Unexpected Lessons

It’s not a popular statement in “mommy groups” where we’re all supposed to agree that parenting is SO HARD ALL THE TIME but, I’ve occasionally said that the hardest part of being my daughter’s mother was her birth. It was ridiculously, life-threateningly, hard. It was not made easier when she spent the first two days of her life in the NICU, but from then on, it’s actually been pretty smooth sailing.

I mean, there were, and are, issues, concerns, worries. Her early shyness and clinginess were extreme enough to seek out evaluations and earn a diagnosis of “poor proprioception.” She has very flat feet and one leg is slightly shorter than the other, so there were corrective arches for a while. Oh, and she’s a horrible speller. I mean, really, really bad at spelling. But mainly, she’s  a great kid and she’s healthy. Her father and brother are asthmatic and prone to colds, flus, coughs, not her. She’s rarely sick, but when she is, it’s kind of brutal.

Two days before her bat mitzvah she got sick. It was brutal.

One of the things that makes my daughter such a delight, and such a mystery to me, is that she’s a hard worker. I am not a hard worker. If I like something, I’ll do it, but if I don’t, if it’s too hard or too boring, like math, I generally just don’t do it. This isn’t a personality trait that I’m necessarily proud of, but it is something I accept about myself. My daughter is different. She doesn’t have to like or not like something, if she has to do it, she works at it. If it’s something she wants and likes, she works really, really, really hard. If it’s something she doesn’t care about, she just works really hard.

She worked really hard on her bat mitzvah. Some days, she worked really, really, really hard, but mainly, she worked really hard. My daughter is also an Irish dancer. Her bat mitzvah came right in the middle of Irish dance season and she worked really, really, really hard at dance. Her bat mitzvah was in the morning, she had a dance performance that afternoon.

She was perfectly prepared for both. She prepped and practiced and then, she woke up the day before with no voice, a slight fever, and coughing.

The day of her bat mitzvah she woke up at 6:00 am, ready to go. By the time she was ready to start at 10:00 am, she was still ready to go. About 20 minutes in, she started to cough. She sat down and began chugging water in a desperate attempt to keep her throat coated. She made it through her torah portion and her haftorah, and then, she really, really had to pee. She did what any logical person in need of a bathroom would do and raced through her d’var torah. Her beautifully written, somewhat subversive and sassy d’var torah. A d’var torah that questioned the very validity of her torah portion, not to mention threw a little shade at everyone who had bought a new dress for the occasion (including her mother). It was a piece de resistance, that was supposed to let her show everyone what she really thought, and no one heard a word, or rather, people heard a few words, very, very quickly.

She read it so quickly that the congregation burst in to spontaneous laughter/applause when she was done.

Things did not go as planned. She was a little embarrassed, but she recovered, and despite being sick, she went on to dance later in the day. She was tired, she was still sick, but she loves to dance, and her group was expecting her.

Once when she was little my daughter said, “I am not a person who does things well.” She meant she wasn’t one of those people who can naturally do things like cartwheels. My daughter is smart and beautiful, she’s kind and caring, but she doesn’t have that one thing that she’s always just been naturally good at. She is a hard worker. In the end of course, hard workers tend to do better in life than natural talents. Natural talents have a tendency to be afraid to make mistakes, to be unwilling to try new things, to refuse to listen to other people, to get a  little too caught up in their natural talent. But natural talents are glamorous and talked about, hard-workers tend to get overlooked.

Her father and I are not natural talents either, and we know how it feels. We had hoped that her bat mitzvah would give her a boost of confidence. We knew how hard she would work and that because of that work she would be beautifully prepared. We thought that meant she would do a beautiful job and be able to take the memory of that with her always. We thought maybe she would see this as something she was “good at.”

Instead, she was beautifully prepared, and through no fault of her own, she did not do a fantastic job. She did a good job, she did a fantastic job considering … but not the fantastic job she was prepared to do.

One week later, she is still sick and missing part of her voice. Her father is still sick and now, so am I. This morning I was dragging. I had to go to work, she had four performances and school today, her brother had to be taken care of.  “I don’t know how I’ll get through the day,” I said.

“Mom, if I could get through my bat mitzvah, you can get through today,” she answered.

Just like that, my daughter proved once again why being her mother is so easy. She writes her own lesson plans, she finds her own teachable moments.

Did she learn the lesson that hard work always pays off? No, because as much as we all pretend it’s the case, that lesson is just not true. Instead, she learned a better lesson, a true lesson. Sometimes, life sucks. Sometimes things are not fair. Sometimes, through no fault of your own, things are much, much harder than they should be. But you can survive it.

If you can survive your bat mitzvah with a fever, a cold, no voice and really, really having to pee, you can survive anything. If you can get what needs doing done and still have enough in you to go on and dance a jig, you can not only survive, you can thrive.


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3 Responses to Unexpected Lessons

  1. Emily M says:

    She really was amazing; the way she fought through the coughing and loss of voice impressed me immensely. I hope I get to read her d’var torah so as to fully appreciate her thoughts. (BTW, the pamphlet outlining the elements of the service was incredibly helpful. Thanks for doing that.)

  2. Becca says:

    I adore you. In every way. And I love your family. She makes me want to work really really hard too. And I will. Xoxo

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