What is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom. (Esther 5:3)
One day, when I came to pick up my little girl from preschool, the teacher called me to the side, and with a worried look in her eyes, she told me she thought there was a problem. My daughter didn’t respond like the rest of the children. I told her that we’d noticed that something was wrong, and we’d set up an appointment with an ear expert. During the days that passed until the appointment, we circled her in the house, my man and I, trying to check whether she could hear us. We raised our voices suddenly, dropped things on the floor, and clapped our hands behind her back. She didn’t really respond. My man tried to calm me down, I tried to calm him, and neither of us calmed down.
The ear doctor said that he couldn’t tell for sure what the problem was, and recommended doing another examination, this time in a hospital.
While we waited for the next appointment, going out of our minds from worry, we started asking questions and gathering information. With every question we asked, and every answer we received, we became even more worried. We started to understand that perhaps it wasn’t a hearing problem. We couldn’t breathe, and late at night, before the fateful examination, my man held me close to him, as close as he could, and I held him, and we both shut our eyes but couldn’t fall asleep. I lay down and prayed, and vowed, and promised God everything – everything I had, everything I could give – on condition that we’d find out that she was deaf. Because I wanted a deaf child. Please, God, give me a deaf child, I begged, because all the other possibilities were much more frightening.
He asked for water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. (Judges 5:25)
The princess was destined for greatness. As she was growing up, she knew exactly what she was going to be: a real superwoman, in leggings or in a ball gown wrapping her perfect body, who would float with a smile and ever so lightly amongst her beautiful, tidy children who would receive all the quality time in the world, and never watch television out of boredom but only for developmental and educational purposes. From them, she would continue floating, without ever being late, into the board meeting where everyone would be sitting with suits and laptops that projected PowerPoint presentations on the walls, and she would knock them all off their feet from enthusiasm and admiration. Her hair would always look wonderful, tidy, and blow-dried, and in the evening she’d go out, evening after evening, clubbing and dancing, and at night would become, in the blink of an eye, a wild, sexy animal, competing with all the twenty-two-year-olds with the pouty lips, and she wouldn’t have extra fat anywhere, or cellulite, or wrinkles. She’d never say that she was tired, and she certainly wouldn’t say that she had a headache; beneath her suit she’d wear seductive thongs, and she’d be flexible and wild enough to achieve all the things they do in porno movies, and she’d get up early the next morning singing with a happy smile on her face, like a sweet Mary Poppins, wake up the children, prepare them for day care and school, and then continue on to work, where she’d be brilliant and efficient and would never make mistakes, never miss a day because one of the children was ill, and happily do whatever she was asked to do, and her boss would be so satisfied.
However, the princess’s life is now far away from that fantasy. After everything she’s done, after all her studies and work and hopes and dreams, she turned into a housewife. She says to herself that it’s just for the time being, but she can’t stop thinking about the fact that she’s not any different from the Queen Mother.
During these moments, when she’s a bit disappointed, and a bit confused, and a bit far from what she thought she’d grow up to be, she reminds herself that she’s doing the most important thing anyone can do. She’s a mother.
And she takes the heirs to see a play. She dresses them nicely and wears her new white pants, and she’s proud of herself. Here she is, the dedicated mother providing her children with a cultural experience, and when they leave the play, the heirs will be enriched; they’ll be smarter and more successful than they were before they got there. She stands in the foyer of the local cultural center, looking around her at the dozens of young mothers, who at that moment – regardless of their body measurements, of what they’re wearing, and of the fact that in another hour they might go out in the evening and look wonderful – all look awful to her. Grey. Hunched. Exhausted. Every one of them is coaxing her child, or children, not to scream, not to eat another ice cream, not to ask for another candy or another present from the vendor circling the area with all kinds of lame plastic made-in-China toys that he sells at exorbitant prices; to please stop eating chips, climbing, crying, and just be content for one minute. And she knows that she looks just like them. And she’s behaving just like them. And in the car on the way home, when they cry over some toy or ice cream that she didn’t buy them, she discovers that her white pants are smeared with stains from one of the candies she did buy them, and she screams at her children.
When my youngest (now a year and a half old) was born, my oldest child was three and a half. A mommy’s girl and mommy’s only. Her preschool teacher told me that because I breast-fed for so long (a year and a half) my daughter is overly attached to me. Okay, I’m also very attached to her. Now she’s five, a difficult age. She’s a good girl, sensitive, and somewhat spoiled. When her brother was born, she was very jealous. You’re probably familiar with those waves of jealousy. And I feel like this mothering business only gets harder, because not only am I not an ideal mother, I feel like a lot of the time I really don’t give my all. But, what – am I not allowed to get annoyed when she dawdles before bedtime? Okay, it’s not so terrible, and she does it so sweetly, but I get really angry. Or when she chatters endlessly before bath time and giving her a quick shower takes me an hour. What exactly am I so angry about? And I do get really angry. And then later, I’m angry at myself.
Woman of Valor: A Novel, by Lihi Lapid, published by Gefen Publishing House.
Lihi Lapid is an author and journalist whose books and weekly column deal with contemporary women’s issues. She publishes a weekly newspaper column in the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot weekend supplements. She has written two bestselling novels, “Secrets from Within” and “Woman of Valor;” a cookbook entitled “Lihi Lapid’s Favorite Recipes,” and a bestselling children’s book, “The Magic Whisper.” Prior to becoming a writer, Ms. Lapid was a professional photographer. Educated at the prestigious Camera Obscura School of Art and Tel Aviv University, she served in the Israel Defense Forces as a photographer for its Bamachane magazine. She resides in Tel Aviv with her husband Yair Lapid and their two children.