*originally published in Hebrew in Haaretz
When I was a young dancer, I almost never warmed up. It seemed my body was almost always naturally warm. My muscles felt ready to dance at any time. As I grew older, the importance of a good stretch revealed itself. I could no longer hop off my bike and into a rehearsal, I had to prepare my body. The physicality that I once had grew a bit further away and I had to close the gap somehow. As the years go by, I feel that gap growing larger and larger. It affects not just how I prepare to dance but the type of dancing that I do. I engage in projects that are less demanding, that do not require virtuosic, over-the-top leg lifts or jumps. In the work I make for myself, I sometimes push back to those unattainable places, but only rarely and with great caution. I observe these changes with open eyes and a hint of remorse. My career has gained in the places that physicality receded, exposing other skills and interests. However, as someone who deeply values the body’s abilities, letting go of the expectations of my form is not without its sadness.
Not long ago, while sitting for breakfast with my older daughter, that same sadness bubbled up in a different way. There she was, having recently finished first grade, nearly as far from an adult as she is from being a baby. She perched on her chair, back straight and hair flowing, and gently punctured her fried egg. She was suddenly so grown, such a clear being.
When she was a baby, mothering her was a physical act. I was carrying her, first in the womb and then in my arms, at all times. She only slept on people, be it myself, her father or various family members. I nursed her and rocked her and danced with her and moved around the city with her strapped securely to my chest. There was a lot of kissing and hugging.
As she grew older, those tasks were replaced by others. The diaper changing was swapped out with piggyback rides. Instead of carrying her, I held her hands as she navigated her first steps. And then I held her hand as she walked more confidently.
All of these advances were wonderful, new chapters in her personhood.
But I recently realized that my physical parenting of her is finished. Our bodies are no longer engaged in the way they once were. She showers herself; she brushes her own teeth and dresses herself. My role in her life is no longer to provide for all of her physical needs but to oversee her completion of them and even that is temporary. I sometimes remind myself to reach out a hand and touch her face, to continue the physical connection between us even if it is no longer necessary.
And, with my own body, this change is necessary, wanted, exciting even. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes look at her and miss the immediacy of our physical bond, the constant intimacy between mother and baby that we had and no longer do.
We are aging.