Naomi was sad. She missed her mommy. Mommy had been gone for more than a week. She was in the hospital. Naomi’s father took her and her little brother to see their mommy almost every day, but it wasn’t the same as having her home.
Mommy wasn’t really sick at all. The doctors made her stay in the hospital because she was expecting a baby, actually two babies, twins. Naomi, who was nine years old, knew all about being a big sister. She already had a little brother, David, who was three. She didn’t mind that there would be two more babies in the house, but she was sad her mommy wasn’t home. The doctors were afraid the babies would come too soon, her father explained, so Mommy had to stay in the hospital, lying down, not moving much, and resting for three months. Three whole months! Naomi didn’t know how she could stand it.
Yesterday when she visited Mommy, Naomi got an idea from something Mommy had said. “It’s kind of dull in here just staring at these walls. Do you think you and David could make me some pictures to put up on the walls?” Mommy asked Naomi. “You’re such a good artist,” she added. Naomi loved art. She had taken some classes in art at the Jewish Community Center and once had one of her pictures displayed in her school’s lobby. Of course she would make some pictures for her mother. David started the moment they got back home, but his drawings were mainly scribbles.
Naomi started drawing pictures of their home and the everyday things they did–things she missed doing with Mommy, like going to the playground or cooking in the kitchen. She would take these little pictures to Mommy in the hospital. But she then had an even better idea; she would make a really big, special picture. “I want to make a big mural for Mommy, something she can look at even when she comes home and she’s nursing the babies,” she told her father.
Her father approved and suggested a part of the wall in what would become the nursery for the twins. He promised to put up a special board on which she could draw her mural. It would be very big. “You’ll have to plan out your mural carefully and do lots of sketches to make sure you have it right before you start drawing on the board. It won’t be easy to change things or fix mistakes,” her father warned.
He asked her what she intended to draw, but Naomi didn’t know. She just knew she wanted to make a big, beautiful mural for Mommy. “An idea will come to you,” her father assured her.
The next Shabbat, Naomi, David, and her father went to synagogue, which they did almost every week. Naomi complained as usual about going to services on Shabbat. Services were boring, even the kids services. She’d rather just play with her friends at home. Most kids didn’t even go to services. Her father explained Shabbat was a day a rest, a precious gift for people who worked hard all week long. Maybe for him, Naomi thought, but she and David didn’t think it was a gift at all; it was more like punishment, a day when they had to go to synagogue instead of playing with their friends. Of course, she had friends at synagogue too, but that wasn’t the same thing at all.
Naomi’s father took David to the tot service and sent her into the Junior Congregation service. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” said the man who led the Junior Congregation, as he read the first story in the Torah. It was the Shabbat after Simchat Torah, and they were starting the Torah again from the beginning. Naomi usually liked this time of year. She liked the holidays, the feeling of a new year, the start of school and her soccer season. But this year she missed her mommy. “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good…” said the man, continuing the story.
Naomi liked the stories in the first books of the Torah, stories about Noah’s ark, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Joseph and the exodus from Egypt, but she particularly liked Bereshit, the story about the creation of the world. Then the idea hit her: she’d make a mural about the seven days of creation–seven pictures all linked together. She was so excited, she couldn’t wait to tell her father. But it had to be a surprise. She didn’t want Mommy to know until she got home. In fact, she decided she wouldn’t tell anyone, not a soul, not even her best friend Linda.
Her father thought it was a good idea but he added, “It won’t be easy.” Naomi wasn’t worried and got right to work. She had lots of questions, like how the planets or the oceans really looked. She didn’t want just any old sun and planets. She wanted her mural to be really special. Her father showed her some books that had pictures of planets and whole solar systems. Another book had pictures of different kinds of landscapes and seascapes. She looked at pictures of trees and plants and animals. She studied them all very carefully.
Then Naomi started making little drawings on scrap paper so she could get her ideas just right. She worked in secret, not even telling Linda, who sometimes came over for play dates. Only her father and David knew what she was doing. She made lots and lots of these sketches before she had a set of pictures that looked just as she wanted them to look in her mural. This took a long time because Naomi also had her schoolwork to do, and music practice–she was taking piano lessons–and soccer. And she had to spend extra time with her little brother because Mommy wasn’t around.
When she went to visit the hospital, it was hard not to tell Mommy about the mural. Once she had to stop David, who almost blurted out what Naomi was doing. David wanted to help, but he was too little. Naomi let him color on the sketches she didn’t like and wouldn’t use. He made a mess of them. But that was okay because she didn’t need those.
The weeks passed. Naomi was so wrapped up in her project she completely forgot about Halloween until Linda invited her to a Halloween party. Naomi didn’t have a new costume ready because her mommy wasn’t there to help her and her father didn’t know much about costumes. “But your Vashti costume from Purim was so neat. Do you still have it? That would be great,” Linda suggested. Naomi agreed and dug out the Queen Vashti costume she had worn the previous Purim and used that. She and Linda went to the party and then went trick-of-treating and had a great time.
By now, Naomi had the sketches she intended to use and was ready to begin work on the mural. She carefully stacked them on her desk. The late autumn days were unusually warm so Naomi kept the window open near her desk.
Boooom! Ccraaack! Naomi was in school when the big rainstorm suddenly hit. There was thunder and lightning and then a drenching, driving rain. Some children were startled and shouted. The teacher raced around the classroom closing windows so the books and papers nearby wouldn’t get soaked and ruined. Then Naomi remembered: she had left her sketches at home near the open window too.
Naomi raced home after school and ran up to her room. The sketches were soaking wet. She could hardly see what was on them. The babysitter didn’t know what to do. Naomi was crying when her father arrived from work. “I think we can dry them out if we handle them carefully,” he reassured her. “You’ll be able to see enough to make your mural.” Naomi wasn’t so sure. They had been so hard to draw.
The next day, Naomi started to work on the actual mural. She drew each scene onto the board and then colored it using markers. “Be careful, because it won’t be easy to fix mistakes,” her father reminded her. Each picture, one for each day of creation, took a lot of work. Naomi had never worked so hard and so carefully and for so long on any project before.
One afternoon, Naomi stopped working to practice the piano. Ever since Mommy had gone into the hospital David hung around when she practiced, playing loudly with toys and making all sorts of noise. She usually ignored him. Sometimes at the end, she would play kid songs like Row Row Row Your Boat or Mary Had a Little Lamb, and David would sing. Everyone remarked that she was such a good big sister. David was okay. She had friends with little brothers who were a lot worse.
But this time David didn’t hang around while Naomi practiced. When Naomi was done she thought things were unusually quite. The babysitter was watching TV. “Where’s David?” Naomi asked.
“Uuh, I’m not sure. I thought he was with you like he usually is,” the babysitter replied.
Naomi suddenly guessed where David would be. Before the babysitter even started to move, Naomi was running up the stairs to the room that would become the nursery. There she found David drawing with markers on her mural. He had ruined an entire panel. She screamed at David, grabbed him, and would have hit him, but the babysitter pulled David out of the room. When the babysitter came back, she hugged and rocked Naomi, but it didn’t help. The mural was ruined. The new babies would be born soon and Mommy would be coming home, but there would be nothing to show her except this mess. Naomi was crying. David was really sorry and started to cry too.
“It’s certainly a mess,” agreed her father after examining the mural when he came home, “but I think we can fix it.” Her father carefully cut out some special white material to cover the exact place that David messed up. “There. If we’re careful, it will look as good as new,” he noted as he worked. Then he smoothed the edges to blend the new section with the old section. Naomi still had to draw the section all over again. It was a lot of work.
The twins were born a short time later. Naomi saw them in the hospital. When she got home, she raced upstairs to put the finishing touches on the mural. Only Naomi and her father could tell where it had been damaged and even they had to look very closely. She looked at the mural. The sun was throwing off what the book called solar flares. It was spectacular. She had red planets and purple planets and planets with dazzling rings surrounding them. She had magnificent oceans and mountains. She had colorful plants and trees of different shapes and sizes. She looked at her mural, and she knew it was good.
Linda came over with her mother to help get their home ready for the arrival of the new babies and Mommy. “Come, I want to show you something really special, something I made for Mommy. It’s a secret surprise,” said Naomi, steering Linda upstairs to the nursery.
Proudly, Naomi showed Linda the mural. Linda seemed surprised. “Did you do this? How come you never told me? I would have helped you,” she said. Then, she added: “The sun doesn’t look like that. The sun is a round yellow ball. And what are those weird trees?”
Naomi was shocked, and then she got angry. Her father never said anything was wrong with her pictures. How could her best friend not see how beautiful it was? “You don’t know anything! Even David can draw a better sun than you,” Naomi screamed.
Linda left quickly with her mother. There was nothing anybody could say that would calm Naomi. If she never saw Linda again that would be all right with her.
Naomi was very anxious and nervous the day Mommy and the babies came home. She didn’t want to show the mural to Mommy. “It is beautiful,” her father reassured her, but Naomi still had doubts. What if Mommy reacted like Linda?
Mommy cried out with surprise and almost dropped one of the twins when she and Naomi’s father carried the babies into the nursery. “It’s the most beautiful mural I have ever seen!” she exclaimed. She put down the baby and hugged Naomi and hugged David. “Oh, Naomi, you must have worked so hard, and I bet David was a big help too,” she added. “I will see this mural every time I take care of the babies. I will think of God and creation and of my children, who are wonderful gifts of God’s creation too,” she continued. Mommy was crying and smiling at the same time.
The doorbell suddenly rang. It was Linda and her mother. They carried a Shabbat meal and presents. Naomi and her father and mother had been so busy getting ready to bring the babies home they forgot it was Friday. Shabbat was coming. “Can I see your mural again?” asked Linda timidly. Naomi hesitated for a moment, and then brought her to the nursery. “It’s really beautiful. How did you do that?” Linda asked. Naomi showed Linda the books in which she had found pictures of planets and suns and trees and plants. “Wow, it really is beautiful,” Linda repeated as she looked at the mural yet again.
That night, Mommy read Bereshit, the creation story, at bedtime to Naomi and David. After David went to sleep, Mommy and Naomi talked about the mural and all the problems she had making it. Tomorrow, they would go to Shabbat services together for the first time in months. Exhausted, Naomi started to drift off to sleep thinking how much work creating the mural had been and how tired she was. In Bereshit, God saw that his creation was good and rested on the seventh day, creating Shabbat as a gift for all of us. Creation really was hard work, she knew. With all the effort she had put into her creation she now began to realize what a day of rest really meant, what a wonderful gift Shabbat was. Of course, she still didn’t like going to synagogue, but that was another matter. Anyway, she wasn’t going to complain tomorrow because she would go to synagogue with Mommy.