What would Ima do?
A couple raises four children. They wake the children in the morning, check their schoolbags, make sandwiches, go to all the parent-teacher meetings (well, to most of them), clean up after them, buy them winter coats and summer sandals, peep in on them while they sleep, comfort them in the middle of the night after a bad dream, take them to the doctor, drive them to extracurricular activities. Sometimes they are angry with them, sometimes proud… but they always care, always concerned, always love.
Sometimes the children listen to Abba and Ima, and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they do not seem to be listening but it turns out they listened after all. Ima tells her daughter repeatedly: “Make your bed, clean up after yourself, how come you didn’t clean up…” and it seems to be a lost cause. But 10 years later, her daughter comes home from her army base for Shabbat with her officer ranks on her shoulders, and after she has returned to the base on Sunday morning, Ima discovers she has left her room so neat, you might think it had been cleaned by a chambermaid at a 5-star hotel.
But at some point Ima and Abba understand that raising children does not involve reciting a list of Do’s and Don’ts. That what they preach does not have much value. Instead, value is found in the signals parents convey via what the child sees, hears, feels, and understands. The things Ima and Abba actually do. The values they truly espouse.
Ima wakes up early every morning to run in the fields. Twice a week, she leads a running group of women who had not believed they were capable of running until they met her. And suddenly these women are really running, rain or shine, amazing themselves and their families. Sometimes, Ima comes home from a morning run limping a bit. “How far did you run this morning?” asks Abba. “Not much. About 20 kilometers,” Ima answers and goes off to organize the house.
Then one day, Ima has a birthday. The four children prepare her a present: a journal to record her ideas and dreams. And in the journal, each child writes a dedication to Ima.
The younger son, who is enduring a physically and mentally rigorous military training, wrote: “This week, while I was swimming across the gulf at night … after a very long and challenging swim, when I felt like there was no more oxygen left in my body… I thought of you, Ima. About how you take upon yourself challenges that at first everyone thinks are impossible but then, after you met those challenges, they seem almost easy… I thought of how you always strive to improve… and then – I got a cramp in the middle of the swim! The thought ‘What would Ima do?’ popped into my head. Ima would definitely have thought – of me. And that’s what I did. I thought – of you. I thought very hard about you, and about other things that are truly important to me, and I kept on swimming until my cramp subsided.”
For 19 years, Ima raised her son. She prayed for him, wondered what from everything she has said and done, he keeps in his heart. And when he is exhausted and has a muscle cramp during a night swim training, he looks for a meaning, a reason for what he is doing and the strength to keep on swimming – so son asks himself: “What would Ima do?”
This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.