| Family Tempo |

Bitter Pill

Yechiel came off the bus… different. He dragged his feet, looking sad and forlorn

As told to Raizy Friedman

 

I was expecting my fourth child, and one of my biggest worries was where my eight-year-old would spend the week after I gave birth.

It had been a long and tiring pregnancy, and I was very much hoping to go to a convalescent home to rest up once the baby was born. But my husband was busy with peak season at work, I hardly had any extended family living close by, and I didn’t usually take my friends’ children when they had babies, so I felt bad asking friends to take mine.

My youngest at the time was four, but I wasn’t concerned about her. Her kindergarten teacher had offered to take her months before, and I was comfortable with the arrangement. My ten-year-old would stay at the neighbor’s house every day until my husband would come home with takeout supper.

Which left Yechiel, my eight-year-old son, who had been diagnosed with severe ADD. He was in a special school, with great therapists, and his medication helped regulate him on a day-to-day basis. A new baby would be require a lot of adjusting on his part, but first, I’d need time to recover. Which is why I spent the weeks before birth worrying about where I could place Yechiel after the baby was born.

My options were pretty limited. The only people I could think of who might do it were my sister-in-law who lived close by but had her own two-month-old baby, or a neighbor I wasn’t very close to — not a very inviting prospect. I procrastinated asking either one; it just didn’t feel appropriate.

My little angel was born three weeks before her due date, and I still hadn’t made arrangements for Yechiel. Hours after delivery, I bit my lip nervously, fingers hovering over the keypad, trying to will up the courage to call. The baby wailed in the bassinet near my bed, and I felt like wailing along. The phone rang.

“Ruchy, mazel tov!” My sister Liba’s voice was a beam of sunshine.

“Thanks,” I said shortly.

My voice must have revealed my mood.

“What’s up? Everything okay with the baby?”

“The baby’s fine. Adorable. It’s Yechiel I’m worried about.”

 

Liba was sympathetic to my predicament. “What about his school staff? Nobody there?”

I’d gone through the list a million times during the months leading up to the birth.

“Nope. Every one of them has another excuse. I even tried the bus monitor. I guess I’m going to have to give up on my dream of a good rest and try to get a baby nanny for the nights.”

“At home, with Yechiel? He’ll go crazy if he sees a nanny. You won’t get any rest.”

I couldn’t disagree with that one.

“Think,” Liba pushed. “Your sister-in-law Chevy, or your neighbor?”

I bit my lip, picturing Chevy holding a squirming newborn while she dealt with Yechiel, and suppressed a sigh. It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do. If she’d agree.

We weren’t very close; our relationship was the type that fed off the fact that we shared family and saw each other at occasional get-togethers. We called each other from time to time if we needed anything, but it wasn’t the heart-to-heart BFF thing at all.

Would Chevy step in to take Yechiel?

She knew about his limitations. I’d shared my issues with Yechiel with her when he was younger. She was a big believer in natural eating and had always been pushing me to see a kinesiologist and one chiropractor or another. At some point, I’d stopped sharing so much, and just focused on doing what we felt was right for our son.

I pushed myself to make the call. I was really desperate.

“Mazel tov!” Chevy’s voice was warm.

I filled her in on the details, baby weight, hair color, dimples. And took a deep breath. It was now or never.

“I feel really bad putting you on the spot,” I apologized, “but I have a really big favor to ask you. Feel free to say no. Do you think you’d be up to hosting my Yechiel for a few days while I go to Eim V’nefesh to recuperate from the birth?” I was tempted to throw in a bribe, a big gift, anything, just to get her to agree.

She was quiet, in a reflective way, then said she’d speak with Moish, her husband, and get back to me.

I spent the next four hours saying Tehillim while my cousin’s neighbor drove my son around in her car, running errands and keeping him safe.

When my husband came home that evening, he picked up Yechiel from the chesed lady.

“We need a better arrangement for tomorrow,” he told me, concerned. “I know it’s not fair to you, so soon after a baby, that you need to be worrying about this, but it’s really not going to work. Should I call Moish?”

I didn’t think it was fair for him to call his brother. I didn’t want to pressure Chevy.

When my phone rang later that night, I was both nervous and excited to see her number on the screen.

“So, I spoke to Moish, and he thinks we can give it a try. Moish will come home early to help out with the baby in the evening. Have Yechiel come here after school tomorrow. Rest up!”

I was choked up, crying and laughing at once.

The convalescence place had been holding my slot until eight that night, and I excitedly called to confirm. This was happening!

The conversations over the next 24 hours were exhilarating.

“Yes, Mommy, I am going in the end. My sister-in-law is taking him.”

“Hi, this is Mrs. L. Can you please send the refill for Concerta for Yechiel to 8 Rendway Road?”

“Can you make sure the Uber is here at 12? I want to make the most out of every second I’ve paid for!”

“Yes, I know about not shaking the baby and proper positioning. Can you just sign the discharge papers?”

“Can I change Yechiel’s bus stop, please? Until further notice, for a week or so, can you pick him up from and drop him off at 8 Rendway Road?”

“How’s it going, Chevy? Is he there yet? So here’s the list of his favorite foods and things he won’t touch. He takes his medication each morning; don’t forget, it’s crucial.”

The convalescent home was everything I’d it hoped it would be. I slept more than I had slept in the past year, savoring each minute in this paradise on earth. I bonded with my newborn and enjoyed each meal, stocking up on badly needed energy for the months ahead.

I called Chevy every night to check up on Yechiel, but she sounded distracted and busy in the early evening, and I was too tired to call her later on. We didn’t talk much, but she said she was managing, and I chose to believe her.

Too soon, the week came to an end. After a final, scrumptious lunch, I waved goodbye to my newfound friends, bundled up little Riki, and headed back to real life. I’d need to be home before 4:15, when Yechiel came home.

I made a mental note to buy a nice gift for Chevy. I owed her, big-time. Readying myself for Yechiel’s homecoming, I was pleasantly surprised to see I actually missed him.

The tender feeling lasted until 4:17.

Yechiel came off the bus…different. He dragged his feet, looking sad and forlorn.

I pulled him into a maternal welcome-home hug. The baby was in a safe place, and I was ready for this reaction. I knew about abandonment and unconditional love. I was prepared — or so I thought.

Yechiel didn’t look at my face, but punched me in the abdomen. Hard. Then he broke free from my hug and ran into the kitchen, grabbed a pile of papers, and started shredding them. When I arrived there, he dropped everything and ran further, like a caged animal, into his room.

I didn’t try to follow him. I was baffled, but not dispirited. Yechiel and I had a lot of positive moments going back for years now. He’d come around.

By the following morning, I was zapped. Yechiel hadn’t slept at all, and the baby’s cries weren’t the reason. I couldn’t figure out what was bothering him.

I figured he needed to acclimate back into his routine, although past changes like Yom Tov in New York hadn’t shaken him up so badly. I rocked the baby and let my eyelids droop, enjoying the quiet after his bus left. But all too soon he came home, and the situation was no better than the day before.

By 8:45 that evening, I let my husband take over the vigil at Yechiel’s bedroom door, while I went to call his teacher. Maybe she’d be able to shed light on this situation.

“I don’t know either,” Lauren answered, almost relieved, “and I didn’t really want to bother you, now, after the baby. He’s been like this since you had the baby. He’s completely out of whack in school. He doesn’t enjoy any of his regular activities, and his reactions are extreme.”

As an afterthought, as we were hanging up, she added, “He has no appetite, lately, come to think of it. He hasn’t been eating much.”

We scheduled a team meeting over the phone for the following week. She’d notify the school psychologist and occupational therapist, and I’d ask my husband to join as well.

I called my trusted pediatrician. He was sympathetic and concerned and shared his worries.

“Do you think he was neglected at your friend’s house? Abused?”

I panicked. Chevy? Moish? What had I done? What could I do?

I tried not to think but couldn’t stop thinking.

To call her or not to call her? What should I say? What would I ask? I was at a loss.

My husband called his brother, and aiming for a causal tone, thanked him and asked how it went. Moish didn’t offer much, said it was okay, and he admired us for handling Yechiel all the time with so much positivity. Nothing new there.

I tried to stay afloat, to focus on my other children and duties, but Yechiel was taking up all of my physical and mental energies.

It felt like the olden days, the time “before.” Before his diagnosis, before we knew what we were dealing with, before the medication had been regulated. And I was more tired than ever.

At the team meeting, all parties agreed that Yechiel was exhibiting symptoms of trauma, and that we needed to reevaluate his medication to see if the dose needed adjustment.

My husband took Yechiel to Dr. Feld on Sunday for bloodwork and a physical. He’d help us readjust the dose, which we hoped would be the solution.

On Tuesday, I bumped into an acquaintance in the grocery store, and she casually mentioned a course on holistic healing that she was attending.

“It’s a small group, and Dr. Bovlavo is giving us hands-on guidance. Your sister-in-law, Chevy, comes as well. She was late two weeks ago, she mentioned she had your son for a few days?”

I nodded, preoccupied, choosing an unblemished squash from the pile.

“How did things work out? She mentioned she was going to try some of our natural remedies on him. Did she talk to you about it?”

A sudden, shrill buzz sounded through my brain. My head was hammering. Yechiel’s apathy, his lack of appetite, all these tiring, exhausting, draining behaviors.

At this point, I had my husband count the bottle of pills left in the prescription we sent Chevy. And came to a heart-sickening conclusion: Chevy hadn’t given him the medication all week!

We called Dr. Feld. He didn’t think a new dosage was necessary. Yechiel’s behaviors were as expected for people exhibiting withdrawal after a sudden stop from their medication. He suggested waiting a few more days as he was sure we’d see the behaviors improve soon.

Snippets of old conversations floated through my mind. Chevy extolling the virtues of natural and homeopathic healing over medical doctors. Chevy laughing at my plans to put Yechiel on medicine, telling me I’d turn him into a zombie. Chevy going to some natural healer for her children’s ear infections.

The Post-It note on my counter haunted me. “Gift for Chevy.”

Chevy, who’d taken Yechiel so I could rest post-baby, but had taken matters into her own hands.

I was too weary for an actual confrontation, but a simple box of chocolates was all that I sent to 8 Rendway Road that week, along with a note: “Thanks so much for having Yechiel! Family L.”

I know she may have been expecting more; having Yechiel was a big deal.

But I couldn’t do more, considering that it would take me six difficult months to erase her six days of non-medication.

 

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 707)

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