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

When the Children Cry – Rise Up!

There is a soundtrack to my life. There are an endless amount of lyrics and tunes stored in my brain and the second something happens that triggers a feeling, a song begins to play.

Today, I heard the White Lion ballad stirring around as I listened to an audio clip of children crying out for their parents in a US Customs and Border detention facility.

“Little child, dry your crying eyes…how can I explain the fear you feel inside…”

The idealism of my teenage years when ’80s ballads did me in came flooding back at me, wrapped in the cynicism of reality. I used to think people wrote and sang songs like this because you could rally up the people and they could make a change.

“No more presidents, and all the wars will end…one united world, under god…”

It’s laughable how I had hoped for a better world for my children. I’m wondering now how to incorporate a possible war into my summer plans so that my kids don’t get excited about something that can be derailed by rockets. I used to think cheesy lyrics meant something.

“When the children cry, let them know we tried…”

No, you didn’t. I was a crying child then. While the adults around me were composing songs about saving the world and feeding all the hungry children, I was curling up in my room learning not to trust anyone.

“Little child, you must show the way, to a better day for all the young…” 

Uh-uh. Not this time. I’m so tired of children taking up the role of our future. I don’t believe that…not anymore.

I’m all grown up now. I heard you sing and chant and claim to fight for me. I saw you fail time and time again.

Children are still crying and my head is filled with the bullshit of a generation who thinks my generation is too fast-paced, too demanding, too selfish and too damn technologically advanced to know how to stoop down to eye level with children and tell them that we fucked up.

You raised us with the wrong songs. You made us think we had to fix your mistakes. You told us you were sorry for leaving us something so damaged and you slithered off into retirement while refusing to let your fist loosen on the ideals you carefully cultivated for yourselves.

We’ve taken the seeds of your ideas and we’ve grown them into worlds you never could have imagined. We’ve become innovators and problem solvers and creative geniuses and you still scoff at us.

I need a new soundtrack.

I can hear the drums, I can feel the beat picking up. I think we might have something special churning around out there, something that can produce a sound I can be proud of.

Listen up, kids. I know you’re hurting and scared and worried about your future.

We got this. This is not our fight but we’re going to make it ours. You are the children of today. You should be learning and laughing and living your best lives. You shouldn’t be in detention facilities. You shouldn’t be separated from your families. You shouldn’t be worried about war or how long it will take for the environment to give up. You should be singing the songs we write for you.

Listen to them; they are glorious.

I’m not going to leave you with something I can’t be proud of. Hold on just a little longer while we kick some butt.

We will rise up.

Originally published on the Times of Israel.

Grown-up

I guess I’m a grown-up now, I think, as I sit here translating her words in my head, then translating my words before I stumble them out of my mouth and into the air where they embarrass me by screaming out “FOREIGNER” in this big room that can’t possibly hold the emotions she so casually throws at me with each word I am poorly translating in my overwhelmed brain.

I guess I’m a grown-up now.

Grown-ups sit in chairs built for little girls and stare across a giant desk and listen politely as big things are said.

Grown-ups can handle acronyms with A’s and D’s and H’s Boggled together with the shake of a wrist.

Grown-ups don’t think anything is wrong or that it’s anyone’s fault.

Grown-ups can be parents first and people wracked by guilt second.

Grown-ups can accept.

Grown-ups can get up and walk home briskly, make pizza for their children, reach out to another grown-up for help, and use the entire World Wide Web to understand exactly what it all means.

So here I am.

A Grown-up.

A gut-wrenching, soul-ripping, broken-hearted Grown-up.

Here lies a Grown-up…curled up on the couch…surrounded by crumpled tissues and words like psycho-didactic and evaluation and letters like MOXO and ADHD…

Here lies a Grown-up…feeling defeated by a system…mocked by fate…winded by the constant curveballs she always seems to miss…

Here lies a Grown-up…wishing with all her might that her not-yet-grown little vulnerable girl…could have been handed the card that this grown-up never knew…the one that didn’t make things difficult…the one that paves the path with rainbows and unicorns and never gets so dark and so scary that she hesitates…

Here lies a Grown-up…trying to breathe…to get the air she needs…so that she can open the door with a smile…and greet her wonderful, beautiful baby girl…with all the grown-up things…that will turn her into…the best kind of grown-up…any grown-up can be.

Can’t I Be The Mom I Want To Be?

They told me kids grow up too soon…so I feel a little guilty right now…

Because it doesn’t seem soon enough to me…

I don’t know if I was made to pick up toys all day…have my skirt used as a tissue…field questions about witches and monsters…listen to never-ending whines about everything and anything…all as I desperately try to maintain a cool I don’t know exists and refrain from losing it completely.

I’m sitting on the couch now…because both kids are in school…and I’m supposed to be looking for a job…but I don’t want to.

I want to have my mornings to myself.

I want to be able to clean the house without anyone climbing under me or walking all over a damp floor with muddy shoes or taking all the toys out at once…undoing everything I’ve done.

I want to go to the supermarket by myself and not have to bribe anyone with candy while I try to push a cart too heavy already with only a package of tissues and a child in it.

I want to exercise without having to put a child or two in front of a screen and then shower with the door closed for once, not having to strain to hear if everyone is still alive.

I want to cook without someone reaching for my knife…insisting on helping me…tasting the tomato paste with dirty fingers…demanding to be fed NOW…and whining about how boring it is when no entertainment is provided on demand.

And then I want my kids to come home to a hot meal and a warm hug.  I want to have a smile on my face and a clear mind, ready to listen to everything.  I want the strength to gently change their tone and remind them how to speak.  I want a clean floor to spread out on…playing games together…building castles…racing cars…with laughter.  I want to help them brush their teeth…comb their hair…cuddle up with a book or two…or three…and finish the day with hugs and kisses.  Then I want to sit down with my husband…my best friend…and enjoy an evening together.

This summer showed me how I am when I am in a constant state of responsibility for another person – especially little bored persons.  I am not happy with how I reacted.  I am full of guilt and remorse for wishing things about my children I know I don’t really mean but don’t know how much I might.  Mostly, I feel guilty for wanting them to grow up already and take care of themselves.

So I’m procrastinating…and writing this instead of a resume.

I love my children.  I really, really do.

I love them so much that I don’t want to ever have to compromise on how I raise them.

I just don’t have another solution.

I’m scared I’ll have to sacrifice the kind of childhood I desperately want them to have for money.

That makes me sick to my stomach.

Mother, May I?

Seven years.

It’s been seven years since I had some time that could be mine to do with as I please.

The routine of my life consisted of pregnancies, depression, births, newborns, infants, toddlers and learning to nap when I got a chance.

By the time my daughter turned three, my son was born.  We added daily pick-up from preschool to the schedule.  The naps got shorter.  The afternoons got harder.  The evenings were a blur.  Such was life.

But my two-year old needed more than what I could give him.  So he went off to gan.  The way I feel about that is still being explored.

He loves it – I’m ok with it, and now I have five hours a day without him.

Five precious hours.

Today I went on a walk.

By myself.

With headphones.

Blaring music without a care.

It made me feel alive…and free…

And when I got home, I prepared a salad without any pulling on my legs and sat at the table and ate slowly, without having to share my food.

It felt weird.

And liberating.

But still weird.

So I knew I needed to work that out – that strange sensation of wanting someone to pull at me and bother me because it makes me feel like I am worth something…

I saw an ad that caught my eye.

A writing workshop.

And I knew that it was now or never.

So I took the plunge.

I start tomorrow.

And I’m sitting here wondering why I’m doing it.

Wondering who I’m doing it for.

Wondering at myself for wondering.

This morning when I walked with me, I knew her well.

Cause I’ve always been there.

Taking care of me through them – and getting myself ready for today – the day I said hello to the only person worth doing a writing workshop for.

And boy is she excited.

I Just Wanted You To Know

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a                                       

Chalom shechalamti balayila bamitah

(My God – I wanted you to know, the dream I dreamt at night in bed)

She sings her favorite song on the swings…in the sand…on the bus…and softly as she lays in bed…

Ubachalom, raiti mal’ach

Mishamayim ba elai v’amar li kach:

(In my dream I saw an angel from heaven, and this is what he said to me)

She has an old soul…a deep soul…a soul that understands more than what her heart can contain…

Bati mishamayim, avarti nedudim,

laset birkat shalom lechol hayeladim,

laset birkat shalom lechol hayeladim.

(I came on a long wandering from the heavens to bring a blessing of peace to all the children)

She has a vivid imagination…colorful…layered and vast…

Ukshe itorarti nizkarti bachalom

V’yatzati lechapes me’at shalom

(When I awoke, I remembered the dream and I went out to look for a bit of peace)

She expresses her thoughts…feelings and questions…boldly…without hesitation…

V’lo haya mal’ach, v’lo haya shalom

Hu mizman halach, v’ani im hachalom.

(and there was no angel…and no peace…he was long gone and I…am here…with my dream)

The siren wails.

We are silent.

She is thinking.

Why is there a siren?

To remind us of the soldiers…of the chayalim.

What, they died?

Well…yes.

Why?

Because they were protecting us.

Chayalim are good?

Of course.

But some chayalim want to kill us.

Our army is good.  Our chayalim are good.

Like the Mishtara?

Yes.  The police and soldiers are good.

The siren is for the chayalim that are dead?

Yes sweetie.  And for all the chayalim…to always remember all the chayalim.

Why do we have chayalim?

To keep us safe.

Yes, but Imma, why do we need to be saved?

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a

She’hachalom haze nishar li k’chida

Elohim sheli, ratziti sheted’a

Al hachalom sheli, ratziti sheted’a

Elohim sheli, rak ratziti sheted’a…

(My God, I wanted You to know…that the dream remains a riddle to me…my God, I wanted You to know…about my dream…I wanted You to know…my God, I just…wanted You to know…)

I Write the Songs that Make the Whole World Sing…

The world knows about the songs she wrote.

I know about the poems and heartfelt musings she keeps together with some sketches in the back of the file cabinet in the section marked “misc.”.  Most of them are from when she was in high school.  The words are fading and it’s hard to make out the script that used to be mandatory in English classes, but it’s tangible and smells like cheap construction paper and my grandmother’s house.

The majority of her writings make their way into the piano and off to some production or other.  Most of the time I don’t think about them.  Most of the time I just write.

I write words to my children, day after day, month after month, year after year, and I wonder how they will read them when they are older.  As I write, I hum the tunes to songs I sang straight through the long hours of childhood, through the minutes of confused youth and right into the second of my very own adulthood.

And then I stop.

And I listen.

And I hear her words…

…well hello little stranger…entirely new…only born an hour ago…look at you…open up your little eyes a glimmer or two…hey there…can you see me…I’m the one who’ll be there taking care of you…and all the things I do for you…are things you’re gonna do…for children of your own…someday…

…there’s just one more adornment…I’ve added in…my own little prayer…I always sew in…may I live to see…that a bride you will be…and I’ll sew you a dress for your chuppa…as we walk down the aisle…it will have all been worthwhile…

…all those dreams…my child…that you dream tonight…will come true…you can be sure…close your eyes and dream of tomorrow…for tomorrow there’ll be more…

…little one…yes it’s true what they say…fathers cry for their children…and Hashem does the same…when we hurt…so does He…yes He does feel our pain…

She wrote…while we were young…and as we grew…and changed…she wrote…and wrote…and wrote…

She hasn’t written in a while.  She says she doesn’t have the time.  But maybe…she doesn’t have the need…because here I am…writing…and humming her songs…with a smile on my face and understanding in my heart.