It happened more than fifteen years ago, so the details are somewhat fuzzy in my mind. I don't know if it was my birthday, or if it was because I was sick and they wanted to cheer me up. My children -- the oldest couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 years old -- decided to buy me a present. They trooped down to the corner store and looked up and down the aisles, searching for something that they could buy within their $1 price range.
Finally, by the counter, they spied a bracelet. "It's for our ima," they told the storeowner, and excitedly carried it home.
I tried to look delighted, but I confess: I was embarrassed.
"We bought you a present," they said shyly, giving me the bracelet. Rainbow-hued, heart-shaped plastic beads were strung together with elastic thread. There was no mistaking that it was a child-sized bracelet, the type of party favor you'd buy in bulk packaging. I tried to look delighted, but I confess: I was embarrassed. I put it on, thanking them, but secretly wondering how I could go out in public with a child's plastic bracelet on my wrist and not look utterly ridiculous.
For the next few days I was careful to wear the bracelet at all times when I was home. When I would go out of the house, I made sure the children would see it on my wrist, but as soon as the door would close, I'd surreptitiously slide the bracelet into my purse. I remembered to put it on again just before walking through our front door upon my return, until one day, when the bracelet must have fallen irretrievably out of my purse. It was lost.
I decided not to say anything, hoping the children would not notice the missing bracelet. I thought I saw my daughter glance at my empty wrist, and look somewhat downcast, but she remained silent. I pretended that nothing was wrong, hoping the children would forget the whole thing.
"You didn't like the bracelet we got you, did you Mommy?"
Several years passed. One day we were talking about birthdays, when the topic of presents came up. "You didn't like the bracelet we got you, did you Mommy?" one of the children asked. "I know, because you never wore it out of the house."
I had never felt so ashamed. I had been more worried about my own vanity, more concerned about looking silly, than I was with my children's outpouring of love. Still, I wasn't one to show emotion, and I tried to cover up my inadequacy in a pitifully poor performance: "No, of course I loved that bracelet. I was so impressed that you thought to buy it for me. I am so sorry that I lost it," I said, and ended the discussion. But they knew; they remembered; children are too genuine to be fooled.
A few years later our home was burglarized. Every single piece of jewelry I owned was stolen, including some sentimental and valuable pieces that I had inherited from my deceased grandmother; they could never be replaced. I was heartsick over the loss of this last tangible connection to my grandmother, and I moped for several days. I searched my soul, trying to understand why something so meaningful to me was so abruptly taken away.
And then I remembered my children's gift to me of so many years ago.
My wrist felt as empty as my heart had been then.
Suddenly, I yearned for my bracelet. Not the beautiful, hand-wrought gold one with the matching earrings that had been my grandmother's, but the rainbow hued, heart-shaped plastic bracelet my children had given me so many years before, that had been a true, tangible token of their love. My wrist felt as empty as my heart had been then. My children had given me a precious gift. My own narcissism and my lack of delight, my lack of appreciation, my lack of affection had hurt them, perhaps irrevocably.
I don't know what made me think of it again, so many years after trying to bury this shame from my consciousness; my children are now adults with children of their own. But there I was during Rosh HaShana service, and the tears would not stop.
Although it is way overdue, I wish to say to my children, "I am sorry. I love you. Thank you - - fifteen years too late."