I really lost my temper. I hadn’t meant to. But she wouldn’t stop whining. I was trying desperately to finish my article and was frustrated and stressed. And she stood there behind me, telling me her stomach hurt and asking whether I could help her.
I mumbled, “One second,” and hoped she would go away. She didn’t. And when my “one second” turned into 20 minutes, her whining hit an all-time high. Swiveling around in my chair, I snapped, “Can’t you see I am busy? Please leave me alone!”
And she did.
She walked out of my office, and I heard her crumple on the stairs and cry.
Mine were most definitely out of whack. The second I heard her wail, I snapped out of the workaholic trance that unfortunately consumes me more than I would like to admit. I ran to her and held her and apologized. Her stomach was hurting. She needed her mommy.
As I sat with her, I tried to explain that sometimes mommies can make mistakes and lose sight of what is most important, and I asked her for forgiveness. I told her how lucky I am to have her, what a huge gift she is, and how grateful I am that G-d felt I was worthy to be her mommy. I assured her that I love her and I’m here for her, even if sometimes I don’t respond as quickly as I should. I wiped away her tears. She hugged me and told me she loved me. And then I cried.
I recently read an editorial in which a woman described her view of motherhood. She wrote that while being a mother is part of who a woman is, it shouldn’t be all of who she is.
I thought about her statement for a while. I am all for women working outside the home, having careers and doing what they need to feel fulfilled and productive. But when it comes to whole and parts, there is no such thing as being partly mother. Would we rationalize when pregnant that it’s OK to smoke or drink? Maybe a pregnant woman is only partly pregnant?
Writing, teaching, editing and the various things I do help me express who I am. But who am I? I am a mother! It embodies me. Fully. My children are me. And I trust that they know that, too. I am the only mother they have.
Fascinatingly, Judaism doesn’t define motherhood the way the rest of society does. The Jewish perspective does not require that a woman have a child in order to be considered a mother. The Torah calls Chava (Eve) the first woman, em kol chai, “the mother of all life,” before she ever gives birth to a child. Being a mother means to be other-centered, to have another at your core. This is one of the reasons why the word for “womb,” rechem, shares the root of the word rachmanut, “empathy.” I don’t just feel badly for your pain; I actually feel your pain. Your pain is my pain. You are a part of me.
But coming back to Chava, I wonder if we could read the biblical phrase another way. The words em kol could mean “all mother” — not “part mother” but all mother. She is the mother of all life, and she is all mother.
There are many roles I fill, many things I enjoy doing. But for most of them, I am truly replaceable. (Granted, I hope not too replaceable…) But some of the things I do can most definitely be done by others, perhaps even done better. And that even includes the things I excel in, that I feel passionate about, that I focus on — those things that express me. There are many writers, many teachers, many editors. And yes, there are many mothers. But there is no other mother to my children. Only me.
Hopefully, next time I will be able to remember this without making my baby cry first. After all, she is my entire world, and I am hers. Em kol chai.