| I of the Storm |

I of the Storm: Chapter 13

Get a grip, I told myself. This is not a beauty pageant.


Ms. Perfect Kayla was making her first bar mitzvah, and it was quite the event.

Oversized orchid centerpieces crowned each sitting table. Platters of liver pâté, salmon tartare, and grilled skewered vegetables bedecked the buffet. The smorgasbord was breathtakingly multidimensional, with endless tiers of boysenberry brocade tablecloths gracefully cascading from varying heights, topped by striking, petal-filled vases.

I hadn’t exactly pined to attend this kiddush. But Kayla lived down the block, her daughter was in Shira’s class, and her husband got along well with Daniel — case closed.

“Mazel tov, you look beautiful!” I gushed.

“Thank you soooo much for coming,” Kayla crooned. She gave a quick head-to-toe glance, the kind where you manage to size up someone’s presentation without being completely obvious. “I still can’t believe my Yitz is 13. It’s been such a crazy few months, outfitting the crew.”

“Oh, I believe it,” I said. Kayla’s girls — all matching, of course — looked like they’d stepped out of a Fendi catalog: exquisite floral headbands, sequined black shrugs, and flared mustard skirts, topped by patent-leather Mary Janes that screamed Primigi. Her boys were a vision of Versace: charcoal gray suits, natty red ties, and swanky black loafers.

A yank on my skirt. “Mommy, I’m going to the parking lot with my friends, okay?” Shira exclaimed, breathless. She held a mousse cup in one hand, a slice of strawberry shortcake in the other. Her hair — splayed across her face — was flecked with white cream and crumbs. The pair of stylish patterned tights I’d picked up this week now sported two holes.

I swallowed hard. “Sure, have fun!”

Get a grip, I told myself. This is not a beauty pageant.

So why did the contrast bother me so much?

If it was just Kayla’s crew that made me feel so dowdy, I realized, I’d be okay. She had a habit of generating feelings of inadequacy wherever she went. But the room held a sea of beautifully dressed children with coordinating accessories, and I was acutely conscious of just how much Shira stuck out.

“You’re not a materialistic person,” Daniel had said, shaking his head, when I once shared my angst. “Does it really bother you that she needs TJ Maxx not David Charles?”

“I’m not ditzy, but I’m a woman,” I shot back, bewildered at my sudden tears. “I like when my kids look elegant, put together.”

With Shira’s track record of clothing maintenance — shaped mostly by profound impulsivity and sensory issues — we couldn’t afford to invest in quality stuff. I could spend $500 dressing her to the nines, and six minutes later, she’d look like a case of neglect. And did I really need another reason to be furious at her?

“Ilana, did I introduce you to my mother-in-law?” Kayla tapped me on the shoulder, arm-in-arm with a spectacularly dressed woman. Now this was a person I wanted to meet. Mrs. Goldfein was not just the wife of a billionaire philanthropist; she was an accomplished woman herself — a mover and shaker in a national nonprofit.

“Oh, hi, mazel tov, so nice to meet you!” I blabbered, shifting Ari into my other arm in a desperate attempt to appear more polished. “I’ve heard so much about you, really happy to meet you in person…”

Why did I sound so stupid? The dazzling diamond cluster necklace, the sharply cut blond wig, the penetrating, focused gaze–something about this woman was so intimidating.

“MOMMEEE!!!!” A burst of burgundy ran across the room. “We made a CLUBHOUSE! A real clubhouse! With bricks and wood and crates!”

Shira’s bangs were caked with mud. Her eyes were haloed in some kind of gray soot, making her look like she’d just gotten punched. One sleeve was ripped. And the clincher: she had a nasty-looking runny nose.

“Oh…” Mrs. Goldfein stopped mid-smile, widened her eyes. “Is this your daughter?”

My heart thudded, resentment and humiliation and disgust surging into every muscle. I can’t stand being associated with this kid! my darker side screamed. Can I parade around with a sign saying ‘Accepting No Responsibility?’

But then, somewhere in that emotional cesspool, a weak little geyser sprang forth. You will be a parent, not a child, it repeated, its flow growing steadily stronger. You will accept her and love her. And you will not apologize for it. Ever. 

Consciously, deliberately, summoning every smidgen of fortitude I possessed, I wiped Shira’s face and put my arm around her.

“Yes, she is,” I replied slowly. I leaned down and dropped a kiss on her mussed up hair.

“She’s my daughter.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 479)

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