| I of the Storm |

I of the Storm: Chapter 19

So I’m not a tzadeikes, I shot back to my ever-present faultfinder. I haven’t got bottomless reservoirs of patience. But I’m not so bad, either.


“TAKE HER OUT!” Dahlia shrieked, furiously rubbing her eyes to expel flecks of Pantene.

Shira — who’d discovered the singular joys of spritzing helpless siblings in the bath with water guns — snickered. No strength for discipline right now, my voice of cogency warned. Just get this child to a place where she can’t hurt anyone!

I enticed Shira out of the tub with a delicious, just-out-of-the-dryer towel. She made a grand exit, taking six gallons of water with her — and leaving me and the floor drenched.

“Honey, I’m looking at the clock. I want you in pajamas, hair brushed, by 7:30.”

It was like urging the Great Sphinx to smile. My second-grader’s eyes were fixated on a half-completed project she’d spotted on the floor. She did not, could not hear me.

Shira had whirled in from school today like a cyclone. Suppertime had featured an innovative Skee-Ball spinoff, whose goal was to flick mashed potatoes on faces of tablemates (cheeks = 10 points, eyes = 20 points, nose = 30 points). I knew the cause: Shira had gone to sleep ridiculously late the night before, helping me package the shalach manos. It had been special one-on-one time — but now I was paying the price.

Don’t turn into a witch yet. Just get her to sleep. You can do this! I could practically see my composure-sand slithering down the hourglass.

“Shira, look me in the eye,” I barked, waiting until she made eye contact. “It’s really late. You need to get into pj’s NOW.”

Twenty minutes later, I was a tad calmer. Dahlia, Tali, and Ari were bathed, hair gleaming. I took a deep breath, prepared to launch into a heartfelt Shema, then walked into the kids’ bedroom. A still-terry-wrapped Shira sat cross-legged on the bed, examining her toes.

“What’s wrong with you?” I hissed. “What did I tell you to do TWENTY MINUTES ago?”

All pretenses of gentleness evaporated. I heaved open the drawer, yanked out Shira’s pajamas, and flung them at her. Creating marvelously sweet memories, aren’t you? sneered my inextirpable inner critic.

“You know something?” I said, surprising even myself. “I’m feeling too angry right now to speak. I’m going to my room to calm down.”

I marched to bed, Dr. Spencer’s voice reverberating. “When a parent leaves the situation, or uses another strategy to calm down, that’s skillful! What an incredibly important life skill to model!”

So I’m not a tzadeikes, I shot back to my ever-present faultfinder. I haven’t got bottomless reservoirs of patience. But I’m not so bad, either.

That night, I sat in front of Word, deliberating over toothbrush graphics and willing my eyelids to stay open. I’d had enough of the near-nightly bath-time debacle. I’d finally try Dr. Spencer’s suggestion: create a visual bedtime chart indicating the necessary tasks, and allow Shira to assume responsibility and check off the icons with each accomplished goal.

Hineni muchan u’mezuman, I thought, initiating a conversation with G-d. You know how much I hate cutting, pasting, anything that smacks of arts-and-crafts. I’m doing this because I want my child to succeed. Please, make it work.


Was it the visual element? The empowerment tendered in black-marker form? A mother’s prayer for success? I’d never know, but the chart proved magical. Shira completed her bedtime routine each night in record time, slashing through each icon with gusto.

The magic lasted… a week. Once the newness wore off, Shira no longer found the chart intriguing; she needed constantly varying motivations to actually use it — erasers, stickers, special time with Mom. Some nights the reinforcements worked, other nights she seemed incentive-impermeable.

“This is so frustrating,” Daniel vented one evening, stabbing his meatball for emphasis. A systematic thinker, he’d been particularly excited about this technique. “You invest so much, it works magnificently, and after seven days we’re back to square one!”

I thought for a minute. “I don’t think it’s square one. We don’t hit pay dirt every night, but Shira’s much better than she once was — you can’t compare. And she’s learning important organization and time management skills.”

Daniel sipped his glass of Perrier. “You’re right,” he finally conceded.

Shira had come a long way — and so had we. There’d be no miracle solutions, no cure-all elixirs so ubiquitous in ads (“Transform your child in 12 sessions!”). Helping our sunshine girl would mean plugging away at an array of interventions — and seeing a tiny step forward with each.

It didn’t make for great ad copy.

But it was real and true and enduring.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 485)

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