As I arose on the morning of March 27th 2014 I knew it was a special day.
On this day exactly 18 years ago, my youngest child Aviva was born.
And as I wrapped myself with my Tallis and Tefillin tears began to run down my cheeks as I recalled the emotions which flowed through me that day eighteen years ago.
Aviva was born in the 24th week of pregnancy; weighing only one pound and ten ounces.
When she was born she did not utter a cry like most babies do; in fact, she made no sound at all.
It would be months until a sound would come from her.
There were 17 medical professionals present when she entered this world.
There were doctors and nurses, breathing specialists and experts in the care of preemies.
And along with all of those helping human hands, the heavenly hand of Hashem was also in the room.
She was whisked immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit where she would remain for more than three months.
With few exceptions she would not be held by human hands for the first eight weeks of her life.
She lived within the bubble of an incubator; seen but not held by her loving family as she struggled to live.
The doctor called me at home the day after her birth.
He said he was calling me to prepare me.
“Prepare me for what?” I naively asked.
He paused and said, “Your daughter has a less than two percent chance of survival beyond 72 hours. I am calling to prepare you and to advise you not to bond too intensely with her as her chances of living are extremely dim; and even if she does survive, who knows for how long?”
However, Aviva with the help of many caring people who looked after her medical needs and with the prayers and tefillos of people all over the world and ultimately with the help of HE who gives life and health, survived and thrived.
After being hospitalized for fifteen weeks, on exactly the date which was her original ‘due day’- Aviva was discharged from the hospital.
And today she was turning 18.
The day would not begin with a party; rather, it began with the mundane task of taking Aviva to the doctor to have a cast on her wrist removed; the result of her falling during roller blading; as she plays and jumps and enjoys life just as any other eighteen year old.
As Aviva and I reached the receptionist at the doctor’s office, the woman asked me, “Is your insurance the same? Do you still live at so and so street?”
Then the receptionist looked up at Aviva and said, “Oh, I see today you are now 18. This means you are now an adult. I must inform you that according to the law it is now illegal for us to discuss your medical situation with anyone, not even your parents without your prior consent. Here is a form for you to fill out without any pressure. If you agree to it then sign it. It gives us permission to discuss your case with your parents.”
As I looked at my daughter’s proud smile at her new found sense of maturity and power I knew I had reached a new reality in my life.
The roles were slowing reversing. It was no longer Aviva asking permission of me, now it was I who had to obtain her consent; she was on her way to self-sufficiency.
My little girl was no longer the fragile preemie upon whom I doted; she was now an adult.
At this watershed moment, I was filled with dueling emotions.
On one hand I was proud and excited; almost non-believing that my ‘little Aviva’ was now a mature young woman being entrusted with making her own decisions and that she is healthy and well.
Yet, concurrently was the humbling recognition of my own mortality and my own limitations.
Aviva was no longer a dependent child assigned to me to protect and shelter and to decide what I thought was best for her. She was becoming a responsible and accountable adult, capable of making her own decisions.
This sudden reality was a difficult pill for her loving and protective father to swallow.
After so many years of me being her protector and her provider, Aviva was now the one making the choice to allow me to continue to share in her life or not.
The small dainty defenseless and dependent little girl, had, -with the help of He who helps all, – grown into a mature and responsible young woman.
Aviva laughed at her new found authority and signed the authorization.
I looked at Aviva and saw a budding responsible young adult.
However, as I closed my eyes in thankful gratitude to Hashem all I could see was my little girl.
The little girl, who during her extended hospital stay, if I would awake at three in the morning I would drag myself downstairs to call the nurses station at the NICU to see how she was doing.
All I saw was my little daughter and the heart monitor which was constantly attached to her during her first three months at home.
And with my eyes closed, all I saw was tiny Aviva, no bigger than a toy doll, looking at me through the Plexiglas pane of an incubator.
However, as I opened my eyes, the little girl of my mind was no longer standing before me. All too suddenly she had been transformed into a mature and responsible eighteen year adult.
I then looked into myself and the only words which came to my mind were those of Shlomo HaMelech: “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever” (Koheles)
Happy Birthday Aviva!
“If Not Now-Then When?”- Hillel
Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Rabbi, Congregation Ahavas Israel, Passaic, NJ