Buster is one month old today.
And I think I am finally ready to tell the story about the rabbi, my estranged mother and a bag of shit, and how this only partially holy trinity converged at my Koreatown home one Tuesday afternoon.
When Buster was eight days old, we invited a rabbi over to circumcise the kid. My husband – not a Jew – was okay with the snip snip but thought it was creepy to turn the whole situation into a party. Fair enough. So it was going to be just the two of us, until he started suggesting it might be nice to have my mom there, my mom who I haven’t talked to in about a year.
Just before the baby was born, a package arrived addressed to the unborn child from “Grandma Strasser.” Inside were a hand-knit orange stuffed dinosaur, a tiny sweater with pockets and a hood, and a powder blue blanket. Though she hadn’t called me since my brother told her I was pregnant, it looked as though she had been knitting ever since.
There was a note to the baby that simply said, “Grandma can’t wait to meet you.”
I cried my fucking eyes out with that orange dinosaur in my hand because I was hormonal, and it was a week before my baby was due, and my mother was reaching out in her own stilted way and while it would be nice if she could say “sorry” or “I miss you,” I stood on my stoop fully aware that some people speak with yarn.
That woman let me down in such a profound way that just the sound of her clearing her throat too loudly makes me want to toss her purse out of a moving car. Try as I may, I haven’t been able to process the backlog of anger at her even after all these years, which has made me an inpatient, puerile, irrational daughter. Yes, the woman put me on many a Greyhound bus when I was in elementary school, but I don’t know how to stop making her pay, so I just stop talking to her.
It’s kind of a mom sabbatical. I take one every few years or so.
Somehow, between the extinct knit creature’s baleful look and the post C-section narcotics, my husband convinced me that we should invite my mom to the bris.
Also, when we went to the rabbi’s website, there was a check list of things we needed for the procedure, gauze pads, kosher wine, ointment and other items the acquisition of which would have been impossible as I could still barely get up and down and my husband couldn’t leave me alone with the baby. I was a mommy and I needed my mommy. I really needed my mommy.
My husband called her for me, and as he predicted, she accepted the invite on very short notice, offered to pick up everything we needed plus a platter of bagels and lox. I could hear her voice over the phone, and the tone conjured something like enthusiasm, maybe even chirpiness. It heartened me that my chronically depressed mom would not only sound psyched, but also drive five hours from Vegas to see her new grandson at the drop of a yarmulke, salve in hand.
So, with the rabbi and my mother heading our way for the afternoon ceremony, my bowels decide, after having been removed and put back into place during surgery, to finally work after several days.
The resulting poop clogs the decrepit toilet in our old house.
At this point, I can’t bend, lift or twist. So, I sit there on the potty with my head in my hands just trying to think my way out of this mess. The rabbi and my mother are arriving in half an hour, my one-week old son is stirring in the next room with his dad, and I am both hovering over – and up – Shit’s Creek.
I am not now nor have I ever been one of those women who impress guys by being really open and carefree about their gas and bodily functions. Even writing this makes me vaguely uncomfortable. I wish I was that fart-in-your-face girl sometimes (I honestly hate even typing the word F-A-R-T), but there came a point in my 20s when I realized two things: I don’t dance and never will, and I don’t enjoy talking about gas or bowel movements, and never will. When I embraced being fundamentally inhibited, it changed my life. I am not the girl pretending to think gas is funny or grimacing my way through the Conga line at a wedding. I’m the one that insists she doesn’t poop, but instead excretes waste through her skin, like a frog. I’m the one finishing off your dinner roll and wine while YOU dance at the wedding, because YOU enjoy it. In summary, while I don’t relish being a pooper, being a “party pooper” suits me just fine. While I have few, if any, emotional boundaries, I make up for it by being private, almost proper, about the physical realm.
Never have I indicated in any way to husband, up until this moment, that anything noxious ever comes out of my ass, but now I’m fucked.
“Baby,” I yell, sheepishly, “I have a problem.” That’s when my husband rushes to the bathroom door. I start sobbing because I’m freaked out and exhausted and I don’t want this magical Jewish ritual to be marred by the smell of feces wafting through the house, my feces, and I certainly don’t want my husband seeing, smelling or experiencing my waste in any way, but I’m out of options. I scrub my hands like I can cleanse myself of this whole situation.
He hands me the baby, and runs to the garage for some sort of drain “snake.” I try to place my thoughts elsewhere, so that I can easily delete this memory in the future. I bounce the boy and look out the window at Koreatown.
There is some running back and forth from the garage to the front door, to the bathroom in back. I hear him call the plumber, who can’t make it until tomorrow. He calls the hardware store to see if they have a larger snake; they do not. I bounce the boy and watch the clock. Fifteen minutes to go.
It is at this moment that I glance outside the window again and see my husband running gingerly along the side of the house holding a bag of shit.
It takes my mind a moment to register the image (again, drugs, lack of sleep, major surgery, sudden life-changing transition to motherhood, heavy emotional family issues about to be addressed, impending removal of my baby’s foreskin).
There it is. My husband walk-running around the side of the house carrying – as one might a goldfish won from a county fair – a bag of toilet water and the offending, drain-clogging crap that he had somehow liberated from the bowel.
Nothing says your life has crossed over like seeing your husband carry a bag of your shit.
If one could die of cringing, I would have.
This is all my fault, I tell myself, for not better orchestrating my life, for having a breech baby and a C-section, for moving to this old house just weeks before the baby’s birth because I couldn’t make up my mind any sooner, for all the chaos of unpacked boxes and curtains not hung. I want everything to be slender and clean and tucked away and predictable, but I can’t go back and I smell Buster’s fuzzy head just to get a hit of the good stuff.
This, too, shall pass, I tell myself, just as that poop did through my colon.
Until now, I didn’t even discuss going number one with my husband and now I’m anxiously running to the front door to find out how it went when he hand-delivered a bag of number two to the trash can out front.
“No big deal,” he says, trying to pass it off. “All fixed.”
A tacit agreement that this didn’t happen is made.
Before the rabbi arrives, a bearded man right out of Central Casting, my mom shows up. She has been driving for hours, so her lime green linen shirt is a bit rumpled, but I can tell she has dressed up. She is carrying a plastic platter of bagels, cream cheese and lox for fifteen, as well as a bag with doubles and triples of all the items on the rabbi’s list. When she opens the door, I hug her and point to the baby, sleeping in his bouncy seat perched on the sofa. She strains to keep a neutral expression on her face, but tears are landing on her shirt. She doesn’t make a move to wipe them away, because her face is still trying to say, “This is no big deal.” I hand her the baby and she cries right onto his blankie, which she must have recognized from her months of knitting it.
“He’s beautiful,” she says. And she manages to sound a way she never has before. Maternal.
And just like that, we make small talk about Buster, his dimples, will his eye color change, did he know what terrible thing was about to happen to his pee-pee. We have a nosh. Like the unspoken agreement never to discuss the contents of the bag, my mother and I silently conspire to act as though the past year, and many of the years before that, have not been crap.
The rabbi arrives, and dips a cloth into some wine while gathering the four of us to talk about the “covenant” and the idea that a circumcision happens on the baby’s eighth day, because there is no eighth day of the week and so the concept is to transcend the earthly plane – or something like that. I don’t know. Anything a guy with a long beard who has done 15,000 snips has to say seems deep. And we give the child a Hebrew name – David – because my stepfather’s last name was Davidson and I know this will make my mom happy. When my stepfather was around, I could deal with my mother. He was a buffer, like the baby will be.
The rabbi asks my mom to hold the baby and let him suck on the wine-soaked corner of a cloth. This is anesthesia, old school style. The baby is sucking on that Manischewitz rag like maybe his gentile half is taking over, which gives us an easy laugh.
After looking around, the rabbi sets up shop on my desk, because that’s where the sunlight filters in and he wants a clear view. My husband holds the cloth in the baby’s mouth as the rabbi does his thing. Thirty seconds later, with barely a peep from the boy, it’s all over.
The rabbi gives us instructions on how and when to apply the ointment and tells us to bury the foreskin in the dirt to show God we are earthy. It feels like I’ve been sucking on a wine cloth of my own, but I’m just tipsy with a double shot of relief and gratitude; my husband not only fixed the toilet, but he at least duct-taped over the mom problem, which can never be truly repaired but can at least be patched and re-patched. Now, she isn’t just my mother, but my son’s grandmother, and I would be an asshole to rob my son of his grandma because I can’t forgive her.
The rabbi was a man gifted with babies.
He told us to stay calm, always calm, so your baby will do the same. This isn’t always easy for me, because I love that little fucker so much that the idea of making a mistake, of not knowing what he needs or failing him, the worry that something may be broken in his body or mind that I can’t fix, the idea that I don’t have the patience or sweetness or wisdom to deserve him, well, that is the big bag of shit my soul carries around.
The rabbi leaves. My mom heads back to Vegas. Later that night, I send her a photo my husband took of her holding Buster, tears dotting her green shirt, mouth slightly turned down at the corners, staring down at her first grandchild. She emails back, “Please keep the pictures coming, love Grandma.” And we bury the foreskin in the front yard.