Babies And Jewish Guilt

I love babies.

I love their big, fat heads. I love the way their heads smell. I love their gummy smiles and button noses. I love their coos and their yawns. I love when they grip my finger. I love playing with their toes. I love blowing raspberries on their bellies. I love how they light up when I make a silly face at them. I love when they find the perfect spot to rest on my shoulder or when they fall asleep on my chest. But most importantly, I love how I get to love babies having been an Assistant Teacher, nanny and babysitter back in Massachusetts. And of course, the best part about working with the little ones is that I get to give them back.

My father told me not to write a post today. But my dad isn’t here! I don’t need him to remind me that today is Mother’s Day. I mean, I live in Israel for crying out loud; I’m surrounded by matriarchy on a daily basis, even without my friends putting up pictures of themselves with their mothers on Facebook. But Mother’s Day this year is different only because the Jewish guilt that plagues me makes me think about experiencing this day in the future differently—as a mother.

I’ve never made it a secret that I don’t want children. When I was twelve, I had decided that I didn’t want biological children at least. Pregnancy scared me and I knew there were plenty of children in the world that needed to be adopted. Of course, being twelve, I didn’t realize that the adoption process in America is a complete and utter balagan. Given my low self-esteem at the time, I figured I’d go into adoption as a single parent; I couldn’t imagine who would ever want to marry me. I wanted to adopt a baby from Russia when I was older as I had heard that Russia allowed single mothers to adopt children. But now thanks to the Dima Yakovlev Law that went into effect last year, I can no longer adopt a child from Russia because I live in America. Adopting a baby from the US isn’t a picnic, either. Biological parents, no matter how horrible they are to their children, can still get them back, simply due to having the same DNA. It’s absolutely ridiculous that children get placed into homes with foster or potential adoptive parents who can care for them, yet because of DNA, the bad parents can still take them back. I also think it’s unfair how many issues GLBTQQI face when adopting children because the last time I checked, they are the ones who are adopting the babies who aren’t healthy, white infants. And when was the last time you heard about a gay couple throwing their kid in the garbage? While I do believe in adopting from my own country first, unless the system is changed, it makes it very hard for me to consider it on the off chance of wanting to adopt.

Biological children are a different ballgame entirely. While I do eat healthy and take care of my body as much as I can, I’m still worried that something would go wrong. I think of all the adverse health effects I inherited from both sides of my family, like the higher risk of colon cancer from my father’s side. Even now being twenty-five, I still continue to battle the health issues I inherited from my mother—asthma (which has worsened due to all the smoking in Israel) since she smoked while she was pregnant with me and when I was growing up, having to be extra careful when I drink or take prescription medication because of her addiction to the latter, being quirky since I absorbed whatever drugs she was on through her breast milk and even though I don’t have a mental illness, there’s no way I’m going to risk passing that onto a child, especially with the lack of attention and funding towards mental health care in America.

I am an Ashkenazi Jew. I don’t know if I am a carrier for Tay-Sachs. My health insurance will not cover a blood test unless I am planning to conceive in the near future. Apparently they would rather wait until I was pregnant to test my fetus. I fail to see the logic in this. I would not carry a Tay-Sachs child to term. It would be incredibly unethical to make my child die a painful death before they turn five. Here I am trying to avoid the issue to begin with and my health insurance won’t work with me. It would save them both time and money if I could find out if I was a carrier. Since I only want to marry a Jew, if I marry an Ashkenazi, my future husband may be a carrier. Doesn’t it make more sense for us both to get tested before we try to conceive so that we can avoid having a Tay-Sachs baby? But after having worked in the political field with politicians who worked on healthcare laws, I know common sense is not something that tends to be in health insurance companies’ vernaculars.

Birthright was really the only time in the past thirteen years where I considered having children, either biological or adopted. I kept hearing how the Jews were a religious minority and that we needed to increase the number of the tribe. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by Jews who accept converts as part of the tribe, so if I end up marrying a non-Jew someday, they’d still consider my child Jewish if I raised him or her that way. I know it’s much more of a thorny issue in Israel (especially with marriage), but when you have your Birthright guides telling the group to shower together under the guise of a water shortage, I start to think about my “duty” as a Jew to pop out a bunch of Jewish babies. I would never have a child just because of that reasoning, but it does make me pause. I know that there are 50+ countries for Muslims, 20+ for Christians and the world doesn’t even want the Jews to have one. Apart from two people, everyone who gave me money to move to Israel has been a Jew. I said in my “Ten Years” post that sometimes I think I owe it to them to increase the tribe. Do I owe it to them? Do I owe it to my Jewish brothers and sisters?

As I’ve gotten older, I tend to hear the same thing—that because I work with children, I would make a great mother. I wish people understood how different it is when you work with kids who aren’t your own. I can hug and play with the kids but by the time I’m off the clock, I’m heading to the gym, store or anywhere I want. I can leave the kids behind once the day is done. I’ve never really known the struggles of dealing with kids at night, except for two instances. I nannied for an amazing Jewish family last year and had the Passover Seder with them. I showed up at 9:00AM and the first words out of my boss’s mouth were, “Thank God you’re here.” The day was stressful with balancing three children while trying to make the dinner. I don’t remember when I was off the clock, but now since I was staying past my scheduled hours for dinner, I got to see all three kids in action. The two older ones, five-year-old Jacob and two-year-old Noah were your average kids. One-month-old baby Joshua, the child who was mainly in my care each day, was extremely colicky. He never gave me trouble during the day, so now I could see what my boss was talking about when she said he wouldn’t stop screaming at night. I couldn’t even imagine dealing with that.

The second instance of dealing with the kids at night came during the weekend of my 24th birthday. It was a Friday and I was playing with Jacob and Noah outside while their mom was with Joshua. I only watched all three kids by myself when the two oldest came home from school so that their mom could run a few errands. The Sunday of my birthday weekend, I would have all three kids by myself for dinner and bedtime. I had been told that Jacob and Noah were difficult to put to bed, so I was a little nervous. Any other weekend I wouldn’t have cared, but I knew that Sunday would be a disaster in the morning as I was going to have to deal with my grandparents telling me about their disapproval of me going to Israel for ten months. While Jacob and Noah played, I told Jacob that Sunday would be the first time I would be putting him and Noah to bed and that even though he and Noah were excellent kids, I needed them to go to bed on time. When Jacob asked me why, I told him that I would be seeing him and his brothers after dealing with getting snapped at by my grandparents and that I wanted the memory of my birthday weekend to be a happy one since something goes wrong on my birthday every year. Jacob said he’d be good but I rolled my eyes; any five-year-old would make a promise like that. Sunday rolled around and before I left my grandparents’ house to go babysit, my grandfather told me that moving to Israel was both “stupid and wrong.” I swear, there would’ve been less opposition to me moving to Uganda at that point. I was now in a bad mood and was running late for work. When I opened the door to the boys’ house, the lights were off. I managed to see a banner that said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” and then I flipped on the lights. My boss, her husband, Noah and Jacob all came out of the living room screaming, “Surprise!” When I asked why they did this, my boss said, “Jacob said you were sad about getting older and that your grandparents would be saying mean things to you today, so he wanted to make you feel better.” Boy, did I struggle to hold the tears in for this act of empathy from a five-year-old boy. Ironically enough, Jacob and Noah gave me zero issues with going to bed on time; Joshua was the one who wouldn’t stop screaming. He still wasn’t taking bottles well and not being a wet nurse, I couldn’t exactly nurse him. I used the trick I learned as an infant teacher when a baby makes you feel like you’re at the end of your rope—you put them down gently in their crib or on a plush rug so that you don’t shake them. I placed Joshua on the plush rug for a minute, regained my bearings and eventually rocked him to sleep. Dealing with that stressful bedtime was a one-time thing; would I be prepared to deal with that on a permanent basis?

Children are stressful. I often wonder how I’ve ever made it through ten years of teaching, babysitting and nannying. Even still, I enjoyed spending a year as Boston’s most reliable babysitter and nanny and I was never out of a job. I was constantly getting calls from the friends of my clients needing a sitter and I felt important for the first time in my life. I could pay my bills, pick who I wanted to work for and got to love some really amazing kids. Leaving them to move to Israel was incredibly hard. Seeing their pictures on Facebook makes me yearn to wrap them up in hugs. I hope that when I return to the States in June that I will see my kids again and work with new ones, too. I so badly want to see six-year-old Jacob, three-year-old Noah and fifteen-month-old Joshua again. Those boys were the best kids any nanny could want. If I ever find myself in the position of deciding to take the plunge of being a mother, I hope that my child or children could be even half the bouncing balls of joy that they are. They came into my life at exactly the right time. Nannying may not have been the career that some thought defined perfect, but for me, those kids, along with my other regular ones, saved me from myself. I am forever grateful.

Maybe one day I will replenish the tribe. But I won’t do it because there aren’t that many of us. I will do it because I want to. I will do it because I will be in a financial and mental position to do so. I want to be married to a man, hopefully a Jew, who will be a great father like my own. I don’t see myself as a mother in my twenties. I don’t see myself as a mother in my early-thirties. But at least now, after some Jewish guilt from Birthright and Israel, I can almost, with the teensiest bit of light, see myself as a mother. But way in the future.

Good kids are rare and are absolutely beautiful. And I do love them. Heart and soul.

About the Author
Taylor Jade King spent 10 months in Netanya from 2013-2014 as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow and is a master's degree candidate at Suffolk University in Boston. She loves her Dunkin' Donuts coffee, Krembo, banana leaf print and 90's nostalgia.