Being Mommy| February 3, 2021
I’m a mother now, but I’m not Mommy. The gap is tremendous
I have a vivid memory, superimposed over a hodge-podge of hazy childhood memories:
I’m sitting with a group of children in our playroom, and we’re dreaming. Fantasizing.
“When I grow up…” we chant. And every kid takes a turn, sharing her vision of adulthood. We’ve got aspiring principals and artists, photographers, hairstylists, pianists.
I deliberate. There are so many things I want to be when I grow up. Probably a teacher, definitely a writer. But when my turn comes, the truth trips off my tongue. “When I grow up, I’m going to be a mommy.”
My friends tell me it doesn’t count, duh, of course we’ll all be mothers. “But what will you really be?”
They don’t get it. I don’t want to be a mother. I want to be Mommy. My mother. The woman who is so awesome and wonderful, there’s nobody in the world like her.
I grow up, and I try.
But the woman who raised me is inimitable, and my rosy childhood dream remains forever out of reach.
I can’t be my mother. I can never reach her level of talent and perfection, her thoughtfulness and selflessness, will never have her endless energy. I’m a mother now, but I’m not Mommy. The gap is tremendous.
Still, at every opportunity, I try.
I try in the morning. Growing up, I can’t recall ever waking up before my mother. Mommy was always in the kitchen by the time I rolled out of bed, done with all her morning tefillos and techinos and Perek Shirah, humming as she diced onions for a soup. She always hummed, my mother.
Me? I can’t recall ever waking up before my kids. Believe me, I try. I want to be like Mommy, with hot drinks ready for the kids as they patter into the kitchen. But no matter how early or quietly I tiptoe out of my room, I’m always beaten by earlier risers. And from there, it’s rush-rush-rush to get everyone off to school on time. I don’t say Perek Shirah and there is definitely no humming in the morning.
I try in big ways, emulating her chesed and hachnassas orchim, and sincerity. But I can’t. I can’t spend three hours planning a Shabbos sheva brachos l’sheim mitzvah on the shortest Friday of the year and still maintain a calm and immaculate house. I can’t even maintain a calm and immaculate house without planning a Shabbos sheva brachos l’sheim mitzvah, even on the longest Friday of the year.
I try in small ways, remembering to call relatives before Yom Tov or on special occasions, sending suppers to needy families, participating in people’s simchahs. But even with these smaller gestures, my inadequacy glares.
I can’t cook and bake like her, I can’t design and shop and host and advise and facilitate and remember like her. I can’t juggle like her. She performed magic, and I just can’t.
And although I know all this, I don’t stop trying. I’m her daughter; I should have it in me to follow in her footsteps.
And then it’s over.
One minute, Mommy is alive, humming and buzzing and doing, doing, doing. The next minute, the malach hamaves sweeps in and snatches her soul away.
She is gone.
The weeks after her death feel thick and viscous. I can’t think, I can’t do, can’t breathe.
And then, because I have no choice, I wade my way out, try to accustom to life without her.
Life without her. That means life without… me?
It’s strange. As I’m thrust back into the rough and tumble of my existence, my efforts to match my mother’s pace redouble. More than ever, I try to be her. This is what she wants. Needs. What I need. To honor her. To make her proud.
But then, strangely, as I score a victory here and there, perform some nifty Mommy-magic, the entire goal falls apart. Instead of feeling euphoric — I’m doing it! I’m living up to Mommy’s standards! — I feel meaningless. I’m hit by the sinking realization that it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t care.
She doesn’t care because it isn’t important to her — and never was. She shone in many areas, and I can shine in others. And in the areas where I shine, I can grow independently. I can expand my own strengths, conquer the hurdles in my own unique path.
I take baby steps. I offer friendship and display sympathy. I give generously and accept graciously. I do little things at my own slow pace. Instead of being her, I try to be for her.
And I hope I make her proud.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 729)
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