Once upon a time - long, long ago - there was a little girl who often slept with the covers over her head to drown out the sound of her daddy's coughing. He smoked a lot, and because of his smoking he coughed so hard that sometimes he would pass out. Despite being loved and cherished by her parents, she carried that anxiety with her throughout her life and had to work very hard to quiet its deafening roar. Little did she know that this was only a small glimpse into the imperfect, yet beautiful, life ahead.

My heart would ache with longing when the Jewish Holidays came aroundLike most of us during the early stages of life, I was under the mistaken impression that I would always be young. I grew up as a child of Holocaust survivors. One of them (my father) suffered from chronic health problems which became exacerbated and resulted in his death when I was a teen. And that's when I became acutely aware of the significance of each and every "little" thing that happened thereafter. And I immediately recognized the fact that youth doesn't last forever.

When I turned sixteen, I didn't have a party like most of my friends. To mark the occasion I turned a cartwheel. It sounds so silly but it made perfect sense back then. I wanted to capture precisely what I felt like at that exact moment in time. It was as if I needed to preserve a visual image as I stepped over the threshold of adulthood.

I distinctly remember realizing that I couldn't be young and carefree. I needed to develop and flex the unused and underdeveloped muscles of maturity. Suddenly, right there and then, at the tender age of sixteen, I became much more sensitized and gave birth to a heightened awareness of life and aging.

I'm deeply grateful that I grew up as a second generation Holocaust survivor, but to be honest, I did not always feel that way. When I was a child, I always felt different, an oddity among my peers whose parents had no foreign accents or horrific memories of Nazi death camps. Most of my friends enjoyed the privilege of regular visits with their bubbies and zaidas (grandmothers and grandfathers), aunts, uncles and cousins; some of them were dragged along grudgingly to family events (something I just couldn't understand).

I never knew my grandparents. My heart would ache with longing when the Jewish Holidays came around. We were on our own - my mother, my brother and I. No hiding matzah during Passover… No sounds of joy and singing during the feast of Rosh Hashanah.

While my mother grew up in an observant family environment, that part of her changed after the Holocaust. She could no longer deal with the memories and the beautiful life she had led and lost, so she created a somewhat new one, with G‑d still by her side, but in a different way than before. We had no family nearby. Surviving relatives were separated following their liberation and resided halfway across the world. No one could afford to travel. So we were alone. I know now that there are others who had similar experiences, but I never knew that then.

No one can judge how the survivors lived afterwardsNo one can judge how the survivors lived afterwards. The true essence of survival is undefined and indistinct. The Jews who escaped from the clutches of death have scars far deeper than any of us can imagine. So we, the next generation, learned about life in a way which was unmistakably different from those around us.

We didn't do things the way most people did. I didn't have many friends over. Our house did not have an open door policy like most of my peers. Worrying was a definite part of everyday life. Anxiety was no stranger either, not because my parents wanted it that way. They were undeniably intelligent, strong, capable and giving people... But the baggage was overwhelming. This was just the way it was in a world which did not provide psychological assistance to the traumatized survivors of war back then. And it did carry over into my adulthood, even into my parenting to some extent.

Yet I am forever grateful to my mother and father, for despite the hard times, they provided the strongest, most loving foundation which I could have ever hoped for. I also learned from an early age to understand and appreciate the value of everything we had, whether it was a morsel of food, a new item of clothing or the roof over our heads. Nothing was ever taken for granted.

I learned from an early age to understand and appreciate everything we hadI have often been described as being nostalgic, sentimental, a dreamer of sorts - definitely a talker - and a listener. These qualities have served as remarkable lifeboats throughout my life. Sometimes nostalgia, sentimentality and sharing our feelings with significant others is a placenta filled with the nourishment we need in adulthood.

I am working on living a good Jewish life. Since my mother has moved in with all of us over a year ago I notice that her eyes are transfixed on the candles we light for Shabbat. I often find myself shedding a tear when I hear her hum along during the prayers.

I have come a long way since my sixteenth birthday. I realize that I am flawed yet somehow perfectly fine in my imperfection. I can't do cartwheels anymore. But as I close my eyes, I can still see that young breathless girl grappling with an unforeseen life. And guess what? She just gave me a wink and the biggest smile I've ever seen.