Last week I had a date with one of my favorite people. My nearly nine-year-old son and I spent an evening together in Geula, a major shopping district in Jerusalem. Lately, my relationship with my eldest is not what I'd like it to be. Power struggles, belligerence, and defiance are normal if they are occasional. It becomes worrisome when that seems to be the standard fare for the two of you. I realized I was probably overdrawn in my love account with him and decided to make a big deposit.
I met him after school and we took the bus into town. On the bus he marveled at the new checkpoint they are building on the border of the Green Line and asked me numerous questions about how terrorists get into the country, how they construct their bombs, and a variety of other gory topics. Keeping my breathing steady, I answered him as briefly as I could, and then changed the subject. We talked about the contests he's having at school and his friend's new collection. He thrust himself in front of the mirror over the back door and made funny faces -- and I said nothing
When we reached Jerusalem, we did errands together. Everywhere we went I tried to get something nice for him. In the clothing store, we picked out two new shirts. In the bookstore he used his gift money to purchase two biographies. He has 13 such books at home, none of which he's managed to read, but I said nothing. At the nut store I bought him a small bag of popcorn, and at the stationery store we picked up an inexpensive toy.
"Are you tired?" I asked. "No, I'm happy," he replied.
Finally, with full bags and empty stomachs, we headed for one of the many greasy meat restaurants that dot the area like freckles. Eyes big, standing ten-feet tall, my son ordered a jumbo piece of schnitzel, a slice of noodle kugel and a portion of spaghetti with sauce. I mentally calculated the carbohydrate and fat content of that meal -- and said nothing. When he picked up his ketchup-smeared schnitzel and ate it with his hands -- I said nothing. We sat across from each other and shmoozed while we ate. It was gratifyingly pleasant to converse with him. During the bus ride home, we sat in drowsy, companionable silence.
"Are you tired?" I asked.
"No, I'm happy," he replied. And despite my aching legs and pounding head, I was so glad I had carved out this time for the two of us.
The next day, as he bound in the door after school I greeted him enthusiastically. He brushed off my greeting and demanded food, claiming he was starving. I gave him several options. He didn't like any of them. His sister annoyed him just then, and he responded inappropriately. And suddenly, we were back to the bad place I had dreamed of leaving. I was raising my voice, and so was he. The power struggle was on. I tried to take a step back, to salvage what we had obtained the day before, but it was slipping out of my grasp like water at the seashore.
By the end of the evening, I felt utterly deflated. We had had a horrible day, my boy and I. The glow of the previous night had been replaced by a smoldering fire. Had it all been in vain? Were the good times lost forever?
The next day was Friday, short and stressful. With four guests for Shabbos, and a minor work crisis to deal with, I didn't have a spare minute. So I was considerably discombobulated to realize that my seven-year-old's glasses were not on her nose -- nor in their case. They weren't on top of the toilet, or next to her art project on the dining room table, or tucked away on her bed. I felt panic rising. Those glasses are only six months old. They cost nearly $100. Where were they?
My husband remained calm. "Remember when the lens fell out of her glasses and we rushed to replace it, and then it showed up three days later?" Boy, did I remember. "They didn't walk off. Just relax -- we'll find them." But the longer we looked, the more likely it seemed that they had sprouted a pair of legs. We moved furniture, overturned drawers, rummaged through stacks of papers -- and came up empty-handed. I was mentally fitting a visit to the optician into my Sunday schedule and trying to squeeze this unwanted expense into our monthly budget.
As a last ditch effort, my husband gathered all the kids and waved a bag of treats in front of them. "Anyone who looks for the glasses gets a multi-colored sour stick," he announced. "And whoever finds them, gets this..." He dangled a swizzle lolly and sugar packet before their eyes. Sufficiently motivated, they fanned out and checked every place we had looked, and then some. The glasses were not to be found.
Is my golden night with my son truly obliterated, or is it just temporarily hidden?
Ten minutes before candle lighting, my husband had a flash of inspiration. He instructed my daughter to check her backpack. And there, nestled between notebooks and a pencil case, were her blue-rimmed glasses. They'd never looked so nice. The knot in my stomach untied, and I leapt into the shower.
Hours later, I thought about the wisdom of my husband's attitude. The glasses weren't gone forever; they were just temporarily hidden. I could have saved myself an inordinate amount of stress by just letting the situation ride -- by doing what I could to find them without moaning about the worst possible scenario.
And I wondered about the other item I seemed to have lost in the past week. Is my golden night with my son truly obliterated, or is it just temporarily hidden? Would it not be wisest to just let the relationship ride the waves -- by doing what I can to remedy it but without resigning myself to the worst possible scenario? Who knows -- I may find the results of our positive interactions in the most unexpected of places and times, if only I allow them to appear.
This article originally appeared in the Front Page.