| Family Tempo |

For the Sake of Shalom

Oh, my goodness! They have to put grown men at each entrance to keep my 11-year-old out!


know some mothers will be horrified to know that when I see the school’s phone number on my caller ID, and I hear my child has been injured, I’m relieved. But I also know there are other mothers — mothers of children with behavioral issues — that will entirely understand me.

If he’s fallen on the playground and needs stitches or an X-ray — well, I can handle that. There’s a clear protocol to heal him, and a brief timeline for how long that will take. Certainly no one will be talking about my son or my family if he breaks a bone in the schoolyard. I’m not worried about my child’s future if he has to use crutches for a couple of weeks.

But when the principal calls and opens by telling me Shalom is fine, I don’t relax. My blood turns cold and my heart starts racing.

Let me tell you what the school did not call to tell me. When Shalom found a key to the storage room and convinced his entire class to go inside and then locked them in — the school considered that a minor enough infraction to leave me out of.

When he used a magnifying glass to set things in the schoolyard on fire, the principal confiscated the magnifying glass and informed Shalom he would be all too happy to give it back as soon as Shalom could commit to using it for only non-nefarious purposes. He saw no need to involve me.

I only know how often he’s sent to the principal’s office because his older brother two grades above — a goody-goody — complains to me how mortifying it is when Shalom is again waiting for the principal.

I know the school is patient, so when I see Rav Goldberg’s number on my caller I.D., I’m near panic when he tells me Shalom is fine.

“We’ve sent Shalom home to calm down,” he says. “He didn’t want to leave school and tried to come back inside. We had to put a rebbi at each entrance of the cheder to block him. I think he’s on his way home, but I’m letting you know so we can be sure he gets there.”

Oh, my goodness! They have to put grown men at each entrance to keep my 11-year-old out! They must think we’re the most dysfunctional family ever. We must be the most dysfunctional family ever!

I’m not surprised that Shalom was determined to stay in school. He’s so justice oriented, that if he decided the school was wrong to send him home, he would do everything in his power to stay. I’m desperate to hear why Shalom was sent home, but I’m trying so hard not to hyperventilate; I can barely croak out, “What happened?”

“He got into a fight with another child and was determined to hurt him. He said he wanted to put him in the hospital. He needs to calm down. Maybe it’s better if he doesn’t come to school for a couple of days,” the principal says. Then he wishes me well and hangs up.

I sink into a chair, shaking. I’m grateful the school is only sending him home for a few days and not throwing him out, but what on earth is wrong with my child? How did I manage to raise a monster?

Hashem, please, please help me. Help Shalom. I don’t know what to do anymore. He’s your child also!

If Shalom said he wants to put another child in the hospital, he means it. In his twisted way of thinking, the infraction committed was severe enough that it couldn’t get away without a consequence.

Shalom walks in the door. I can practically seem the steam rising off of him.

“They didn’t let me hurt Yudi today, but I will. I’m going to make him bleed! He’ll need to go to the hospital. He wouldn’t stop kicking my chair. I told the rebbi, but the rebbi didn’t do a thing!”

A kid kicked his chair? For that he wants to hurt him so badly? My son is absolutely crazy, and I have no idea what to do about it. We’ve had these conversations before and I never get anywhere. I try to validate him that it must be very annoying to have this kid kick his chair over and over again — but that still can’t justify violence. I get nowhere.

 Shalom has always been difficult. My other kids would go to the bath when I’d say it was bath time, while I would have to chase Shalom all over the house to get him into the bath. While a small punishment was enough to deter my other children from disobeying me, if I wanted to deter Shalom, I had to think of something serious for it to have any effect at all.

From a young age, Shalom found hazards in places my other kids hadn’t dreamed of looking. When my husband put a small table and chair next to his desk so the kids could “work” while he did, I thought it was cute. But for two-year-old Shalom, it was a great way to climb onto the desk and from there to a high shelf. And then to jump down.

One neighbor was horrified when Shalom fell off a fence he’d climbed. But when she offered to stay with my other children so I could take him to the urgent care center, I declined and instead asked for a tissue to stop the bleeding.

I explained that I’d taken Shalom to the urgent care center so many times over the last few weeks, I was afraid to take him again. They’d have a social worker waiting for us, wanting me to explain how Shalom had been there more often than all my other children put together. How would I convince her that I simply was incapable of anticipating what new antics Shalom would try?

When he was in third grade, Shalom was diagnosed with ADHD and was prescribed Ritalin. I knew that if I forgot to medicate him in the morning, I could expect a call from the rebbi later that day. But for the most part, I viewed Shalom’s ADHD as an advantage. He was energetic and fun and insanely creative.

Sure, I needed more patience and had to daven a bit harder for Shalom than I did for my other kids, but his warmth and loving personality more than made up for the difficulties.

That was until I started getting calls from the school more and more often, and began having a hard time managing him at home. At bedtime, the kids would listen to a story CD until they fell asleep. One night four-year-old Miri came to me in tears. I’d told her she could choose the CD that night, but Shalom had taken it away from her and put in a different one.

“It’s not her turn,” he explained to me. “We all agreed we were listening to the stories in order, so there are no turns. Not for her or anyone else.”

“Shalom, I’m the mommy around here. If I tell Miri she can choose a disc, you don’t have a right to take it away from her. Even if the kids agreed on a system, I’m still the mommy,” I said.

But Shalom didn’t seem to understand that as a parent, I have veto power over the kids. Fair is fair, and I have no right to change that, he thinks.

I find myself fighting with Shalom more and more. All the positivity drains out of our relationship. More and more, all I feel is frustration when I deal with him.

I read every chinuch book I get my hands on, and go to every parenting class I can. But none of the tools I’ve learned are helping. Shalom is impossible to deal with at home. Shalom is impossible to deal with at school.

Something has to change.

 AN educator I trust recommends an ADHD coach in our neighborhood.

My husband and I meet with Haddassa Marks and explain the difficulties we’re having. She gives us some advice at the first meeting. There’s nothing I haven’t heard already: try to give him choices instead of ultimatums (would you rather brush your teeth first or put on pajamas?), avoid confrontations, etc.

For the first few weeks, my husband and I meet with Mrs. Marks once a week, and Shalom meets with her separately. My husband and I bring up whichever issues we’d struggled with that week with Shalom. Sometimes she gives advice, sometimes she asks us to be patient and wait for the process Shalom is going through to have an effect. Sometimes we just discuss our feelings and worries about Shalom.

Once our relationship with Shalom is on the right track, she says, she’ll continue to meet with him weekly, but we would come in as a couple only if we felt a specific need.

Since our relationship with Shalom is the most important thing, but is on shaky ground for now, she tells us to each write him a note at the end of every day mentioning one positive thing he’d done that day.

“No matter how difficult a day it’s been, you should be able to find one positive thing. It’s best if you can find something positive that you want him to do more of, but anything positive is fine.”

I figure even I can come up with one good thing to say about Shalom every day, but at the time, I have no idea how much of a game changer those notes will be.

As the nightly notes become a habit, I find myself on the lookout for good things I can write about Shalom. On very difficult days, I have to turn the bad things inside out to find the good.

I’m so happy you never let anyone else’s opinion of you convince you you’re worthless.

I’m proud that you think it’s important to always be fair.

And even though Shalom never says a word to us about the notes, my husband and I see he saves them all. The only time he mentions them is when he asks my husband for a bigger box to keep them in.

In one of our meetings Mrs. Marks tells my husband and I that Shalom had told her what was going on in school, and she’d had to control herself from crying in front of him.

She explained that the boys in his class realized that if they started up with Shalom, there would be some action. One boy would walk past Shalom and kick his chair, another would poke him with a pencil, then one would whistle in his ear. They were smart enough not to let the rebbi see. Literally all day long, boys were doing things to hurt and annoy Shalom.

Since Shalom had already gotten the reputation as a trouble maker, the rebbi didn’t take him seriously when he complained about the other boys. And when Shalom finally lost patience with all the abuse, he’d explode. Since the rebbi hadn’t seen any of what the boys had done, it just looked like Shalom was crazy.

“He’s dealing with this every single day,” Mrs. Marks tells us with glittering eyes. “I’m not sure an adult would tolerate what has been going on as well as Shalom has. Assuming his rebbi is reasonable, which it sounds like he is, you need to clue him in to the situation and that should be enough to help.”

My husband is friends with the father of the boy who’s the biggest culprit. The man is happy to work with his son to improve the situation.

Mrs. Marks is able to get Shalom to understand that by exploding he’s giving the boys exactly what they want. Ignoring them would annoy them a lot more, and eventually get them to stop.

The improvements are slow and not at all steady. We can go a few weeks without incident and then struggle every day for a week straight. Shalom, for his part, adores Mrs. Marks and even brings her small gifts he buys with his own money.

It’s been a long school year, but I sniff the signs of change. To my relief, it’s finally rare to get a call from the cheder or for Shalom to be sent home. I still find myself frustrated with all the things Shalom isn’t doing — like helping around the house and waking up on time — but he’s fighting and dispensing his own brand of vigilante justice a lot less.

His view of justice hasn’t changed much, but what would have earned a sibling a solid whack a few months ago now gets a lecture. The neighbor complains that Shalom fought with his son, but it sounds like Shalom was actually in the right.

 Lag B’omer is a big event in Shalom’s cheder. In a fenced off area in the middle of the large courtyard in front of the building, there’s a fire in honor of Rabi Shimon. Each class dances in a circle with their rebbi. There’s a clearing several feet up that overlooks the cheder; all the women watch the event there.

I stand there on Lag B‘omer night and try to pick out each of my boys in the crowds below. My eyes land on Shalom dancing with his classmates. He looks like everyone else. Not a soul here would guess what an accomplishment this is, how much work it took for him to blend in with the crowd here.

My eyes are damp as I watch him. Then I see Shalom trip over another boy’s leg and nearly fall. It’s no one’s fault, that’s just the way exuberant boys dance — but I know Shalom doesn’t always see things that way.

I’m too far away to do anything to stop the train wreck unfolding before my eyes. Even if I shout, there’s no way Shalom could hear me from here, particularly not with the blaring music. I’m paralyzed. Powerless. My eyes lock on Shalom; the scene unfolding before me appears to move in slow motion.

Shalom trips. Wobbles. Catches himself one moment before falling. And then… he laughs.

Shalom laughs! And continues dancing.

Motion returns to normal speed. I can hear the blaring music again. But then everything blurs, and I’m sobbing uncontrollably.

Surely the women around me assume that someone in my family must be terribly ill, chas v’shalom. Or perhaps they see I’m very obviously expecting and chalk it up to overactive hormones. Perhaps they think I’ve simply been swept up in the emotions of the night.

But what no one can guess is that in front of the flames, I’ve just witnessed a miracle.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 792)

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