Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

November 2, 2011 by

Business Trip

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Six years ago it was evening, and the light came gently through the slats of the hospital window shades, and the room was strangely calm, and it was all so new, and then she was in my arms, a being of radical energy, and I sang to her. Today it was morning of breakfasts and lunches and searching for car keys and rushing and phone calls and singing and dancing of birthday and presents and then of my leaving. Now daytime is flying beneath me is desert before me is evening of working and teaching and she is behind me.

She cried while I applied eye makeup and when I left to catch my flight.

I pinky-promised that I’d try never to travel on her birthday again, but as I sit here tumbling away, I know that this promise didn’t console her. And I know that no matter what I decide or decides me in the future, there will be times when I am not there when she needs me, when she is going in one direction and I in another, when I cannot give her what she needs when she needs it.

As the distance between us grows, in time, in space, I realize that I must learn how to better help her navigate the distances that inevitably arise. Perhaps this is my most important job as her mother.

Today, six years later, I learned something. I write it, share it, so as to attempt to better etch it into my own being, with the hope that it may help me diminish the future distances.

1.      Be transparent: I didn’t tell my daughter I was traveling until this morning. I had hoped to spare her the anticipatory stress. But it more likely made things worse. I should have sat her down weeks ago to tell her that I was going to be traveling on her birthday. Don’t sugar-coat the distances. Staring at their yawning presence together is much less terrifying than facing them unexpectedly, and alone.

2.      Let the child be part of the solution: I created an elaborate plan to help make my daughter’s birthday meaningful, knowing that I would not be there. We went out for a special dinner with her cousins before her birthday. We’re planning a party for her friends. And her grandparents are coming for the weekend. But perhaps none of this makes her feel better today. And perhaps, had I shared with her my thought process and planning, she would have felt less bad this morning, or may have had other suggestions (likely, simpler than mine) to help her feel loved and celebrated.

3.      Modelling Grit doesn’t teach Grit: There has been much discussion about teaching character development, and “grit,” or resilience, has been identified as a core character trait to develop in children. When my daughter gets emotional, I tend to become tough as nails. Chin up, I tell her. Be strong. It never helps. I need to learn to create a safe space for her feelings of sadness and anger. I need to acknowledge and help her express those intense emotions. That, rather than modeling toughness, will help her develop the resilience she needs to thrive.

4.      Some days are better for business trips than others: A small note to self. Schedule better. Say no sometimes.

I gaze at my daughter each day as I did when she was born, with joy and bewilderment. I am full of biblical Sarah-like laughter, replete with a baffled gazing at the strangeness of self, with wonder that the self can create such familiar newness, and stretch us so. Soon I will be returning, and that is the endless gift and challenge of motherhood. I will have another chance. Perhaps I will grow.


  • Nili

    Maya, you write so beautifully. I know this will be little comfort to you and your daughter now, but we often celebrate Gregorian birthdays, Hebrew birthdays, and the time period in the middle is known at our house as “chol haMo’ed birthday” – it puts a bit less pressure on any particular day…. This might be easier in Israel, though…. Happy birthday, Mama!

  • Micole

    Actually had me teary eyed- not a small feat! Beautifully written and poignantly true! Thank you for putting to words a sentiment I always feel!