Sarah Tuttle-Singer
Sarah Tuttle-Singer
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Branching out, turning in, and the mulberry tree down the road

I watch my daughter grow and I miss the little girl she used to be, and I wonder at the wise young woman she is becoming
Mulberries on the tree. (Jessica Steinberg/ The Times of Israel)
Mulberries on the tree. (Jessica Steinberg/ The Times of Israel)

Baby Girl, do you remember that outside the house where we used to live, and down the road there was a mulberry tree?

A big green mulberry tree with a sturdy trunk.

A big green mulberry tree with a sturdy trunk and all these gorgeous branches.

Branches reaching out all over the place — leftwards and rightwards and backwards and forwards, out out out, as far as they will stretch, straight into space, and up into the clear blue sky.

The tree was covered in green leaves.

At the end of spring when the days get longer, but before it gets too hot to play outside — those sweet blue days when school is winding down and the nights are gentle, you and your brother would throw down your backpacks and run down the road to the mulberry tree, and you would both climb up up up looking for berries.

I would sit on the porch, out of sight, but I could hear you… the sounds of summer, shoes scraping, “Look, there’s a bunch up there!”

You’d come down from the trees, your fingers stained purple, your lips, too. Eyes glowing, cheeks flushed.

This tree yields the sweetest fruit.

But this past year before we moved, you didn’t pick mulberries.

You barely went outside.

This spring, you were on your phone.

You got the phone last year when you turned 11. All the girls are on WhatsApp — alliances forged with a GIF or a viral video — and you wanted to be part of it. It’s hard enough being 11 anyway, the daughter of an immigrant mother — a mermaid mother — who has her own rhythms and her own ways.

You were 11, in that in-between, messy place.

And it also wasn’t easy giving you the phone — on the one hand, your world opened up from your soft fingertips all the way to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. But on the other, you saw the world through a glass screen.

It would annoy me, even though I do the same.

“Come on, let’s go for a walk,” I would say.

“No.” you would answer.

“Want to go pick mulberries?”

You would roll your eyes.

Spring turned into summer and summer eked out in long hot days, too hot to go outside except at sunset.

Your brother would head down the road alone to pick the last of the sweet berries.

I would sit next to you on the couch with my own phone, work in front of me.

“What are you watching?” I would ask — even though I could easily hear the patter of a cooking show or a cat video.

Sometimes, you would ignore me. You were 11, and in that yucky middle place where nothing fits or feels right.

I would ask again, and you wouldn’t answer. Or if you did, you’d roll your eyes.

I did this to my mom — I remember it so vividly, I can even still feel the way my skin would prickle, how I felt allergic to her voice, how everything she did was wrong.

But then, one night before we moved, I was packing, and working, and on the phone, and doing 15 things at once with only two hands. I was throwing clothes into plastic bags to donate, packing some of my books into the big green suitcase Grandpa Rick left behind, texting, talking, the night spinning faster and faster, and I was spinning with it.

You called me from the living room, and I was just overwhelmed. Your mother has a noisy mind sometimes, and any extra sudden sound can be the difference between standing with two feet on the ground, and getting pulled under a fierce and mighty wave.

And there I was, in the middle of all that noise, and all the work, and all the responsibility of being a grownup, and you called me over and over, and instead of saying, “What is it, sweetheart?” I screamed like a drowning banshee: “WHAT???!!!??? WHAT DO YOU WANT????”

I’m sorry I did that — but maybe one day you’ll be lucky enough to live a full live with books and boxes and old clothes to donate, and work that keeps you always on your toes, and kids, and all the challenges of living with your arms full, and then you’ll understand that even with these blessings, there are days that are so full, that they spill over, and we are human, and we will sometimes make mistakes.

I’m sorry. I hope one day you will be lucky enough to live a life so full that you overreact, too.

But you were 11, and you were silent.

“WHAT??” I shouted again.

“I just wanted to show you a video of a cat,” you said.

A little corner of my heart broke off right there and then, and I felt the room tilt as I realized what I had done.

For the first time in months, you wanted to share your screen with me and let me into your world, and I had blown it.

I had enough common sense to go out into the living room and ask you to show me.

“No,” you said. You were angry, and I understand.

“Please!” I said, as I thought about the seasons and how quickly they slipped by — how we both are on our phones all the time, how your head comes up to my shoulder already, how you don’t even ask me to brush your hair anymore like you used to, and how you were too big to climb the mulberry tree that you loved.

“No.”

“PLEASE BABY!” I felt my eyes swim with tears, and I could see you with your curly hair when you were 2, clomping around in my high heels, and how when you were 3, you would dance in the garden like a fairy, and how when you were 4 you would sing out loud to yourself — and how you do none of these things anymore because you’re so aware of everything you do, your body, your hair, the clothes you wear… How it’s going by so fast, and your life is becoming more yours than mine, and how I was so fucking stupid that just now when you were willing to let me in a little, to let me share, and I had wasted the opportunity.

“Leave me alone.”

And that was it.

You stalked off to your room, and I went back to mine, back to folding, and sorting, and packing boxes, back to work, but there was this maw inside me, and it got bigger as the night wore on, it grew fangs, and it ate at that corner of my heart where that piece had fallen.

You let me tuck you in that night — and I sat there for a while.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come see the video,” I said.

“Mom, it isn’t a big deal.” In the dark I could hear you roll your eyes. “You don’t need to make it such a thing.”

“But, baby, it is.” and I took a deep breath and gave you part of that corner of my heart. “You’re so busy these days — and doing so many things that are yours — and it’s great. I’m watching you grow and change before my eyes. And I sometimes don’t know where you went — the little girl who climbs mulberry trees. “

You patted my hand — my wise daughter — and you told me: “Mom, it’s still me. I’m still that girl. I’m just… growing more branches, like the tree. I’m reaching more places, but I’m still me.”

And I felt this golden warmth spread through me, filling the chasm, filling the cracks and the corners, all the broken places.

Because that’s just it: you are you: The baby who slept curled up in my arms like a nautilus shell, and the toddler who sucked her thumb and stumbled like a drunken fairy in my stilettos with your halo of curly hair, and the young woman who challenges me and frustrates me and inspires me every single day…. and the girl who climbs mulberry trees —

You are all these things, and so many more, and you are wise beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

You *are* branching out.

And now you are 13 — a year after your bat mitzvah year — when you assumed the responsibility of Jewish adulthood

And honestly? What a rotten year it was to do that, just when you want to reach in all directions, to challenge, and learn, to climb mountains and explore great ideas, all of our branches have folded in.

That time of introspection was a time of turning, a new season that we’ve never known — unlike anything we’ve ever lived. To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven but this was fkn ridiculous, dude.

But I have faith in you, my wise girl who climbs mulberry trees, and already understands some of the rarest truths of the universe: you are growing, and expanding, and branching out in all directions.

And you are reaching for the sky.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel, She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems. She now lives in Israel with her two kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors and talks to strangers, and writes stories about people. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She also loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.
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