By Vera Sandronsky
Breasts ache, tightness, and pain. Another infection. Why does this keep happening? Nothing else about breastfeeding has been hard. I am hungry in the middle of the night, eating the peanut butter sandwich I left on my nightstand before falling asleep. The infant on the changing table, so dear and still such a foreign creature. These smells, this softness: we all started here. Yet I want to sit on a bench in her mind and observe what she sees around her. To know the world through her eyes. She cannot use words, but I begin to understand what makes her happy.
Standing with my three-year old in her bedroom, we are discussing her clothes. She declares, “I want to wear black and grey.” How did I raise a New Yorker at such a young age? She describes the girls in her kindergarten class as “Princess Girls.” She builds with blocks and then Legos. In first grade, when she is at the park with my husband, we talk by cell phone before I leave work. She says, “I want to tell you something: you have to come home quickly because the sun is going down.”
Death. She is 8 years old and explains to me that because the dinosaurs are no longer here, she herself will die. She joins us watching a nature video that shows glaciers melting in Greenland. I warn my husband to stop talking about sea level rise. She has nightmares about the devastation we fear for our world.
4th Grade: When can she cross that busy street alone on the way to religious school at our synagogue? My husband and I disagree. I am right, of course. Her safety comes before the principle of independence. As the months pass, we move beyond this impasse. Years later, I cannot recall exactly when she began to navigate this thoroughfare by herself. One fear down, but always a new fear showing itself around the corner.
Playing four square with other kids at recess, a way to fit in. She has two loving adults eager to help. But we can never be enough.
Her body changes too fast. Womanhood intrudes at the end of 5th grade.
Junior high school: math becomes a bridge to friendship with other students. She has her first girlfriend. I want her to know herself better before she becomes vulnerable to another. I am not in control. Yet always there to listen and to ask questions, sometimes cautiously, sometimes with a fierce urgency.
High school: she becomes more of herself, growing in so many directions, seeminglyall at once. Learning to improvise on the saxophone. Taking a college physics class in the summer. Staying out late and routinely not keeping her curfew. My anxiety grows in the wee hours of the morning each time I call, over and over again, and my message goes directly to voicemail. Why couldn’t she use a friend’s phone?
Time speeds up, and she is applying to colleges. Then COVID hits the world in the spring of senior year. She grieves the distance from friends and loss of school activities. In June she sits between us on the couch, and we watch her high school graduation ceremony on the big screen in our living room.
August 2020: to help her settle in her freshman dorm, we buy plane tickets to accompany her to New York City. But COVID has other plans, and she does not leave. Months of anticipation evaporate with an email cancelling on campus housing. Instead, she moves into an apartment in our town with a high school friend. I start to live without seeing her every day. She leaves for the start of her second semester, but fear of COVID prevents us from traveling with her. I thought I would break when we said goodbye at the San Francisco airport. I stayed strong.
When we talk on the phone and she shares her pain, her unhappiness pours directly from her mouth into my heart. I want to take her tears, but they belong to her. I listen, and offer advice if/when/possibly she can hear it. I remind myself to see her as separate, knowing this will bring me pain when she is sad and joy when she is thriving.
Wherever she goes, she takes my heart. It is so hard to become ourselves. My self will always include being her mother. Where can I find comfort? I need to mother myself when my heart flutters.
Vera Sandronsky lives in Northern California and is a retired attorney. In addition to her writing practice, she is active with political organizations working for progressive change. She published an essay in Jewish Currents magazine. Her essay, “The Reservoir of Silence,” appeared in the summer/fall 2022 edition of Wordpeace, https://wordpeace.co/3806-2/.