| I of the Storm |

I of the Storm: Chapter 14

How in the world am I supposed to lather this child with love, offer even a semblance of positivity, when she doesn’t give me a chance?


It was 6:02 a.m., and I was already applying eyeliner. Two points for me!

Determined to avoid the fiasco of the day before, I’d forced myself out of hibernation well before dawn. It was, I’d begun to admit, a matter of survival: If I wasn’t completely prepared when the foursome cracked open their eyes, I’d wake up to howling. Because without constant supervision, someone was going to get hurt.

The aggressor? Three guesses.

For months, I’d had a recurring nightmare: our family in the therapist’s room, 20 years down the line. Dahlia, pointing an accusing finger my way: “We lived in terror,” she’d tell the counselor tearfully. “Mom was so desperate to prevent Shira-explosions that she ignored and minimized our needs! Our sister ruled the house.”

When I shared this scenario with linear-thinking Daniel, he found it amusing. “So that’s where Shira got her dramatic flair…” he’d chuckled.

Today would be different. Today I’d provide Dahlia with zero therapy fodder. Heater on high, cereal and milk ready — I’d whisk Miss Impulsivity straight from bed to breakfast, leaving no time for belligerence.

“Mommy, can I come out of bed?” a grainy voice whispered. I peeked into the room, spotted a groggy Dahlia.

“Sure, my doll.”

Tali was next, then Ari burst into babbles. Negel vasser, bathroom, and Cheerio distribution, followed by quiet, happy munching.

I breathed. So far, so good, Ilana!

Dr. Spencer’s mantra from last session resounded in my ears: It’s got to be 80/20, positive to negative, he’d declared, after analyzing five scholarly articles on the alarming effects of parental criticism. If you criticized your explosive child all day, you’d probably be justified. But you’d also destroy him. Figure out how to preempt problems; think ahead to avoid confrontations. Today, I’d make the doc proud.

Suddenly, an elephantine stomping down the stairs. Shira, sporting a wild, mane-like coiffure, ripped into the kitchen, eyes ablaze.

“You didn’t wake me up,” she hissed. “I was the LAST ONE IN BED!!!”

Eyes darting, as if in search of prey, she ran over to the table and overturned Tali’s bowl. Milk sprayed into the air, drenching pajamas and splattering the floor. Tali’s lips quivered, her face scrunched up, and she dissolved into tears.

Shira smirked.

Inside, I raged. How dare she ruin the peace! How dare she! Why must my other kids always suffer from her onslaughts?

Before I could intervene, Shira sprinted over to Dahlia and pinched her. Just like that.

Dahlia’s wails joined Tali’s — a clangorous, dissonant chorus. And in me — a chorus of despair.

How in the world am I supposed to lather this child with love, offer even a semblance of positivity, when she doesn’t give me a chance?

I grabbed Shira’s hand, firmly guided her to the playroom, and shut the door. “You need to stay here for ten minutes to calm down. In this house, we need to be safe with others. You are not being safe.”

I headed back to the kitchen, feeling jittery from my still-racing adrenaline. What a lovely breakfast scene! my voice of cynicism jeered. What a delightful way to start her day!

I need to protect the others, my voice of justice rejoined. I cannot build her at their expense. Violence is not okay.

I kissed Dahlia’s arm. I changed Tali into dry clothes. I mopped up the milk.

“Mommy?” Tali looked up at me, cheeks still moist. “Shira is a rasha, right?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “No, sweetie, she’s not a rasha. She wants to be good. It’s just extra hard for her to control herself. But Daddy and I are going to keep helping her until she learns to be a giborah.”

Tali and Dahlia stared at me, eyes clouded in doubt.

That afternoon, when I walked through the door, the twins bounded up to me. Tali waved an impressive pastel creation. “Ma, Shira has the best ideas!” she exclaimed. “She showed us how to do a special project!”

“That’s terrific!” I said. “Shira, you made Tali and Dahlia so happy! Girls, did you thank Shira for being such a good big sister?”

Shira beamed, lit up by a million lightbulbs.

Take that! I said indignantly to the snotty imaginary therapist perched on my shoulder. We have plenty of positive moments together, too!

Uh… do single digits count as “many”?


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 480)

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