We are most grateful when our children are born with all their fingers and toes intact and appear normal in every respect. Our luck has to hold out and we need lots of siyata dishmaya as they grow and mature, and we feel blessed when our children give us menuchas ha’nefesh and allow us to sleep peacefully at night. But our contentment can sometimes lead us to take things for granted.
Newspaper and magazine articles abound with problematic issues, whether school related, behavioral, or illness related. Most of us read them with a sigh of nebach but remain smug in our belief that “this can’t happen to us” and is someone else’s headache.
Our oldest child, who will soon be nine, has given us much nachas since the day she was born. A really good kid, she spoke and walked early, always seems to be smiling, and is simply a joy to have around.
When she was two years old, our second daughter was born. Due to a complicated birth, she needed to have one of her limbs in a cast for several weeks, so her moodiness was understandable. Naturally she demanded much of our attention and luckily our two year-old easily relinquished her share, appearing none the worse for it.
Our oldest was well liked in school as well; we always received glowing reports from her teachers. I must add that life was not easy. We had come to these shores from abroad and my husband’s language barrier precluded him from attaining the kind of work that would have allowed us to live in relative comfort. As a result, from time to time I took on some form of part-time employment to supplement the household income.
Though life was a struggle, we were thankful for Hashem’s blessings and considered our home to be a happy one. My husband would always bring home little trinkets for the children when he returned home from work. All things considered, our brood seemed quite well-adjusted, although I am sure the children couldn’t help but pick up on our day-to-day struggle and tiredness.
One day when I was out running some errands, I met one of my eldest daughter’s teachers. By way of conversation she made a casual remark that caught me completely off guard. She mentioned my daughter’s recent birthday and added that I must have been too busy with my little ones at home to come by or make the little nosh bags (which are a long-standing school tradition).
Birthday? I quickly calculated that my daughter’s birthday was eight months away. Could the teacher have possibly confused her identity with another girl in the class?
I soon discovered that our darling little girl with the blonde curls and contagious laughter had one day arrived at school announcing that it was her birthday, and to buttress her claim had brought little trinkets along to hand out to the other girls – her gift to them on her special day.
The “trinkets” were, of course, some of the small knick-knacks her father would bring home for his three young daughters. The teacher was somewhat surprised not to have heard from me about my daughter’s supposed impending birthday. My reaction and expression of surprise soon made it clear to her that there was no birthday, and my young daughter was duly disciplined and lectured on the ramifications of fabricating a lie and removing items from the home without parental permission.
Needless to say, we were all more than a bit perplexed. But, Rachel, it was actually you who helped us put things in perspective with your advice to others. One column especially – the one about a young woman who had found herself in trouble even though she had always been studious and well-behaved – was an eye opener. I saved that column (Chronicles 1-2-09) and quote directly from your reply: “There are other scenarios that may drive a seemingly model young lady (or man) to take that uncharacteristic left turn. Sometimes parents are too preoccupied with their own busy agendas or large families to pay much heed to their elder, “mature” and self-reliant son or daughter. As a result, the attention-starved child can easily fall prey to the wrong kind of “notice” as s/he seeks approval denied him or her, albeit unintentionally, at home.”
Incredibly, you were basically describing our family situation! Here we had the “perfect” child who we felt was self-sufficient compared to her sisters who seemed to need us more urgently. Our oldest would survive well without so much of our attention, we thought. But children are children. Come to think of it, even adults are in need of attention. Luckily, at our daughter’s young age she didn’t take to the streets or to strangers to seek the love and attention that she was starved for.
We were so bogged down by other duties and responsibilities that our little girl just took to creating her own little fantasy that would offer her the love and adoration she craved. Your wise words have relieved us of some of our anxiety and worry over what could possibly have triggered our little angel to act as she did. Thank G-d we are now more aware and are working towards rearranging our priorities in order to create a warmer, more nurturing and secure environment for all of our children.
As I said at the beginning of my letter, contentment can lead to taking things for granted. I write to thank you and to alert other parents to be tuned in to their children, even when they seem to be on their best behavior.
I am sorry for waiting this long to write, but I’ve been a busy mom!
Feeling tired yet energized…
They say that experience is the best teacher. Thank you for taking the time to teach others by sharing yours. May the Shavuos holiday inspire us to lovingly guide our children in the ways of our Toras Hashem!