Someone once told me that being a mother can be like having open heart surgery without anesthetic. Never having had heart surgery, I can’t say if it is true, but it did feel like a piece of my heart went missing last week as one of my girls went off to summer camp.
It wasn’t the first time anyone took off for camp. My oldest children all went to camp and took other trips. They are now on their own, and that is fine. That time comes, and we all adjust. There is something different, though, about having a younger child out of the home.
Last week, I looked for Bella at the table, expected to see her playing in the yard. The sudden realization that she was not home was always bittersweet. It is good to see her growing and having new experiences, but my excitement for her was tempered by my selfish wish to have her with me at that moment.
Moments before Brian and Bella pulled into the driveway, I went outside to gather in the laundry from the clothesline. I wanted to look nonchalant, not like I’d been watching the clock all morning. And I planned to be the first in line for hugs.
I became a mother for the first time in Russia. On our final night in the country, we stayed at a hotel in Moscow where I met a woman named Olga. She was happy to practice her English, and I was bubbling over with excitement about our adoptions. We talked for a while as I looked around the store.
One of my favorite souvenirs was the matryoshka, the traditional Russian nesting doll. At this gift shop, they had several that were different from others I’d seen in the open air market of Krasnodar. They had political figures on them, Russian leaders from over the years.
Olga spoke up when I went to look at one of them. “Please don’t buy one of those,” she said. It seemed an odd thing for the salesperson to say, so I asked for an explanation. “These are not the usual matryoshkas,” she said as she reached for another doll. This one had a bright, cheery woman on the front. Olga began to open the doll, revealing the smaller dolls inside. Slowly, methodically, she lined them up and she explained.
“Matryoshka comes from the word for mother,” she explained. She pointed to the dolls lined up on the counter. “These are her children,” she told me, “and when they are away from her, she is empty inside.” She showed me the largest doll, the mother, holding both open ends facing me so that I could confirm the emptiness myself.
One by one, Olga began picking up the smaller dolls, nesting them inside the larger ones, putting the matryoshka back together. “When her family returns to her,” Olga told me, “then she is complete.” She snapped the last matryoshka in place as she said this.
I purchased a few items and said my good-byes to Olga. She reached under the cabinet and found a small, solid matryoshka. “I give you this matryoshka because you are a mother now,” she said. “It does not open because now you are complete.”
The morning of our departure, I looked out the window into the hazy Moscow sky. A soft rain had begun to fall as the Moscow Marathon was beginning on a street near our hotel, a fitting metaphor. I was beginning my own race, taking a new course in my life.
I remembered Olga this week when Bella returned from camp. She was right. I am complete.
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