My only daughter left home and is now in high school.
I am in high school
I mean, my daughter is in high school.
Yes, I’m having a hard time!
What’s so hard about it?
She’s in high school.
And that sometimes makes me confused and I think I’m in high school, because I wasn’t in high school that long ago. Because the 90s was only 10 years ago, right?
And to me my daughter is little and she belongs home. If I still remember high school how can she be old enough to go to high school? There’s so much that just doesn’t add up!
Was she ready to leave and go to high school? Yes! Yes yes yes. She was as ready as ever.
The question is, was I ready.
And as being a mother teaches you, life doesn’t wait until you’re ready.
I am not ready.
My son left out of state to High School (mesivta) two years ago. So it’s not my first time doing this. Sure, I fell apart then too.
So then why does it make my insides crumble as if I never did this before?!
Something is different when it’s a daughter. And something is even more different when it’s my only daughter. I love my boys to pieces, but boys are boys and girls are girls.
I know this is best for her. I know the school is a good fit for her. I know her great personality and easy going disposition will do her well while living in a dorm with twenty + girls and in dealing with the pressures of high school too.
But still my mind races.
Because I want my kids in my nest.
I want to know what’s going on every morning and every afternoon and every evening and every night. And what she ate for each meal and snack. And where her seat in each class is. And who the teachers are. And which notebook she uses for which class. And if her uniform is comfortable. And if her blanket is warm enough. And if her mattress is ok. And and and …
And I must accept it that she’s spreading her wings and jumping to the next stage… where I must watch from a distance, guide from afar and allow her to discover things for herself.
I have so much advice! I remember so much from my years and want to share it. How to study, when to study, how to make a schedule, what subjects are good and on and on.
I had my chance. This one is all hers.
I’m not ready. I’ll never be.
My daughter left home to high school, but what I’m not sure she realized is that deep in her suitcase, there’s a piece of my heart that went along too.
And the hardest part of all is remembering that this is her high school experience, not mine.
It’s actually March 2018 and one of our guests has introduced the board game Pandemic to my kids. And they are hooked.
All I can see is a game with a gazillion little pieces in all different colors; a game with way more pieces than any game that is allowed into my house, actually.
But they play. All together. So nicely! I try to follow what’s going on, but the rules are way too complicated for my sleep deprived mommy brain.
And it’s deep in middle of one of these intense games that one of them ask me, “What’s a pandemic? And how is it different than an epidemic?”
The 2018 uneducated me isn’t totally sure.
So I google it, and explain the difference.
And then comes another nonchalant question, one that I will never forget.
“Could it happen these days?”
Without thinking, I answer, “Of course not!”
Then I pause and think.
“Well, anything is possible. Anything could happen. But with all the science and medical advancements, it’s probably not very likely.”
And my 2018 naive family continues with the game.
Trying to pretend that I know what’s going on on the board, I ask, “So who is winning?”
My 10 year old looks up at me. “There’s no winner. We either all win or we all lose.”
I like this game! All I hear is – there’s no fights! No sore losers! Because they either all win or all lose.
I often recommend this game to my friends who also have large families, because I love that it’s a teamwork game. It’s not the most competitive, quickest or luckiest that wins, rather it forces them to work together.
I like this Pandemic game, pretty brilliant, even though I don’t think I’ll ever figure out the rules. I’m more of a Rummikub person.
It’s July 2020.
2020 me is sitting at the dining room table watching my kids deeply involved in the Pandemic board game. They ask me to play. I still don’t know the rules and so I just follow their directions.
But one thing I do know.
The 2020 me knows exactly what a Pandemic is. And 2020 me knows that it sure is possible to happen even these days. And I think back to the 2018 conversation with my kids.
I remember those words, explained to me by my 10 year old.
“We either all win or all lose.”
There’s only one team. There’s no competition. Only teamwork. That’s the only way to win. Otherwise, we are all equally losers.
The kids get it! So why can’t the adults figure it out?
It’s finally Sunday. I keep checking my watch, although I don’t know why since the camp did not give a specific time that my 12 year old would call. He’s been in camp 10 days already; I’ve seen him in only two pictures so far. My daughter and 10 year old son had already called from camp on Friday. Now I awaited the call from my 12 year old; I looked forward to hearing his voice so I could assess how things are going in camp.
It’s kind of like a never ending jigsaw puzzle – trying to piece together from what they look like in the camp photos, together with their tone of voice, the sound of their breathing over the phone, their pauses and the actual words they are saying – all to figure out how they are doing in camp. Of course it’s an impossible puzzle to try, but we mother’s love to do things that are impossible, so we try anyway.
The phone rings. It’s him!
”Hello!” I answer breathlessly. “Tell me all about camp! The flight! Your bunkhouse, your counselor – I’m listening!”
He laughs, and starts launching into details about his flight, the bunkhouse, his counselor, his bunk mates.
My breathing slowly regulates – he sounds good!
“But would you believe it, I got the worst mattress in the whole bunk!”
My heart drops. “You’re serious?! What’s wrong with it?!”
“Well, the other mattresses all have a foam piece on top to make it soft and mine doesn’t.”
Oh no! My mind starts racing. He was nervous to go to camp to begin with. He likes being in his own bed. And now not only is he not in his own bed, he has the worst bed! I’ve got to fix this, should I call the director? Yes, I should definitely call the director as soon as I hang up. Maybe they have an extra piece for his mattress somewhere in camp. Better yet, I’m sure I can find something like the foam mattress topper he’s describing on Amazon and ship it to him in camp. Yes, I must do that. I’m about to swipe open Amazon, but I pause to hear what he’s saying.
“Anyways, I got used to it so it’s really fine. But I should’ve taken two pillows, it’s really uncomfortable with just one. Like it feels so low down.”
My finger is back on Amazon. I must send him another pillow. He needs his sleep, especially in camp.
“Are you able to sleep ok?” I ask, pausing before adding the pillow to cart.
“Well, I had a really good idea. I folded my spare pillow case and put it inside the pillow case with my pillow and now it’s so much better!”
I realize I’m holding my breath and start breathing again. Phew, he doesn’t need the pillow. I close Amazon.
“And you know what else – guess where the bathroom light shines when the door is open?! Right on my bed! Right into my eyes!” Yes, he is a bit dramatic, but I’m panicking once again.
Eye masks! Argh, we happen to have so many all around the house. I must add that to camp packing lists, what a pity he didn’t take any! How’s he supposed to sleep with the light in his eyes every time the door opens! Poor kid!
I’m back on Amazon, searching for eye masks. I see packages of a dozen. I’ll just send him the full pack, he will figure it out.
“So what have you been doing?” I hold my breath, waiting to hear just how terrible it is. I mean, the light shines in his eyes!
I can hear the smile in his voice.
“Another kid in my bunk gave me the best idea! I hung up my extra quilt cover along the side of my bottom bunkbed like a curtain, and now it blocks the light!”
He chatted a bit more and then time was up.
We hung up and I closed Amazon again.
I didn’t need to send him anything.
He sounded good.
I mean, I think so.
Of course you can never be sure just from a 10 minute phone call. I mean, what if there were things he wanted to say but couldn’t say because there were people around?
But he did sound good.
So it must be working out well.
He would have at least hinted to something if there were issues.
I know I’m going in circles, but I can’t help it.
I go to see if there are new pictures up; perhaps they were posted in the minutes while I was talking to my son.
There aren’t any.
I sit and think about the conversation.
We mothers mean well. All we want is for our kids to be happy. But it’s so easy for us to get in the way of their success by trying to troubleshoot even the smallest obstacle that comes their way, instead of giving them the space to come up with their own solutions. Oh, the self control it takes to keep quiet when we know we have a good fix for a situation! And I have a feeling this only gets harder and harder as the kids get older and become adults themselves…
I was ready to ship him a new pillow, an eye mask or really just about anything else to make sure he was happy, before even hearing the end of his sentence. I do admit, Amazon is the solution to a lot of life’s challenges … but not to everything.
Kids are so resilient and resourceful…as long as we let them, instead of getting in their way.
How to describe someone who was complete goodness and kindness, authentic and real, joyful and grateful – without making it sound cliche?
Her perspective on everything and everyone and everywhere was always through a positive filter. Some people need to work hard to do this; for some people, this is natural.
I think back to my last conversation I had with Raizel, just two weeks ago. Raizel had posted a FB update; she was being admitted to the hospital – for what she hoped would be just a few days – and she was asking friends to say the daily portion of Chitas (the daily selection of the weekly Torah portion, Psalms and the foundational Chassidic text, the Tanya) in merit of her speedy recovery.
I messaged her that I would do it, and stayed up late that night to complete the entire day’s Chitas. When I was done, I let her know that with each word I said, I begged Hashem for her complete recovery.
The next day I got a text response from her – “You’re my hero.”
I quickly wrote back to her “Raizel, you’ve got it all wrong. YOU are MY hero. You manage to continue to be so gracious and positive despite what you’re dealing with, and you treat everyone as a good friend.”
And I keep thinking about the text – because it’s so Raizel. She wasn’t just trying to make me feel good – her natural way of responding to people was so full of gratefulness and genuine love, because that’s really what she felt. No pretenses. No ego.
Raizel inspired so many just by her positive view of life. There was what she said and there was how she said it. Natural and caring, kind and with a full heart.
Over the 18 months that Raizel suffered and fought her illness, she lost more and more control of the things she loved. She wished to bake challah, she wished to spend more time with her kids, she wished to go back to Israel. All these things were out of her control. As her body failed her and the list of what she could control got shorter and shorter – she never let go of one thing that can never be taken away; the kind words that we can shower on others.
Her graciousness never left her.
Even when so sick in the hospital, her response to me was – “You’re my hero.”
She right away made it about me, not about her. She wasn’t trying to shower me with platitudes – she genuinely felt that way because that was who she was.
The sadness, the pain, the tragedy, the empty void she leaves not just for her family but for her endless amount of friends – that won’t ever go away and until Moshiach comes, we can never fix.
But what we can do is adopt Raizel’s way of treating others. Raizel’s way of seeing life. Raizel’s way of having a kind word for everyone. Raizel’s way of treating everyone as her close friend. Raizel’s way of treating people in a way that they felt they matter.
Now during these crazy times, I have been thinking that there are so many things we can’t do. We’ve lost control of how we can celebrate milestones or occasions, we’ve lost control of ways of being able to spend time with the people we love and care about.
But one thing we can never lose control of, one thing that can never be taken away, are the words we use to treat others. The words we use to show people we care.
It takes breaking down the walls of pretense we build around ourselves. It takes vulnerability. But it is the greatest gift we can give to anyone and everyone; the gift of showing people we care.
Raizel did it naturally. But I’m positive that with enough effort, it can become second nature to anyone who tries.
Hashem took Raizel for reasons we will never understand. Why Hashem chose to leave a beautiful family, a father and 8 young children, without their devoted wife/mother, we will never understand. The pain and suffering is beyond comprehension. There’s not enough words in the dictionary to describe how terrible it is.
I know Raizel would still find something positive. And so putting on my “Raizel glasses”, I will work on seeing people the way Raizel did; as a friend. And look for ways to give people the gift that never stops giving, the gift that doesn’t cost a penny yet is priceless, the gift that can never be taken away.
Zoom. My life is revolving around Zoom. 7 simultaneous classes.
I’m both the IT guy and principal, while I try to keep an eye on my Waldorf preschool contingency. My husband’s work schedule is still running, so it’s me and the crew during work hours.
And when the Zooms are finally done for the day and the tablets are put to bed in their chargers, I have nightmares about Zoom. About meeting numbers and passwords. About cameras and mics being on when you think they’re off and that moments that don’t belong publicized are being recorded and broadcasted.
“The password is not working, I need you to come!!” calls a desperate voice from upstairs.
“Mommy, I need cotton balls for a craft NOW!” shouts another voice from somewhere else in the house.
“Snack time! What can I have?” yells a smiling second grader, bounding into the kitchen.
“It’s lunchtime!” announces my kindergartener.
My head is spinning. I’m still trying to clean up breakfast and keep the preschoolers busy.
I take a deep breath. I long for the days when I wasn’t principal, the BCE days (Before Corona Era). When my house didn’t double as the school building and my kitchen wasn’t the lunchroom.
It’s ironic; my two oldest were schooled in Shluchim Online School – a full blown virtual classroom. Only in the past few years were we blessed to have a Cheder open to suit our needs, in this corner of Northern California. My oldest already graduated and is (was) away in Yeshiva, (BCE) in 10th grade, and my daughter is graduating her Online School this year. I have been eagerly looking forward to closing up shop on schools on devices and retiring from being principal and IT and everything else that comes with it.
And here I am, back at square one, only more so. I know it’s temporary – that’s what I keep telling myself, and that’s what I must believe – but still so overwhelming! I agree with all the great words of wisdom from anonymous strangers on the internet about how great it is for our kids to have so much time with their parents and how much our BCE life compromised that. But that’s only half the picture. I also agree that kids leaving the house is extremely healthy for everyone. Not because I love my kids any more or less than anyone else; but because how can you miss them if they don’t ever leave?! And missing them is healthy! I’ve read that too!
When all the lunches are done and it seems everyone is back in class, I sneak into the backyard for a moment of quiet. I need some space! For me. Just to breath, nothing fancy. As I slip out the door, I bump into one of my headphone-wearing-tablet-carrying students/children. I choose to assume he was coming back from a class field trip and decide against asking him why he wasn’t in his classroom. Because technically he was holding his classroom, even if he wasn’t in his designated chair and desk. Whatever. I’m too tired to be principal. I just continue outside.
My phone has new alerts.
An urgent prayer request for a friend’s father who is fighting Covid-19. Another prayer request for a young father in critical condition who needs a miracle.
My heart pounds as I say a prayer and collapse into a chair outside. So many people I know, family, friends and relatives, have had Covid-19. And people I know have died.
And here I am complaining that it’s hard to be principal of Zoom meetings!? Especially when my house is big enough to accomodate all 7 classrooms and I even have a backyard – how dare I complain?!
And just like that, my emotions switch from overwhelmed to guilt. Guilt of complaining about such trivial things, when people are fighting for their lives. And then comes the sadness. Too many people have passed away from this disease; people from my east coast hometown. Families I know, who have been changed forever. The sadness is overwhelming. This madness has to stop!
And then I feel the fear. It’s paralyzing.
What is going to be?? When will this end, what awaits us?? Can it get worse? Will it get worse? I pray hard for the coming of Moshiach, when all illness will be gone.
I want my normal life back! I want just a few minutes of quiet everyday. Just a few! I want to go shopping without worrying about everything I see and touch. I don’t want worry to be my constant companion – the worry about the unknown.
I see a message on my family WhatsApp group; my uncle, who had been on a ventilator for 2 weeks, is breathing on his own and responding; nothing short of miraculous! I feel relief. I feel optimism. People will heal. We will survive this.
I mindlessly open Facebook, for no particular reason; a habit I would love to get rid of.
“Second wave coming; and it’ll be worse!”
“Possible hospital overcrowding! Our health system will collapse!”
“Covid-19 will peak in May!”
Anxiety is back, in full control. I can feel it in every bone in my body.
I need to get my control back here! The roller coaster of emotions is too quick – I need to be the driver of this train before it ends in a wreck.
I continue scrolling.
Drastic decrease in cases in my NY hometown – now that’s good news! Hundreds have recovered from the virus.
I feel my spirits lift; I feel hopeful. This will end. This is not the doomsayers’ long awaited apocalypse. There is none. G-d is still running this world. Hashem is watching us. He’s on top of it. Everything will be good.
The kids are calling me; passwords, WiFi, snack, supplies – I can’t quite make out the words.
And for a moment I focus and appreciate that all my children are under my roof; they’re all home. It’s noisy and hectic and messy and tiring, but they’re all home.
It’s exhausting – physically, mentally and emotionally.
The emotions change on a dime, from overwhelmed to anxious to sad to worry to scared … it’s an endless loop.
And I tell myself it’s ok to be overwhelmed with snacks and meals, even if that seems so petty.
Because nothing is normal now, and I can’t fight the new reality. I can only hope and pray that it all ends as quickly as it came.