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A Modest Proposal

Don’t worry. I’m not going to purport that we eat them, nor will I wax poetic on how juicy and delicious those baby pulkes would be with Soy Vay. Though I’ll confess that the idea has occurred to me. And it has been confirmed by other parents who have told me – “when they’re little, they’re so cute, you could eat them. When they grow up, you wish you had.”

It’s summertime, and, as is our custom, we are preparing to visit family on the East Coast. We fill carry-on knapsacks with enough food to last a week, enough toys to keep our children busy for what turns out to be at least ten minutes, and never quite enough diapers and changes of clothes. My husband tries to sneak in the New York Times, but I always pull it out and stick another coloring book in instead. We go to see our parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and, our grandmothers.

Whenever we go to NY, we head over the George Washington Bridge to visit my grandmother and Genya, my childhood nanny. Both of these women live alone in big apartment buildings. Both are witty, smart, curious, and fun-loving. Both have outlived their partners and many of their friends. Both have loving family members who live nearby, but who are also busy with their own lives. Both have ever-glaring televisions. Neither can drive. My grandmother, a self-proclaimed Luddite, has learned to navigate the Internet, opening new avenues for interaction – but virtual ones, nonetheless. Whenever we visit them, they confess to me that it is so hard to be alone, so lonely.

I remember the profound loneliness I felt when I first became a mother. I had left my job, and was spending day after day alone with my infant, nursing, changing diapers, timing naps, taking walks. It got so bad that I studied for the GMAT just for fun. That phase passed, but the feeling of being alone in the world with a new baby made an impression on me. There is a window of time, after the initial exhaustion of giving birth, and before the busy days of preschool and play-dates and Music Class and swimming lessons, where the baby and her caregiver are alone. And today, so many of us live far from family members who can fulfill a primal need for “oohs” and “aahs” and “I remember” stories during that window of time.

Here we have two groups of women – lonely, desperate for meaningful human interactions – who can fulfill profoundly each other’s needs. The older women will ooh and aah, and share their stories, and the new mothers will have an audience for their precious little ones. Can we somehow connect these generations who have so much to gain from one another, but whose interactions are often limited to squirming supermarket aisle conversations or cross-country trips across a long bridge?

–Maya Bernstein