Monday, July 28, 2008


Readers, I sit before you with a black cat on my lap, calmly typing away on my laptop, while inside our bedroom a baby sleeps.

We may have cracked the code. Of course I know writing about it in this way guarantees it will be thrown back in our faces, but for tonight, or at least for now, I am a happy man.

We bought Stella yet another swaddler, and that made all the difference.

It's all too coincidental. Stella outgrew her last swaddler right after her first round of shots. We bought her a new one, and it was and is too big. She wriggles out of it like a damned Houdini, no matter how we try to bind her. She cries, as a result, ALL THE TIME.

I can rock her, I can sing to her, I can talk to her in a low voice, none of it matters. She wriggles free, one arm held high like Queen Elizabeth, the other bound, loosely to her side, in a sort of oddly Roman fashion. Repeat ad nauseum.

Today, though, we changed the game on her ass.

Randi bought yet another swaddler, this one for $30. Yes, folks, we have now spent over $75 on swaddlers, but this one might be our last one. It wraps the baby so snuggly, over and over, that she can't escape. It's the perfect baby straight jacket.

So entombed she wriggles less in her sleep, so she sleeps more deeply. When she does cry and wake herself up I was able to rock her back to sleep in just a matter of minutes as compared with hours. It is what it should be, she is happier, her eyes droopier, and this poor, exhausted child might finally get some sleep. I just realized with that last sentence I could also be describing Randi, too. God willing, she too will finally get some rest. I don't even think when they tried to smoke out Manuel Noriega he went this long without rest.

I keep my fingers crossed, but tonight I sit in stately BBD Manor a happy man. May it last at least another three-to-five hours.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How Was Your Weekend?

I spent all of mine trying to get a baby to get to sleep, with almost no success.

She's sleeping now, though. Randi and I went back to the books, and she re-read parts of a book titled "The No Cry Sleep Solution." I've also been reading "The Vaccine Book" by Dr. Robert Sears. It's alot to chew on, but it's possible that the vaccines screwed up our baby, but not for the reasons we feared. Maybe.

First, the bad news. We got our regularly schedule first round of shots. Well, depending on which brand of vaccines used they may have had a crapload of aluminum in them! Because many vaccines do. Harmless when taken in antacid form aluminum can cause neuroligical and mental development damage.

Here's some perspective. Full grown adults are told to not get more than 50 micrograms of aluminum in their blood. Combination baby vaccines can have as many as 1800 micrograms. Yes, you read that right, babies can be loaded up with 36 times more aluminum than is safely prescribed for full-grown adults.

How can that be? Well, the effects of this metal intake on healthy babies has never been studied, if you can believe it. On premies, yes, and the results were not good. But on typical babies? No.

So, that's fucking wonderful. Now we're onto a new train of thought which is that we still want Stella to get vaccinated, but we want the aluminum shots to be broken up, so that we don't overload her poor, precious system.

But the vaccine may not have caused the sleep issues, Randi says. What happened is that she went to sleep pretty much straight up the night of the shots. Then she had a fever, and was unhappy so Randi nursed her in the bed, often falling asleep. Randi now thinks it's possible this pattern got Stella hooked on the constant need for a boob in her face, and that's why she can't sleep without it. And why she wants it all the time.

Even with me. I hold her, and rock her to sleep, or try to, and she keeps nuzzling her face into my shirt, looking for a boob. Tonight, because it's hot I even rocked her shirtless and she tried it once or twice, and came away quite letdown. It was hairier than she thought it would be.

I still think the vaccines had something to do with it, because now she's really sensitive to noise, but I think Randi's behavior based analysis has a lot of merit.

So now we have a new plan of attack. Randi won't comfort nurse her, I will try to soothe her when she inevitably wakes up at night, and only as a last resort, if she's truly hungry will be give her the boob. This way it's actually based on her needs, not her addiction. And Randi and I won't talk at night in the bedroom, because EVERYTHING wakes her up. I'm amazed my typing hasn't woken her up, in fact.

Also, I have to go with what works. Tonight I magically got her to sleep twice, by simply talking to her in a low, gentle voice as I rocked her. She loved it. I can do that, and if it works, I will try anything. In fact she's asleep right now. But my back feels like I've been laying bricks. You try holding a Butterball turkey of a baby for two hours in a row. It burns!

But the weekend was kind of a bust. Yesterday we drove to Red Hook, Brooklyn, and walked around. Simply because we had to get out of the house. Stella inevitably got cranky and soon Randi didn't feel too good either, mainly because she's weaning herself off dairy. Headaches, tiredness, discombobulation, you name it my wife had it. So the visit was a short one.

Today it was rainy, and overcast all day. Mainly we tried to get Stella to sleep ... for six hours.

This period of life is challenging. I am needed at home, but I have started a new, busy busy job at work. I have had no time to play music, and this blog, sadly, is perhaps my only consistent, creative outlet. My new job, btw, is not a writing or an editing job, so I am nervous about it. I took the journalistic vow of poverty knowing I'd at least given up material goods for the life of a writer. Now I'm not even that. I have a family to support, but I hope I'm not selling out just to make a few (very few) more bucks. I will talk about it here as needs be, while still being vague enough to stay employed. I hope.

Randi is asleep right now too. Good god, does she need it. I don't need it as much. I am used to no sleep. I am used to no energy, it's how I live my life. If I have the time to read a book I'm basically satisfied, although I usually don't. Today that's what did, I read, did laundry, made a few calls, spoke to my Mom in fact, and tried to get a baby to sleep. It was exhausting.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

God Help Us

Everything is getting worse. All the problems I elucidated in the prior post? All worse. Now it's well over two weeks that Stella has barely slept. And when the baby doesn't sleep no one sleeps.

It's been hardest on Randi. Stella will sleep, at most, two hours in a row. That's it. And when she wakes up she wakes up screaming. Often she can't wait to get started and will wail and cry in her sleep, as she flops around, and dislodges herself, almost magically, from her swaddler. This has been non-stop for two weeks. When she wakes up like this I am rarely able to comfort her. Mostly, I have to admit, I've let Randi take the lead. Randi, in these situations, will nurse Stella.

As a result Stella is looking to nurse pretty much around the clock, every few hours, for several weeks at a time. She is a big, perhaps even unusually big, baby at this point, with the size of a baby several months older than she, and is outgrowing most of her clothes at a fiendishly fast pace.

But she's not happy. She is constantly exhausted, too. I tried to get her to sleep tonight, because Randi is so punished by all this she went to bed at 8:00 p.m. On a Saturday. At 9:00 p.m. Stella started to fuss and cry in her crib, and I picked her up, and rocked her endlessly, while singing to her, until she finally settled in.

Then I rocked her some more, for good measure, about two minutes extra, my tired arms screaming from oh-so-gently holding aloft my precious, invaluable daughter. Finally, I put her in the crib, walked out and closed the door. It was 9:33 p.m. I thought this, exactly: I should remember when I put her down. It'll be interesting to see when she waked up. I bet it'll be at least several hours.

She woke up 30 SECONDS later.

Screaming, crying, was inconsolable. I picked her up, I held her, I gently rocked her, I sang to her, I did everything I could. Finally, Randi said she would try it, and nursed her. Stella now is so accustomed to this that if Randi even moves once the nipple is in her mouth she wakes up and screams and cries.

Okay, something isn't right here. Something in our planning, or execution is wrong. We've read many books, we've tried many thing. All have failed. One month ago Randi had Stella so dialed in our baby barely even cried anymore, and she slept mostly through the night. It hasn't been the same since the first round of shots.

We told our pediatrician, that our child isn't the same baby. He asked us, "then which baby is she?" I know this sounds snarky as hell, but before then I had really liked this man. Now I wonder if he's not in CYA land, since we told him that her sleep patterns have all gone to hell since the shots. He denied, denied, denied and thought our request for fewer shots at once was pretty kooky, but they would do it. I guess now we have to consider whether to stay with them.

Stella still smiles, she still laughs, but mostly she's very tired, and cross, because she's so tired. She looks like she's constantly going through a combination of growing pains and a mind that can't shut down. Maybe our bedroom is haunted. I put a dream catcher over Stella's crib, so far it hasn't done much.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sleep Is For Wusses

The past few weeks have been exhausting. So exhausting, in fact that I haven’t felt like writing at all. Stella is back to her old tricks, awake all night, and only soothed when Randi sticks a boob in her face. Except now she’s developed a new wrinkle to her repertoire, which is that she then lets the boob fall out of her mouth and wriggles and fights until Randi puts it back in. And thusly we’ve spent many of the past several nights.

I would like to believe it’s not the vaccinations. But the fact is, this baby slept a lot better before we gave her the shots. Before the shots she was on a lovely sleep schedule, sleeping some nights six hours in a row, and napping at regular intervals during the day.

No more. With few interruptions she now sleeps at most a couple of hours during the night, wakes up all the time, cries and only sleeps when Randi boobifies her. Repeat this cycle six times a night and you have our lives.

Needless to say, this sucks. You can’t win. No shots, the baby can get a whole host of crapalicious diseases. Give shots and we fear we might’ve just permanently screwed up your lovely, darling daughter.

As stated before I am not a vaccination paranoid, but, and this is not a debate, our daughter was different before the shots. Now we have another round coming up. Needless to say, we’re thrilled.

It’s not all one way, though. She still smiles, she still loves, she still cuddles, she is not withdrawing into her own world, at all. She recognizes us, in all our foul, sleep-deprived moods, and smiles. This morning, for example, after torturing her mother all night we removed her from her swaddler only to see her stretch, yawn, and smile, fresh as a daisy. Christ, this kid really is Keith Richards.

And we’re quickly becoming Ron Wood, me and her mom, not able to keep up, worn out, and dating 18 year old Russian women. Whoa, okay, maybe not that last part, but you know what I mean.

To top it all off the damn Sleep Sheep ran out of batteries. So now Stella is denied the soothing sounds of humpback wales copulating off the coast of Cape Breton.

At work all people want to do is ask me how Stella is. I don’t know what to say other than everything’s okay, peachy keen. That’s all they want to hear anyway. So that’s what I tell them.

I hope this is all just a phase. The likelihood is simply that Stella is a high needs baby, and requires extra attention and love, like extra, extra attention and love. Like five extra servings of it. Good thing we are attention and love-giving people. Although I didn’t feel like much of one tonight.

Last night Randi, in a rare bout of sleep, dreamed Stella was a flopping fish. She dreamt this because our baby, even when she sleeps can’t sit still, and does The Worm all up and down her crib, flipping around like a bad break dancer. This kid does all this and smiles about it. I wish I could smile about it, but I’m just too tired.

I hope the next entry is more good natured, but this is life as we know it over here. Maybe it’ll change, maybe not. Stella is a true Brooklyn baby though. She sleeps through the loudest construction you can imagine, all day, and then is woken up when I open the door to her, I mean our, bedroom. I guess she doesn’t like it too quiet. It makes her cranky.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Baby Naming Ceremony: Pt. 3--Explain The Name

Before not too long Stella was hungry, again. So Randi took her out of the service and brought her to an abandoned office to breast feed her. I periodically checked in on them, and it was during one such time that we were sought out. It was time for the actual naming ceremony.

Luckily Stella was momentarily sated, so we could re-enter the chapel (really a converted library, I believe) with a degree of peace. We didn’t know many of the people in the room, but they all greeted us with happy faces and smiles.

I was elected to say whatever prayers were needed, as Randi felt like that would be too much on her shoulders, what with holding a baby and all. I am proud to say that I didn’t blow a line, this time, although the presence of an English transliteration helped, although I tried to avoid reading it, whenever possible.

We the parents were introduced by our Hebrew names.
Then Stella’s Hebrew name was announced: Miriam Rachel (pronounced Rahkel).

There was more service, which introduced her to the religion on a more formal basis, although I regret that right now I don’t remember all the details of what was said, and pointed out. Part of that is because it's late, and I'm a little tired. Stella herself was perfectly calm, and seemed quite relaxed for a baby.

Soon enough the actual religious part of the whole event was over, which only took a handful of minutes. The baby naming ceremony itself was quite lovely, and sweet. One highlight of it was that Becky read a long passage in Hebrew quite perfectly, which was both impressive and inspiring to see, and hear.

Next we spoke for a few moments about Stella’s Hebrew name, and what it means to us. Here is what we said:

(BBD speaks first)

“The first question is who Stella Rae is named for. The answer is that she’s named for herself. The name means star of the sea, which is a lot to carry around, it’s true. We had considered the name, and wanted to see if it would match the baby. And it matched this sassy lassie to the T.

But the Hebrew name is something different. Her name is Miriam Rachel. In honor three great matriarchs, two we knew intimately, one known only from history.

On my side the name Miriam is in honor of my dearly beloved, and departed grandmother, Minnie Feig, a righteous woman. An immigrant to America from Eastern Europe at the age of 16, she lost much of her family during World War II. But you would never know it from her demeanor. Lively, fun and above all loving, people were drawn to her, as she radiated kindness.

I’m a little biased because I am her grandson, but it’s true. A better bubbie could never have been asked for.

But she was also a tough, motivated woman, who guided her family, and ensured they enjoyed the finer things in life, or as many as she could provide. She even worked as a chambermaid upstate so her children could get out of the city. To this day I will never stiff a maid.

Minnie was also an active and lively adult, giving energy to her senior groups, and supporting those around her. And she lived right in the borough of Brooklyn. Her stuffed cabbage was legendary, her sponge-cake, not so much, but if that’s the worst thing I can say about her, that speaks volumes.

A part of Minnie lives on in Stella Rae. Specifically in her hands, with her long piano player’s fingers. I know this because they are my fingers, which are also my mother’s fingers, which were my grandmother’s. Truly, this shows me, those we love never die, as a part of them truly lives on, literally, and in spirit, in us.

(Here Randi spoke)

On my side, Miriam honors my grandmother, Millie Miles. Much like Dave’s bubbie, Millie, or Mamaw to her grandchildren, was a seemingly endless well of adoration for both her offspring as well as anyone else who crossed her path. Her biscuits were second to none, as were her ghost stories.

Much like Minnie, she worked hard to give her family a better life. She worked as a cook in many restaurants where her patrons where joyous to sample the food we were fortunate enough to eat on a daily basis.

I’ll never forget when Mamaw met Dave. This was the first time my Kentucky grandmother really spent time with a Yankee, so she wasn’t sure what to think. Before she had much time to consider it, though, Dave had broken out his acoustic guitar and played her some Carter Family tunes. My grandmother was a huge fan of Dave’s from that point on!

At this point, I’m not sure what physical features Stella has inherited from Mamaw, but I hope she inherits her huge heart, her sense of humor, and her loyalty to family. Oh, and if Stella can make a chocolate pie or red velvet cake as good as Millie’s that would be just dandy.

(Back to me)

Oh, and guess what? By one translation Miriam also means star of the sea.

As for Rachel, of course Rachel is one of the great matriarchs of Judaism, and the beloved wife of Jacob. By some descriptions she was also a midwife, which is meaningful to us as that’s how our daughter was delivered, via midwife.

Also, we have to say what a great honor it is to share this event with the anniversary auf ruf of Dan and Becky, two great friends who are also the godparents of our daughter. It has been an amazing pleasure to watch them grow as people, and as a couple, and we are so proud that they will be a part of our daughter’s life. They organized this baby naming, and even helped us move our furniture into our apartment. Dan? The guy’s a schtarker (which means strong man in Yiddish). And Becky, is kind, wise and caring. Stella lucked out.

As did we. We are lucky to have such warm, loving family, and Stella is doubly lucky. It is fitting that she has two names, for she will walk in at least a couple distinct worlds, one secular one religious. But we shall all be there to guide and love her. So that we are her constant stars to navigate by, even as her light brightens our lives.”

The best part of it all is that we got to honor our beloved grandmothers, of course, but life is kind of funny.

For all my love for my grandmother, how well did I truly know her? Not as well as I thought.

Last weekend we were all at my sister's house for a pool party, and I heard my brother speaking to my cousin Ilene (on my Dad's side) about my Bubbie, who was on my Mom's side.

She originally came here at 16 to be a flapper for couple of years, have some fun and then go home. I didn't know this. A flapper? That's pretty crazy.

Of course events overtook her in a million different ways, not the least of which is that she met a man, my grandfather, whom I never met. Also immigration quotas changed by the early 20s to exclude Eastern Europeans, primarily Italians and Jews, I believe. She had to know that if she left she couldn't come back.

So she stayed, her flapping over, presumably, and soon settled down.

But I didn't know this when I wrote the speech. If Stella can have half this kind of spunk she will be a plucky little lady indeed.

Oddly enough a few years ago I looked through some old pictures in my Mom's house, and saw some old small b&w photos of my grandmother, as a very young woman, with another woman, and they were both wearing men's pants, and clothes. My grandmother was laughing, and looked extremely pleased with herself, confident and strong. Transgressive too, to be frank.

Who was that woman? I don't think I will ever know.

But I am proud to name Stella after the woman I did know. It's more than enough.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Baby Naming Ceremony: Pt. 2

(Editor's Note: You can read Pt. 1 of this piece here)

It was a generous offer. An offer we couldn’t refuse, in fact, which is only right coming from our baby’s godfather, Dan Wilchins.

Dan had offered to host Stella’s baby naming ceremony on May 24. We were so touched, we wouldn’t have dreamed of saying no.

A few words about Dan, and his wife Becky. After Stella was born Randi and I thought about what a godparent should be. Of course, they are supposed to take care of the baby should anything happen to the parents. The more modern application is that they have a responsibility to help educate the baby. And, of course, be in the baby’s life, and love the baby, too.

If that’s so, I can think of few people more up to the task than Dan and Becky. The choice was an easy one for us. I’ve known Dan since May 2000, when we both worked at Institutional Investor, he as an editor, me as an assistant reporter. (I am several years older than Dan, by the way.) We hit it off right away, became friends, and stayed friends.

Eventually Dan started to tell us about this new wonderful woman he’d met, named Becky. As said in The Godfather, it was like the thunderbolt. They galvanized each other, both crazy smart, kind and caring. Good godparent material.

So when The Godfather asked me if I would like him to host the baby naming I was more than happy to say yes. Not the least of which because I knew he would do a fantastic job.

The naming would also function as Stella’s coming out party. When a baby is real new you only show it to a few select family and friends because they’re so fragile and prone to getting sick. Stella got two bad colds in the first month of her life, which was miserable and scary. Babies can’t blow their noses, so we had to sleep every night with a humidifier, though it was getting warm. Inside our bedroom it had a swamp-like feeling, not very pleasant.

Eventually Stella pooped out all her mucous, which was also not very pleasant.

But after six weeks, or so, of life Stella was far hardier than when she was a new newborn, so the timing was right to introduce her to more family.

The Godfather made arrangements with a group called The Brooklyn Egal Minyan, interesting people who really deserve their own story.

The Egal Minyan is group of mostly young Jews who organize and lead services, outside of an official affiliation with a temple. In other words the Egal Minyan is united by a common spiritual bond, not a building.

I will try to do justice to the Egal Minyan in just a few words. Their services are non-traditional, and egalitarian, as their name implies. Either women or men can lead the service. Also, different people lead it at different times, there is no one clergy. But although the service isn’t traditional there’s nothing watered down about it. In fact, their services are almost entirely in Hebrew, are fairly lengthy, and require some foreknowledge in order to keep pace.

In other words I spend large parts of their services asking the person next to me what page of the prayer book we’re on.

But they’re such nice people, the Minyan. One of the leaders, Amanda, took extra time to make sure we were prepared for the service, and told us what prayers we would say, so that we were ready. I had blown a line at my Bar Mitzvah—the easiest line, by the way—so I always look at reading Hebrew in public as a rather unsure undertaking.

Amanda also told us that we could, and probably should, consider saying a few words at the ceremony, to help explain why we chose the Hebrew name for Stella that we did.

We invited immediate family and local first cousins only. Fortunately for us everyone said they could attend, which was a rare, warm feeling.

The day of the naming was bright and sunny, so we wheeled the stroller up to the temple. Randi was excited about the naming, but also nervous. At this point Stella was still feeding all the time, so the BBM wasn’t sure what she would do if Stella had to feed when the naming ceremony was to occur. If we didn’t feed her, Randi feared, she would simply scream and wail.

We met, by coincidence, The Godfather and Godmother outside the temple, and together rolled inside. I put the stroller away as they walked to the service, already in progress. I swear to you, it was like valet parking your car at a fancy restaurant, putting away the stroller. There were about ten others, all in the same cloakroom. If I was ever prone to stroller envy it would’ve struck me right then. Some of those strollers, like the Bugaboos, cost more than my first car. And they probably handled better, too.

After parking my stroller I put on a yarmulke, a talis, and walked into the service. The yarmulke, of course, is the skull cap Jews wear. Jews, that is, and the Pope. I never understood how that worked, and why the reverse isn’t true and we don’t wear miters.

The talis is the prayer shawl, which I tend to wear, perhaps unfortunately, a little cavalierly, almost like a long, fringy scarf. You’re supposed to drape it over your shoulders, which I rarely do. In fact I’m not all that comfortable wearing a talis anyway, and it often feels like a costume.

Rabbi Josh, of course, told me my uncomfortable feelings about the talis were not all that relevant and that I should “fake it ‘till I make it.” Mind you this is the same guy who hated to fast during Yom Kippur, and thought that in an emergency it was okay to take caffeine pills, if you’re going through severe enough caffeine withdrawal.

I walked through the doors, and the service was rocking. To my left and right I saw smiling family, including my mother, brother, sister, brother-in-law, my darling nieces, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins. As much as the ceremony is for Stella, I realized, it is as much for the parents. But isn’t that so often the case?

Next Up: A Few Words From The BBD

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Baby Naming Ceremony Pt. 1

In Judaism the most important event in a newborn boy’s life is the bris, or the circumcision for those who don’t know. It takes place eight days after the boy’s birth and is so central it even supersedes Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Meaning that if your boy was born eight days before Yom Kippur you still have to have the bris. Crazier still, it still has to be celebratory even as the rest of Israel is in the midst of the most grave self-reflection and denial.

The bris is so important because it is when the young boy officially becomes part of the Jewish nation. It is one of the most important days a Jewish boy will ever experience, and if he’s lucky he doesn’t even remember it.

Girls, of course, can’t have a bris, so in modern Judaism a complimentary service has arisen, called the baby naming. This is when the young girl receives her Hebrew name, and is officially brought into the religion. I had never been to one. But, of course, we were quite keen on Stella getting to have just such a ceremony.

The concept of a Hebrew name, by the way, has always been a cool one, in my opinion. It’s like a secret code, or handshake. Sometimes the name is very much like your English name. My Hebrew name, for example, is David (pronounced the Hebrew way, Daveed) Svee. My brother Stuart’s Hebrew name is Schmaya, which certainly provided some entertainment around the kitchen table. I am not sure what my sister’s is.

We were taught about the centrality of the bris by our rabbi, Joshua Simon, who was the rabbi of the Actor’s Temple, on W. 47th Street in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen through 2005. Rabbi Josh was truly one of a kind, an instigator, a charismatic leader, a scholar and a polarizing figure. He conducted a ragtag service, fronting an electric, and eclectic, band, with him on an electric Gibson SG guitar (like Tony Iommi from 'Sabbath), and players on instruments that included tuba, accordion and a full drum kit. His congregation, though technically conservative, welcomed converts, homosexuals and, indeed, people who were merely curious about Judaism. He created an extremely warm, if nontraditional atmosphere.

I noticed something was different about Josh the first time we went to services at Actor's. I am a native-born Jew, but the BBM is not. Still, she gamely went along to services with me, to at least see what she thought about it. At the end of services Josh and the congregation read over a deeply esoteric passage from an obscure Jewish text. At the end of it Josh looked out at his congregants, and said something I will never forget: “What does this mean? I don’t know, but I just love it! Don’t you?”


I had never seen a rabbi act anything other than omniscient—at least in their deck-stacked chosen field—before. Here was a man running an odd, yet deeply engaging gauntlet. We were intrigued.

Josh was intellectually fearless. Sometimes his services devolved, or evolved, into lengthy debates. For example, after The Passion Of The Christ came out we had a long, involved discussion about Jesus. I don’t know how illuminating it was, but it was surely a strong statement in the belief of conversation and debate, which most Jews claim to value. But few took it as far as Rabbi Josh.

Eventually, after much deliberation, Randi decided she was interested in converting. I won’t go on about her reasoning—that’s for her to tell—but for that year she studied closely with Rabbi Josh, as did I.

Often it was just us, in the basement of the Actor’s Temple. I have never felt like an adequate Jew. My Hebrew is simplistic, I am not much of a Zionist, and my feelings about God waver.
Josh didn’t care.

“This,” he’d say, as we pored over a text, “is Judaism. Three people discussing, and learning together.” From him I learned that in Judaism you are not supposed to only learn alone, you need to speak with people, share, discuss, get corrected. In this way the teacher is refreshed, the student learns, and the knowledge thrives. Together we create the religion anew.

Josh taught us to not fear the barriers Judaism puts in place. Hebrew is a beautiful language, but the scriptures were written in that, Aramaic and other languages because they were current. It’s no less holy, or legitimate, to read in English. Because the documents live, as we live, and are only as relevant as we make them. Yes, learn Hebrew, but don’t let your lack of Hebrew kill your nascent scholarship.

I was as impressed by how Josh made the Bible relevant. Our vanity, our violence, our insanity, these are not new things. The ancient Jews who brought Roman wrath upon their collective heads—leading to the suicides at Masada—are not so different from the radicals of today. In fact, all the various characters face dilemmas we face today.

To me this meant that our choices, despite a change in setting, are every bit as relevant as those faced by the heroes of the Bible. I found this empowering. There was no one holy time, trapped in amber, inaccessible. There were only people, making choices, as we do, living as we do. The holy time, in fact, could be right now. It's up to us.

“So there is only really one time, now?” I asked, grasping something that felt profound.

“Yes, there is only one time,” Josh answered.

While Josh often surprised us with his heart and mind, occasionally we surprised him back. I remember once after class we spun this quote, from the great scholar Rabbi Akiva, on him: “If water, which is soft, can hollow out a stone, which is hard, how much more will the words of the Torah, which are hard, cut through and make an impression on my heart, which is soft.”

Josh was impressed, though the quote came from an assignment he gave us.

Still, Josh didn’t always mix as well with the rest of the congregation. During his tenure the congregation's size initially grew, but then plateaued. The temple's foundation also lagged due to financial mistakes made by the board of trustees, though that wasn't Josh's fault. Still, these financial issues brought extra stress, and pressure, upon him.

One problem was that many long-time Temple members wanted him to lead more traditional services. His inclusiveness, and radical approach, simply rubbed some people the wrong way. He was treading water at a floundering temple, yes, but some people still didn’t want him to try anything new.

Eventually his job was on the line, and it came to a head at a Board of Trustees meeting. We attended, and I have never, ever seen a more venomous, spite-filled room, on both sides. It was extremely personal, with his supporters insulting those against him, and vice-versa. The fact was, the temple was running out of money, he wasn't bringing in the bacon, so to speak, and this issue alone was more than enough reason to get rid of him. That he had irritated many long-timers--who rarely attended services, by the way--was yet another mark against him. The writing was on the wall.

The decision was made to make him part time, which precipitated him leaving the temple. He had alienated powerful foes, and even some erstwhile friends.

Complicating all this Josh had a relapse of brain cancer.

The last few times we saw him he waved in and out of lucidity. Together we discussed plans to help him find more students, but, in my typical fashion, I never followed through.

The last time we saw Josh we were in his apartment, discussing our upcoming wedding, which he was to preside over. He took it very seriously, as he did everything relating to us; I know he saw Randi’s Jewish education as a grave responsibility. When she converted he made me promise to always take care of her. We were, in a way, his people, and he cared for us in a manner that was involved, real, and beyond what was typical.

Unfortunately Josh never made it to the wedding. He had a serious relapse just a few weeks before, and, in a tragic coincidence, died the day of the ceremony, August 7, 2005. It's a shame, as I think he would've had a really good time. We had a bluegrass band and everything.

We’d seen it coming, and had arranged to have another rabbi, but it’s hard to not think about how it might’ve been that day had he been there. At the very least he would've sat in for a tune, I'm sure.

Despite this tragic ending Josh left a strong, positive mark upon us. Not the least of which is in really understanding the importance of the bris or, should we have a girl, the baby naming ceremony. Now that it came time we were determined to honor what we'd learned.

Luckily for us we had a girl, so we didn’t have to worry about the little one getting the chop. But we had no idea what to do. Thankfully some good friends stepped up to the plate, in a big way.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Thought I Had To Share This Picture

She wakes up, once again, several times a night, kvetches often when she's not close to Mom's Dairy, and the bottle feeding thing is going just okay.

But, by god, that's a cute baby!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Vaccination Resignation

Ugh, the dreaded day arrived, all too soon: Vaccination Day, or V-Day. Few topics elicit more dread, or provide more heated argument among new parents, than the fear of something going horribly wrong with your perfect little child; for all too many parents the only obvious villain is the vaccine.

It’s so hard to figure, from our post-modern perch, that just two generations ago vaccines were seen as miracle cures. Within my own parents’ lifetimes they had a president who had polio. It’s absolutely beyond conceivable to think of anything like that happening today, and not just because the constant media glare of our omni-present news cycle would make FDR look like the handicapped man he so clearly was.

No, it’s because polio was wiped out from our Western world, thanks to vaccines. In fact the fight against polio was so successful that the March of Dimes, created to fight polio, has basically had to change its mission in order to stay in business. Remember how, even as recently as the early 1980s, you would go into local restaurants and see the little cardboard March of Dimes dime holder? When’s the last time you saw one of those, huh? Probably a damn long time ago if you’re at all like me, because polio is no longer a threat.

Measles, are also almost entirely eradicated, thanks to vaccines. I remember when I was a child hearing about the scourge of measles from the black and white old-timey movies and TV shows I would watch on Sundays, like in Our Gang. It sounded fun, almost, getting measles. You’d get them, stay out of school for a few weeks, and that was about it. Of course in reality measles probably killed millions, with German measles probably doing even more damage.

I, of course, have no proof that German measles are any worse than the good old American kind, but as a Jew I'm always willing to give anything Teutonic the anti-benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, the bottom line is this: I’ve never met anyone in my life that’s ever, ever had measles. That’s because of vaccines.

I myself received what was ever the full course of childhood vaccines, some 36 years ago. My parents almost certainly lost no sleep about it.

But then there’s the other side. The dreaded A word: autism.

Several years ago I read a highly influential article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in Rolling Stone, where he detailed, with some authority, the then little-discussed—outside of parenting circles that is—autism epidemic. The culprit, of course, where greedy pharmaceutical firms that, for some god-forsaken reason, chose to preserve their vaccines with mercury. Mercury! Only one of the most toxic substances known to man.

I remember how, in seventh grade, my science teacher, Mr. Marin, once rolled some mercury on a table before the class. He was so keenly aware of its deadliness, its toxicity, that he made us stand back a good five feet, as if it could attack us from a distance. To me it simply looked like a gorgeous, somehow futuristic, liquid metal, rolling along that black desk like a ball bearing. Mr. Marin carefully scooped it up and put it back in its bottle, like a deadly genie. That’s how bad for you mercury is, kids.

So that’s what the companies were putting into something they were injecting into babies. It’s disgusting. Worse than that, RFK Jr. said, it’s been linked to autism, and the companies did nothing about it, in fact they suppressed this information.

The story left quite an impression on me. I was years away from parenthood at the time, but still, I swore, I would be extra-vigilant when it came to decide what to do regarding vaccinations for any child I should parent. And I vowed that day: no mercury.

I mean, it’s hard to imagine a worse fate for the average, healthy child than autism. One day your child is smiling, happy, communicative and loving. Seemingly overnight, though, they can become withdrawn, miserable, terrified of touch, and, worst of all for a hyper-verbal guy like me, never talk.

And, as you all know, a lot of people think the vaccines and the autism are linked. So we had to deal with those thoughts going in.

Then there is all the information out there, from reputable sources like the Mayo Clinic, that shows that the link between vaccines and autism is not proven. For example, the mercury has been removed from almost all vaccines, but the march of autism carries on as before.

The Center for Disease Control also says there is no link. Yes, they are an august government body, but can you trust them? When you learn more about our government you get the feeling, if you’re at all normal, that it’s a corrupt body littered with honest, caring people, who don’t necessarily run things.

Then there’s the debate about whether autism is more prevalent than ever, or just more diagnosed. My Dad said this, and I scoffed at him, but as I’ve done more research it seems that Dad isn’t the only one who feels this way. Lots of scientists do, too.

Another problem, they give so many vaccines nowadays; 22 by my last count. When I was a child the number was more like seven. I’m sorry, 22 seems like an awful lot, and they can’t vaccinate against AIDS, or cancer, or any of the really bad venereal diseases, all the stuff that really seems scary, so what in the hell do all these injections really do, anyway? If you’re at all like me you have to start wondering if this isn’t just a big money-making scam, because everything is a money-making scam.

I mean, it’s kind of ridiculous the vaccines they have in some cases. They wanted to give Stella, at 11 weeks of age, a vaccine for Hepatitis B, which is a sexually transmitted disease. Whoa, down boy! I know kids are precocious nowadays, but c’mon, can’t that wait, say, until she’s, I don’t know, ten? I just hate the thought of loading up this little tiny baby with all this stuff.
Such thoughts swirled through our heads as the BBM and I first talked to our doctors in Park Slope. Stella at this point was maybe two or three weeks old.

Our pediatrician, Dr. Price, is a nice man, and patiently answered our questions. “First of all we don’t use any mercury in our vaccines,” he said, which made us sigh, visibly.

“And out of them all the only one I might let you get away with not getting now is the one for Hep B,” he said, which we liked. “The other ones, though, you have to get or we can’t keep you as patients.”

He then handed out a bunch of pages that showed the rates of reaction among the children who receive the various vaccines. The extreme allergic reactions, that include unusually high fever, or worse, were quite rare: much less than 1%, according to official government statistics.

We had a few weeks to kill at this point, so we boned up on research at home. We read various articles, and consulted various official and un-official Web sites on the subject. And together we reached the conclusion that Stella is facing some risk either way, but the risk from not getting vaccinated is much greater than that from getting vaccinated. I mean, what if she got, say, polio, because we chose not to have her vaccinated? That would be inexcusable in our eyes, as it would be so preventable.

Not to mention that she wouldn’t be allowed in school without her full course.

Still, we had heavy hearts as we wheeled her into the pediatricians’ office yesterday. She is such a sweet, peaceful, happy little girl, and she is already communicating with us. The thought of any of that changing because of shots, as unlikely as it may be, haunted me.

The BBM, of course, had her own problems.

“I don’t know if I can do it,” she said, over and over, in the days leading up to the shots. “I don’t know if I can watch her suffer like that.”

Randi was also stricken by the perhaps illogical thought that Stella would somehow be angry at her, and, maybe even, hold a grudge about all this. The BBM of course also knew this was kind of crazy, but she couldn’t get the thought out of her mind.

I got out of work a little early just for the visit, and we showed up a little early, as well, for our appointment.

Once inside we gave Stella a dropper of Tylenol formulated for babies. It was a thick, syrupy concoction, bright red in color, and, of course, stuck to my hand like tar when I accidentally touched some.

Despite this Stella sucked it down, with only minimal mess. The magazine selection in the office, of course, was abysmal. For adults the only magazine they had was Good Housekeeping, which is a magazine, like so many, that mostly tells women how they should lose weight. I’m sorry, what the hell does that have to do with keeping a good house? The one I read featured Paula Dean on the cover, with her horrid, meringue-like hairdo.

This is a minor gripe of mine: almost all so-called neutral stuff about parenting is really all for women. We somehow got a free subscription to Parents magazine—like, here you go, here’s a kid, and your magazine!—and all the articles are really about womanly stuff, for women with kids. All the photos are of women with kids. Here’s the real giveaway of the demographic: all the ADS are for women, too. Follow the money, as they said in Watergate. “I didn’t get any stretch marks!” proclaims one ad, showing a long-haired woman holding a smiling, white child.

Yeah, you guys? The magazine is called Parents. Not Women Parents. In other words, dads are still seen as some kind of odd, sperm-and-money donating alien subspecies by pediatricians and the Baby Industrial Complex. Oh crap, maybe I should be grateful that we are left out. I can only imagine the ads they’d have for us: “My testicles are just fine!”

All too soon I finished that wonderful tome, and they told us it was time for our appointment.

Randi carried Stella, and I followed behind carrying everything else; my backpack, the diaper bag, Randi’s purse—which I carried, I did not put it over my shoulder. You have to draw the line somewhere.

There was first a standard appointment. I am proud to say she’s both heavier and longer, and in her respective 90th percentiles for these various things. Her head circumference, we were told, is only in the 75th percentile, so we will have to work on that at home on our own time.

Then came the moment of truth, the shots. First our doctor gave Stella a sweet liquid to drink, which she mostly did. At this point Randi realized she couldn’t watch, and walked away. So I moved in, and held Stella’s little hands in preparation for the shots to come. Her hands are so tiny now they fit into my hands completely, like little walnuts. She likes to hold onto us.

The good news is, it was all really quick. Two quick shots into either thigh, poof, like that; it must’ve taken all of one minute. Stella, barely cried after it was over, or even during it, which made us so proud. She even smiled a laughed a little once it was done. We were very proud of her.

We wheeled her home, and it was more of the same, with our baby only slightly more fussy than usual. We’d heard about babies that cried like fiends all that day and the next, so we braced ourselves. In a way it would be a return to old times, so we were ready. But the deluge never came.

Instead she seemed sleepy, if slightly fussy, once we got home. By 9:00 p.m. her bedtime deadline, she was out, asleep in her new crib that I’d assembled the day before with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And that was that.

Today, however, was less good. She had a fever for much of the day, and even got up to near 101 degrees. I was at work while this happened, and Randi came to the rescue, giving her cool baths, and every four hours, more baby Tylenol. Randi of course also fed Stella from Mom’s Dairy whenever she could, so Stella kept up on her liquids.

On my end I called the doctors’ office and made sure they in turn called the BBM, which they did. All this, they said, is normal. They don’t even see babies unless the fever lasts three days. To this I said, wow, three days? They said, yes, three days.

By later in the day the fever was under control, until it dropped back to normal by late afternoon. Randi and I talked back and forth all day, saddened that our girl was suffering, but hoping it was worth it.

We feel that it is, that the risks of not vaccinating are simply much greater than of doing it. We fear autism, of course, but are not convinced it has to do with the vaccine. All we can do is keep on the alert, as if that could change things.

Still, we agree, we’ll space out the next series of shots out further, to lower the risk of an adverse reaction. There are so many shots, it’ll lead to many more visits to the doctor. But we’ve got the time and it’s worth it to us.