™t like to get down by himself and he loves to look at books. Helen bangs a plastic donut against her head and is content. Itâ€™s a marvel to watch these three cousins interact. Helen and Nathan seem to be the best of friends and Jacob lies in the middle of the play rug and flips the pages in his cloth book. I wonâ€™t be surprised if Jacobâ€™s first word is a whole sentence and he one day blurts out, â€śE equals Mc squared.â€ť Nathan will probably say, â€śLetâ€™s go Mets!â€ť and I still wonder about Helen. Adrian has started to say â€śHolaâ€ť and wave to her. I have started speaking to the twins in Spanish. They look at me like I have three heads but I think they look at me like that anyway.
Iâ€™d like my daughter and my nephews to learn basic Yiddish words as well. Here are a few Iâ€™m highlighting that will serve them well on their journeys through life:
1.Â Feh. Feh is like spitting. Itâ€™s when you disapprove or find something gross. If someone asks if you like politics you can say, â€śFeh.â€ť
2.Â Plotz. To plotz means to explode. If you are shocked by something then you could just plotz!
The most important word and one used most frequently in my household is…
3.Â Nu. Nu means, â€śHello?â€ť â€śWell?â€ť â€śHuh?â€ť When Helen doesnâ€™t want to eat I say, â€śNu? When are you going to finish this?â€ť
Now that Iâ€™ve added another language to the list Iâ€™m worried that Helen will never want to speak. Maybe thatâ€™s why my brother said â€śarrowâ€ť for the longest time. He could never get a word in edgewise with my parents always clucking. But, I think the word my daughter and my nephews will learn quickly enough is a word everyone uses with them all the time. In English, â€śLoveâ€ť or â€śI love you.â€ť In Spanish, â€śAmorâ€ť or â€śTe Amo.â€ť In Hebrew, â€śAhavaâ€ť or â€śani ohevet otcha.â€ť In Yiddish, â€śOy vey.â€ť Just kidding. In Yiddish, â€śIkh libe dikh.â€ť