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Breaking Walls

   Dizzy sparks cascaded in my skull, and accusing inner fingers leached self-esteem from my bones


Yesterday, the kitchen wall gleamed with a fresh coat of paint. Today, it’s streaked with a black scribble.

The order I crave vanishes into a black hole inside my chest. “Who did this!” I lunge toward my seven-year-old. “Was it you?!”

Avi looks me in the eye. “No.”

I swing around to glare at five-year-old Shifra. She shakes her head. Wide eyes stare at me.

Is this how I looked at Mom when she yelled?

I whip back to Avi, and my breath stops in my throat. He’d had a hard week. He fought with the neighbor’s kids and a rock ripped through his upper lip. We raced to Shaare Zedek, and the doctor had laid surgical blades and cotton swabs on the table. “Only one parent, please,” he said.

Avi had reached past me to his dad and pulled on his shirt. Rejection… it stung like a wasp’s venom. The psychologist’s report shot up in my brain: “Avi is uncertain of his attachment to his mother.” I swallowed it down. Yehuda’s better with him anyway. That didn’t soothe the sting. I crouched outside the steel door that muffled Avi’s screams. Dizzy sparks cascaded in my skull, and accusing inner fingers leached self-esteem from my bones.

Shifra’s voice pulls me back. “Ima?” She fidgets with her skirt.

My eyes shoot back to the scribble. The weight in my chest strains against my ribs, bangs in my ears.

Avi looks down. Eleven stitches bloat his mouth.

Uncertain of his attachment to his mother.

I must make a concession for him. I must.

For him… or me?

I spin around and bark at my little girl. “Avi didn’t mess this wall. He’s not a baby!”

“It wasn’t me!” But her sobs can’t pierce the concrete of my fury. I thunder through the house, grabbing bleach and hurling punishments like stones at Shifra. “No Shabbos treats this week! Early to bed, you!” I push past her so roughly she falls backward onto Avi. He throws an arm around her little body and pulls her close while their mother flings soap at her vandalized wall.

In minutes, the surface is as unblemished as a gurney.

So much havoc for something so easily fixed.

Shame creeps up my neck, slides into my cheeks. My rebbetzin warns, in our weekly middos shiur, “Before you fly off the handle, ask how important this will be years from now?”

Why is hers not the default voice in my head? Why is Mom’s voice the loudest? Will I ever break this chain?

I lean against the railing. Sturdy, comforting wood grounds me. Set this right.

The kids have disappeared.

Yehuda’s study door is slightly ajar, and I head toward it. Avi is slumped in his father’s chair, head hanging forward in the shadows.

“What’s wrong, Avi?” Mom’s curtness.


Then I get it.

He did it.

It was obvious. But I just didn’t want him to be at the mercy of my rage after the week he’s had.

The week I’ve had.

Shifra. Shifra!

Boom, boom in my stomach.

I’m frantic to atone.

I reel away from Avi and tear up the stairs to her room. She’s in bed, the covers pulled over her curls.

I hesitate — Mom never did this — then kneel down next to her. “I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.”

She turns her little face toward me, eyes longing for Ima’s love again. Guilt chokes me. She pulls my head toward her little wet nose. My stomach twists with self-hatred. “Do you want candy before you sleep?” That’s right. Make it all better with chocolate. She nods. I promise to return, and pull away.

I head back to Avi, still slumped in his father’s chair.

My throat is tight. “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

His silence lengthens, and I bristle. Mom’s voice echoes inside me again.

No. I’m desperate to break this pattern. Hashem, please help me!

And suddenly, an invisible membrane between head and heart rips open. “It was wrong of you to mess the wall,” I whisper, “and wrong of me to yell.” Unexpected tenderness fills me. I lift him and fold us both into Yehuda’s chair. Just be with him. I’m terrified he’ll stiffen, feel I’m invading his space. Just be with him. I barely breathe, waiting. When was the last time I hugged Mom? My arms wrap tighter around his skinny frame.

His body softens. Glorious oxygen floods my arteries. Not just air, but relief pours into my lungs. It’s an authentic presence I rarely find in motherhood. We sit together for the longest time, folded petals of a single rose, hoping for the sun.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 842)

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