By Heart

Galit Breen essays

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Na-ad-ned, na-ad-ned. The song escapes my lips. The voice and the lilt are just as I remember. For this small moment I sound exactly like my Mother.

My daughter’s belly laugh rings in my ears and breaks me away from the memory. I trade in a sound from my past for one from my present.

Chloe is two years old. Her chubby thighs betray the deliciousness of toddlerhood. My own legs, standing strong behind her, betray the worries of motherhood.

My feet plant firmly in damp soil. I breathe in freshly mowed grass. My sunglasses perch on top of my head. My skin is sun-kissed. And the steam from my coffee is just out of reach.

I take in the too early morning and give Chloe another push. Her baby swing flies “high.” Her squeals fill me up.

As my hand touches her back, I warm through and want nothing more than to scoop her up and hold her close.

But instead, I do the exact opposite. I push her a little higher, a little harder. And the words escape my lips once again. Na-ad-ned. Na-ad-ned.

I’m brought right back into sweltering Israeli heat. I’m at a park with my own Mother. My hand fits neatly in hers.

She was slight, feisty, and surprisingly strong. She still is. Her pushes made me fly. Na-ad-ned is what she sang as I breezed by.

Today I sing Na-ad-ned to my own children.

I use the same tone and the same melody that my memory strings grasp onto, but I attempt to replace my Mother’s song with words that my children understand.

Back and forth. Up and down.

This edges wrong in all of our ears.

So I seamlessly slip back into Na-ad-ned as I give my children pushes into the trees, into the sky, into the “up high.”

We are thousands of miles and a world and a half away, but my hand presses their backs just as my Mother’s pressed mine.

Several years later, I sink into a patio chair. Sunglasses on, coffee within reach, laptop open. Kayli, Chloe, and Brody are down at the swing set. I hear them with the back of my heart.

Climb here. Stand there. Race you!

Sounds of summer weave between them.

I pause to breathe them in, and as I do, I note four year old Brody slip into the yellow swing. His black sneakers tippy-toed into the muddy earth beneath him as he lifts himself up.

Chloe, now seven, stands behind him, plants her feet one in front of the other, and presses a splayed palm onto his tiny back.

She pushes him with the loving fierceness that I’ve grown to expect from my girl. She comes from a long line of slight, feisty, and surprisingly strong women, after all.

And when she does this, he flies. Face tipped to sky, mouth open wide, belly laugh from deep within.

Na-ad-ned I hear from my spot at their side. I’m now their observer, their picture taker, their memory keeper. It’s a good place to be.

Na-ad-ned I hear again. Chloe’s lips form my mother’s words perfectly, seamlessly.

This thread has been stitched.

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Galit Breen

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