l sit cross-legged on my bedroom floor with my daughters at my side. They are six and three. On the floor between us, my black jewelry box lies open. My daughters’ eyes are wide and glittery. “Oh Mommy,” Atara breathes reverently, “it’s so fancy.”
“Yeah,” Ilana, echoes, “so fancy.”
I can feel their little fingers itching to touch and hold, so I lift each piece up toward the light. Out come the tiny ruby studs, my oldest piece of jewelry. “Zaidy bought these for me when I was born.” I smile remembering the old family story. My father, enchanted with his first daughter, wanted to buy diamonds, but my mother thought that was too ostentatious for a newborn. And so, the compromise, little ruby studs for my little pink ears. That first gift was important. It taught me that even before I was known, I was loved.
“We got earrings when we were born, right Mommy?” Atara asks. Yes, it’s true. They were loved, too.
I place them back in the box and bring out a tiny bangle. “My grandmother gave me this when I was two,” I say. Atara turns toward Ilana, “That’s even littler than you!”
In a sudden flash comes the memory of raising my pudgy dimpled arm to my mouth to bite the bracelet. How I cried afterward when I saw that my teeth had left an indentation in the gold! This was a lesson which would last a lifetime. Namely, some things should not be bitten. I finger the bite mark. “Delicate things are delicate, girls,” I say firmly and they nod as though they understand.
Tucked into the corner I find my small gold ring. I remember that Pesach, the year I turned six. My grandparents from Israel were staying with us. “And what do you want for Afikomen, Mamala?” my grandfather asked, smiling with his deep blue eyes. “A gold ring like Ima’s,” I answered. I was the oldest granddaughter and my Zaidy was wrapped tightly around my little finger. Just days later he presented me with a heart shaped ring, “For you, Yaely!”
After all these years I still remember my grandfather’s love for us, the grandchildren born in his old age and I see that love can make people foolish, but it is a gentle foolishness, and one to be cherished. “From my Zaidy,” I whisper. “Why you sad, Mommy?” Ilana asks, confused. I smile, “Sometimes we sound sad because we’re happy,” I say and I know that it makes no sense to them at all.
After, there were others. A pearl in a gold setting which kept falling off, proving that beautiful things are not always good. An emerald pin given by the cousin who I knew had never liked me which taught me that gifts from someone who doesn’t love you may be expensive, but they are never precious. Then an ornate Magen David charm which my grandfather spotted, incongruously, in a small shop in Texas. From this I learned that beauty can be found in the most obscure places if one is inclined to look for it.
The fiery opal my parents gave for my graduation sparkled with their love and expectations. The bracelet they bought when I started dating was a golden bond between us. Wherever life took me, I would carry them with me.
“I think you might have too much jewelry, Mommy,” Atara says, slyly.
“Nice try, Atara,” I answer.
The girls touch the shiny stones. They have just been bathed and smell sweetly of coconut shampoo and cherry Chapstick. They want, they want and one day they will have. Finally, I reach to snap the box shut and the thin gold band on my finger catches the light. “Daddy gave this to me when I was just a girl.”
My daughters giggle softly. They don’t really believe that I was ever just a girl. They are certain I was born as their mother. I stare at my ring, so familiar that it fades into the background of my life, unnoticed. I remember how the cameras flashed and the music played as he slipped it on to my finger. I didn’t know then that it would become such a part of me. I really was just a girl.
I have been quiet too long and my daughters have grown impatient.
“Who will give me and Ilana rings?” Atara demands, her small chin lifted. She is full of such questions. “I don’t know,” I answer. “But I hope he will be kind and good and make you happy.” I close my eyes and wish that the heavens hear me and answer my prayer.
“Well, I hope it will be sparkly,” Atara answers firmly. “Yeah, sparkly!” says Ilana.
I smile at my daughters, so shiny and new. They will have to learn their own lessons from their own jewels, I see. Gently, I place the box back in the small drawer.
“Who wants to try on fancy hats?” I ask. And we run, laughing, into the closet to play.
Yael Zoldan is a Brooklyn girl, who lives in Passaic, New Jersey, with her husband and children. Somewhere between carpool and laundry she finds the time to write.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.