Not Ripe, But Ripening

Tammy Kleinman essays

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Like the raspberries we are picking, she too is ripening. This 10-year-old girl of mine: she is filling up, building out.

She is peeking out from behind the shrubs of childhood. She hides behind the leaves among the buds, trying to fend off the inevitable change.

For her, the ripening process is prickly and slow. It comes in small bites, with thorns attached.

First she’s all full of innocent sweetness, plump and dewy and gentle. Then suddenly she snags on her reflection in the mirror, and she’s sour and brittle as an under-ripe berry, angry at being swallowed up whole by forces beyond her control.

She alternately clings to us and pushes back, away from the burdens of childhood. And yet knowing what’s coming is a burden too. She is wary of what will become of her shape, of her soft insides and her tough outer skin. She resists my hands plucking at her hair and swats away my re-assurances, disbelieving. I’m a pest that must be endured—the bee whose sole purpose is to pollinate and move on.

Picking in the orchard, she chooses the ripest berries—the succulent, dripping fruits that drop effortlessly into her palm. I can see her struggling to resist a taste. This is what she wants, and yet, maybe not yet. Maybe she can wait.

The sweet-sour fruit stains her hands red. The thorns catch on her arms as she reaches deeper into the bushes. She turns to me to show me the blood.

She turns back to her task, and I see that she is buried in concentration. Alone again with her fears and her barbs and her fierce determination, she forages on.

I wish I could make this easier for her. I wish she could see who she will become when this season has passed. But no matter how loudly or how often I buzz at her about patience and strength and beauty, she’s not ready to hear me.

I wish that she could harvest with abandon: no seeds, no thorns, no blood. But I know that is not possible. We simply will have to muck through this—a season of ripening but not yet ripe.

About the Author

Tammy Kleinman

Tammy Kleinman is a communication consultant, writer, and editor living in New Haven, CT. Her work has appeared in Mamalode, the BlogHer anthology, Roots: Where Food Comes From and Where It Takes Us, and on Mash Stories. She currently is working on a full-length novel about two sisters coming of age in 1960's Ohio and their complicated relationships with their mother, their men, and Esther Williams.

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