This Lag Ba’Omer I found myself thinking of Shimon bar Yochai and his son, who studied Torah together in a cave for twelve years. The Talmud (Shabbat 33b) relates that they shed their clothes and sat covered in sand up to their necks and broke from study only to dress and daven. It dawns on me that this is not so different from how Matan and I have been spending our mornings — albeit without the sand.
Matan generally wakes up around 6am (to the extent that one can generalize about the daily habits of a two-week old). He doesn’t cry, but when I peer into his bassinet in the early morning light, I notice that his eyes (which are no longer brown, but bluish) are wide open. He blinks furiously when he catches my gaze, and I lift him up out and begin singing “Rise and Shine.” By the time Noah is getting his children into the “arky arky,” I’ve changed his diaper and carried him over to the rocking chair where I sit and nurse him. I marvel at the fact that my body can satisfy all his nutritional needs, like the carob tree and spring of water miraculously created for Bar Yochai and his son to sustain them in the cave. During this first nursing of the morning, I sing him Modeh Ani followed by “greatest hits” from Psukei D’Zimra and Shacharit, including most of the Hallelujahs. (My repertoire also includes El Adon, even on weekdays, because I love the melody so much.) Often he’ll wait to detach from the breast until I finish a particular Tefillah, though I’m not sure whether this is out of Koved Rosh or a keen sense of melody.
When Matan finishes nursing, we move on to Daf Yomi, which I don’t really learn but rather sing aloud. In the interest of time, I merely read through Steinstaltz’s commentary, making my best attempt to understand the discussion at hand. (As a friend recently quipped, instead of Baby Einstein, we are educating Matan through Baby Steinsaltz.) Yesterday we learned a sugya about the number of times oil must be added to a Minchah sacrifice that is offered in a vessel. The term used for each addition of oil is “Matan Shemen,” as I was excited to point out to our Matan. And now that we are on the Korban Todah, the thanksgiving offering (and the bread that came with it), I have the opportunity to share with Matan all the many reasons I have to be thankful after nine months of anticipating what it would be like to hold our child in my arms.
Matan usually falls asleep at some point in the middle of Daf Yomi (lately he’s been holding out until Amud Bet, so maybe there’s hope). I put him down in his bassinet and take advantage of the break to brush my teeth (at last!), jump in the shower, throw on some clothes, and eat breakfast. Then we head out for a morning walk. I gently place Matan in a sling without rousing him, strap the diaper bag (which has replaced my L.L. Bean backpack) over my shoulder, and invent a destination. Everywhere we go, we see the rest of the world busy at work, and I am reminded of how my life is so different now that I am on maternity leave. I think about Bar Yochai and his son, who emerged from the cave and saw everyone around them plowing and sowing and engaging in other forms of labor. They had just spent twelve years learning Torah, and so they could not identify with the working life. I know how they must have felt. Our apartment often feels like a cave, with my whole existence confined to the seat where I nurse and the table where I change Matan. It is hard to imagine that just two weeks ago, I was at my desk at work at 8:30 every morning, selling books to publishers across the country and communicating with clients around the world.
By the time Matan and I return from our walk, he is usually just waking up again, so I change him and nurse him while reading to him aloud from my novel. I want Matan to be exposed only to wholesome literature – thus far he’s been read Alexander McCall Smith’s The Lost Art of Gratitude and the first half of Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’ s Last Stand. I enjoy reading him novels with dialogue because I can act out the various voices. Nonfiction doesn’t work as well; inevitably I give up and start reading to myself, because it doesn’t seem worth the effort of vocalizing in a monotone.
Matan falls asleep as I read to him, so I wheel his bassinet into the kitchen and place him down in it. While he sleeps I eat my lunch and try to answer a few emails. As soon as he wakes up, we turn on Skype and speak with either Matan’s Savta or my grandmother, depending on who is available. Everyone wants to see Matan on the video, but he’s too short to reach the camera, so I construct a booster seat atop the kitchen table consisting of my Norton Anthology of Poetry and Heschel’s Man is Not Alone. Matan’s feet dangle over the edge of the books, about an inch off the table, and he swings them while we Skype. Often he falls asleep mid-conversation, generally when my grandmother starts complaining about the weather in Princeton. I quickly lift him over my shoulder so his back is to the camera and he doesn’t seem rude.
Although he is a big sleeper, Matan always wakes up when I start playing our CD of Bialik nursery rhymes. We dance around the house to Yossi BaKinor and Rutz Ben Susi, two songs that I learned for the first time only this past week. (I now know them both by heart.) As the light begins to fade, I place Matan in his mechanical swing and play NadNed, and once again he dozes off. His head slumps forward and his blue hat creeps down over his eyes, so he looks like a smurf, or like one of the seven dwarves.
By the time Matan next stirs, his Abba is home to entertain him, make dinner, and relieve me for a while. One night last week the three of us tried to go to an evening shiur. We brought Matan in a carseat and D sat in between the two of us. After about ten minutes, Matan had woken up and I’d fallen fast asleep. D looked to his left and then to his right, trying to figure out what was wrong with this picture….
When Matan falls asleep for the night (errr, for the first Ashmura of the night) we sing him the Shema followed by a few soothing songs, mostly Seudah Shlishit melodies. He will wake up every two hours throughout the night. Each time I hear him whimper, I find myself muttering God’s words to Bar Yochai: “Have you come to destroy my world?” But then I peer into his bassinet at his tiny clenched fists which he holds over his head, and at his fingernails the size of sesame seeds. As I lift him out to feed him yet again, I remember that I have created his world, and that he has essentially recreated mine. His eyes peek out from under his hat like Bar Yochai’s head beneath the sand, and I kiss him and hold him close.