Sons and Mothers
It startles me every time, the way Mom can’t keep in mind what is right in front of her. Last night we went to my son’s army swearing-in ceremony. We sat together on a hard bench looking into the setting sun as 300 soldiers held both the Torah and their weapon and vowed to defend Israel with their lives. We managed to take a few photos of him marching into and out of the arena. He was so intent on marching, he almost didn’t see us waving and calling. What a handsome young man. I felt so proud.
In the back of my mind was also the realization that for the next three years, my son will be a soldier, with all that that entails. As I wrote in a poem, “The Burden of Sons,” “mothers // with hearts exposed / sit by their windows / trying to stop // the sand and grit— / the burden of sons— / entering unbidden.”
It was hard to focus on those feelings with Mom asking me over and over where Rafi was, how long he’d been there, whether he was going back to school now, who the lovely young woman was who was sitting next to us (his wife), and why she hadn’t been invited to their wedding. The army uniforms didn’t trigger any associations. And only seeing herself in wedding photos, conveniently located on Rafi’s phone, convinced her, for the moment, that she’d been there.
As I worry about my son, so I worry about my mother.
I drove back to Netanya with my parents after a lovely family dinner in the cool evening air. Mom and I had plans this morning. We went to the hairdresser. The last time Mom had had her hair colored, she became agitated by the coloring process and wanted to get up and leave. I was there to ensure that this time it would go smoothly.
It took an hour an a half to add dark stripes to her almost all-white hair and fashion it into a stylish cut. Eli, the French hairdresser, got annoyed at me for asking so many questions about the process. I was trying to understand the sequence of events so that I could keep Mom calm.
I have to say Mom did surprisingly well. She laughed at herself when she saw her reflection with the foil packets folded all around her head, saying it looked like she’d been hit by lightning. When it was over, Mom looked fantastic. “That took eons,” she said. When I told her it was only an hour and a half since we’d arrived, she was amazed. “Is that all?” she asked. She even tried to calculate it on her watch but couldn’t do it. Another skill gone.
I came home earlier today than I usually do because Mom had a Hadassah luncheon to attend. I called to say I’d arrived home safely, and Mom said she’d had a nice time but couldn’t remember she’d had a big lunch. When they eat at home, Daddy has Mom check off on a chart that she’s eaten so that she won’t eat twice. Sometimes even that doesn’t work.
Mom apologized to me for wasting my time. I didn’t feel I had wasted my time being with Mom at the hairdresser’s. It was where I had chosen to be, and though it passed slowly, it was not a burden.
Here’s the spinach dish I made for dinner. Slicing the cabbage into thin strands reminded me a bit of Mom’s long white hair before it was cut.
Cumin-flavored Spinach and Cabbage
This dish combines healthy vegetables with a taste of the Middle East.
1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic crushed
1 onion sliced
400 grams fresh spinach leaves (approximately 1 lbs)
½ head cabbage sliced
1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
1½ tsp cumin
Sauté garlic and onion in a large pot. Place rinsed spinach and cabbage in pot and cover until spinach shrinks by half. Add salt and cumin, and stir until spices are evenly distributed. Serve warm.