Notes and Hugs 

 Stop studying. Have
This is the note Sebastian scribbled on a piece of
paper and delivered to me at 7:45 am on a Monday morning, the first day of my
extended school practicum. When I asked Liliana one evening where Ima is on her drawing depicting the three figures she identified as Sebastian, Liliana, and Aba, she said “oh this is those days when you’re at school until night.” Their recurring refrain is now a running joke: “Ima always misses all the fun.”

It’s true. Studying all the time can get isolating and gloomy.  Sometimes I just need some familial reminders.  My mother used to place little notes in our belongings when we went away to summer camp. I would stick my hand into my shorts pocket to find a “Thinking of you, have a great day!” note or open my toiletry kit to read: “You must be getting ready for bed. Brush your teeth well and sweet dreams. I love you.” Finding a note in some fortuitous pocket was always a delicious treat. Now my six-year old son sends me off with notes in the mornings.

Mornings are typically dragging and frenetic at once. I don’t get to drop the kids off at the bus-stop and daycare in the mornings nowadays, so I strive for some quality time together over cornflakes and cheerios. But the clock’s relentless ticks are oppressive. You’d think I’d
know better by now: to give my “last call” alert (“ok I’m leaving, bye
chamudim [cuties]”) five minutes earlier, so as to cue Sebastian and allow him the time
to swiftly prepare his morning note. But when it comes to early morning
procedures, my body is languid and my learning curve is low. And so day after
day, I stand near the door, shifting my feet, glancing anxiously at my watch,
declaring “I’m already late” while I await the note that will accompany my typically rainy
journey to school.

I no longer ask why his projects have to happen “davka” (PRECISELY) at the 25th
hour. His “davka” moments, I’ve learned, are invariably transformed into
moments of grace.

Like the comprehensive multi-paged “love-book” he HAD to create at 1 am
on the night of our return from Hawaii, where his father’s preferences, from
m&ms to Iced Americanos are meticulously documented and illustrated.

Sebastian, it seems, assimilates experiences by putting pen to paper.
His notes integrate text and image in a detailed and symmetrical manner.

“Diverse learners” is the current buzzword of educational theory and
developmental psychology. I am quick to recognize the verbal and visual learner
in our home. As well as the physical one:

“Wait I forgot
something”, Liliana calls out as I begin uttering my goodbyes and heading toward
the door. But a moment later I am swathed by a colossal body-hugging embrace.

Most of the time she
will blurt out the “I forgot something” phrase instinctively as I begin to call
out “ok bye chamudim (cuties)” while getting my coat. On occasion, I will
remind her, as I approach the door: “Have you forgotten something?” The snug
hug that she runs and delivers is my reminder, my wake-up call, my keepsake. It keeps me going. For my sake,
and theirs.

Notes and hugs are distinctive. Both designate meaningfulness: when we
‘note’ something, we make special mention of an idea, appointing it as
meaningful in some way; when we hug someone, we ‘note’ the meaningful sentiments
that accompany our relationships. Both notes and hugs are frequently designed
as an aide to memory. Both are compact,
compressed forms; they contain few words and vast universes.

In a grade 8 Poetry
unit, I taught my students the poetic power of omission: the presence that settles
when absence perches. (That is not how I explained it to a bunch of 13 year
olds.) Very simply, the students were to turn a narrative paragraph into a poem
merely by leaving out certain words:

Frenzied mornings
Backpack, boots, door,
Wait I forgot
A smothering hug
Good bye, I’ve gotta
Anxious glance, door
A little note
I love you
Now go

If it is true that omissions reveal entire universes,
it is also true that they conceal vast worlds.

One Saturday morning, Liliana climbed into bed with me and pronounced,
“ken yaffa sheli” (yes my beautiful), I replied blearily, unaffectedly.
She continued: “Ima you can be anything you want to be. But not כועס.”

I sighed. She had distilled my deepest intention: to be free – free of
anger, free of gloom, free of anxiety, free of stress. I wanted to take her beautiful face in
my hand and illuminate the freedom I wish for her. To tell her that when I say יפה
שלי (“my beautiful one”) I also mean “my strong one” or “my courageous one” or “my
thoughtful one”, I mean the beauty that is not contained in outward appearance,
I mean the harmonious and the dissonant, the smooth and the jagged, the fairy
princess and the brilliant wizard, the butterfly and the scorpion, I mean YOU,
my child, can be anything you want to be. Even ko’es (angry).

Saturday morning, a few weeks later, I turned to Liliana as she was nuzzled
beside me in bed: “ani ohevet otach” (I love you). 

With an impish twinkle in
her eye she countered: “lo at lo ohevet oti, at meta ali” (No you don’t love
me, you’re crazy about me). 

As she said this, her laughter bubbling over, the  “fun” that I too often miss out on, gurgled
from my belly and into my heart.

I hugged
her tight. And jotted my note:

I am
a photo collage
Amidst a pile of
Children’s art on the
fridge, I can never run out
Of milk
Corn flakes and egg
A comfy throw blanket
I crawl under forts
Step over lego and