The rabbi’s wife sat poised, confident, and hardened from life, yet love shone softly through her words. Much of her wisdom felt thrown from a tree straight out of Gan Eden.
I drink as much of it in as possible, putting it into a mental mason jar labeled Truth, and preparing to seal it shut.
“A mother,” the mother guru is explaining on the screen (herself a mother of fifteen) “shouldn’t need to escape her house. It’s fine if she works outside of the home, but she shouldn’t leave it because she needs to, just because she wants to.”
Though she couldn’t see me through the computer a few continents away, I nod, making mental notes that chisel into my memory like the carvings of the Ten Commandments.
“A mother,” I tell myself, as I nest and decorate and kiss my mezuzahs, “shouldn’t need to escape her home. It should be her oasis.”
My brain, however, silently throws a coup of cognitive dissonance.
The guilt between what I should feel and what I do feel drips between my subconscious for years, until I decide one day to unscrew that cerebral mason jar of Truth, pluck that confident, wise, woman from her throne inside my skull, and find her a new cozy little nook in my brain marked “Kernels of Truth”.
Because it’s not so simple. My relationship with my home is complicated.
The problem, you see, is that my house throbs with a deep, pulsating energy.
When I’m in it too long, the couch cushions jump out at me like a predator, clawing after me.
Dragging me down to the shiny wooden floors, the pillows often force my eyes to stare at all of the mind-numbing details of unfinished to-do lists.
“Stop the chaos!” the kitchen yells, as I, surrounded by a mosh pit of strewn toys, cower. It’s unclear at this point where my skin stops and the counters begin.
My thoughts jump around as if inside an old fashioned bingo machine, unable to settle on a landing. The clock ticks, its hands pounding like drums as it circulates, and my terrified eyes jump from one item to the next on the checklist.
In the midst of this pressure, I invariably run.
I run with my hair flying behind me and my shoes kicking up unswept household dust, pulling the door quickly behind me, afraid that it will -like a jealous, revolving door- reach out and pull me back in.
Once I’m outside, the pressure decreases and the landscape shifts, while my eyes refocus. The only object I’m aware of carrying around is the crumpled up package of my weary bones and skin.
I empty myself out onto the sidewalk and leave the house behind; an old book, an abandoned story of who I was, a singed memory, tossed into the fireplace, burnt up.
I pick up, like a magnetic force, the glitter from the environment around me, plunging into it like a sparkly snow globe, drinking it in and trying it on for size.
I walk, and as I purge myself of every pent-up emotion, every unused thought, I exchange my energy for the offerings of the world in front of me… until my internal engine dies down and pronounces itself empty.
I stop and look around. The streets are empty, the buildings abandoned, and the silence cold and unsettling.
I run back then to the home that embraced me with all of its weight and appendages, to the walls that wrapped themselves around me and held me tight. To my bed that is my nightly fetal-recreated womb.
I surrender to the physical, and happily admit defeat. Into it, I melt.
As I reconnect, I think about that learned woman, that well meaning rabbi’s wife, who cautioned me to create a home I never wanted to escape from.
“Is that the ideal mother/home relationship?” I find myself wondering, still.
My walls don’t answer me.
Perfect or not, my home and I have found our own specific methods of balance. While chaotic at times, I like to think that throughout the years, our complicated relationship discovered ways to plant peace and healthy emotional space, balancing energy and psychological needs with the deep power and offerings of the physical world.
Rivka is an outspoken activist for recovering artists, insisting that raw, redemptive art-making is the means for mental and spiritual health. Rivka received her BA in Painting from Rutgers University, and does a daily chicken dance mothering three little ladies and finding her way within the greater art world. She runs ArtWarming Cards, a monthly contemporary art postcard subscription service, and curates shows and fabulous afterparties at Brooklyn Jewish Art Gallery. Rivka’s personal artwork can be viewed at rivka.gallery.