| Family Diary |

Meltdown: Chapter 11 

“You’re not kicking him out.” Her voice softened. “You’re launching him into independent life”



Mrs. Leibenson, I’m calling to tell you that your son Yechezkel has been accepted into our group home program. He’s scheduled to move into his new apartment in three weeks. The apartment manager will be in touch with you for details. Hello? Mrs. Leibenson? Hello?”

I couldn’t speak. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Umm,” I croaked. “Are you sure he’s been accepted? We only started the application process a few months ago.”

“Then aren’t you lucky.” The lady’s voice warmed. “There must have been an unexpected opening.”

Lucky. Lucky? My luck had just taken a downward slide. I had never meant to get to this point.

I hung up and dialed Becky. (Does she have any other patients? I’m constantly on the phone with her.) But this time she bailed on me.

“Mazel tov!” she said when I told her the news.

Mazel tov? Becky, I don’t want to kick Chezky out of the house!”

“You’re not kicking him out.” Her voice softened. “You’re launching him into independent life.”

Yeah, right. I was far from convinced. I hung up and dialed Layee. Left a message.

When was my husband getting home? Was this all his fault? I should have derailed him the minute he got this idea in his head! Instead I personally had laid down the paper path that brought us here! Now what?

Layee was no more help than Becky when she called back. “You have to think of your whole family,” she said gently. “You have to think of yourself.”

No! I had to think of Chezky. My Chezky was dependent on me to stand up for him. To protect him. And I was not going to let them (whoever they were) take him away from me.

“We need to speak to a rav!” I nearly attacked my husband when he finally walked in the door. “This is not a decision we’re going to make on our own. We need to go to a gadol! We should have asked a sh’eilah before we even applied!”

“Look.” He held up his hands. “I have no problem going to ask a sh’eilah. And we haven’t done anything yet. We can still refuse the placement.”

“I think we should go to a gadol hador,” I said. “This is the type of thing we need to go to the top. Like even Rav Goldstein*!”

“I’ll make an appointment.” My husband disappeared into his study, probably to avoid any further confrontation with me. I was on a rampage, fueled by tremendous guilt and rage that I’d been backed into a corner like this. I needed someone to save us.

We met with Rav Goldstein three nights later. I sat there in the modest dining room gnawing my nails and twisting my watch.

Our family had been very close to our shul’s rav for years. He knew our ups and downs and had been very helpful in guiding us with many questions regarding Chezky. But he’d been niftar suddenly the year before, and now we were on our own. How would I begin to explain all the nuances involved in this question?

To the rav’s credit, he gave me time and patience. But he was still flummoxed at my vehemence. “I know the organization that runs this group home,” he said, stroking his beard. “They do very good work. Why wouldn’t you want your son to have a chance for this placement?”

“My son has a home, a good home, where we love him. Why would he need a different one?”

Please! I needed someone to really hear me!

But the rav merely shook his head. “I’m not going to pasken, this is your decision. But I think you should give it a chance.”

And with that, I knew I’d lost.


I stood in the empty bedroom, folding pants and shirts, and arranging pairs of socks in neat rows as if my life depended on their alignment. I’d done these tasks hundreds of times. But now the tears were flowing unchecked down my cheeks, and the bedroom I stood in was not our own. Was it meant to be Chezky’s? Would this now be home for him?

Covid requirements meant that we could not be in the dirah while the other boys were there. But I had insisted on setting up Chezky myself and came early in the morning while everyone was in school.

I made his bed, unpacked his suitcases, put a picture of our family on his night table. The entire time, my tears flowed in silent mourning. I was barely aware of them; my brain swirling with thoughts. For years I’d been Chezky’s advocate, his protector. And now… now my son needed his Mommy, and I wasn’t going to be there for him.

“Chezky doesn’t deserve this!” I whispered fiercely to the empty room. Chezky never did anything wrong that he should be ripped from his family. Why? Why am I letting this happen? But I’d been overruled. And defeated. I left the apartment bent over with pain.

The first few days went smoothly. Chezky was wined and dined by his new madrichim and enjoyed his status as the latest addition.

They had made arrangements for him to take karate lessons twice a week, and he was flying with excitement. I held my breath. Wishing, wanting to be proven wrong.

But on his first Shabbos back home, he started crying when it was time to go back to the dirah.

“Why can’t I live at home?” he asked. “When can I come back home for good? I miss you!”

What could I answer? I also want you to live at home, Chezky! I miss you, too!

But I held myself together. Despite my own pain, I was not going to add to Chezky’s. Putting a big smile on my face I said, “But you’re learning karate, and you have so many new friends.”

“They aren’t family,” he said simply. For a child with limited EQ, Chezky was beyond astute.

I thought back to the many people who had encouraged me to make this move, with phrases like: Every child needs to move on. Kids his age are going to yeshivah. This is a natural process for him.

But that didn’t apply to my Chezky. Kids his age left the tight attachments of home life, because they were forming other attachments, to friends, yeshivah, camp, seminary. Yet while that may work for other kids, I knew my son. Making meaningful attachments is one of Chezky’s hardest skills, and here I’d cut him off from the ties that had been his strongest.

I hugged him hard. Pressed a box of cookies into his hands. And watched as my husband walked him out the door to drive him back to his apartment.

Then I collapsed, the fight gone. I had failed.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 848)

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