Early Conversations with Baby
Cady Vishniac

The first thing we say to Baby is we'll always love her, but then we amend the statement. We'll always love her with the following caveat: she can't be a sadist. Her eyes loll around like she's tripping. Her feet clench, unclench, clench again.

The doctor says to read to Baby, so we buy her some books for newborns but the books have no words. Isn't this silly Baby? we ask. Isn't it just the silliest? We point to the shapes on the page and tell her what they are. We point to ourselves and tell her what we are. We point to the whole world and explain it to her. We take turns lifting her up, up, higher, and stare into her pinprick eyes. Baby opens her mouth to suck on our noses.

We tell Baby all our funny jokes: the one about the rabbi who walks into a bar, the one about the rabbi who walks into a bar with a priest and an imam, the one about Windows 98, the one about Providence, the one about a cowboy moonwalking through Times Square. We tell all of our jokes about death and sex, spending extra time on the one about the necrophiliac rabbi, because we want Baby to understand life is so weird and brutal.

In six weeks she's smiling at the jokes, so we move on to other topics. Baby, we say, how about sleep? You're keeping us up an awful lot and it's making us loopy, have you noticed? And can we talk about the spitting up? We're worried about you Baby. All this spitting up. It makes us wonder if you're keeping anything down.

As if on cue, Baby spews onto her father's neck. He goes to the shower.

It takes some months for Baby to speak, and when she does all that comes out is Mamamamamama! She's not aware this is the word for her mother, just says it every time she's angry or frustrated or uncomfortable. To her, it's the word for Someone Get Me Out of This.

Mamamamama! Mamamamama! We sing Baby all the songs we've ever heard on the radio. We sing her the Star-Spangled Banner. We sing her Hatikvah, not as any sort of political statement but because we like the melody and were made to practice it a lot in Hebrew school. Inspired, we sing her all the other songs we learned in Hebrew school, chanting Zum Gali Gali for hours in perfectly timed rounds. It's midnight. Then we sing her the Saturday morning service with alternative melodies for Eytz Chayim and V'ahavta, and when we finish it's three in the morning.

Baby spasms and rocks and coos and drools in our arms while we sing. We sit on the couch, facing the windows, and take turns kissing her ears. With each kiss, Baby releases one of her silent but deadly farts, which is how we know any second now she's going to blow out her diaper. She reaches her hands around the backs of our heads to grab chunks of hair, which she twists and twists and twists between her fingers. Does she want us to go bald? Because we would, for her. We'd walk down the street like Mister and Missus Clean, like the Mansons.

Mamamamamama! Mamamamamamama! The pink fuzz of dawn stretches over that abandoned office building on the corner of Broadway and Eighth. Trucks squeak their brakes on the streets below. Have we ever been so tired in our lives? Have we, Baby?

Mamamamamamamamamama! We swaddle her tight with a velcro blanket and shush her the way the Baby Whisperer shushes babies in his videos, hissing as loud as possible into her ears while we bobble her head. She drools and flutters—but does not close—her eyes. We hum the lowest notes we can reach until finally our voices give out, and then we croak, Oh, Baby. What are we doing? We thought we were all-powerful and you'd live to make us glad. We thought we could take you on, but we're brazen idiots. We thought we knew the family, how to raise you better than any other kid, but we were so mistaken.

Cady Vishiac's stuff has been published in New Letters, where she won the 2015 Alexander Cappon Prize for Fiction, and at Corium, Hobart and others.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Steve Koukoulas.

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