With each corner navigated in the maze of halls that was the New York Presbyterian Hospital, my anxiety quietly built up. Not bad anxiety mind you. I just really wanted to get to the destination.
Finally, we reach the room we were searching for, my dad and I. He opens the door and walks in. He turns around the first corner inside the room where he is momentarily out of my sight and the sound of welcome and tremendous joy echoes out into the hallway. What was it that caused the jubilation?
He had just met his first grandchild. My niece. My sister’s daughter.
I enter the room and see for myself what’s going on. Do a quick one over to make sure there are no ninjas or assassins in sight and that’s when I see them. My sister, in bed, dressed in a hospital gown with a loving smile surrounded by her husband, the in-laws, my mother and aunt. In the corner of the room sat my brother-in-law. Holding a baby. This is the first time I get to meet the little girl. Name’s Leila, they tell me.
Born the morning of June 4th, 2014.
Immediately I swoop in. I want to see this baby. I want to play. I want to hold this new little darling in my hands. Ok, I’ll respect my elders and allow my father to hold her first. I watch as my dad takes her in his hand and watches her with a beaming smile. A smile so sweet, so proud.
My mom, from the other side of the bed in which my sister is still recovering, watches solemnly. She’s been with my sister since the day and night before. She has been here since the beginning of this child’s existence. She’s braved the battle my sister braved. Now she’s tired. Us soldiers, meaning the men from my family, fresh from our barracks are ready to take active duty; which of course entails cooing and playing with the baby until we wear her out.
My patience runs thin and like a child only slightly older than the one my dad is holding, I whine, ‘DAD, MY TURN. LET ME SEE HER!’ He concedes of course and he goes to hand me the baby. It is at this moment that the demons in the mind come out. You know those tricksters; the ones that fill your head with questions of ‘What if’.
‘What if I drop her and she falls to the floor and breaks like a bad watermelon?’
‘What if I accidentally choke her?’ What if what if what if what if what if.
Like some heavy dust on my shoulders, I brush off those inane thoughts and focus on the present. I got a baby in my hands now. I find the confidence to quickly take the baby with ease and without much hesitation or thought. She feels comfortable now in my arms and I can’t stop looking away.
I notice a few things quickly. This baby has been asleep the entire time that she and I have known each other. A little rude I might say but I’ll abstain from judging her hour old knowledge of proper social etiquette.
Also, not obliged to any parental feelings of guilt or pride, I am free to admit this baby is not the most attractive baby I have ever seen. I mean, she’s cute, but I have seen some CUTE babies in my day. Nevertheless, I look on.
Later on she finally opens her eyes and we make eye contact which she is able to retain for quite some time.
She is contemplative and stoic. No facial expressions to imply her inner feelings. Only observation. Her little dark eyes seem to be just wondering what the hell it is this place she has just been disposed into and who are these moving and ogling beings that seem to take such an interest in her.
It must be odd, from a baby’s perspective, so new to the world, so ready to take everything in or just sleep after such a long journey and there is an incessant crowd of people always trying to hold you, stare you dead in the eye or make awkward incomprehensible noises at you. Give it a break folks, the kid just got here.
But her little stoic mind seems undisturbed by all the ogling of strangers. She looks on. She yawns, She flinches when you tickle the bottom of her incredibly mature looking feet. She has nails and toe nails already, you know.
I start to feel such an affinity towards the child. This thing in which I have known only for a couple hours. I have never kissed a baby before seeing as my political career hasn’t launched yet and I ask myself whether or not I should. Then I think back to my jaunts in Israel, spending time with family and observing the notorious affection towards the smaller children.
It is almost universal amongst the men in my family who live in Israel to shower their small children with kisses. Not only on the head and face but on the shoulders, down their arms. I have had conversations with some cousins of mine who without missing a beat to our chat managed to kiss up and down the arm of their small child, their face and small stomachs. I was left wondering whether they really loved their kids or they were getting a taste test for the day they decide to prepare a meal with the child as the main entrée. Side of hummus and tabouli, of course.
But inspired by my pseudo-cannibalistic family, I lay a baby kiss on the baby’s forehead. And her soft skin warmly accepted it and it was so sweet, I had to kiss the baby a couple more times. I do not feel much tendency to show tenderness to others, but this baby had stolen my heart and run away with it. She was beautiful.
Lessons Learned From The Baby
She taught me a few things, this baby. And probably much more than I had a chance to teach her up til now. She showed me who my sister and her husband really were. She showed me who I was.
My sister, in her time of great pain and distress while going into labor and the agony of contractions before exuded a brilliant resistance to panic and a calm determination. Even during the height of pain she remained as calm and collected as possible. It was incredible to watch.
Little Leila also allowed us all to see the glow of beauty that my sister emitted as she was peacefully (or so it seemed) watching from her hospital bed as we all played with the new human. It was a sight to see and it made me believe that she was quite ready for being a mother. Don’t get me wrong here, I have always sensed that Tandis (my sister) has wanted to be MY mother and attempted many times to act in such a manner, only to result in my bitterness. But now I was quietly convinced she would do wonderfully.
My brother in law, her husband, was compassionate, caring, strong and he was there through almost every contraction pang my sister went through. And not only that, he remained calm and he helped my sister calm herself and he used dorky inspirational sayings that made you shake your head in bemusement. I felt I was truly seeing his unadulterated self for the first time.
The little baby also showed my own insanity. While I held the small child in my hand and was surrounded by doting and loving family, I became fearful for the child and I wanted to shelter her from all the bad and the ugly or any negativity that might get lodged in her maturing subconscious. Kids pick things up quick!
But as I stared at the face of the now sleeping little beauty in my hands I found some ease in my mind. There was no point fretting about these things. She was going to experience horrible things in her life. She was going to feel insecure and unloved. There is no perfect life. But that’s not a bad thing. It is what will make her grow to be a strong and independent young woman. Strong enough to face those challenges. That hell that life gives you.
I am quite excited to see how she will grow and how the dynamics of our family will change as a result of this new addition. I am excited to see the woman she becomes. But for now my job as uncle is clear:
Time to corrupt the little bugger.