Today I sat on a bench. A simple brown bench with metal handrails, lightly sprinkled with flower buds that had fallen from the canopy of Floridian and Jamaican fiddlewood trees above.
Enjoying an occasional breeze in the 31-degree July heat and 58% humidity, I peered into the mesh siding of the stroller parked next to me. I watched my 5-and-a-third-month-old son sleeping, his little chest rising up and down under his safety belt.
Sitting on my bench, I thought about how in just 22 days, I would go back to work. Soon, I would once again be on deadline for two, three or four stories each evening. Our nearly daily walks, during which I gravitated on autopilot to the beautifully sculpted grounds of the Weizmann Institute of Science, would likely be limited to early mornings or weekends. My bench would become another mother’s bench.
I can recall the exact day that the bench – unbeknownst to the institute – became my bench. Monday, February 29. Our newborn was just shy of one month old, blissfully unaware of the series of infrastructural problems that had overtaken our aging apartment in the previous two weeks: a kitchen flood, a municipal water main break, a full day without electricity, the demise of our hot water boiler. And that morning, it was the replacement of the heater-air conditioning unit, which had likewise elected to cease functioning.
I decided to take our son out on an extensive walk in the cool February air that morning, leaving my husband to handle the air conditioning technicians. Wandering around the streets of Rehovot with a baby on wheels – still quite a new activity for me at the time – I anxiously negotiated the stroller up and down the curbs, worrying each time that I might have bumped his tiny head a little bit too hard.
I entered the institute and ambled along its immaculately manicured, tree-lined sidewalks, as our son continued to sleep soundly in the infant carrycot attachment of the stroller. I had fed him in our comfortable nursing space at home just before we departed, in hopes that the technicians would not only be on time, but would also finish their work prior to his next meal. Yet as one hour became two hours and two eventually became three, I understood the impossibility of planning ahead in motherhood. I would have to nurse outside that morning, for the first time.
As I walked along the campus’s main road, I noticed a small cement path, leading into a thick grove of trees and ivy hedges. At the path’s end was a wooden bench – its dark brown paint peeling but none worse for the wear. Nestled among the fiddlewoods, my bench promised an ideal combination of privacy and natural beauty to foster confidence in a newly nursing, first-time mother.
Over the coming months of maternity leave, this spot continued to serve as a go-to nursing hub, and later on, a shaded refuge from escalating temperatures. As I ventured out further and longer, I may not have remained entirely exclusive to my bench – but the trusty wooden pew was always there whenever we came rolling by. My bench offered a place to hold and nurse my son, a place to think and write while he slept in his stroller.
On the precipice of my return to work, I decided that we would spend some quality time with my bench. Since my first encounter with my bench, I noticed that the Weizmann grounds crew had significantly widened the cement path, while visibly cropping the ivy hedges that crept up along its sides.
But my son, now in his full-sized stroller, still slept soundly under the trees, only waking when he was ready to nurse – albeit in a slightly less private venue. Since we had begun taking our walks and visiting my bench, he had learned to smile, learned to laugh, learned to babble. He could now roll over as he pleased, sending me rushing to turn him over when I’d find him on his belly at night.
After finishing his meal, he smiled at me from the seat of his stroller, his eyes wandering to the trees above him as spit-up dribbled down his chin. During the past five-and-a-third months, much had changed – a path was expanded, hedges were trimmed, flower buds had fallen. But my bench stood strong, welcoming us as long as we lingered and ushering us on our way.