By my chasuna many years ago, I caught my mother having a moment. She was misty eyed as my sisters danced together – one looking far too grown up for a seven year old and the other about to be married herself. I sat next to my mother and she grabbed my arm, trying to say something but choking up. When I finally elicited an answer from her, it wasn’t the “you’re all growing up too fast” line I was expecting.
“C, this is the last time all my children will be together for a long time,” she said wistfully.
“Ma, what are you talking about? E is getting married in a couple of months!”
“You don’t know what I mean yet, but im yirtzeh hashem when you have children of your own you will know. It’s good to have your children all together. It’s a gift.”
When I left my children behind, I had no idea the future they had in store. I knew that staying would leave me dead and I made the rationalization that a living, absent mother was better than a dead one. I had a half-plan, one that saw me staying close to where they lived in order to see them and be involved in their lives. Life took a different direction, and I found myself miles away from half of my heart. When I do get to see my kids – like this week in a rented holiday place far away from the rat race – it’s hard to live in the moment because I know acutely that that moment will end much faster than I want it to.
As I watch my children sleeping together this afternoon, after a morning of pretending and make believe adventures, I’m struck by my mother’s words. Having your children all together is such a gift, and realizing the end of a time of togetherness brings both heartbreaking sadness and gratitude for the time we’ve spent. My heart is alternately breaking and joyful, knowing that my children – who live miles away from one another – are creating bonds that will hopefully transcend distance. An older brother taking his baby sister’s hand and leading her protectively down a sandy path, a younger brother running to keep up and throw the rocks into the ocean as far as his big brother can. Memories which will hopefully keep their souls connected despite the physical distance between them.
When our little idyll by the ocean ends all too shortly, my children and I will again part ways for several months. The weather will get cooler, days by the beach will seem like a distant memory. The vacation from a rigid religious life will be a dream. My snippets in time are what keep me going from one supersonic visit to the next. And there’s nothing like an ocean to help you catch your breath – even for a split second – and be grateful.