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I canât 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, âEnjoy this time! It goes so fast,â as Adrian and I whisked Helen off to the park, to doctorâs 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 Helenâs 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 Adrianâs 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 Adrianâs 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. Iâve 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 Helenâs 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 Helenâs 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, âbuuubuuu.â Thatâs her version of âballoon.â I think thatâs because in Spanish the word balloon is âgloboâ and she mixes the sounds. She loved the balloons and the gift-wrapping more that the actual gifts. She did yell, âAbbyyyyyâ 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 oâclock the guests began to arrive. My mother was the first, of course. She couldnât wait to give Helen her gift. Because Adrianâs 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, Adrianâs 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 itâs done right it tastes like a sugary cloud. We turned off the lights and first played âlas maĂ±anitasâ 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 wasnât 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, âHelen Rose, Helen Rose, Helen Rose.â 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.
We had been planning our vacation to upstate New York for six months. The hotels book up by the end of August, so we made the reservation well in advance. Adrian, my significant other, got his freshwater fishing license, and we ordered our daughter a ton of new summer clothes. Everything was packed, even Grandma, who was accompanying us on the trip because she loves New York and offered to babysit in an attempt to let Adrian and me have some time alone on our vacation.
But plans never work. Not for me, at least. I look at the entire scope of my life and can say that almost anything I planned went awry. I had planned to have a Jewish wedding with a Jewish husband. But when I fell in love, it was with Adrian, a devout Catholic from Mexico. We arenât married, we have a beautiful daughter and nothing went as planned. But still we planned our trip.
The first night at the hotel, our daughter, Helen, seemed different. I couldnât put my finger on it, but something in her personality had shifted. We attributed it to the fact that she had been in the car for five hours with only a few short breaks in between. We also put her to sleep in a Pack ânâ Play instead of a crib, because itâs all we had and Helen wonât sleep with us. We went to sleep and the next dayâour first official vacation dayâwe went to the lake.
Adrian packed his fishing gear into the car. I planned what food we would eat, what toys Helen would play with and what bathing suits everyone would wear for the photos I planned to take. We propped up a tent with a blanket for Helen. Adrian went off to fish. Grandma and I stayed and played with the baby. At one point I took Helen into the water and she started to fuss. This was also unlike her. Helen loves the water, and sheâs not usually fussy when it comes to trying new things. But I just thought she was over-stimulated. Iâd kept her out of the sun and covered, and I couldnât think of what could be bothering her. So I took her out of the water and we spent the afternoon playing and napping.
When we finally got back to the hotel, Helen had a fever and was crying. I noticed that her eyes looked sick. I did what any new mother with a sick baby in a strange town would do: I freaked out! I took her clothes off and left just her diaper. I washed her with a warm washcloth. I hugged her, I kissed her, I told her everything was my fault and I cried.
This is when being in an interfaith family comes into play. Sometimes interfaith also means inter-culture. Helen is from two distinct and beautiful cultures: Jewish and Mexican. Whereas I was raised to panic and have high anxiety, Adrian grew up in a village where, when a child was sick, you waited before you panicked. I had already gone out to buy Tylenol; Adrian said no Tylenol. I had already gone out to buy canned chicken-noodle soup because I didnât have a kitchen to make soup in; Adrian said chamomile tea. I was taking Helenâs temperature with the thermometer every five seconds; Adrian just felt her back. I was taking the babyâs clothes off; Adrian said to let her sweat it out and cover her.
So we called the doctor in Brooklyn. I have the best pediatrician in the world, or at least Iâd like to think so. Adrian and I have been taking Helen to Tribeca Pediatrics in Boerum Hill since she was two days old. Theyâre a good fit for us because they understand our religious and cultural differences and look at each child as an individual. They know Adrianâs concerns about modern medicine and my concerns as a Jewish mother who wants to make everything better with food.
They told us to watch the fever and that Tylenol wasnât necessary, unless Helen couldnât sleep. They said the fever would most likely be gone by Saturday. Saturday came, and a full-body rash came with it. The fever was not down; it was up and down. We called the doctor again. âGive it one more day,â was the advice from the other end of the phone. Apparently the rash was a reaction to the virus, and thereâs no medicine to give a child for a virus. According to Tribeca Pediatricsâand the wise mothers of Mexicoâthe baby has to fight it.
Adrian did what any father would do when he saw the rash: He freaked out! It was then my turn to assure him that the rash was part of the process. Helen was also getting her big teeth in the back, and in addition to the fever and rash, she was teething like crazy. By Sunday she had no fever and the rash was going away. We went back to the lake. I bought her a teething ring and Adrian bought her a lamb chop, which he cooked on the grill and let cool. She chomped on the lamb-chop bone the whole day, and I think it was better than any teething ring ever made. She was smiling and happy and was her own self again! We planned the rest of the week and then threw the list of plans in the garbage and said, âLetâs just play it by ear.â