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Letters to Mommy

Dear Mommy, Yes, it’s fine with me if you don’t come to my high school production. You came last year, didn’t you?

 

Dear Mommy,

Pre-1 A is so much fun! We learn alef-beis and play games and sing songs about the parshah. But the best part of my day is recess, because I get to sit on Morah Rochel Malka’s lap for a long time hugging and kissing her. And she even hugs me back. I wish you would learn how to give hugs and kisses, too, Mommy. Morah Rochel Malka’s really, really nice. I bet she would teach you if you asked her.

 

Dear Mommy,

The big inter-yeshivah brachos bee was today and I got to ride on a real school bus. I did really well, even though I was one of the youngest girls there, and even though you didn’t help me practice last night. I tried to explain to you that it couldn’t wait until tomorrow, because the contest was today, but you didn’t understand.

Bubby knew all about it and traveled by train just to see me. I know you were too busy to come. I hope you like the plaque I brought home.

 

Dear Mommy,

Cousin Michael’s bar mitzvah was fun. Especially the part where I got to sing on the microphone. Everyone turned around to see who was that little kid who sang so well. Including you. But you’re my mother, and I’m nine years old. How could you not know by now that I have a good voice?

 

Dear Mommy,

Thank you so much for the beautiful bas mitzvah party you made for me. I loved the pink and purple color scheme and the crowns that matched my name — Atara.

I’m sorry I embarrassed you by disappearing for a while. I was crying in the bathroom because, just like I predicted, my friends made fun of me for not having any games. I told you they would do that, so next time, please help me prepare some games.

 

Dear Mommy,

Could you please sign this note I wrote? My teacher doesn’t believe me that I couldn’t finish my homework because I was busy taking care of the little ones while you were out. She says I say the same thing almost every day. She says it’s not possible that I’m left to care for little children so often when I’m not even in high school. So could you please sign this so she knows I’m telling the truth?

 

Dear Mommy,

Tonight you served your usual well-balanced dinner, and as always, it was delicious. But on its way down, the meat collided with the lump rising in my throat. Because although I cleaned off the table last night, although I put away the leftovers and washed all the dishes, although I folded the laundry and put the little ones to bed, all you managed to say was that I did not sweep the floor.

 

Dear Mommy,

Yes, it’s fine with me if you don’t come to my high school production. You came last year, didn’t you?

This is a big year for me because I’m head of dance, but you always scoff that I “dance like a yeshivah girl,” so you probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Besides, I’m a big girl now, so things like this really don’t bother me.

 

Dear Mommy,

My first classmate is engaged! Our class is arranging her bridal shower, and I’ve been put in charge of the entertainment.

I’ve spent hours creating a rebus, covered by post-it notes emblazoned with numbers corresponding to each wrapped gift. The post-its will be removed only if, after reading aloud the quatrain I’ve written about it, Devorah can guess what gift the wrapping conceals.

I’m so proud of my hard work and ingenuity that I take the unusual step of showing the finished product to you. I guess it’s not as good as I’d thought, though, because your only comment is that the rebus is faulty because it contains only one minus sign.

 

Dear Mommy,

I just wanted to let you know that I got to the wedding gown gemach just fine. It was a long drive all alone in the car, but I had good music to keep me company. And Aunt Goldie says she will help me find someone to do my hair for the wedding and my almost-mother-in-law will help me find a sheitel, so I think I have everything under control.

 

Dear Mommy,

Lately, you call, asking what’s happening in my life and how the baby is doing. But I have a hard time sharing anything with you. For 25 years I waited for you to ask. By now, the answers have all dried up inside me, and all that comes out in response to your queries is stale monosyllables.

 

Dear Mommy,

You thought the news that you were divorcing Daddy would come as a shock to me. Really? How obtuse do you think I am?

Let me share a secret with you: children sense everything. And honestly, it’s about time. We all saw this coming years ago. You say you stayed together for our sake? That he was a lousy husband but a good father? Let me share another secret: abusive spouses rarely make model parents.

 

Dear Mommy,

My children owe you a perverse debt of gratitude because I am determined to be to them the mother I never had.

I work only a few short hours out of the house, and I never ever leave the children awake with a babysitter at night. True, I miss almost every simchah, but I am there at all times for my children. I laugh with them, play with them, discover with them. Most of all, I shower them with hugs and kisses.

 

Dear Mommy,

Watching you with my children, I don’t recognize you. Who is this perceptive, patient person who listens to long, endless tales? Understands and sympathizes? Allows little children to wake her up early on Shabbos mornings to cuddle in bed?

 

Dear Mommy,

Yesterday was a day like any other, until shortly after my children returned from school. I was preparing supper, they were milling about, starting the usual daily chaos, when Daddy arrived unannounced.

In his presence, I instantly changed. My shoulders hunched. Unconsciously, I assumed a fighter stance. I began snapping at my kids for no apparent reason. I felt threatened, weak, helpless. This, despite the fact that he does not live with me. Even though I have a good, loving, trustworthy husband. No matter. I still cowered.

Suddenly, mid-meatball, I froze. While the children’s chaos continued around me, I thought of you, and my mind, even my mouth, formed one syllable: “Oh.”

 

Dear Mommy,

As an elementary school teacher, I get a glimpse into what divorce means for young children. Forgotten uniforms. Unsigned or uncompleted homework. Inability to attend parties or go away for Shabbos because it’s the father’s or mother’s “right” to have them that week.

So I really meant it when I thanked you today for staying together for our sake. Maybe it would have been even harder to navigate my parents’ divorce when I was very young. And now that I reflect on it, truth is, there are many fond memories, too.

 

Dear Mommy,

Though it was a huge internal shift for me, and took no small measure of courage, it seems it was no news to you when I told you today that I would miss you “after 120.”

You’ve always maintained that you were not a perfect mother when your children were young, but you were better than your own mother had been. As the daughter of survivors, I imagine you are right. Certainly, while I didn’t appreciate it at the time, our physical needs were always more than met. You packed us nourishing lunches for school every day, and you had a hot supper waiting for us each night. Our clothes were clean and ironed, our shoes of the best quality.

It’s true you were emotionally absent, but I’ve finally come to realize how much effort all the nitty-gritty must have taken for you, and that you were surviving an intolerable situation as best you could. More importantly, I am truly convinced that if I’d been placed in your circumstances, I would not have done any better. And honestly? Most likely, I’d have done a lot worse.

 

Dear Mommy,

The past few years have been good ones. I’ve begun a type of healing in which I can share more with you. I enjoy your presence now. In fact, I can’t get enough of you. On some level, I guess, I’m making up for lost time. I watch myself with you, unable to get the words out fast enough as I try to get everything in, and I remind myself of my own children. So here I am. Being your child. Finally.

We still have a long way to go, of course. I can’t share my troubles with you. Any real anguish or difficulty remains inside. But we connect. We share ideas. We’ve begun to rebuild a relationship whose growth was stunted by circumstances. And though I seem to be growing older — I’m approaching 40 — at 60, you remain as young and vibrant as ever. I’m looking forward to many years of continuing to weave the fabric of what should have been.

My children positively adore you, each and every one. You understand them on such a profound level, intuiting their deepest feelings. They are lucky to have you.

 

Dear Mommy,

More and more lately, when I look in the mirror, I see you. I see you in my face, my hands, my posture. Your presence is in everything I cook, the way I wash dishes, fold laundry. Today, as I turn 40, I am surrounded by family and friends, though perhaps not exactly in the way I imagined.

And in the shrouded mirrors on the wall, instead of my reflection, I see you before my eyes. I see you in my age. I see your struggles in mine.

The only thing I don’t actually see, as we sit on these low chairs, my siblings and I, is you. A year ago, I said I would miss you when you were gone. I was right.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 448)

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