If a Mother Falls to Her Knees, Does She Even Make a Sound?

Some days, like today, I wish I could just step out of it all just for a moment, long enough to catch the breath I lost somewhere between becoming Woman and becoming Mother.

Some days, to be Mother is to press flat against the packed mud I left indented in my rock bottom.

Some days, to be Mother is to dig and dig beneath what is left of my forgotten corpse and reveal the remains of what I longed for, the bones of my selfishness, and the chains of my distended freedom.

Those days, when to be Mother means the opposite of Mother, my toe traces the line that keeps me from the edge, curling over sharp loathing holding me back.

Oh, I talk about it. I am honest and open and so fucking real.

I hide behind this realness. I confess it. I shout it so that it will not linger in darkness, shining light like a cloak, and I pretend I’ve exposed myself.

I even reach out to others with comfort and love and understanding… so much understanding.

Because I get it, I really do.

I know these days well.

I should know that on those days I am not looking for love and attention. I am looking for reprieve. And no one can give it to me.

If a Mother falls to her knees, does she even make a sound?

If a Mother breaks free, does she ever hit the ground?

If a Mother is not a Mother, what is she?

everything

to everyone

peck 

need

peck

desire

peck

comfort

peck

love

peck

faith

peck

trust

peck peck peck

Nothing left

for me.

 

The Place Where I Belong

She calls me, breathless.

“It was amazing,” she panted. “I loved it. I was made for this, Ima. I need it.”

Patched up by the threads trailing behind her gathering into a seam sewn with every fall and knotted with each triumphant rise, my lungs fill.

My hands slow their spasms. My head sweeps the day’s anxious pacing to the place in my brain that archives these moments in memory where they no longer hold me by the throat.

**********

I had been unsure for so long.

She was my rainbow baby.

When I grew her in my womb, I stopped the world to keep her safe. I could not trust my body, it had betrayed me before. I slowed time, went still, and waited. Month after month, I pushed down my swelling heart, locking it up so it could not get hurt. I would not dream, refused to take any steps further than the one right before me.

And then she burst into the world.

I had never seen the colors she threw at me, the way she blended the lines and filled the spaces with depth and layers. One on top of the other, her shades of joy spun me around and changed me.

But light does not color darkness. Beneath it all, the part of me written into her code lay dormant, waiting to pounce.

It found a moment of vulnerability and doubt and dug deep into her translucent skin.

Oh, how it hurt.

It strangled her with the rope I had never been able to shake off my neck. She couldn’t explain it to me, the only one who could really understand.

“I know,” I would say, imploring her to let me in.

“NO! No, you don’t.” Screaming with rage, she’d pull away. “You’ll never know what it’s like to be me.”

Punching my gut from my past stood 10-year-old me.

“I know,” I’d whisper to her through the years. “I know exactly how it feels to be you.”

So I tiptoed around a ride through hell and ecstasy, hoping she’d get what I never could find. Her voice rose and fell with each curve, gathering speed as it steadily spread the black between each vibrant color.

Flashes of pain seeped into her notes. It was haunting and beautiful and the scariest sound a mother can hear.

My prayers swept around her tormented thoughts, her twirling emotions, her bright overwhelming light, into the vastness of a universe I feared could not see her.

Just one little corner, one place to lay her head down… please let her feel like she belongs.

Her song grew strong, too strong. It began to surround her and swallow her with its need to be heard.

It could no longer be contained.

Softly, with the gentlest touch on her fragile little back, I steered her towards the spotlight.

And then she stepped onto the stage, a solid black ground raised for the world to see. Her eyes blinked, her heart stilled, and she poured out across the place she was meant to be.

Curled up at home where I could not rush to her side, I waited for my star to rise.

**********

“I was made for this, Ima. I need it.”

“I know,” I say to her and to me and to all the times we didn’t believe it and all the times we won’t be comforted by it. “I understand.”

And I do.

The Tides we Don’t Follow

Our families have been pretty accepting of our decisions. There has been an unspoken rule that we basically just don’t talk about it. While that is probably for the best, it does leave us on our own.

Recently we’ve been preparing for next year. We’re moving to a secular city and enrolling our kids in new schools. Until now, we kept our kids in their religious schools because we felt too much change at once would be difficult for them. Our friends and neighbors are mostly religious and we weren’t ready to start over.

At this point, we’ve begun to feel like we’ve overstayed. Even though we’re sticking to our plans, we’ve started moving things along officially and it’s been a relief to feel like we’re finally moving.

In becoming real, it’s become apparent that this is something that is more difficult for our families to deal with. Sending our kids to secular schools is a nail in the coffin. I think deep down, there was hope that loving us no matter what would lead us back to their beliefs. While I understand the sentiment, it was painful to acknowledge what that means to us.

They still accept us. They have no other choice. But we are more alone than ever knowing that we don’t have that sort of support to lean on and that the decisions we make for our children will always be cause for disappointment to our parents.

Such is the path we walk, such is the life we choose.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s not a religious school.

For a while, we brushed it off as addressing our daughter’s creative needs. It was easier to say that we were looking for a music school and it didn’t matter if it happens to be secular.

But really, we were looking for a secular school.

I’ve always believed there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between school and home. If we are 80% aligned, we are better equipped to raise my kids to be healthy adults.

For the last two years, we were slipping into the dangerous percentages. And the kids felt it.

“Ima, I hate being yotzei dofen (misfit). Everyone in my class is dati (religious) except me.”

We knew it wasn’t good, but we were still waiting…

Waiting for my husband to tell his family, for our daughter to finish elementary school, for things to settle down, but mostly waiting for the courage to break out of a system we know and face a world far bigger than our experiences.

We stuck a toe in, then a leg, and still couldn’t manage to let go. We moved forward anyway. We went to check out a school, we applied, and we showed up for an audition.

“Ima, I’m scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, sweetie. You just have to try your best.”

I was terrified. I was trying my best. But there is a separation now between me and those I used to look towards for support. There is a distance, a wall that formed with each step I took on this different path, this path I was warned against, this path I believe in, this path I am alone in.

We are first man and woman. We have created ourselves from the ribs of non-believers. We have no original sin to dictate our morals, no code passed down for generations. The string we hang from frays with every step towards the edge of this puppet stage. And this step, this leap away from tradition, this will cut the cord.

It’s not a religious school.

Our children will not be educated in the ways of our fathers. They will be educated in our ways.

Her voice thundered out into the hall. I could hear the trembling channeled into vibrato and it was magnificent.

There will always be a part of me that seeks approval from others. It’s taken me a while to embrace that very human trait of mine and recognize it for the natural feeling it is.

I need my own way. I need to do the things that fit me, that settle me, that let me be me.

My path is made of water. It ebbs and flows and changes all the time.

Peeking through the door where the microphone was lowered to meet my tiny sixth grader’s big voice, I finally found myself swimming.

On Open Houses and Choice in a Foreign Tongue

It is early in the morning.

She rests her head against my shoulder, twisting her body around in an attempt to find a comfortable position. I sit as still as I can, knowing she will turn again and again until we finally get there. I’ve learned to be the rock she circles; forever keeping me at her center.

She lets out the air she’s been holding in all night and squeezes my hand.

“I’m nervous.”

I stroke her hair gently.

“Don’t worry sweetie. Today is just about the options. We don’t have to decide anything yet.”

She settles into another position against me and scrolls through my phone, willing the music she loves to soothe her churning stomach, and I am left alone with anxious thoughts thundering through my still body like a silent hurricane.

We are heading to an open house at a high school in Jerusalem. We are trying to find a place for her to learn and grow and be herself and be valued and shine and become. She is going to love this place, I know. She will see the art on the walls and a set stage. She will hear the music playing, and the dancers will be ready, and she will imagine herself right in the center of it all with a microphone and a million hopes and dreams.

I will listen to the principal speak about math and science and expectations. I will look around at the students and watch where their heads sit between their shoulders. I will find the stories hidden in the walls and the corners and the bathrooms of this place that wants to hold my child. I will not understand all the nuances said in a language I process through a tight layer of plastic wrap that suffocates the message and makes me choke on words. I will feel bewildered and lost and alone as I walk through an option that feels the same as every other one I’m given and points me in a direction I don’t recognize.

I wonder what other parents feel, as they stroll through their choices with an ease that comes from knowing what your options are. Do they lose sleep at night fighting demons the unknown conjures? Do they live with the regret that comes with retrospect only gained once experience shines a light on the pieces of the puzzle that didn’t come with the box?

She reaches out for me again, and I hold her close and kiss her cheek and wish away the fear.

I remember how it felt when I walked off the plane, down the stairs, and onto the ground that held my future. I remember the loneliness and the ache of rising panic as I realized I was in a land that was a birthright but not a birthplace. I remember the struggle of becoming caught between two worlds and the pressing weight of conflicting cultures that forced me on this ledge where I have been balancing as I built my home and found my footing.

I am tired of feeling incompetent. I am tired of not fitting in. I am tired of having to rely on advice from strangers every time I need to decide the future of my children. I am tired of never knowing the full picture. I am tired of these moments where I feel like I am crawling through a stampede, trampled under the assumption that my independence means I don’t need a herd.

It is paralyzing, change. It is a rising wave of feelings that require a mountain of sandbags to hold together strong.

I wrap my baby girl in my arms as she rides her wave heavily against me.

As we climb the mountain towards the center of a choice I made when I didn’t know what it means to choose for someone else, I wonder who will pack around me as wave after wave crashes into my ever changing life.

For now, I still the part of me that is brave and strong and circle it, knowing that somewhere in my mixed up mind is the girl who flew across the world all by herself, found a path full of heartache and joy, followed it to this moment where my beautiful growing-up girl is getting ready to fly.

I don’t know if I chose this land or if this land chose me.

All I know for sure is that the sky above me is the only one blue enough to be the backdrop against my daughter’s brilliant wings.

Mourning my Son with no Name

The flutters intensify every year as we light the last candle. Eight flames burning is the signal; the moment we start counting down the week until our baby’s birthday, three days before his death.

This year, my womb contracted wildly with the news of another boy torn from his mother too early… too violently.

I held my breath for as long as he was fighting.

I could see him in that same place, under the loving watch of angels of mercy who call themselves nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit of Shaarei Zedek.

And my soul ripped apart when I knew they had taken all the tubes and wires out, cleaned his translucent skin, and wrapped him in a blanket gently so that his parents could hold him and say goodbye.

The cries that came out of me that night 13 years ago echoed through time and shot me where the bullets made another 21-year-old a mother, a mourner, and a broken soul.

The entire country is mourning a life cut short, mourning for his family and for the children we continue to bury who are always too young. Their names are etched in stone, dotting this land with reminders of who they were and who they could have been.

My sorrow, deeply embedded in this tragedy, greased and separated slowly, as this feeling I could not escape bubbled to the surface, as the funeral procession choked through the night air and heaved.

When my firstborn died, there was no funeral. The Chevra Kadisha took his body, gave him a quiet brit and an obscure name of an angel that I won’t ever know, and waited for someone else to die so that they could walk along the procession and bury him in the mass grave set aside for fetuses adjacent to the cemetery on Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives). There was no other option, halachically and legally.

They’ve changed the law since and given people a choice.

Our nation’s baby boy was buried, having spent the same amount of time in the same NICU as the son I wanted to name Betzalel because of his long fingers I knew belonged to an artist.

They named him Amiad Yisrael and eulogized him and cried for him and marked his little grave and left me feeling shattered and lost and ugly because, as much as I want to cry for them, I can’t help but cry for me as I wait for my son’s 13th birthday to come on Sunday so that I can count three days and the light a candle for the 13 years that never were.

And I think I am crazy, and I think I am jealous and resentful and incredibly selfish, but I am not sorry or embarrassed, because if you are nodding your head right now and crying with me, then these words needed to be said so that you know you are not alone.

Burial is a grounding act.

It allows pain to dig a hole and create a space to exist — a space that can be visited or left alone, a space that contains all the complexities of broken hearts and loss.

Without the act of burial, the pain, having nowhere else to go, becomes the air all around you. The only way to escape it is to stop breathing.

I am breathing the pain of my son with no grave and feeling the jagged shards of children wrapped discreetly and taken from empty wombs and incubators. I am with them on their last journey, alone, as they tag along with another death, and I am with them as they are placed in concrete tombs with other limbs they won’t call whole. I am unmarked and unmourned, and I am decomposing as though I have never been. I am the cold breeze and the heavy cloud and the sun that can never shine as bright. I am scraped from the inside and left to watch the funeral procession create a space to mourn that doesn’t belong to me.

I am angry and hurt and afraid to tell the world how it feels because I know you might squirm and hesitate and maybe even call me selfish when you are confronted by these thoughts I’m not supposed to say out loud.

I say them anyway because I know the only way to brush this away is to hold my breath until I die.

And I don’t want to die.

My son, Betzalel son of Bracha, son of Naftali, is somewhere on that mountain together with the sons and daughters who never got a name.

And maybe Amiad Yisrael’s tiny grave is big enough and deep enough to hold the lifelong loss of parents throughout this country and tether us to the ground.

Yehi Zichronam Livracha.

*Please read the updated law regarding burial after a loss of pregnancy to be sure no one ever has to feel like they have no choice.

Source: Times of Israel

Crash.

Oh my darling.  My beautiful little girl…

I am watching you cry.  You sob as you twist and turn your little body on the kitchen floor.

I can’t, you say.  You said this medicine will help me…but it’s not changing my feelings!  I can’t anymore!

I slide down beside you, leaning against the refrigerator door as I watch you writhe.  It’s hard to watch you writhe.  It makes me want to reach deep down inside you and destroy whatever energy is coursing through your body in a way that makes you say, I don’t know what to do…I want to scream…I have to scream…I need to…I have to…AH…IMMA!

And then more tears spill out from your beautiful big eyes.  I pull you closer and wrap my arms around you.  You can’t find a comfortable place…but I don’t let go.  I rock…we rock together…back and forth…back and forth and still I say nothing.

Imma I’m trying so hard.  You lean against me as you begin to talk…using words that threaten to break the dam behind my eyes and let my feelings pour out to join your wet check against my wet arm as we rock back and forth on the kitchen floor.

I’m stressed.  I’m trying so hard.  I decided to work harder than I ever did when I started taking the medicine.  I thought if I tried super hard, the medicine would work better.  But Imma, I’m so stressed.  I’m not myself.  I don’t know who I am anymore.  I’m just a girl with ADHD who can’t do anything in school.  I wish I didn’t have this.  I wish I was a kid who could keep her cubby neat and write everything down like we’re supposed to and not have anything that makes my brain not work so great.  Imma, I’m so tired.  I want to be good…I want to be special…Imma I can’t!

My heart is breaking my darling.  Can you feel it?  You are pressed against my broken heart here on the kitchen floor while I absorb your pain.  I am pulling your energy into my soul…I am breaking down any tough fibers in my heart to make room for your pain…I am taking it from you and trying so hard to make it all go away.

You rest your head on my chest and sigh.

I lean over your shoulder.

I don’t always have an answer, I say.  But I will always listen to you.  Thank you for talking to me.  I love you.

You sniff and nod your head and I pull you in for a hug.

One day, you will read all the things I have written and will write about you.

One day you will know how I feel right now.

One day you will see yourself as unique and special and you will embrace it.

For now, it is my embrace you feel.

My arms are wrapped around you tight and I am never going to let go as we rock…back and forth…on the kitchen floor.

 

How Are You?

How is she? 

They ask, everywhere I go.

Sometimes I answer.

It’s hard.  They’re trying something new.  We still don’t know.

And sometimes I don’t.

Fine, thank god.

They want to know news, they want to know progress…they want to know black and white.

I confide in some.

I deflect others.

Mostly, I seethe.

I know everyone means well.

I mean well sometimes too.

How is she?

But do you really want to know?

How is she?

I don’t know.

So tell me dear, dear sister.

How are you?

I bet it hurts.

I bet it’s really bad.

I bet you don’t even know how to explain it to me.

I bet you don’t even want to try.

I bet you want to close your eyes and wake up when it’s over.

I bet you want to travel back in time.

I bet you want me to stop asking you how the hell you are.

I’m fine.

You say it always.

And I wish I could answer you honestly.

You don’t have to be.

 

 

When There Is Nothing Left To Say

There is so much I could say…so much to write about…

I could write about my sister…and her cancer…and what it feels like to be so far away…to be torn between my children and the baby I held in my arms at 14 years old…whispering my secrets to one of my only family members who couldn’t be angry at me…who I knew would never judge me.

I could write about my daughter…and how she has blossomed and regressed at the same time…how third grade is revealing what the course of her school life will look like…how she reminds me of me…at my most vulnerable age…and why that scares me.

I could write about my oldest brother and his grief…his mother-in-law and her table full of guests…how she battled another type of cancer…and lost.

I could write about my other sister…who is taking one day at a time…and trying her best…and how proud I am of her…and how much I wish I believed in prayer so I could get on my knees each day and pray to keep her going.

I could write about yet another sister…who is changing her life…is making emotional sacrifices she never thought she could make…so that she can become the big sister who swoops in and gets things done…perfectly each time…and how I wish I could speak to her every day.

I could write about my sister who is most like me…and so could never be written about…because it would not do justice to who she is…and I could never express how much I miss her anyway.

I could write about my parents…and how I almost lost them…and how I thought that whatever progress was made was never going to be actualized…until cancer came along and changed the direction of the path we had embarked on.

I could write about Israel…and the blood that is spilled…and the daily attacks.

I could write about Europe…and Paris…and Belgium and the United States and Obama and the outrages and the silences and the hypocrisies and double standards.

I could write about it all.

I should.

But I won’t.

Because tears are streaming down my cheeks.

Pain is flowing out of my eyes.

Sorrow is stopping my heart.

This broken world is spinning too fast.

And I can no longer feel enough to breathe.

All I can do is spill it out…through my fingers…onto the keys that form the letters to write…that I have nothing left to say.

The Only Squeeze Hug I Can Manage

Hey Sis…this one’s for you…

This one’s for the times we couldn’t stop laughing…

Inside out kisses and shoulder blades…

Djoghurt and Stonehenge…

And that toot guy.

This one’s for Friday nights…

People watching in the park…

And Super Hatzlacha.

This one’s for the times we forgot to say I love you…

And the times we knew we never could.

This one’s for the times we had when we were young…

And it was okay to hold hands…as I took you to school…

And hug tight those few times I came back.

This one’s for the current hugs…

The squeeze hugs…

The (uninvited) hair playing…

The constant (sometimes annoying) desire to be so close to you it literally hurts.

This one’s for music videos and mashups.

This one’s for birthday parades and hafganot…and that one levaya.

This one’s for capstones and deadlines.

This one’s for pushing things off and pulling all-nighters.

This one’s for your friends.  ‘Nuff said.

This one’s for philosophy and the matter of your existence.

This one’s in case you’re not really here.

This one’s for your production. 🙂

This one’s for all the things we thought we knew about each other…

And all the things we found out along the way.

This one’s for learning about sisterhood…

And how to form a bond amid a storm.

This one’s for all the things we can’t say out loud.

But probably should.

This one’s for Uptown Funk and Michael Jackson.

For playlists and music education.

For Sukkot and Channuka and Purim and Pesach and another Seder and Lag Ba’Omer.

This one’s for endless laundry and sleeping on the mirpeset because of…laundry.

This one’s for the space you’ll leave…physically and also…not.

This one’s for what we built…

Through good times…

And less good times…

Through courage…

And change.

This one’s for the kids.

This one’s for Naftali.

This one’s for me.

This one will always be…

For you.

Skin Deep

“Imma,” she says in her ‘I’m going to tell you something incredibly insightful now so you better stop what you’re doing and focus and make sure your phone is on hand to record this’ voice, so naturally, I turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this, so I’m telling you now you have to trust me that it’s true.”

I nod and put the phone down.  I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of those ‘let me tell you what happened on the way home from school’ stories, maybe a bit Mulberry Street-isque, but nothing I can’t breeze through on this typical, absolutely ordinary day.

“My friend told me white people are better than black people.”

Woah.

Stop.

I know she’s looking at me, expecting some sort of response…and I know she thinks this an important conversation based on how she prefaced it…but I am stuck with her words swarming through my mind because for some reason…I AM NOT PREPARED.

*

My first clear understanding of how white people who aren’t racist can sometimes get stuck staring down the barrel of racism came from an incident involving my little sister, my mother and the neighbor one lovely afternoon on our front stoop.

The neighborly conversation was interrupted by my sister’s investigative reporting on the color of skin.

“Mommy,” she said in all her innocent glory as she scrutinized the neighbor, “Why is her skin brown?”

My mother froze.

There was only a slight pause before the neighbor very gently squeezed my mother’s hand and took over.

She said something or other about the color of blood and how it’s all the same on the inside.

I don’t really remember that.

But I can still feel that pause.

And here I am in that same damn pause.

*

I must have gasped because she’s assuring me that she knows…but like, really knows, that this girl is wrong.

She knows that people are people and we are all part of the human race.

She knows that what makes you better are your actions and what makes you above are your reactions.

She was really asking me why people are racists…more importantly, why a fellow second grader who is her friend, is a racist, and I have so many answers and all of them are sort of my fault because I have not done enough to fight it.

I am not a racist, yet I hear racist conversation in the park and don’t respond loudly enough.

I am not a racist, yet I live in a community where the ethnic diversity is mind-boggling nonexistent.

I am not a racist, yet my city segregates residents and calls it ‘absorption’.

I am not a racist, yet I say nothing when my son’s ganennet mixes up the names of the children of Ethiopian descent and laughs it off because she “can’t tell them apart”.

Oh, I cringe.

I cringe when I hear complaints that “Ethiopians” are hanging out in the park and breaking ‘our’ public benches.

I cringe when my son asks if the street cleaner who greets us every morning lives where all the brown people live.

I cringe when my daughter and her friends refer to children born in Israeli hospitals to immigrant parents, (just as she was), as Ethiopians.

And I cringe when I find myself pausing that long, uncomfortable pause.

I don’t want to cringe.

I want to shout.

For some reason, I haven’t had the urgent need to shout because I somehow thought this was not my problem because I am not a racist.

I have the ‘right’ color skin so I never really felt racism.

I never had to fight for the right to be treated as just another human being.

I need to start fighting and it needs to start with that pause.

Because what I remember most about that day when my neighbor stood up for herself was that it felt like she was defending something.

The color of skin is not something we need to defend.

The answer to a little girl’s question should not have so much weighing on it.

And I will start right now.

For Baltimore.

For Tel-Aviv.

For the world we all share.