Blind Spot| December 27, 2022
I couldn't let the class queen invade my daughter's haven
Sheva: I don’t want to hurt you, but I have to protect my daughter.
Dina: Why are you punishing my child when she’s done nothing wrong?
Idon’t know why I’d expected this to be different. Maybe because it was a trip, not a formal occasion like a wedding or even a sit-down family Chanukah get-together. Maybe because it was the first time we were doing this, all of us together, with my parents — a real pilgrimage to the nearby country park. Maybe because Libby enjoys nature, she loves hiking, and I’d kinda hoped that it would push her to be more a part of things.
Or maybe I just hadn’t thought about it very much at all.
Because if I had, I would’ve realized: Things don’t change that easily.
So she didn’t have a book with her to disappear behind. So she was dutifully trailing along on the hike, exchanging a few words with my youngest sister, Bracha, who was wearing fashion booties absolutely not suited to a nature trail, and pushing her pristine Bugaboo over twigs and dried leaves.
She still wasn’t there, walking among the knot of teenage girl cousins led by my niece Mindy.
And when we sat down for lunch, breaking up the hike (not much of a hike, really, it was a two-hour trail along the easiest, flattest path we could find) for some food and schmoozing, the girls all flopped down on the grass in a circle, sipping from Contigos and sharing lunch, while Libby sat herself cross-legged near me and the little ones, opened a package of pretzels and pulled out — of all things — a book.
I bit my lip — say something? Don’t say something? — and settled for a light, “Libs? Why don’t you join the cousins, over there?”
She looked at me and shrugged, words unspoken in her deep brown eyes, but then she shrugged and put the book away, as if to say, watch what happens.
I did. I watched as she headed over to the tight circle on the grass. Chani — two years younger than Libby — moved aside to make space for her, but then…
The group of girls continued talking animatedly, voices and laughter carrying on the breeze, while Libby sat stiff, silent, part of the circle and yet so alone.
I knew why.
As if on cue, my brother Efraim wandered over. “Hey, busy sis. What are you up to these days?”
I smiled mechanically, but I didn’t respond. Because really, really… it was his daughter. Her fault that Libby was so left out, so marginalized, at every family occasion.
“Right, we never hear a peep from you these days,” Efraim’s wife, Dina, added laughingly. I looked at her, and all I could see were Mindy’s green eyes and defined features. Mindy, the popular, Mindy, the superstar, Mindy, who was just a week younger than my daughter, was in her class, and never cared to say a word to her shy, introverted cousin.
Mindy, the charismatic one, the oldest of the girl cousins (or wait, not the oldest, that’s my Libby, but no one ever seems to remember that fact). The one who’s always in the lead, making things happen. And the one who, with all her plans and conversations and charisma and leadership, never bothers to look out for Libby, to encourage her to join in.
Okay, I was pinning a lot on one young teen. But I knew: If not for Mindy, the family dynamics would look different. The cousins wouldn’t walk around in a pack, they’d be more open, more friendly. With Mindy, it had become — inadvertently, perhaps, but nonetheless — a clique of sorts, centered around Little Miss Popular.
And no one ever seemed to care enough to do something about it.
not just the family get-togethers. Mindy and Libby are classmates, which means that they’re together all day, every day. Well, let me qualify that. They’re in the same room, at the same time. They never, ever actually talk.
Mindy, I’ve gathered over the years, has a core group of friends and a gaggle of hangers-on on the fringes. Libby, by contrast, had one best friend, Chaya, and was perfectly content like that. But when Chaya’s family moved out of town last summer, Libby was devastated. She missed Chaya, she missed the camaraderie and the company — and she was totally and utterly friendless.
It’s not like anyone is actively mean to her. No problems of bullying or belittling or deliberately excluding. But no one is making an effort to include the lonely girl on the edge of the social scene, either. And Libby herself….
“Why don’t you just go over to another girl, anyone, make some conversation? I’m sure there are some really nice girls in your class who would be happy to schmooze,” I asked her, more than once.
“Maaaa.” Libby rolled her eyes. “I do, okay? I talk to Miri and Shosh and Sara Leah. Or whoever. But it’s like, boring. How are you, yeah, fine, the weather, the homework, the teacher’s shoes. None of them has anything interesting to talk about. And five minutes later they’re talking to each other again.” She shrugged. “It’s fine, I bring a book to school, read during recess.”
“What about Mindy and her friends?” I couldn’t resist asking one time, even though I knew what the answer would be.
“Mindy?” Libby actually snorted. “Miss Queen of the Class? Everyone fawning over her? I can’t even get near her desk. She probably doesn’t know I’m in her class.”
Which 14-year-old uses the word fawning, was my first reaction, but I shook off the thought and said forcefully, “Of course she knows you’re in her class.” But I was indignant inside, and made a mental note to call Dina. She should know, speak to Mindy, do something! Despite all her insistence to the contrary, Libby was miserable. And Mindy was the one who could do something about it.
“Don’t,” Libby said, narrowing her eyes.
“Don’t what?” I asked.
“Don’t make me into a nebach, okay? Don’t call Aunt Dina about this.” Libby looked at me with blazing eyes. “I know you’re going to do that, Ma, but forget it. I’m fine, okay?”
ut she wasn’t fine.
The year crept on, a couple of months passed, and Libby still struggled to make new friends. I was at a loss — what now? I thought about social skills coaching or something, but really, her social skills were fine. She was just… introverted. She was shy and reserved and didn’t enjoy the “small talk” stage that comes before deep, genuine friendship.
I knew my daughter. When she was in her comfort zone, with people she knew well and was comfortable with, she was absolutely fine. That was part of the reason why the cousins thing rankled so much — it could’ve been Libby’s chance, her social life. Mindy could’ve helped her bridge the gap, been someone she was comfortable hanging around with as she made her own friends. She was so popular, my niece, and yet it never occurred to her to use her popularity to be there for her cousin.
At least Libby had camp. A couple of years back, I’d heard about this camp, a small sleepaway program focused on cultivating talents while building self-confidence. Libby is incredibly musical, with a beautiful voice, and the special voice-training workshops the camp offered were the only reason I was able to convince her to go.
She’d gone, loved it, and kept going back. I’m so grateful for that — she loves her summers, knows the camp staff well, and has made some really good friends there.
With school such a downer, I was just grateful that camp applications would be coming soon and would give Libby something to look forward to.
was making batches of soups one evening, hoping to stock my freezer, when my sister-in-law Dina called.
“Libby goes to Camp Kol Reena, right?”
“Mmm.” I was pureeing a huge pot of cooked vegetables and it was hard to hear over the noise of the blender. “What did you say — Libby’s camp? Yes, it’s Kol Reena, you know, a small talent-camp type program….”
“Yeah, sure I know what it is. I wanted to ask you when they start taking applications?”
I stopped blending the soup, feeling nervous. “They already did… why?”
“We’re thinking of applying there, for Mindy,” Dina said casually, as if this weren’t a bombshell of epic proportions.
“R-really?” I stammered. “Doesn’t she go to Bnos Golda?”
I knew that Mindy attended Bnos Golda. Together with a group of friends, of course. In fact, Libby’s always been the only one from her entire class who went to Kol Reena — and it was better that way. It was in another state, and I knew the camp director — she was a close seminary friend of mine — which was how I’d heard about it in the first place. We’d always been happy that it was a small program; they offered so much individual attention, and it gave Libby a chance to flourish.
Dina continued blithely, seemingly oblivious that she was talking about upending my daughter’s whole summer. “She went to Bnos Golda. But they aren’t opening this summer, so we’re looking into other options. I heard great things about Kol Reena, and you know Mindy loves to dance, she liked the idea of a talent program… so I figured we’d apply there. Maybe we can use you for protektzia,” she finished, with an airy laugh.
Protektzia. To help my niece get into camp and ruin it for my daughter.
nce the initial shock had worn off, I called Dina back. Maybe I could explain this rationally, adult to adult. Maybe I could avert this disaster before Libby even knew anything.
“About camp… you know, Mindy going to Libby’s program.”
“Libby’s program? Oh, you mean Kol Reena,” Dina said. Her voice was light, but I detected an edge to it. She didn’t like the way I talked about it, as if the camp was Libby’s, and not an option for anyone who wanted to apply.
“Right,” I said, groping for the right words. “Well, I was thinking… you know, our daughters don’t mix so well together. And the bunks in Kol Reena are very small… they only take a limited number per age group, and they’re all in one bunk together….” I trailed off.
“What are you saying, Sheva?” Dina asked me directly. “Are you saying that we shouldn’t apply to the camp that Mindy wants? But that’s not really… fair, is it?”
I bit my lip. Put that way, it did sound wrong. But… “Why Kol Reena?” I blurted. “There are so many camps, and Mindy has a ton of friends. There are other talent camps out there, too.”
“Look, it’s not the only one we’re applying to,” Dina said. “But it’s Mindy’s first choice — she wants to do something different, use her creativity and dancing talent, we like the vibe, and one of my cousins sends her daughter there too. Why look into other talent camps when this one seems perfect?”
Perfect for her, maybe.
“I hear you,” Dina continued, that slight edge still in her voice, “but I don’t think it’s enough of a reason for Mindy not to apply. They’ll be fine. They’ll each have their own friends, and anyway, so much of the time the girls are in clubs, doing different things… dancing, singing, whatever.”
No. No way.
Dina hung up, but I couldn’t stop thinking what a disaster this would be for Libby. She struggled socially in school, and Mindy outshone her at family get-togethers. I was determined not to let her take center stage in camp, too.
nd that’s why I did what I did. And I don’t regret it — I think it was the right thing, to speak up for my daughter. She needed this summer experience, and Dina wasn’t hearing me out.
So I called my friend Chavie. The camp director.
I explained the situation… Libby’s challenges at school, Mindy’s popularity, the way that Libby shrank into herself even more when she was around.
“She’s not nasty to her,” I added hastily. “It’s not even really what Mindy does. It’s just who she is that makes Libby very self-conscious and shy. She doesn’t try to include her, and Libby feels hurt — they’re first cousins, the same age, you know? If they’re in the same bunk, it will ruin Libby’s summer.”
Chavie heard me out — I knew she would. I reiterated that it was a personality-clash kind of issue, not anything wrong with Mindy per se, but that their history made me worry that if Mindy would come to camp, she’d be star of the bunkhouse, and Libby would find herself an outcast again.
“I appreciate you telling me,” Chavie said when I was done. “We’re actually inundated with applications for this age group, so I have to reject most new applicants anyway — but this is useful to know. Libby is a great girl and I’m sorry she’s struggling. I hope she’ll have a great summer with us.”
She didn’t tell me what she was going to do — she’s professional like that — but I felt pretty secure that my niece wouldn’t be on Camp Kol Reena’s camper list this summer.
I felt a little bad, but then I thought about what Dina said. They were applying to a few camps — she’d get into the others for sure. And Mindy would do fine wherever — she didn’t need the small, nurturing environment like Libby did. Besides, it was kind of Mindy’s own fault. She’d never even tried to befriend her lonely cousin.
I was Libby’s mother; I had to put her needs first.
But even though I was sure I’d done the right thing, I hoped that Dina wouldn’t find out why her daughter wasn’t accepted. Confident as I was, I didn’t feel like my popular, extroverted sister-in-law — so like her own daughter — would ever understand.
If I could tell Dina one thing, it would be: Your daughter could use her popularity to help her cousin, but instead she has only hurt her. How can I allow her to ruin Libby’s camp experience, too?
Mindy flounced into the kitchen. My Little Miss Dramatic. She’s so like I was as a teen, it’s funny.
“What’s up, hon?”
“Camp. Camp! Ma!!!!!”
I blinked. “We’re just after Succos, honey, isn’t it a bit early?”
Mindy shook her head, apparently unable to articulate the words. “My friend just called me… her sister’s been the director of BG for, like, a million years. And she told me… they’re not opening this summer!”
Bnos Golda closing down?
Okay, I had to admit, this did warrant a bit of drama.
“Are you sure…?” I began asking, but Mindy waved me away.
“Of course I’m sure. My friend’s sister told her. It’s crazy! Legit! Like, how can a camp just close? We rely on them…”
Mindy sounded close to tears. It wasn’t just about camp, of course. It was everything. But camp was supposed to be something stable, reliable, unchanging. The place she went home to each summer. And she’d lost so much recently; I knew why this would hit so hard.
I reached out to offer a hug. “That’s tough, Mindy, I know you look forward all year,” I told her. “But don’t worry. We’re gonna find you a great camp, and you’ll have an amazing summer. Maybe even better than at Bnos Golda.”
“Nothing could be better than BG,” she said with a sniff.
Everything’s a drama for my 13-going-on-30-year-old. But I understood her; she’d been going to Camp Bnos Golda practically since she could walk. And Mindy is the only girl in the family — so summers with her friends are a real highlight for her. This was not what she needed now.
I put down the mug I was holding. “Don’t worry, Mindy. We’ll take care of this,” I told her. “There are plenty of camps. We’re going to look into them, and you can find out where your friends are going. You’ll have a great summer, okay?”
“I guess,” Mindy said, and, clutching the phone like a lifeline, hurtled back out the kitchen to closet herself in her room.
I was determined to come through for Mindy, this year more than ever. Besides for the fact that she loved camp and thrived on the 24/7 social scene, it was her chance to form relationships with soul sisters. It was a meager second-best to giving her a sister of her own, but it was the most I could do.
I’d been ecstatic when I learned we were expecting good news last year after a long wait — Mindy and her two brothers are pretty close in age, and the youngest is already nine. I just knew it would be a girl. And I was right — until a life-threatening complication came up in the seventh month, just before school started.
I recovered. But we lost the baby. Mindy lost her dream sister. And while only my husband and I knew this part, she never would have a sister now.
It had been traumatic for all of us, but in a way, it was the hardest for Mindy. She’d been taking care of the house and her brothers, and she was also the only one old enough to understand a little about what was happening. Now, more than ever, I wanted to give her something to look forward to — and camp was her favorite place in the world.
It didn’t take long to get a short list of camps together. I asked for a couple of recommendations and Mindy presented me with six names of camps that some of her many friends would be applying to.
One of the names — Kol Reena — rang a bell.
“Who do we know who goes there?” I asked, but then it clicked. “Oh, right, doesn’t Libby go there?” Libby is my niece, my husband Efraim’s sister’s daughter. “That’s great, I can call Sheva to ask her about it.”
“I really want to go there,” Mindy told me. “It’s a talent camp, you know? And, like, if I can’t go to BG then I really want to do something different. Exciting. A bunch of my friends from ballet are going. Like half the day is regular camp and half the day focuses on talent workshops, preparing for performances… so I’d get to do all this dance stuff. Can we apply there as a first choice?”
She was excited! Baruch Hashem, she was excited about this. Hopefully, she’d get in and this whole Bnos Golda thing would be a blessing in disguise. And a chance to develop her dancing talents — that would be the perfect thing. Especially since this would be her last year of after-school classes — she was in the highest level there.
“That sounds like a great idea, honey. Let me ask Aunt Sheva a few things first, though.”
If Sheva sent her daughter, I couldn’t imagine that the camp would be problematic for us in any way, but I had to do the responsible thing and check it out — who ran it, what style, rules, what kind of girls went there. I wiped my hands and dialed Sheva’s number.
We schmoozed for a minute or two, and then I asked her if she knew when Kol Reena was opening applications.
“They already did,” she said. Then she suddenly stopped and asked, in a very different tone, “Um, why are you asking?”
“Mindy’s thinking of going this summer,” I explained.
“Really?” Sheva’s voice sounded weird, distant. “Uh, doesn’t she go to Bnos Golda?”
I frowned into the phone. Why was Sheva sounding like this? So what if I wanted to send my daughter to the same camp as hers?
“She did. But Bnos Golda isn’t opening this summer, so we’re looking into other options,” I explained, and then ended the call. Forget it; I wasn’t going to bother asking her for more information. I could get it from someone else.
The truth is, I’ve had the feeling for a while that Sheva doesn’t approve of Mindy.
Look, she’s totally different from Sheva’s daughter, I get it. Mindy probably comes across as less mature, more dramatic. She’s always partying, out with friends, while Libby is the studious, quiet type. Responsible. But Mindy’s a good kid; she’s just a different personality. She deals with stuff by going out with friends, not by journaling, you know?
Once, a few years back, Sheva asked me to encourage Mindy to befriend Libby — she thought they’d both benefit. It could have been a good idea — Mindy would help Libby loosen up a little, and Libby would ground Mindy a bit. But I really don’t believe in trying to manipulate kids’ friendships. It never really works.
Still, for Sheva’s sake, I tried. When Mindy would sit and debate which friends to invite over on a Sunday afternoon, I’d suggest Libby.
“Maaaa! She’s not my type.”
“But you’re cousins,” I reminded her.
“Doesn’t mean we’re friends. Even at Bubby’s, she never talks to me. It would just be awkward.”
“Maybe she’s just shy,” I suggested. “Maybe if you invite her over, she’d be friendlier?”
“Nah, she’s always, like, busy reading,” Mindy said. “She’s just not interested in, like, sitting and schmoozing or stuff like that.”
I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I felt like I’d pushed enough. It wasn’t fair to Mindy — or to Libby — to try to force an uncomfortable friendship on them.
Everything I heard about Camp Kol Reena made Mindy more and more excited. I was happy she’d stopped moping over Bnos Golda closing down. Best of all, she seemed to be getting over last year’s loss.
And to be honest, I liked the sound of the camp from another angle as well: The focus on talent development and skills-building was a nice change from an endless rotation of regular camp activities, and Mindy loved ballet. She would really thrive there. The camp had a great name, high standards, and was known for its fabulous end-of-summer cantata.
I hoped she’d get accepted, because I’d heard that the director was very selective, but honestly, I couldn’t imagine that she wouldn’t be accepted. She was a great girl, friendly and outgoing, did well in school, and all the teachers loved the way she wholeheartedly participated in class and extracurricular activities. If the camp called her teachers, they’d hear excellent information.
And then Sheva called.
“I was thinking about camp,” she said, in a tone of voice that boded no good. “You know, Libby and Mindy… they don’t mix so well. And Kol Reena — they only take a limited number of girls per age group, and they’re all in one bunk together. I just think that…”
She thought that what? We shouldn’t give Mindy a chance for the summer of her dreams because Libby didn’t want her cousin in her bunk? Seriously?
“Why? Why Kol Reena?” Sheva asked, and she sounded almost petulant. “There are so many camps, and Mindy has a ton of friends. There are other talent camps out there, too.”
Okay, this was seriously off. “Look, it’s not that we only applied to Kol Reena,” I said, patiently. “But it’s where Mindy wants to go. It’s where her friends are going. She’s dreaming of doing something with her dancing, and we like what we’ve heard about the camp. She wants to develop her talents, too.” I let the words linger. Why should Libby get to go every year and begrudge her cousin one chance?
“I know, it’s just… Libby has a hard time socially, you know that. And this is her place to shine…”
“But they’ll be fine. Libby has camp friends. Mindy will hopefully go with some of her own friends. And don’t they split up into groups for most of the day, based on their talents? Dancing, singing, etc? It’s not like they’ll be on top of each other all the time.”
I couldn’t believe what a big deal Sheva was making over this. Mindy had her personality, Libby had hers. They both had different social circles and different talents. If — if — Libby was really feeling so threatened by the idea that her more outgoing cousin was going to the same program as she was, then Libby needed help. Mindy was harmless; she wasn’t hurting anyone. There was no bullying, ever. They simply had nothing to do with each other. Because they were different. And that was fine.
“By the way,” I couldn’t resist adding. “Mindy sometimes feels intimidated by Libby. She comes across as very mature and responsible, and Mindy sometimes feels like she looks down on her. But she is really happy to go to the same camp, be in the same bunk. Why can’t things just be okay how they are?”
Sheva didn’t reply.
I put the entire conversation out of my mind. And then camp acceptance letters came.
Or rather, didn’t come.
Mindy’s friends were accepted into Kol Reena. And Mindy…
“I just don’t understand,” she sobbed into my arms. “We all applied together. Chassi and Nomi and me. We wrote each other’s names on the application. And they got in and I didn’t!”
Mindy was beside herself. Devastated. And I couldn’t understand it either. They’d applied as a threesome and two got accepted? What had they heard about my daughter?
I tried to console Mindy, but honestly, I was just as rattled. She’d been through so much already this year. The rejection was crushing to her — and to me.
A few days later, Mindy’s homeroom teacher called. “Is everything okay with Mindy?” she asked. “She hasn’t been herself for the last few days.”
I loved Mrs. Teller — she was super caring and picked up on everything. “Well, actually, she had a major disappointment this week,” I said, and explained the situation.
“Camp Kol Reena?” Mrs. Teller asked, sounding surprised? “Really? Your Mindy applied there?”
She sounded perturbed, and I wondered why. “Yes. Two of her friends also did, Chassi Weintraub and…”
“Nomi Shine. I know.” Mrs. Teller clucked her tongue. “Look, I’m surprised because — I’ll tell you the truth. The camp director called me for information about several girls who applied. She ran through a whole list and I gave her all the information I could. But she didn’t even mention your daughter’s name.” She paused, and then added, “Of course, if she would have, I’d have sung Mindy’s praises. You know I think she’s a really great girl.”
I barely heard the last sentence. I was still reeling.
So, they didn’t even consider my daughter. They reference-checked everyone but us. Why? How?
A thought crept up in my mind… could it be? Was Sheva behind this? Did she do this to my daughter?
A week passed. Mindy’s disappointment did not. She was still crying a lot, she’d lost her usual sparkle, and there was absolutely nothing I could do. The dream that had fueled her for the past few weeks had disintegrated, and now it seemed like everything was crashing down on her: the rejection, the loss of her own camp, the loss of her dreams. She got into all the other camps she applied to, but whenever I tried prodding her to decide on one, she shrugged. She had friends going to all of them, but none of them were specialized talent programs, and her best friends were going to Kol Reena. It was devastating for her, and for me.
I couldn’t give her a sister. But I’d wanted so badly to give her a special summer. And now she’d lost even this dream.
If this is Sheva’s fault, I thought to myself, I honestly don’t want to speak to her again.
If I could tell Sheva one thing, it would be: My daughter has done nothing wrong. How could you go behind her back to have her excluded from the camp of her dreams?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 942)
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