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My Daughter's Growing Pains Hurt Me, Too

My Daughter's Growing Pains Hurt Me, Too

Mother and daughter sitting back-to-back

In the first biblical story, God creates the vast universe according to a specific pattern and order. On the first divine-sized day, God separates day from night and light from darkness. Then, God evaluates the handiwork proclaiming it “good.” On the second day, God separates the lower and higher waters to divide the seas from the heavens. On this day of creation, God neglects to declare it “good.” On the third day, though, after creating all the lovely and colorful flowers, fruits, and trees, God twice declares the work to be “good.”

It’s no surprise that ancient rabbis had an intellectual field day with God’s inconsistent use of the phrase “it was good” among the days of creation.

Rabbi Hanina, a 4th-century Talmudic sage, opined that God could not possibly declare the second day of creation “good” because on that day, dissension first reared its head when those waters were yanked apart. Centuries later, another generation of rabbis picked up the conversation. Known as Kabbalists, they asked why there was no dissension on the first day, when God separated light from darkness. Answering their own question, they noted that light and darkness are so distinct from one another that their untangling was a gentle and straightforward process, unlike the one needed to distinguish the lower and upper waters. Although nearly identical in nature, these waters also were separate entities, and the act of pulling them apart caused such pain and fighting that the lower waters cried. 

Indeed, from the moment our children are born, they begin to separate from us and establish their own identities. The process can be excruciatingly painful. When I nursed my babies, my body remained tethered to them. Hearing their cries triggered a complex hormonal response that flooded my ducts with milk. Even while working away from home, I could almost sense their hunger at various times, leading me to pump my milk to avoid becoming painfully engorged. Only after weaning my third child, did I feel that my last stage of pregnancy finally was complete.

Now, my 16-year-old daughter and I are experiencing another kind of weaning. She craves independence and she pushes me away. Adding to my pain, she has instituted a “gag order.” There are to be no discussions with anyone about her or any facet of her life. Long ago, I gave up posting about her on Facebook; now “Abby stories” are completely verboten.

The boundary between my daughter’s stories and mine, though, has always been a little blurry. Doesn’t our 32-hour labor story belong to both of us? And what about her gentle soul, the one we saw each time she watched, sobbing, as Mary Poppins flew off with the West Wind. Hadn’t I had a part in creating such a sensitive soul? As my child, wasn’t Abby’s story my story, too?

Descended from a story-telling dynasty, I spent my childhood hearing stories about my family’s past. My mom told us so many stories from her own childhood about walking in the snow in Cincinnati that I was sure southern Ohio was right next door to Alaska. On my dad’s side, I especially loved the stories of my ancestors as horse thieves along Romania’s moonless winding paths. With each telling and retelling, however, my mom reminded us that his family had been tailors in those Carpathian Mountains. Nonetheless, the stories of horse thievery lived on.

In time, I passed down tales from my own childhood and my children’s experiences, as well. But now, I am banned from sharing my daughter’s stories, forcing me to acknowledge that she and I are not the same. Like the upper water and the lower water, we comprise the same water and cells, but we are separate entities and, like the biblical waters, we must pull apart.

As when she was born, once again, she is pulling away from me. This time, there is no epidural to shield me from the pain. She is flying away with the West Wind, but now I am the one left sobbing. The old rabbis whisper reassuringly to me. They understand how much I ache from this separation. They understand, too, that this is the path toward new growth for my daughter – and maybe for me, too. Perhaps they understand most of all that when she bursts forth into the next phase of her life, it is I who will utter, “It is good. It is good.”

Rabbi Sharon G. Forman was raised in Norfolk, VA, and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994.  She has worked in the field of Jewish education for the past 22 years, and most recently has served as a bar and bat mitzvah teacher at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. The author of Honest Answers to Your Child’s Jewish Questions (URJ Press, 2006), she also contributed a chapter on the connection between breastfeeding and Judaism to The Sacred Encounter, edited by Rabbi Lisa Grushcow (CCAR Press, 2014).  Her most publication has been The Baseball Haggadah:  A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings, which makes the seder accessible for lovers of two springtime rituals.  She has also contributed to Kveller and Mothers Always Write. She resides in Westchester County, New York with her husband and three children.

Rabbi Sharon G. Forman
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