If she wanted to yell at me, she could have easily done it at home. So what else could she want?
I can’t stop thinking about Shulamis. She reminds me so much of my youngest son. He could have had such a nice life, if only I had caught it earlier. But I missed the boat, I wasn’t vigilant enough. I let my son do as he pleased, thought that by letting him leave yeshivah and go to work, I was doing the best thing for him. But I didn’t realize that, just like in yeshivah, you can’t be part of things in the office unless you can read. The only job Yonah could find was a cleaning job. Not even a clerical job — there was nothing for Yonah, nothing for the boy who couldn’t stop the letters from the crazy dance they performed every time he tried to read. That’s how he described it to me once.
“It’s like the letters have their own schedule, and I chase them, and they run away from me. I can’t even see them; they’re halves of shapes — just one big mess.”
I didn’t know of anything I could do to help him. I thought I was doing the right thing.
But then, too late, I learned I was wrong. Time does not go backward. It only goes forwards, and if I can’t change the shrieking absence of my favorite child in my life, I will at least help other parents so they don’t fall into the same trap.
I hurried out into the car, zipping up my jacket. This autumn seemed colder than last year. It’s been awhile since my mother and I went out together. Life’s been hectic. My older sister just left to seminary, and I knew my parents were struggling to pay the exorbitant tuition. My brother’s bar mitzvah was coming up, and my little brother’s upsheren… My mother was busy, working overtime and trying her best to manage everything.
We drove in silence. I was wondering why my mother chose tonight, just after the phone call they got from school reporting that I refused to go to tutoring. If she wanted to yell at me, she could have easily done it at home. So what else could she want?
The car stopped outside a bagel shop, one of my favorite places. They serve great ice cream and heaven sourdough bread.
While I was eating with gusto, my mother looked like she was at a loss for words.
I waited patiently. Eventually, my mother coughed.
“Shulamis…” she said softly. “We owe you an apology.” I almost choked on my panini.
“An apology?” This is the best day of my life.
“Yes,” my mother said. I saw it was hard for her to speak. “We didn’t treat you properly, Daddy and I. We were too busy trying to help you, when really we missed the point, and we caused you a lot of unnecessary pain.”
“A lot,” I whispered. Tears welled up in my eyes when I thought of last year — that long, dark tunnel. I looked into my mother’s eyes, and saw that she really meant what she said. They just wanted to help me — they really wanted me to succeed! It wasn’t their fault it all went wrong.
When we arrived home that night, the wall between us was completely gone. Instead of the anger and hurt that was festering inside me, I now had a feeling of great overflowing love for my courageous parents, who only wanted the best for me, and were not scared to admit they were wrong. I felt at peace, for the first time in more than a year.
And then, as I lay in bed, marveling at the new serenity I felt, a thought crossed my mind: maybe Mrs. Adler also only meant well? Maybe she also didn’t realize what she was doing? Could it be she only wanted to help me and she just didn’t know how to do it in a way that worked for me?
I reviewed the last year in my mind. All the pep talks, the humiliating lessons, the extra work when she knew I couldn’t do it…
There must be a reason why she did what she did. But if she cared for me and really wanted what’s best for me, then surely I would’ve sensed it somehow. But I couldn’t think of anything she did right. She even turned my parents against me! These confusing thoughts were a jumble in my mind.
That little voice persisted: Maybe she really meant well and just didn’t know how to get the message across?
I took a deep breath and willed the little voice to disappear. I was in no place to contemplate these things. Not now; it was way too fresh. Too raw.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 877)
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