As I cradled my 7-hour old dark-haired beauty in my weary arms, I imagined this day. My pre-teen (the term “tween” had yet to be invented) and I would have a quiet lunch in a café, talk about the exciting changes that awaited her, and then head to Nordstrom for her very first bra-fitting. Like with so many parts of parenting, what I imagined bore scant resemblance to reality. And not for one moment did I ever imagine that our outing would take place in her 10th summer.
A few days after her return from summer camp, I became aware of something different about Lilly.
“So, I’ve noticed that you’re always wearing a tank underneath all of your T-shirts,” I mentioned, as casually as possible.
“Mmm-hmm,” intoned Lilly.
“Do you want to tell me about that?”
“It’s just more … you know … comfortable,” she answered.
“What do you think about wearing a bra?” I calmly asked.
Or as calmly as I could manage given the internal monologue running across my unprepared brain.
A bra. A bra?? My nine year old. Wearing. a. BRA.
“Ooo!” she squealed, “Yes! Like a sports bra? They are soooooo comfortable.”
“Uh, Lil? How would you know that they are ‘sooooooo comfortable?’”
“Oh, I tried some on at camp.”
Right. Of course, camp. The place where, far from the probing eyes of neurotic parents, most of life’s milestones are reached.
The following weekend, after some requisite internet research, Lilly and I set out on our expedition. But before we even got to the car, one suspicious 12-year-old brother intercepted us at the door.
“Where are you going?” inquired Ben.
“Out with Mommy,” Lilly replied.
“Can I come?”
“I don’t believe you. You’re just saying that so that I don’t come with you,” Ben accused.
“Ben, I’m starting to develop,” explained his younger sister with all the maturity she could muster. “Mommy is taking me shopping for a bra.”
And off we went. Wanting to spare Lilly a replay of my barely-suppressed memory of some middle-aged woman with bright coral-tipped nails measuring my “bosom,” we had pre-measured her at home so that when we got to Justice (yes, Justice has the widest variety of bras for the tween set), we had a starting point.
With a few sizes and styles in hand, we headed toward the dressing room. Sensing that she was about to shoo me away, I mentioned that I’d better come in with her because (a) she’s going to want my opinion on size and (b) she’s NOT going to want to come out of the dressing room wearing just a bra.
“Good point,” she agreed.
(Proof that my tween is still a kid.)
And that is how I found myself tucked into a dressing room in the middle of Justice, reciting words of praise. It wasn’t my years of rabbinical school that prepared me for this moment. It was my 12 years of parenthood. And a lifetime of praying.
Barukh Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh haolam sheh-asani kir’tzono.
Blessed are You, O Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe who has made me according to Your Will.
Barukh Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh haolam sheh-asani yaldah.
Blessed are You, O Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has made me a girl.
Barukh Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh haolam shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, O Eternal our God, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this amazing time.
I didn’t want this moment to go unmarked. As a Jewish woman, I wanted to elevate it from the mundane to the sacred. Turning to our tradition, I knew that I could find the basis of what would become a ritual for buying a bra for the first time.
In our daily liturgy, a man traditionally recites a blessing that thanks God for not making him a woman. The correlating blessing for a woman is to thank God for making her according to God’s Will. How sad that gender is framed in a negative for the men while we women get to make such a positive statement for who we are.
I wanted blessings that acknowledge and celebrate who Lilly is. Right now. Statements of praise worded in the positive so that she associates the changes in her body as something wonderful. And while she is becoming a woman, she still is a girl. So I fashioned a prayer that praises God for making Lilly the girl who she is today rather than praise God for the woman she will (all too) soon become.
Finally, the words recited by thousands of generations to sanctify the significant and not-yet significant moments of life. My children are accustomed to this. New clothes? Mom says the Shehecheyanu. First tooth to fall out? Mom says the Shehecheyanu. First homework assignment? You guessed it…Mom says the Shehecheyanu. Because this is what moms–all moms–can do. We can help create kodesh (holy) moments for our kids.
After her final amen, Lilly asked me to leave while she tried on some matching panties. There are some spaces that are now too small to include me. Later that night as I slipped out of her bedroom, I heard Lilly whisper to herself, “I can’t believe I’m becoming a woman.”
Neither can I.