This is my child and she needs and needs and needs. I can’t look at her. I can’t look at myself
I’m 6 years old.
My friend’s mother drops her at the school gate. Her mother kisses and hugs her before she walks in.
How pathetic, I think. How needy and nerdy. I can’t relate. Why does she need her mother to kiss her goodbye when she’s so grown up?
The days go on. I don’t talk much. School is my safe space, my happy place, where I’m seen. My teachers lavish attention on my eager mind. Still, I’m reserved.
Home isn’t a bad place, but it’s a lonely place. I do most things myself. I do projects on my own, homework on my own, go to sleep on my own. There are lots of siblings, but I’m alone. My mother is too busy to draw me out, too preoccupied to know who I played with that day and that I won a prize in sports.
I don’t understand those girls whose mothers kiss them goodbye.
I’m 11 years old.
The pay phones are surrounded by eager teenagers. It’s my first-ever school shabbaton, and the girls clamor to phone their parents before Shabbos.
How strange, I think. What could they possibly need to say to their parents whom they just saw in the morning?
I’m confused, but less judgmental this time because there are so many of them. My older sister lines up too; I assume she tells my parents that I’m as fine as I was hours before.
Over Shabbos, some of my classmates cry. They’re homesick and miss their parents. Weaklings, I think. Why should they miss their parents? I’m strong. I don’t miss my parents. I am used to doing things by myself.
I’m 14 years old.
I’m an outspoken, brash teenager. I have my close-knit group of friends and we don’t notice anyone else. I question everything.
I’m not unhappy. I don’t hate my home life, but my mother irritates me. She goes through her own awakening, and suddenly, she wants to get to know me. Years too late. She’s a stranger and the more I withdraw, the more she tries to draw near.
But with my friends I belong. We’re good kids, really, our bark is worse than our bite. We’re a team against the world.
I live for camp. This is the age before mobile phones and again the pay phones are packed on Erev Shabbos. I don’t understand. What is there to say to my parents? I have nothing to say to them at home, so why would there be anything to say to them at camp?
I’m 19 years old.
I move to Israel the month I graduate high school to attend seminary and college. Suddenly, I yearn for my mother. It’s so lonely. We talk a lot. Actually, she talks. About goings-on at home. About her week. She’s my link to my life as I knew it.
But still I don’t talk. She’s good, she fills the spaces. I yearn for her closeness, and we talk more than before. But the walls are there.
I’m 25 years old.
My newborn baby lies in my arms. She screams, begging for something, but I can’t give it to her. My whole life I’ve been building a wall against neediness. My parents were not present emotionally for much of my childhood, so I built walls. I couldn’t acknowledge the painful unmet needs, so I became a fortress. Neediness and vulnerability are repulsive to me. My own neediness and that of others is something I can’t tolerate or accept.
This is my child and she needs and needs and needs. I can’t look at her. I can’t look at myself. I can’t run away anymore. Condemning neediness as repulsive isn’t going to work.
I need to look at myself. With the help of a therapist, I slowly and agonizingly unpeel the decades of protection. The anger, the loneliness, the fury, it all bursts out. It threatens to drown me.
But it doesn’t. Minute drops of compassion emerge. Out of the slowly developing compassion for myself, I find compassion for my little baby.
My baby grows up into a toddler, and my son is born. Again, the neediness threatens me, but we face it, head-on. I’m not afraid anymore. My vulnerability is my pride, it’s the reward of a courageous and scary journey. Needing something does not make you unworthy.
He’s 4 years old.
I drop my four-year-old off at school. His strong little legs bound toward the stairs. “Naftali, did you forget your kiss?” I call out. A little kiss, I love you have a great day, and he dashes off to his friends, enveloped in his mother’s love.
Is it for me or for him? I ask myself.
I don’t know. I’ll do it until he tells me to stop.
A few months later, he runs in, too excited to see his friends, too busy for a kiss. I wave and shout, have a good day.
Later, he will sit on my lap, reconnecting after a busy day. He is my cuddly one.
She’s 5 years old.
It’s a pre-Pesach event for the mothers and daughters at the school. My daughter is the shortest in the class, and she tells me that her feet don’t reach the floor. Just like me. The similarities end there.
She’s seated at a table with older girls and their mothers, whom she doesn’t know. I rush in, perfectly on time, but everyone is seated already. I made it, I’m relieved, but I feel a little guilty.
I look at her, this tiny human, wise and brave and confident, who relishes all of life, with awe. I feel guilty that she was sitting there waiting for me. Maybe she was unsure if I was coming?
I hug her, and whisper in her ear, did you think I wasn’t coming?
She looks up, confused. The question doesn’t make sense. But you said you were coming, Mommy.
She’s 6 years old.
It’s a few weeks into first grade. I think back to the beginning of the year. Please walk me in, she’d ask every day. Now, we walk to the gate, and I ring the bell. A big hug and a kiss, a brachah for a great day, I love you.
She smiles, content and confident, and marches her little legs up the stairs.
She’s so small; her bag almost reaches her knees. She’s so intelligent, so argumentative, and so expressive. She turns around and waves.
She’s so whole in needing her mother’s love. She teaches me that our stories do not have to be our children’s stories.
She is my healing.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 665)
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