| Musings |

She Wants to Know

How can I write a one-dimensional description of a woman so multifaceted?


She wants to know why I’ve never written about her.

“You’ve written about Daddy, you write about your kids all the time, there are essays on Zaidy and Aunt Mimi…When’s my grand debut?”

She says this jokingly, but perhaps she doubts herself, her impact on my life, the things I’ve learned from her.

Perhaps she fears some underlying resentment I carry towards her, a grudge from the past that’s become a hurdle I’m unable to overcome.

Perhaps it’s none of those things, but rather she has dreamed up a reason or two only she can fathom.

Yet with all those potential possibilities running through her head, I’m certain she hasn’t conjured up the actual reason why I’ve never put pen to paper describing her.

Which really is just part of her greatness.

For the question begs to be asked: how can I write in one-dimension a description of a woman who would leap off the page? A woman who is more energetic than I can ever hope to be, who arises before the sun, greeting the day’s arrival with vigor and exuberance?

A woman who gladly watches rambunctious toddlers so her daughters can nap, who will push double strollers up steep Yerushalayim hills, at which point she’ll insist all she needs is a sugar rush in the form of “Choko” (what she insists on calling “Shoko” — chocolate milk) and with that fuel alone, she’s ready for round two.

A woman who can strike up a conversation with anybody, and after a few moments, they are head-over-heels in love with her. Yes, the world loves her. But I loved her first; she’s just always been Mommy.

She’s our rock, the one who will fly to Israel on a moment’s notice if her children need her. The force that keeps us all sane, the voice on the line who empathizes, encourages, reminds us of our inner strengths. She’s the momentum propelling the connections in our family, wrapping invisible threads as strong as iron, sending emails to remind us of an upcoming birthday: “Don’t forget to call your brother! He’s turning 28.”

She’s the one who reminds us to take it easy after a birth, that our American taxes are due, to take care of the children’s’ vaccines. You can call it “over-functioning”; to me, she’s Mommy.

How can I possibly describe a woman who throws on just moisturizer and some Vaseline, and still is one of the most beautiful women I know? Sans makeup, her beauty remains untouched; no concealer obscuring the deep wells of wisdom. As for me? I am far more vain, choosing aesthetics over comfort, never leaving my house without liner to accentuate my eyes, foundation to hide the crow’s feet and fresh wrinkles.

But I doubt my children think I’m as beautiful as I think her. My mother’s face remains G-d’s canvas alone; she is nature itself, unsullied, pure, true and real. Her face is seemingly frozen in a perpetual smile, surrounded by deep half circles she doesn’t try to hide. They’re parentheses, cushioning the sides of her lips. Her life may be etched in those lines (the hardships, the struggles, just a side point), but the smile prevails.

“Life is too serious to be taken seriously,” is her motto. She’s a blast of fresh air in the stale material world that surrounds us, with her face reflecting her personality: What you see is what you get. To me, Beauty is Mommy.

And then where to possibly begin with the tales that unfurl like satin, told to me only by others, the ones my mother invariably will shrug off. Like the time I went to pay a shivah call to the children of an adam gadol, a man who changed the Jewish world with his initiatives and ideas. My mother had a decades-long relationship with the family, and this askan would often turn to her, knowing her generosity would help fuel his plans.

As I began speaking with a daughter, extolling her father’s virtues, she immediately turned the tables: “But your mother…!” While in mourning for her own father this woman couldn’t resist sharing the time our parents had been discussing a potential donation.

The Rav had reached out to Mommy during a financially rough period. My mother began the conversation with an introduction that it had been a challenging year. Certain he knew which direction the conversation was headed; he began to respond “I understand…” before she cut him off. “Therefore,” she emphatically concluded, “I need to give more tzedakah this year. I’m going to double the amount you’re asking for.”

Confirming the story with my mother, she matter-of-factly corroborated the account. “Of course,” explaining away this concealed act of greatness as an ordinary response.

To some, she’s a philanthropist in hiding. To me, she’s simple, humble Mommy.

So how can I sum up a woman like her, this model of a mother, whose personal standards I can only ever hope to reach the toes of? Does she know how difficult it is for me to put into words just how much she inspires me; just how much she means to me?

Perhaps she doesn’t know. Perhaps she can’t actually see behind the gallows humor we throw around like a shield in our family.

Perhaps she really believes me when I joke that I wouldn’t want to name a future daughter after her because I hate the name  Shaindel.

It’s true, it’s not my favorite name. But the sole reason I brush it off and laugh about naming kids after her is because even thinking about that reality is too utterly painful for me to envision.

Humor is my armor, deflecting, distancing, denying her age. As she ages, we children cannot possibly entertain the potential of her death… It simply will never happen, we tell ourselves. For if it would, what would happen to me, to my siblings, to my family? Our rock, our stability, our laughter, our inspiration.

Just as she doesn’t know why we can never have a serious conversation about her death, she’s never known why until now I haven’t written about her life.

Mommy: you will brush this essay off, say I write in hyperbole, joke that the reason I’m a good writer is because I’ve always had the gift of “fluff.”

You wanted to know. But I don’t think you’ll ever really know.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 741)

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