Monday, March 22, 2004

A Tale of Two Baby Namings

When I was thirteen, my social revolved around the Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit. Practically every weekend found me squirming uncomfortably in a synagogue pew, watching one of my Hebrew School classmates stumble their way through a Torah service. I was typically clad in a lacy floral number from the Gunne Sax outlet, my hair painstakingly feathered and my braces gleaming, in order that I might be chosen as someone's partner for “Yesh Lanu Tayish” at the reception.

These days, my dance card is equally full – this time with Brit Millah ceremonies, baby showers, baby namings, and other assorted pre- and post-birth celebrations. This past weekend I was invited to two. On Saturday Abigail, an old friend of mine from the Bar Mitzvah days was coming to town from her home in Strasbourg, France, with her husband and 6-month-old daughter in tow, to have a Simchat Bat performed by our hometown Rabbi. Abigail and I were never the closest of friends – we didn’t do birthday parties or sleepovers – but we ran in the same crowd at religious school and youth group from fourth grade to graduation. Even though I hadn’t seen her in almost two decades, I looked forward to reconnecting with her as an adult, and thought she’d be tickled to see a friendly face from her past at the service.

I was not anticipating Sunday’s event nearly as much – a formal brunch in honor of the aforementioned Cidelle (see entry from Friday, March 5) and her two month old baby girl. Given the state of relations between the two of us, I was not even expecting to be invited, and was actually aghast when I received the invitation in the mail and realized that I had no choice but to attend or look small, bitter, and mean-spirited. I knew it wouldn’t be *horrible* - Cidelle has impeccable manners and was sure to be courteous, despite her personal feelings – but I was not exactly thrilled with the prospect of exchanging a few frostily cordial words with her while making sure my kids did not cause a scene or inflict major property damage to the house.

Well, anyone familiar with the concept of irony can predict what happened. Abigail seemed neither surprised nor particularly excited to see me. She acknowledged my presence with a brief smile when I walked in, gave me a quick hug and made the requisite “It’s been a long time, what nice kids you have,” comments after the service, and – that was it. As I complained to J. later that day, after 20 years I should have at least warranted a moderately enthusiastic “Wow, it is SO great to see you, thanks for coming,” at the very minimum!

Sunday, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. As soon as I arrived I decided to get the awkwardness out of the way, and immediately marched upstairs to the spare room to say hello to Cidelle, who was nursing her baby on the sofa. She seemed genuinely warm, even happy to see me, and was definitely sincere in her admiration of Baby Bee (who was ADORABLE in her pretty pink party dress and matching hair bow). Because the house was so crowded with people balancing plates of quiche and hot cups of coffee, I decided it was best to hang out in the front yard where the kids could run around more freely. After a few minutes, Cidelle and her husband came outside with the baby to get some fresh air.

What followed was – while not an emotional, tear-inducing epiphany – easily the friendliest conversation we have had in10 years. It wasn’t anything major; she asked me lots of questions about when Bee first started crawling and walking, how long I nursed both the kids, and at what age the kids slept through the night (I had to fudge that one so as not to completely depress her)! We commiserated over the insanity of real estate in both NYC and the Bay Area, and the nagging fear that the neighbors will hear your shrieking infant and conclude that you are the local child abuser. It felt so good to have an easy, natural conversation that consisted of more than dutiful politeness or stale rehashings of our distant past.

There were a couple of minor awkward moments, like when I mentioned that Chef was, well, a chef, to which she expressed great surprise. “How long has he been doing that? I had no idea! What about the stained glass?” “Oh, for awhile now,” I mumbled, not wanting to state the obvious, which was “Yes, well, a lot has happened in the 10 years since we stopped speaking.” But we got through those okay. And after years of feeling like we were living on different planets, parenthood has given us something in common again. We may lead completely different lives on opposite coasts, but our concerns are the same: helping our kids grow and develop, providing a roof over their heads, bringing them up to love our Jewish tradition.

I don’t expect things to change too much; we’re not going to start writing letters every week or anything. But I do think that we took a step forward in re-establishing friendly relations - and possibly left the door open for something more. So maybe, God willing, our daughters will meet again on the Bat Mitzvah circuit.


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