This is the third in a Sisterhood series on women, apologizing and Yom Kippur.
So we are now in the Days of Awe, a time of reconciliation and repentance for us Jews. This process requires a real willingness to take personal inventory of where you are right now and the strength and courage to actually get rid of the junk you are bound to discover. Unfortunately, I am completely incapable of doing that right now.
You see, I am “expecting,” a phrase that all too well captures the deep feeling of anticipation and, ultimately, distraction, that accompanies pregnancy. Being with child has put me in a state of mind that only allows me to reach forward or backward, but has completely robbed me of my ability to engage with who I am in the present. I find myself constantly contemplating what kind of mother I will be and what kind of child I was, but never who I am now.
Okay, yes, my mind is partially cluttered with the small stuff, like navigating all the products I apparently need in order to provide adequate care for the little one. (I am somewhat ashamed of the long hours I have spent online reading reviews of bassinets and discussion board conversations about whether or not I should put blackout shades in the nursery.) And then there is the time I have spent on less superficial inquiries into different parenting methods and which ones I think might work for me.
But for the most part the monkeys in my head are far more occupied with the more ineffable aspects of motherhood, the ones that many have trouble describing but can understand from a look of resignation followed by a mutually nourishing kiss on the cheek.
I am talking about the ways in which I will be tested and the ways in which I will be handed more power than I have ever had in my life. And then there is also the love, a brand new type of love, one that has already hit me in periodic waves, absorbing, mesmerizing, often euphoric. What will I do with all this? How will I channel it into being a good parent? Will it be easy to do right? Where will I go wrong?
And then there is my childhood, or, really, my mother, and all her work and love to consider. How did she do it? How did it feel? She tells me on the phone during our frequent conversations, but still, I struggle to go back and remember the experiences myself.
What exactly did she do to make me feel so safe, so part of something in my early years? And what of her failings later on? Could she have done different, or were they just the product of the inevitable tension that develops between a teenage girl and her mom?
These are the questions I am asking myself during these Days of Awe. They are more farsighted than those prescribed by Jewish tradition, but nevertheless, I hope they lead me to a path of introspection and enlightenment, all the while forcing me to embrace — and fear — the sublime mystery of it all.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
Atone? But I'm Expecting!