“Mommy, come here and look.” The insistent voice was calling from the kitchen door.
To even turn my head in his direction seemed to require more effort than I could muster. It was the end of a very long day.
I had taken the kids to a large, beautiful park a short distance from our home. Just packing to get out was itself an operation. The plan was to have a picnic supper at the park, so I cooked early and then raced around the kitchen trying to think of every conceivable item we would need. I threw everything into three large bags, and tried to get them, the stroller, the baby, and the kids into the cab I had ordered.
I was no longer so naïve as to think that I could actually relax in the park but I didn’t expect to lose two of the kids within the first two minutes, as I was unloading the bags. One moment my six-year old was holding my toddler’s hand and they were headed to a nearby slide – the next moment they were gone. The jungle gym in this park is touted as the largest metal gym in the Middle East. While I’m dubious that it actually deserves that title, it certainly is large. I circled it again and again, eyes scanning the dozens of children playing, climbing and hanging from its surfaces. Fighting off the sick sensation of a leaden stomach falling towards the floor, I set off for the smaller gym at the other end of the park. “Mommy, Mommy,” I heard the little voices behind me. Dizzy with relief, I hugged them both.
The rest of the afternoon was rather uneventful. All four of the kids became coated in sand, the baby got stuck on top of a slide, afraid to move, my four year old got a scratch and my eight year old helped build an elaborate castle complete with a water-filled moat. Supper was a smashing success – only one plate blew away and only two drinks spilled.
Finally, I gathered my sticky, sweaty, tired crew and schlepped them all to the nearest bus stop. We had been waiting for a quarter of an hour before another bus driver informed us that the line we needed was no longer running.
By the time we got home, we were all that much more sticky and tired. My husband met us at the door and graciously took over, giving baths and brushing teeth. I had a quick shower and then set about preparing supper for my husband and me. We had just sunk gratefully into our chairs before full plates of steaming food, when he started calling.
“Mommy, I want you to see something,” It was my eight year old at the door, excitement lacing his voice.
“Is there no end to a day?” I thought in annoyance. “Can I never have just a little quiet; do I not deserve to eat supper in peace?” I tried to stop the stream of negativity flowing through my mind. I willed myself to swivel around to face him.
“No,” he said, “don’t just look; I want you to come to the hall so I can show you something.”
Would he never be satisfied? I was so tired I could scarcely string the words of my refusal into an intelligible sentence. “Just show me from here,” I said in a leaden voice. “I can’t get up.”
He shrugged, then proceeded to cup his hands, as though they were wrapped around a rope. “Do you feel it?” he asked, “It’s a pipe that’s full of my love, and it goes straight to you. Can you feel the flow?”
I could have cried.
He had requested that I get up because he wanted me to see how long his love pipe could be, to show me how it stretched over distances. Through my stubborn refusal, I had contracted the very love which was now warming my guilty heart.
“I feel it,” I told him. “It feels wonderful.” I put out my arms and we embraced.
It was days before I realized that I had missed the essential point.
My guilt was entirely fueled by the content of his message to me. In reality, his request could have had a dozen other endings. He may have wanted to show me his latest Lego creation, a rock he found in the park, or even the pants I had laid out for him to wear the next day which he claimed were uchy because the pockets were too small. None of these revelations would have elicited the slightest bit of guilt on my part. My severe pangs of conscience were the sole result of watching my child yearning for connection, and being rebuffed by me.
The secret I had failed to grasp is that just about every request is fueled by a desire for connection – even the complaint about the small-pocketed pants. Sure, he also wants a different pair of pants, or a drink, or admiration over his Lego structure, but underlying that is the primal need each child has to feel loved, acknowledged, and appreciated by the most important adults in his world.
If only I could always hear the words not said. If only I could feel the love as it pulses through invisible pipes. If only they could feel my love as it flows back upon them.
Bassi Gruen is a licensed social worker, a professional writer, and the Editorial Director of Targum Press. She’s published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications. Bassi is the author of A Mother’s Musings, a collection of articles taking an honest look at the challenges and joys of motherhood. She lives with her husband, her children, and her dreams in Beitar Illit. This article is reprinted with permission form A Mother’s Musings.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.