| I of the Storm |

I of the Storm: Chapter 11

The thought of six days without my fireball was so tantalizingly sweet that it was embarrassing


“Why you smilin’ so much?” Angela grunted. She waddled into the office, clutching a bag of Doritos. “You didn’t even have your cuppa yet.”

Nothing got past this woman. She pried open the chips — only Angela could enjoy barbecue-flavored MSG for breakfast — and cocked her head at me, squinting.

“I know. December came, and you gotch ya’self a 20 percent raise in your annual performance eval.”

“Even better.”

She put down her chips — the intrigue was too much — and looked at me expectantly.

“Shira’s headed to my in-laws in New York for midwinter vacation,” I practically sang. “I’m going to have the staycation of my life.”

Angela gave me a friendly punch in the arm. “Aw, you deserve it, girl.”

I could barely concentrate on the product magazine I’d been ordered to finalize two weeks ago. The thought of six days without my fireball was so tantalizingly sweet that it was embarrassing. At least I could celebrate with Angela. If I expressed my true feelings of joy to the always-have-it-together women in shul or my stay-at-home, mom-of-the-century neighbor, they’d look at me pityingly: What’s wrong with her? Is she THAT desperate for a break?


Not that I expected the arrangement to go perfectly. My mother-in-law is great with kids…but Shira isn’t your typical kid. Last Pesach, things had come to a boiling point when Shira got wild with her cousins and smashed a brand-new set of crystal wine goblets. I’d reprimanded Shira immediately, telling her to be more careful, but it wasn’t the scathing rebuke my mother-in-law had anticipated. She also expected me and Daniel to step in when Shira hugged her Zaidy too hard, pushed one of the nephews, toppled someone’s tower, and screamed so loudly that great-Grandma got agitated.

“I don’t want to have to be the disciplinarian,” she told us after a particularly trying day. “I want to play the grandmother role — the sweet, patient figure who overflows with love and almost never criticizes.”

I understood her. I also appreciated the fact that she wasn’t trying to interfere or “show me how it’s done.” But if we disciplined the way she wanted, we’d be criticizing and castigating and carping at Shira all day long. Literally. Particularly during a Yom Tov stay I felt that when space is tight and routine is non-existent, behavior expectations had to be adjusted.

“Next Pesach we’re staying home,” I had told Daniel tearfully. “I can’t handle having to be the policeman — the bad guy — all the time.”

Daniel just nodded empathetically, knowing I’d probably change my mind 48 hours later (smart guy).

But now, facing six days alone with Shira, Grandma would have to become a disciplinarian — at least somewhat. I didn’t think a little firmness would sour their relationship; Shira craved boundaries. I was more anxious about Grandma: would she manage? Would Shira run circles around her?

Beneath all the apprehension, though, was an almost evil excitement. Maybe now Mom will get it, I thought. Maybe, after six full days of entertaining Shira alone, she’ll finally get a taste of what I experience day-in, day-out — and stop upbraiding us for even considering meds.

One week later, we were driving to the airport again — this time, to pick Shira up (she’d been escorted by a lovely post-sem girl). For Grandma, the week had had ups and downs, though mostly Shira exuded the charm she reserved for all but her immediate family. For us, the week had been indescribably delicious: quiet, calm, normal. Suppertime had been genuinely enjoyable and when 10 p.m. rolled around, I wasn’t a complete shmatte, I was actually excited to schmooze with Daniel.

Now, the guilt came on, fast and furious. Why aren’t you more excited to see Shira again? my inner critic chided. It’s been 6 days, did you really not miss her?

I felt a pit in my stomach. But then I envisioned Risa coming into the room and putting this perfect-Mommy-conscience in her place.

“Ilana’s doing wonderfully,” she’d say, describing me, letting her blue eyes penetrate my layers of defense. “She’s learning to let herself be human, acknowledge her feelings and needs. She’s learning to say: ‘I didn't miss her much and that’s okay. It's hard to have Shira around, that doesn't mean I don't love her.”

I felt twenty pounds lighter. And three minutes later, when I glimpsed Shira bounding out of arrivals, my heart swelled as I flung open my arms.

Risa’s words were true.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 477)

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