From Cradle to Grave

Courtesy of user purplemattfish

I met two moms at the playground yesterday. One new, one old.

The new mom was Sara. I met Sara for the first time about a year ago when I witnessed her sprinting for half an hour straight on the treadmill. Plodding along beside her, I felt like a carbon monoxide spewing VW Bug in the wake of an eagle soaring silent towards the clouds.

The day before Sara gave birth to her first child last month, I saw her still sweating away on the elliptical, bent over the handlebars like a birthing woman during a contraction. If I hadn’t known Sara was pregnant, I wouldn’t have even noticed. Sara’s belly looked no bigger than a tennis ball stuck into the waistband of her sweatpants.

But the Sara I saw yesterday at the playground yesterday was no longer soaring towards the clouds.

Sara stood by the playground’s entrance, bouncing from leg to leg as she cradled her newborn son in her arms. Sara tried to give her baby a pacifier, but he spit it out. Sara looked like she hadn’t slept since Tisha b’Av.

“The doctors say it’s his stomach,” she told me, “but I think that’s what they always say when they don’t know why a baby is crying all the time. I think he’s just the kind of baby who likes to be held all day.”

Sara looked at her little boy with eyes full of aggravation, love, defeat.

I began playing the experienced mother. Maybe she could borrow a baby swing? Or what about one of those vibrating bouncy chairs? For my baby, a bouncy chair had worked wonders.

But Sara didn’t want to hear any more recommendations. She had already heard enough do-this, do-that from her mother, her mother-in-law, her older sister, her neighbor with the 7 kids who all slept through the night at the age of 4 weeks.

Sara left, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman with the strength of an Olympian who was discovering that the hardest thing she had ever done in her whole life was take care of a baby no bigger than a china doll.

And I thought of the elemental force of a mother’s love—superhuman, fierce, undying…

And then Rebecca sat on the bench next to me with her grandchildren. Rebecca with the jokey fried-green-tomatoes Georgia accent mismatched with the saddest eyes I ever saw.

“I used to live in Efrat, near my married daughter and these kids,” Rebecca told me, “but then my husband got sick, and then I was on my own. I had to leave. I just couldn’t stand the sympathy anymore. Everyone stopping by, everyone feeling sorry for me. Enough. Enough.”

Rebecca looked over with a hint of a smile at her oldest grandson who sat beside his grandmother in silence.

“I moved to Jerusalem last year, and I’ve never looked back. I love it here…” she said, leaving a small pause between the words “I-love-it-here” for emphasis, but her sad eyes looked here, there, everywhere except into mine.

“Where do your other children live?” I asked her.

“One son is in Givatayim, and my other son is in Mt. Herzl…”

Mt. Herzl. My brain shuffled through it’s rolodex of Israeli settlements, cities, neighborhoods…Mt. Herzl brought up the image of a yuppy-full, teeth-white apartment complex near Beit Hakerem. But then that imaginary image gave way to the real Mt. Herzl, row after row after row of graves of once and still beloved sons and brothers and husbands who lost their lives serving in the Israeli army.

Later yesterday afternoon, I Googled Oded Cohen.* Killed in 2004 in the Gaza Strip. At his funeral, his older brother addressed Oded directly:

“Oded, we didn’t dream in our blackest dreams that we would have to stand on this Mount to say ‘goodbye’ to you. How can we say ‘goodbye’ to an angel like you? How did you turn from a child whose cheeks we loved to pinch into a soldier? Oded, you will always be with us, deep inside us. We just have one small request from the Creator of the World: Please watch over our little brother.”

The weeping only started, for some reason, several hours later at the market. I was sorting through tomatoes, too hard, too mushy, would be perfect without that puncture hole, when the tears began to fall and my face felt hot and red from the pain I felt.

And I thought again of a mother’s love—superhuman, fierce, undying.

From cradle to grave.
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One comment

  1. This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. You have touched my soul.

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