Velveteen Wisdom

Fourth in a series. 

I’m letting our Picture a Conversation cards inspire this ongoing essay series. Martin took this owl’s portrait one afternoon at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. 

We’ve just returned from our second granddaughter’s Simchat Bat (Judaism’s celebration ceremony for a newborn girl.) Leah Florence was blessed and given the Hebrew name of Adina Noa (gentle comfort.) Our son and daughter-in-law created a beautiful service. Big Sister Olivia recited blessings over the wine and the bread. It was a morning steeped in tradition, in prayer and deeply meaningful readings. There was laughter and tears, remembrance and hopes for the future. Family arrived from all corners; my son’s friends from grammar school and college came. Some of my friends and their children were there. Some of these friendships now span three generations. Time felt tangibly wide and long, like a snowy cloth sailed across the dining room table each Sabbath. I felt my years, grateful for each and every one.

One young mom and I were chitchatting. She grew still for a moment and said, “I have a ten-month-old son. Do you have any advice for me? Any wisdom?” My heart went out to her. Motherhood is as joyous and breathtaking as it is confounding and terrifying. We want to do so well. We want do it right. How can we know if our mothering is the right kind of mothering for our children? How do we rise to this awesome and sacred responsibility of raising these miracles of life? I remembered ten months old: exhilarated and exhausted, I was filled with wonder and worry. There were times I became a version of myself that mortified me, yet I knew there was no other role greater than the one I had been given.

“Be gentle on yourself,” I began. “Remember that you are human.  Try to keep self-judgment at bay.  Enjoy each stage as much as you can. They go so quickly.” I nodded toward the bay window where my son had led the service.  “It all happens faster than you will ever believe.”

I remembered wanting to be the perfect mother, dreading the possibility of damaging my children with my own uncertainties and shortcomings. It takes so long to know how it will all turn out; and “how it turns out” changes year by year. Ultimately, we never know. I shared with her something I’d been thinking about and had discussed with my rabbi not so many weeks ago.

“You know, in the Creation story God reflects back upon each day and comments, ‘It was good.’ Not great, not magnificent, but good. All those stars and oceans? The giraffes and the peacocks? The plants and the rivers? God never said, ‘Hey, today was a fantabulous, outrageously freaking perfection of a day.’ All that we are told is that it was ‘good.’

“So focus on good. Some days will be more good and some days will be less good. The text teaches us is that if God was content with good at the end of each day, what more need we ask of ourselves?”  She hugged me and I returned her sweet embrace, grateful to have been given the opportunity to connect with my own hard-earned wisdom, and to look back and say, “It was good.”

                                                                           ***   ***    ***      ***     ***


Up above the asterisks is where this essay originally ended. You’re free to stop reading there. But as I thought more about it, I returned to my original theme of wisdom. Which then begged the question: Where does wisdom come from?  

Any wisdom that might accompany us into the world, vanishes with our first exhalation. Wisdom is what happens to us, bit by bit.  We might think of our newborn heart as if lined with pink sateen; we are fat and bunchy, pristine. We don’t know yet that we are Life’s plaything. That there will be times when Life drags us through the mud. That we will feel abandoned, left high on a shelf and seemingly forgotten. The stuffing will get knocked out of us a time or two or three and our joints will loosen. We’ll lose our hair. Other things, too. Wisdom is what happens to us. If we are fortunate, we recognize and welcome this truth. Compassion, for ourselves and others, begins to fill the gaps where Life carved us away.

Decades from now, I imagine another gathering. Generations have come together to welcome and bless a new life. The young mother from above might even be a grandmother. Perhaps she  will be approached by a mom who asks, “I have a ten-month-old son. Do you have any advice for me? Any wisdom?”


                                                                                with thanks to Margery Williams 


Keep the conversation going. Whose wisdom has made a difference in your life?  What wisdom would you offer a young parent? What wisdom would you wish had been shared with you?  Want more Picture a Conversation? Order here.

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  1. Kay says:

    The addendum is so true.

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