This past Shabaot, I was blessed to have all of my sons and daughters home. I recognized this confluence of circumstances for the increasing rarity it is. The eldest is in “the parsha,” and will, accordingly, I pray, soon find her beshert and then move on to her own home. The next eldest spends most of his Shabbatot at his hesder yeshiva. What’s more, next year, he’ll enter the army. The third has just one year and a bit left of high school before she enters sherut leumi. My baby is no baby any longer, but a young man of fourteen, b’ayin tova.
Plus, this past Shabbat, Computer Cowboy was unfortunately abroad. Although he was able to spend Shabbat with our former community, he was not able to share in our family time. Usually, my help-opposite is able to tweak his travel schedule to get home to greet the Shabbat Queen with us. Not so this past week.
As a result of all of the above, combined with my choice not to invite guests to our home, last Shabbat, I was returned to a former nachus, that of kvelling over my children. After releasing myself from academia, I had spent more than a dozen years focused on raising them, but then they grew up and I concentrated on creative writing. It had been a long time since I paid attention chiefly and primarily to them, simultaneously, and exclusively.
Thus, I found myself, last Friday afternoon, sitting at our table and crying. I smiled through the tears and told my sons and daughters I was feeling joyous. They tried to tell me jokes, to introduce entertains, of which they knew I disapproved, and to otherwise distract me from my strong feelings. I laughed at their funny remarks and then cried even more robustly. Even when I asked them to shut their electronics, I continued to drip tears.
They might be, respectively, looking with the good eye, 21, 19, 16, and 14, but suddenly I could see through their attained physical height, through their academic accomplishments, through their skills with friends, and through their many and varied tribulations, some conquered, others some still “in process,” to their neshemot. They were at once 8 and 18, 5 and 15, 3 and 13, 11 and 21.
They were, concurrently, in braces, but in the latest fashion, nervous about reciting a simple bracha in Hebrew, but glorying in giving over complicated Dvrai Torah, trying to act “like big kids,” but confident in their exchanges with their siblings, and able to politely disagree with their primary care provider, but still a tad unsure of how to hold onto their own opinions. Before my eyes, their geographic, hashkaphic, and other differences melted and they became, all at once, the boys and girls who dug holes in the family backyard, who fought over whose turn it was to sit by the car’s windows, and who delighted in pulling their cookies apart.
Instantly, I was transported to a world where our greatest stresses had included: making sure everyone took afternoon naps, certifying that the allergic among us had enough rice cakes to substitute for bread and enough calcium-enriched rice juice to substitute for milk, and checking that relatives always received thank-you notes or calls for gifts given. Whereas, at that time, the diapers, the potty minutes, and the need to search for clean public bathrooms seemed unrelenting, and whereas the amount of hours I spent lining up stuffed animals “just so” seemed to extend into infinity, in truth, I didn’t get enough muddy shoes, handprints on windows, spilled sippy cups, or forts built from sofa pillows.
I might have kvetched, at the time, about the seemingly endless laundry or about having to read certain picture books again and again and again and again, but in actual fact, I never felt that setting aside a hard-won professional career for mommyhood or that spending nearly a decade and a half in sleep deprivation mode were much of a cost for all of the contentment, pleasure, and soothing of spirit that had been mine to gather from my children. In reality, I considered and continue to consider myself among the most fortunate of humans as I was granted those delights in this world, rather than having to wait for the possibility of them in the world to come.
So, last week, before Shabbat, I bawled. I smiled. I cried some more. There is much joy to be had in this lifetime. Some aspects of it come from our relationship to Hashem. Other aspects of it come from our relationship to each other. Certainly a mother’s association with her children and their association with each other have been, are, and will continue to be primal sources of good feeling.
I wish all of you such earthly bliss. I wish all of you the merit to see your children grow.