“Mindy needs special medicine to help her feel better, so she has to stay in the hospital overnight,” he explained to Eli
The first thing Eli noticed when he came home from school one Tuesday afternoon was the smell of apples. The second thing was his grandmother, bustling around the kitchen wearing the apron that Mommy kept on a hook and never wore. There was an enormous pile of apple peels on the pareve counter.
“Hello, Eli, how was your day? Come sit down.” Bubby pointed at the table, where a plate of brownies and a glass of milk waited.
“Yum,” Eli said. He nibbled at the brownies. They were soft and fudgy on the inside, not like Mommy’s, which were hard like cookies.
“Why’re you here, Bubby?” he asked curiously. Then he realized that sounded a little rude. “I mean, where’s Mommy and everyone,” he clarified quickly.
“Mindy wasn’t feeling well, so Mommy and Tatty took her to the doctor,” Bubby said. “And Leah is at a friend. No one else is home yet.”
Eli frowned. Mommy and Tatty took Mindy to the doctor? When he wasn’t feeling well, he usually stayed in bed for a day or two. When he had to go to the doctor, Mommy was always the one who took him.
“Mindy will be fine, b’ezras Hashem,” Bubby said, sweeping the brownie crumbs into a napkin. “But they might be out for a while. If you do all your homework before supper, you can have a special dessert, okay?”
“Apple pie?” Eli guessed. Bubby winked.
In the end, only Tatty came home that night.
“Mindy needs special medicine to help her feel better, so she has to stay in the hospital overnight,” he explained to Eli, who was sitting in bed reading — Bubby had let him stay up to wait for Tatty. “Tomorrow, she’ll be able to come home if she’s feeling better. Would you like to come in the car when I go to pick her up?”
Eli nodded. “What’s the matter with Mindy?” he wanted to know, pushing his book aside and snuggling under the covers.
“She had a bad stomachache,” Tatty said. He tucked the blankets tightly around Eli. “Good night, Eli.”
Eli didn’t have much time to think about Mindy until Tatty came to pick him up after school. They were going to drive straight to the hospital, where Mommy and Mindy were waiting.
“Eli!” Mindy squealed when she saw him. “You have to see what I got!”
Eli was relieved to see that she looked the same as always, except maybe a bit more tired. She was sitting up in a big bed. There was an IV pole next to the bed, with lots of tubes and wires dangling from it.
“Last night I had to have those tubes stuck into my hand,” Mindy told him. “But now they took it off. And I got new books! And a Game Boy from the hospital gemach!”
“What’s that?” Eli asked, fingering the Game Boy. It was even fancier than the one Yoni Drucker got for his birthday. “The gemach, I mean.”
“Oh, you have to see it, I need to show it to you.” Mindy got out of bed. “Mommy, I’m showing Eli the gemach room, okay?”
She led him confidently down the corridor, out a set of double doors, and into a small room on the next floor.
“This is the gemach room, special for kids in the hospital,” Mindy explained proudly. “Look — there’s nosh, and drinks, and tons of games and toys and books to read. People donate them and the kids who have to stay in the hospital can take whatever they want!”
The door opened behind them. A little boy with very thin wisps of blonde hair entered, his mother wheeling an IV pole behind him. The tubes from the IV trailed from his arm. Eli averted his eyes.
“Hi, Shuey,” Mindy said cheerfully. “I’m going home today!”
Shuey looked at Mindy. His big, round eyes, looking strange without eyelashes around them, were sad. “Oh,” he said.
When Eli came home from school the next day, he was relieved to find everyone home as usual. It wasn’t nice without Mommy and Mindy home. Leah was always too busy to play with him, and Yanky and Zevi were even older and came home too late to do anything fun. Besides, they thought Eli was just a little kid.
“Eli, is that you?” Mommy was in the laundry room. “I’ll be down in a few minutes, okay?”
He wandered into the kitchen for something to eat. Maybe Mommy had baked oatmeal cookies, or could there be some of Bubby’s brownies left? But no, the cookie jar on the counter was empty, and there was no foil pan of brownies to be seen. Instead, there was a plate of veggie sticks with some sort of dip on the table. Eli frowned and went to the fridge. There was a platter of cut-up fruit inside, a tray of eggs, and leftovers from supper last night.
Eli banged the fridge door shut. “Mommy, can I have cookies? Where are the snacks?”
Mommy came downstairs. She was carrying a folded pile of dishtowels. “I cut up some veggie sticks for you,” she said. “Or there’s fruit in the fridge. Would you like some?”
Eli’s eyes opened wide. “But we never have fruit and vegetables after school,” he said, cautiously.
Mommy sighed and sat down, resting the towels on her lap. “Eli, you know Mindy hasn’t been feeling well lately?”
“Sure,” Eli said. “That’s why she had to go to the hospital yesterday.”
“Right. And while we were there, the doctor did some tests, and he confirmed that Mindy has something called Crohn’s disease. That means she has a hard time eating regular food, it can be very painful for her.”
Eli bit his lip. Poor Mindy.
“Mindy has to go on a special diet,” Mommy continued. “For now, she’s not allowed to eat anything with sugar or gluten in it. So Tatty and I have decided to serve different foods now, ones that Mindy is allowed, so that she can eat the same as everyone else at meals, and for snacks.”
Eli’s mind had a hard time keeping up. “You mean… nothing with sugar in? But what about Shabbos? No candy?”
Mommy shook her head. “No store-bought candy. We’ll be making our own yummy treats. I got recipes from Tante Peshie, fruit leather, other things… you won’t even be able to tell it’s healthy.”
Eli groaned. Tante Peshie, Mommy’s oldest sister, was crazy about health food. Whenever they went there for a Shabbos meal, she served things like quinoa and brussels sprouts. And for dessert, grapefruit with no sugar!
He remembered something else. “What’s the other thing that Mindy isn’t allowed, goo–”
“Gluten,” Mommy said. “That’s in flour… so we have to make special challah, cakes, cookies, and things like that.”
Eli’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “No flour?” he repeated. “So we’ll be keeping Pesach all year?”
“Eli,” Mommy said, cupping his chin in her hands. “We won’t be keeping Pesach all year. You’ll be able to take regular sandwiches to school, and eat regular snacks when you go to your friends or to Bubby’s house. It’s just that at home, we won’t be baking or buying or serving the foods that Mindy can’t eat. Remember, she can’t eat them ever. Can you imagine what that’s like?”
But Eli didn’t want to think about Mindy now. He didn’t want to feel sorry for her. Besides, she got new books and presents and balloons from her friends because she wasn’t well.
And he had to follow this stupid diet now, all because of her!
It wasn’t poor Mindy, after all. It was poor Eli.
“It’s so good!” Mrs. Blum enthused. They were sitting in the succah, cold air making Eli shiver. He watched the guests devour Mommy’s salmon and salads. “I can’t believe there’s no sugar in anything. You’re amazing.”
“It’s just a matter of learning what to substitute,” Mommy said. “And it’s so much healthier this way!”
Mrs. Blum reached for the chicken salad. “Absolutely,” she agreed.
Eli stared down at the table. He didn’t think everything was “so good.” Gluten-free challah tasted horrible. All the food was different than usual. Mommy didn’t make her usual gooey chocolate cake for Kiddush and they were having fruit leather every afternoon instead of candy.
A few seats away, Mindy was chattering happily to the Blum twins, Shaindy and Sheva. She hadn’t complained about her stomachaches that much recently, Eli realized. It was nice that she was feeling better, he supposed.
Tatty started singing “Vesmachta,” and Mommy got up to clear the plates. Eli followed her inside and went to sit on the couch.
“Eli, are you okay?” Mommy asked.
He shrugged. “I’m not hungry,” he said, picking up the Jr. and hiding behind it so Mommy wouldn’t see his face.
She went back outside with a tray of dessert: sugar-free ice cream with cut-up fruit. Eli’s stomach rumbled loudly, but he stayed where he was.
Simchas Torah was always Eli’s favorite part of Succos, but this year it was even more exciting. Candy! Sour sticks and lollipops and chocolate bars and jellybeans! He felt like he hadn’t had real candy in a year, even though he’d had taffies when they went to Bubby’s house on Chol Hamoed.
Yanky and Zevi were singing and dancing with Tatty and the men, but Eli scampered around the floor, collecting candy. His pockets were already bulging, and they were only on the first hakafah! He would have enough candy stashed away to last for weeks.
Tatty and Mommy hadn’t told him no. They understood that it was hard for him, and besides, he was going to keep it hidden away in his drawer. For a minute, he imagined Mindy, on the other side of the mechitzah, shaking her head when she was offered candy. Mommy bought date bars and stuff, but they tasted nothing like real chocolate.
A shower of rainbow-colored taffies streaked over his head. Eli whooped and jumped up, catching one in his hand mid-air. It was almost time to hide his candy away in a bag in the coatroom so he could fill his pockets with more.
He went home that night with a sweet taste in his mouth, and it wasn’t just from the candy.
“Wow, you collected a lot,” Mommy said when she saw his bags. “What are you going to do with all that candy?”
Mindy peeked out from behind Mommy’s skirt. Her eyes looked hungry and sad.
“I’m going to–“Eli stopped. He looked at Mindy. Suddenly, he realized what Mommy had been saying all along: how hard it was for her. She could never eat candy, or cake, or cookies. And it must be hard for Mommy too, to have to change all her recipes and make all their food from scratch. She was doing it for Mindy, to make things easier for her, so she could feel better without feeling different to everyone else.
“I’m going to… I’m giving it away,” Eli said, thinking fast. “To… the hospital. The gemach room, for the children who have to stay in the hospital instead of being at home.”
He imagined Mindy stuck there, like the sad little boy with the IV. Then he shook his head. It was better when the whole family was feeling great, even if it meant eating apples after school, and having shehakol tahini bars instead of brownies.
He didn’t need the bags of candy for his home to feel sweet.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 878)
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