Parents often discuss serious matters in front of their young
children. It doesn't seem to bother them that they may get
into arguments and even raise their voices. The parents'
reasoning goes something like this, "Our children will surely
realize that their parents love each other and that we are
not fighting. It is obvious that we just happen to disagree
on this particular subject and want to bring the issue to
Let me tell you a story that took place many years ago, when
I was visiting my mother with my then-young children. But
first I have to give you some background.
An uncle of mine — my father's favorite brother —
passed away in his fifties after a long illness. My parents
were very close to his widow and were always looking for a
possible shidduch for her. Several years passed
without any prospects, but finally they got a really good
The daughter of a neighbor was telling my mother about her
widowed father-in-law. He was very lonely and the family was
trying to find him a new wife. This man was a lovely person,
with a pleasant personality and other good character traits.
However, there were a couple of minor problems.
Problem Number One was it could truthfully be said of this
gentleman that he never met a pastry that he didn't like, and
Problem Number Two was that he was a diabetic. Therefore he
was supposed to severely limit his intake of sugar. He had no
will power. His late wife had cooked without sugar and
managed to find, and get rid of, the goodies he sneaked into
the house. Without her, he was very much on his own, ruining
his diet and his health.
Everyone, from the older gentleman to his children and
friends, felt that the candidate for the position of wife #2
should be aware that in going into the marriage, she would
have to take over the position of diet-policeman. The new
couple wouldn't be joining friends at any of the many
restaurants that catered to the local senior citizens. They
would be eating at home and eating a very specific diet. As
they say, forewarned is forearmed.
So there he was in shidduchim. As I said, this widower
was a nice man and they always got to the part where they
were talking seriously. That is when the "cards were laid out
on the table." He would tell about his craving for sweets and
his need for a watchdog. That is when things came to an
In some modern Israeli circles, there is an expression
"zabash," which is an acronym for zeh ba'ayah
shelcha, meaning "That's your problem." In the time and
place of this story, the ladies to whom this widower told his
tale of woe answered, "Fardrei zich dine kop," which
means pretty much the same. They were in their sixties and
they wanted a new husband, not a new child.
My parents knew that my aunt had lovingly cared for my uncle
for many years, devoting all of her time and energy to his
needs. Knowing my aunt's giving nature, it seemed she would
be just the right person to take care of the diabetic widower
— and she was. That is the background. This couple had
been married for several years at the time that I took some
of my children to Florida to visit my family.
My aunt and her husband (whom we called "uncle" for want of a
better term) lived in the same apartment complex as my then-
widowed mother and grandmother, and therefore we saw them
almost every day. In mid-morning, we would all sit down at my
mother's dining table, and my mother and grandmother would
put out cake, cookies, a large platter of fresh fruit and hot
and cold drinks.
The adults would talk and eat and talk some more. My young
children were busy gobbling up the treats and the attention
from all of the adults.
My aunt would fix a cup of coffee and a nice plate of melon
slices, strawberries and other tasty fruit and place it in
front of her husband. He would smile, start to eat what was
on his plate and quietly reach for a Danish pastry or a slice
of coffeecake. My aunt was always vigilant and I think she
had developed radar, a sixth sense or eyes in the back of her
head. No matter what else she was doing, she caught the
culprit and took the nosh off his plate.
He would argue that it didn't look to him like this
particular goodie had a lot of sugar and therefore he could
certainly have some. My aunt would counter in the negative
and they would go back and forth. Often, she had to express
her final word in a raised voice, with a stern look. Uncle
would sheepishly go back to the sliced fruit, until the next
time he thought she wasn't looking, and so it would go, day
On one of the last days of our visit, I took my little ones
down to the small private beach behind my mother's apartment
complex, to play in the sand, build sand-castles and collect
sea shells. The shells were very pretty and the boys got very
interested in them. We washed them off and I gave the boys
plastic lunch bags to store their "treasures."
They decided to take some shells home to California (which
wasn't exactly lacking in seashells, but what do preschoolers
know) and to give some of their shell collection to the
relatives before we left. I thought it was a lovely idea.
My two-year-old Yitzy was the one who wanted to prepare the
gifts. He carefully laid out the shells that he and his older
brother had collected, and then consulted with the four-year-
old about the appropriate recipient of certain particularly
nice shells. The next morning, the boys presented a bag of
shells to my mother and one to my grandmother.
When the guests arrived, the boys were waiting for them with
the shells they had selected for them. Yitzy held out two
bags of shells and gave one to my aunt and one to her
husband. Then, in case they hadn't noticed, he pointed out to
both recipients that there was a bag for each of them. "Two
bags," said my son very seriously, "so you don't fight!"
To my young son, the adults' stern looks and raised voices
were evidence of a fight. When did Yitzy and his two-year-
old playmates get into fights? When they both wanted the same
toy. Therefore, following this logic, Yitzy had decided that
he could stop the couple from fighting by giving them each
their own bag of toys.
My aunt's second husband lived for another decade, and my
aunt continued to play policeman, but years later, my mother
told me something very interesting. Whenever they would start
a heated "discussion" about cake, Danish or other nosh, my
aunt would think about my two-year-old son's take on the
situation and she would see in front of her Yitzy's
outstretched hands and the seashells. The words would play
back in her mind, "Two bags — so you don't fight."
These words, from the proverbial mouth of a babe, had managed
to soften up my aunt's approach to the food "discussions."
Maybe they can work the same magic for the marital
discussions of the rest of us.