Davening. Head bowed between feet, kissing forehead to earth, paper body folded on the sun-splashed kitchen floor. My toddler is keening in supplication to the Gods of Can.
This time can I open the baby gate? Can I hold the knife Daddy uses to cut my blueberries? Can I stand on this chair and finally see what’s on top of the counter?
But the governing forces of Can’t are as certain as sunrise and gravity and naptime. When I lift her squirming body and tell her that she can’t stand on chairs, she melts through my hands to the floor to pray, a wail erupting from her tiny chest, her world shattered in a scream.
What is the import of this act, this standing on chairs, whose refusal could undo an entire world? What would it take for me to release that primal scream?
She cries and I laugh because her lower lip quivers and her face crumples and it’s all very serious, and it’s all very adorable. Laughing seems the only reasonable thing to do when she’s able to throw this tantrum, because she survived. When my body, which proved so uninhabitable to her older brother, gave birth to her. When that body is now growing a boy again, when that body can’t keep down the calories I swallow so that neither I nor her younger brother inside me are nurtured, when I’m throwing up pasta and chicken soup and peanut butter sandwiches and Tums, when the scale in the bathroom reads 197.8 and I don’t know if I’ve gained or lost weight.
“Vomiting means it’s a strong pregnancy,” my mom consoles me. “That’s what my Bubbe always said.”
A Bubbe meises, a superstition, an old wives’ tale, a prayer. I never vomited during my first pregnancy and miscarried after eleven weeks. Tell me, Bubbe, if I had vomited, would he have stayed?
As I’m dry heaving, clutching the toilet bowl like a life raft, my daughter wanders into the half bath. She toddles close, places a hand on my shoulder, leans her sandy mop into my cheek. To comfort me, I wonder, or to see what I’m looking at in these porcelain depths? The thought flits across my brain and then my body heaves again, davening, a guttural H escaping my lips and drawling into an A.
My daughter laughs.
It seems the only reasonable thing to do when you hear such a funny sound. I wipe my mouth with toilet paper and hug her protesting body to my chest to be close to both of us, her younger brother and me. As I laugh with her, tears trace pathways down the outsides of my cheeks.
Tell me, Bubbe, what else can I do?
It is our routine. She davens in the kitchen and I daven in the bathroom, and daily the Can’ts force us to confront our limitations. Daily we make our supplications to the Gods of Can and hope this time will be different.
Leslie Stonebraker (she/her) is physically tall, but likes to keep her writing short. You can read more of her work in The Kenyon Review and Entropy, and she has pieces forthcoming in Upstreet and Typehouse Literary Magazine. Leslie lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two rambunctious kiddos. She is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
“Supplications to the Gods of Can” was a finalist in our 2021 CNF Flash Contest, judged by Heather Christle.