I feel the warmth of Mamma’s embrace. I finally experience the gift of motherhood
"You were never at Kever Rochel?” people ask me incredulously when I share that I’m taking my first-ever trip to the kever, well over a decade after moving to Eretz Yisrael.
I don’t know why I never went. And now, as I step off the bus with my daughter on the day of her bas mitzvah, I wonder even more.
I search for the famed tree and domed roof, but all is gray and sterile. Then I walk into the tziyun, packed on this Rosh Chodesh, and emotion washes over me.
I break down crying.
I sob like I haven’t done in a long time. I’m so happy to be here.
Mother. The word means everything to me. It’s a relationship that was always a distant, elusive dream, because I grew up with an emotionally unavailable mother.
I wish I had a mother, I sob. I wish my mother had showed me love, even once. I wish I’d had a meaningful conversation with my mother, even once.
My daughter gets lost for a few moments in the crowd, and I’m glad for the privacy.
At Mamma Rochel’s kever, I mourn the mother I never had. I sense relief as I express my suppressed emotions. Here, I know Hashem — in the zechus of Mamma Rochel — is listening and taking in all of my pain.
I’m in camp, experiencing a strange blend of homesickness and freedom. My teenage mind barrages me endlessly with swirling, confusing thoughts. I jot down my questions. The most agonizing one: Does Mommy love me?
I’m writing a letter to my seventh-grade teacher. I write all of the nascent aspirations and noble thoughts of my young and uninhibited self. I know the letter is uber-spiritual, and that’s why I must be very careful. Until I finish writing that letter, I hide it under the basket of socks in my drawer. I shudder to think of how humiliated I’d be if Mommy ever found it. I’d be (yet again) branded eccentric.
“I’m so proud of myself,” I flippantly mention to Batsheva over the phone as I get ready to sit down for supper. “I already finished my homework, and even studied the first perek for Chumash.” Something makes me look up, and I freeze. Mommy is smirking and muttering to Tatty, “Proud of herself.” I quickly get off the phone. I can’t express myself here, especially this odd teen-talk.
But here, at Kever Rochel, I can express everything. I don’t have to hide so that I’m not seen as needlessly emotional (the ultimate disgrace). Here, I can admit my faults and my challenges, instead of covering them in shame (because if I spilled my drink, I was forever clumsy and a good-for-nothing). Here I could sing my wishes and dreams, and not only write them in my private-private diary and tremble at the thought of it being discovered and violated.
Here I am myself, and this freedom in the presence of a mother is so delicious and safe.
I scan the crowd and spot my daughter Chavi. My heart hurts. I want so much to be a warm, present, and safe mother. It’s one of my highest goals, and telling me I’m a wonderful mother is the greatest compliment anyone can give me.
But I live in constant doubt. I never had a meaningful and safe mother-daughter relationship. Can I gift it to my children?
The doubt tears me up inside. My over-cautiousness in mothering and unforgiving self-scrutiny strains me greatly.
But hope is here. I feel the warmth of Mamma’s embrace. I finally experience the gift of motherhood. Maybe I can be the mother of my dreams.
Chavi walks toward me. I take her hand in mine and look into her eyes. She returns my gaze and stares at my red-rimmed eyes.
I smile. It’s okay. It’s okay to express yourself.
Hand in hand, we thread our way outside.
And I know that I’m a wonderful mother.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 763)
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