Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Av 5766 - August 23, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The First Day of School

by Sara Gutfreund

On the first day of school, Chana made chocolate chip pancakes for Yael. She set up Yael's favorite pink plate that had colorful pictures of balloons and dolls all around it. On the folded, white napkin beside the plate, Chana placed a vitamin next to the fork and knife. Chana poured orange juice into a large, pink cup and put the blue, spiral straw inside of it. Yael loved to drink from a straw. When Yael walked into the kitchen, her gray eyes lit up with delight.

"Ima, can you help me with the top button please?" Yael asked, as she tried to tuck in the shirt of her uniform. Chana felt a lump forming in her throat as she looked down at her first grader. It didn't seem possible that Yael was already in the first grade. She bent down to button Yael's shirt and tried to stop her hands from shaking. Meanwhile, Yael seemed oblivious to her mother's anxiety. She sat down happily in her seat and chattered on about the plans she had made with her best friend.

"Tzippy said to bring my sticker book because she wants to trade with me today. Is that okay, Ima?" Chana nodded with a smile and walked over to the small, kitchen window. The early morning sky was cloudy. How did the summer pass so quickly? How did the years pass without her even realizing it?

Yael was her only child, born after ten years of fervent prayer and hope. Chana can still remember the first moment when she held Yael in her arms. The baby had looked up at her with such startled, trusting eyes and had waved one tiny hand into the air. Chana can remember staring at that hand for what seemed like forever. It was a perfect hand with small pink fingers that seemed to each hold a special miracle. And as she studied her new baby girl, she saw a hundred miracles coming alive in her arms.

All her friends had warned her that taking care of a newborn baby wasn't easy. They spoke of exhaustion and frustration. But from the moment that she had brought Yael home, Chana felt only joy. Finally, she could fulfill the tafkid that she had always known was inside of her. Instead of feeling tired, Chana woke each day with an endless spurt of energy. She rejoiced in Yael's every move. Every moment was a reason to celebrate.

Her first smile. The first time she rolled over. The day she learned to clap. Her first tooth. The first word. The first step. And beyond all the firsts, was the astounding reality of a child; this beautiful combination of herself and her husband filled with her own special neshomoh.

Chana wanted to keep Yael home forever. When kindergarten came, Chana was a little anxious, but she soon realized that not much had changed. The teachers didn't seem to mind if the girls were a half hour or even an hour late. So Chana and Yael continued with their long, lazy breakfasts and morning strolls to school. Now everything would change. Yael wanted to walk with Tzippy, and of course, Chana understood. She knew that there would be a point when Yael would want to be with her friends more than her mother. She just hadn't realized it would come so soon.

And since the hot, summer afternoon years ago when she had been holding Yael's pudgy hands as Yael had tried to take her first steps, Chana had known she would have to let go. She had let go then, and Yael had taken three, amazing steps before falling onto the carpet. Chana had crossed her arms to stop herself from catching her. At first Yael looked startled when she fell, but then she clapped her hands and giggled. And Chana knew then that no matter how many times she let go, she would always have that instinct to reach in and cushion Yael's falls.

Chana looked now at her daughter who was packing her lunch into her new, blue knapsack. Her two ponytails bobbed up and down as she struggled with the zipper. Would Yael be okay in the enormous elementary school with teachers that Chana didn't even know? But as Yael stood up to kiss her mother on the cheek, Chana knew that Yael would be fine. Despite all the attention and love lavished upon her, Yael wasn't a spoiled child. She was good-natured and easygoing.

Chana walked her out the door and waved as she spotted Tzippy in the corner. She watched Yael skip towards her friend, and she thought her heart would break as they began to walk down the uneven sidewalk, hand in hand. But just then, Yael turned around and threw her a kiss. Chana put her hand up into the air and caught it. And then she turned away and walked inside. Spotting her red, leather siddur, she picked it up and began to pour out her heart before the Only One Who never really lets go. And she felt the comfort of bittersweet pride surround her.

On that first day of school, Chana realized that a piece of her was walking around in the world, and she couldn't protect it anymore. But He could. He always had.


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