Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Shevat 5760 - January 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Through Eyes That Shine
by Rifca Goldberg

I received a phone call this morning from someone I hardly know. "Mrs. Goldberg, this is Mrs. P. I was at the Rosh Chodesh party last night and a friend of yours brought her photo album. There was one photo there that simply took my breath away. A girl with red hair, sparkling intelligent eyes, and a dark blue dress. `Who is this child?' I asked. Your friend answered that it was a picture of your daughter. What can I say? She's so beautiful! Happy, relaxed, pure and put together. What a brocha!"

I gripped the receiver as I squeezed my eyes together tightly. She went on and on.

A flashback from three years ago came into my mind's eye. Tzivia was ten years old then and my youngest daughter, Surala, was two-and-a-half. Surala's long black hair waved thickly past her waist. "Come, Surala, I'll put your hair up in the ponytail holder with the pink ribbon." Later I went outside to check the mail. I walked into the house carrying bills and a letter and stopped. Surala looked somehow strange. "Where's your ponytail?!" Tzivia stood near the window, scissors in hand. "Me not do it! Me not!" Outside the window, on the sill, the long ponytail rested, pink ribbon and all.

Mrs. P. finished all her praises.

"My friend at the party didn't tell you that my daughter is mentally retarded, did she?"


"Is she, really?" Mrs. P. asked slowly.

Maybe I should have just accepted all the compliments and said a simple thank you. Too late. Instead, I said, "I really appreciate all the kind things you said. I'm sure that the purity on her face, that shows even in a picture, is because she really is so pure."

"What's her name?" asked Mrs. P.


I didn't stop there. I continued, "I have a friend in America with a severely retarded son. She sends him to a special overnight camp for six weeks every summer. Each time he comes home, she goes through a period of mourning. Mourning for the normal child that he will never be."

Mrs. P hadn't asnwered. I wanted to make her understand. To make everyone understand. But I can't MAKE understanding happen.

I walked around the house for the rest of the morning, a thick lump in my throat. I straightened up, folded laundry, cut vegetables, but the lump refused to dissolve.

In the middle of the afternoon, as I was washing the dishes, Tzivia came home from school and rested her head on my shoulder. She's almost as tall as I am. It was hard to wash the dishes with her leaning on me. "Please get off me, sweetheart," I said. She tried to hold my hand. It was even harder to do the dishes with one hand being held. "I love you very much, Tzivia, but now I need to finish the dishes. I'll read you a story when I'm done, O.K.?" She nodded emphatically and skipped into the living room. All five feet, 120 pounds of my `little girl.'

Later I went to Leah, a friend who knows Mrs. P. She looked at me and said, "Your eyes are glistening." I lowered my gaze and told her about the incident with Mrs. P. "Why did I feel the need to tell her? Mrs. P and I have nothing to do with each other. It was thoughtless of me. I didn't mean to make her feel uncomfortable. It was so nice of her to call to begin with. I ruined her gesture."

"It's not so terrible," Leah replied, her eyes moist as well. She looked down at the pants she was mending. "We don't always know what's going on in other peoples' lives. Sometimes we ought to know that it's not so simple for the other person, either. And Rifca, you know? Tzivia DOES have intelligent eyes. She's always alert and curious. She notices whenever I wear something new and she's always asking questions, in her limited way, about every little thing."

Leah's answer comforted me somewhat.

On Succos, I had my friend Nurit over with her thirteen- year-old daughter. We touched on the topic of Tzivia. Nurit looked across the room at her irritable teenager who constantly talks back. "Be thankful," she whispered to me earnestly. A tear weighed in the corner of my eye but I didn't know why. She had a point. Tzivia, MY teenager, was absorbed in playing with the blocks and little plastic farm animals on the floor, along with her three-year-old brother.

As I thought about it, I admitted that I knew where the unshed tears were coming from. Nurit's daughter is going through a difficult chutzpadik stage that Tzivia may never go through. But Nurit's daughter is going through a STAGE. A stage that will be outgrown; her daughter will, G-d- willing, go on to be a wonderful wife, mother and loving normal daughter. Tzivia is not going through a stage. This `stage' is her life. My life.

Tzivia cries and screams like a little child. Someone can stick out their tongue at her and she'll howl as if she's been seriously wounded. She's been in the `mine' stage for years, although when she's in the right mood, she shares generously to the point of giving away all of our toys, which I am seldom able to track down and retrieve.

"May you have lots of nachas from her," Mrs. P. finished the conversation in a subdued voice.

It WAS so thoughtful of her to call. How many people THINK of doing something nice but never get around ot it? Here Mrs. P. DID do something nice and I felt that I had ruined it for her.

I used to talk to people openly about how hard it was for me. I thought, or hoped, to get empathy, reassurance, or encouragement. But usually, people told me, "You should be so thankful, Rifca! There are children so much worse off." This I know. In Tzivia's school there are children who can't walk, can't talk. They're at much more difficult levels of functioning. But it doesn't make Tzivia normal. So I've stopped talking about her. It hurts too much to have the pain in my heart waved aside as if it's nothing.

It takes my nine-year-old son a day or two to read through a book. Tzivia comes home with the twenty flashcards that she's been learning for three years now. "Shalom!" Tzivia pronounces. I wonder if she knows it by rote already. "Very good, Tzivia!" I say. "Morah!" Tzivia smiles at me proudly. "That's terrific, Tzivia!" She claps her hands with joy at my praise.

Later that same afternoon, I went shopping. On the way home I saw a woman in a green dress and a large straw hat coming towards me. As she got closer, I recognized her. "Brochy! How are you?" She clasped my hand. "I'm fine, boruch Hashem. I haven't seen you in ages but I did see a beautiful picture of your daughter at the Rosh Chodesh party. What a lovely child!"

I closed my eyes for a moment and thought of the picture of Tzivia in her dark blue dress that hangs on my bedroom wall. It's the first thing I see when I open my eyes in the morning: a picture of my beautiful redhead, beaming at me.

I opened my eyes, smiled softly, and said, "Thank you."


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