They were so cute together. She sat there on the couch,
smiling so widely, so broadly... so happily!
And him -- all I could see were his little feet sticking out
near her skirt, his small hands peeking out near her
"Me baby!" Tzvia, age 5, squealed with delight.
I heard Eli's high pitched three-year-old voice come from
behind her. "I'm the Tatty."
My two little children. So sweet. So, so sweet.
But the expression `bittersweet' comes from this type of
sweetness. The knowing of what will be.
Not knowing how.
Not knowing when.
But knowing, none-the-less.
And even more bitter -- knowing that there was nothing I
could do to stop it. Nothing at all.
Tzvia, so large for her age, sitting on Eli's lap. Eli, so
small for his age, but of course, he was the Tatty. And Tzvia
-- the baby. And me, knowing that Tzvia would always be the
baby. Knowing that as close as these two were right now in
their camaraderie, the day would come when he would pass her
up. I didn't know if he would physically, but intellectually,
mentally, developmentally... I knew and I felt a tremor go
down my spine.
The two of them played together daily, grew, were happy. I
would smile, watching their mutual love.
The changes began small. He, catching ideas and concepts,
next to her confused looks. His abilities developing -- able
to peel carrots for me, set up my candles for Shabbos, build
a high tower out of Lego while she... she fumbled, and
fumbled some more.
Tzvia's speech never really got past the `me baby' stage
while Eli began speaking more correctly, more naturally,
`like all the other kids'. Tzvia didn't and never would.
He would giggle at her mistakes. A normal four, and then five-
year-old response. Obviously, she was just playing around
with the words to make him laugh...
One day a helicopter flew above our building and out over the
"Heptor!' Tzvia said, pointing. I could see that she wanted
Eli to enjoy it. Her usual -- getting the most from
But this time, his cute little giggle over her verbal mistake
wasn't a giggle. Nor was it cute.
It was recognition.
"Heptor?" he guffawed. "Heptor? Heptor?" He whooped and
slapped his knee, a superior look in his eyes.
Even with Tzvia's limited understanding, she knew what a
taunt was. The look on her face was the look of one betrayed.
Betrayal mingled with deep confusion.
I felt such an enormous pain go down the center of my
"She only gives!' I wanted to shout through my muteness.
"It's not right! How can you, her brother, or anyone, look
down at her? Laugh at her? She only gives! She gives, and
gives, and gives -- how can this be happening?"
There was no one to fault. She was who she was. He was acting
like a normal six-year-old.
I knew it was going to come at some point. I had dreaded it
and here it was. And there was nothing I could do. Absolutely
nothing that I could do... but hurt.
Yet time passes. Six-year-olds turn seven, and these become
eight-year-olds. One day, when Eli was nine and his younger
brother, Meir, was five, they decided to have a `help clean
the house' campaign.
The house was a disaster. I had had the flu for the past five
days. Barely able to sit up on the couch, I was deeply
touched by the gesture. It meant a lot to me.
Eli called out, "Come on, everyone! We're giving points for
each thing you help with! Every toy picked up is a point!
Every dish put in the sink is a point!'
The three-year-old twins went running excitedly. Even the one-
year-old picked up a paper from the floor and toddled over to
hand it to Eli.
"Terrific!" Eli and Meir said simultaneously while they,
themselves, cleared off the table.
Each item put away helped me to feel so much better and I
appreciated each of these little neshomas so much.
Tziva stood, looking around, not quite sure what to do. At 12
years old, she looked as beautiful as she always looked. She
also looked as out of sorts as she always did.
Then I heard Eli whisper to Meir, "Let's give Tzvia ten
points for each thing she does, since it's so much harder for
Meir nodded, walked over to Tzvia, and said gently, "Tzvia,
there's a toy. Go pick it up."
She smiled and did as she was told.
"Great, Tzvia! You get ten points!"
Tzvia grinned. She was so proud of herself.
And I, I was speechless. These two beautiful Jewish boys who
were never directly told of Tzvia's retardation, who only saw
her as their big sister... they had developed such a deep
sense of compassion all on their own!
How? I wondered.
At that point, I didn't care about the house being clean or
not. At that point, I didn't care who did what. All I could
do was feel overwhelmed with gratitude but this time, the
feeling going right down my spine had no pain. No pain at