For the past few weeks, my husband has been urging me to clear off my desk so that we can replace it with a baby crib. The crib, which arrived just a few days ago from my sister-in-law along with an array of car seats, strollers, and bright orange garbage bags filled with baby clothes, will not fit in our apartment until I get rid of my desk. But I have not been able to let it go. And so my great wooden desk–stacked with folders marked “ideas for the Pesach seder,” “Bronfman seduction,” “Babylonian menstruation,” as well as a pile of books including the JPS tanakh, Masechet Menachot, the current issue of Lilith, and Benne Lau’s book on Hazal–is an island in a sea of baby supplies. When sitting down before it, I cannot get up unless I push back one of the strollers, climb over a garbage bag, and straddle a big wicker box labeled “toys.” You might say that the baby supplies form a wall, to my right and to my left, and I am harboring a murderous urge to hurl rocking horse and rider into the sea.
Of course, I am extremely grateful to have received a full supply of baby goods from my sister-in-law, which saves us many hours and shekels in the weeks ahead. But the sheer physical reality of this paraphernalia crowding what was once my office has left me quite overwhelmed. In an attempt to reclaim some idea of order, I packed my bag for the hospital tonight, as instructed by the stack of eleven baby books behind my bed (all courtesy of the literary agency where I work): It is never too early to pack for the hospital – you must be prepared! In stuffing my hand cream, underwear, hot water bottle, and Alexander McCall Smith novels (I chose my hospital reading three months ago) into a tote bag, I felt a bit like the Israelites packing to leave Egypt. I too was gathering all the possessions I would need to take with me into the uncharted wilderness of motherhood, a land of flowing with milk, which I am told is characterized by many a Leyl Shimurim– long nights of no sleep without even a pillar of fire to keep vigil beside me.
On the other hand, once the baby is born, it will no longer be inside of me, which I suppose offers some degree of relief. I find it amusing that watermelons came into season in Israel the very week I entered my eighth month, just when I began to feel like I was carrying one around. Perhaps in a few weeks, when beset by the wailing cries of a baby that wishes it were back in my narrow womb, I, too, will pine for the watermelon to be curled up mutely inside me again. We remember the watermelons we ate in Egypt….
That watermelon-sized baby inside me is really all I need at this stage. If I had to, I could flee to the hospital b’chipazon, without my hospital bag and with only my girded loins and my sandals on my feet. If my contractions drive me out of my home so that I cannot delay, I could leave even without preparing any provisions for myself. After all, Pesach is not a holiday of preparedness. No one is ever fully ready for Pesach when the sun sets on the fourteenth of Nisan. There is always more to cook, more to clean, more to study, more to prepare. Perhaps that’s why the matzah is such a powerful symbol. Matzah is unfinished bread. It is dough that has not been given sufficient time to rise. Eating matzah is a reminder that we don’t always have time to plan in advance, and that sometimes we must just pick up and run, placing our trust in God as we hurl ourselves forwards towards our divinely ordained destiny. I hope the baby that is cooking inside me does not emerge half-baked–and certainly I feel quite puffed up and leavened–but I don’t think I’ll ever feel completely ready for labor and childbirth, let alone motherhood. I do know, though, that this year I have a very different understanding of what it means to see myself as if I have left Egypt. I will be as prepared as I can be, and, in spirit of Dayenu, it will have to be enough.