May 16, 2024
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May 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Today was different.

Of course “different” has been part of my life for a while now—almost a shadow, of sorts. Some days, actually, it feels more like a large storm cloud casting its threatening form over my carefully sculpted plans of where my life is “supposed” to go—sending me and my ego scampering frantically for shelter.

“Different” has a name, of course. He looks just like your kids on the outside, too. He also has stunning blue eyes and an adorable personality within his core. He is sensitive and feels the pain of others. He also is louder in public than he should be—than I want him to be; somehow always laughing at things which aren’t even funny or forgetting for the 10th straight time that we don’t belch out loud in shul.

“Different” means that for years my wife was always tense at the daily trip to the local park. Not only because of the extra responsibility of protecting other children playing there, but because there was always that voice hovering overhead, just ready to accuse. The one that would scream, “Whose child is this?! Maybe you should be a mother and look after your kids?”—never noticing that his siblings were all acting in age-appropriate manners despite being raised in the same neglectful home.

“Different” means, by necessity, feeding a child kreplach in the bathtub because things like dinner, which are typically routine in most homes, have become pikuach nefesh in ours.

“Different” means spending my anniversary in an ambulance on the way to the pediatric psych ward, being browbeaten by know-it-all medical interns, instead of sitting in the warm embrace of a leather booth at an upscale restaurant.

“Different” means rushing away from the middle of a critical solo vacation (necessary to escape from guess who) to meet Hatzala at the hospital after Different threatened his mother with a butcher knife.

“Different” means interrupting a packed tish to ask the Rebbe if we should call the police on Shabbat because Different ran away.

It means judgments and stares. It means whispering when you think I don’t know and offering asinine and irrelevant advice I’m not interested in. It means awkward silence because you think I feel guilty over the latest escapade, and not offering to make dinner even though you see how overwhelmed I am; fully aware that if we had had a baby you would plug in your food processor without even asking.

But “different” has another face as well.

It means humility and asking—begging—for help. It means going to therapy and trying to explore why I’m taking his behavior so personally. It means examining my marriage so my fatigue, frayed nerves and feelings of inadequacy don’t ruin the most precious human relationship I have. It means working up the courage to confide in a few good friends.

It means going for da’as Torah and never wavering to the right or left. It means being willing to ask for that dinner not offered and for the neighbors to babysit even though they have their own lives to deal with. It means humbly asking for guidance—admitting I don’t actually know how to raise my own child. It means having our other children see an abusive adult scream in the park and simply react with a “poor guy,” while the other nearby children cry and run behind their mothers.

It means more questions than answers, but it also means more self-knowledge. It means endless uncomfortable situations and just as many opportunities for unimaginable greatness.

Today, the Rebbe laid tefillin on Different. After finally finding the right institution and program for our son, and eight (!) months actually in the same place, he is truly on the up and up, baruch Hashem. The tefillin came as he is finally looking at himself and wondering, “Can I be more?” His new, adult wardrobe reflects the expanding and maturing inside that has been developed after countless therapies, horse riding sessions and a mother’s tears soaking her Tehillim.

As davening began, I slipped my tallis over my head perhaps a bit quicker than usual, not wanting my tears to be misconstrued by my son, whom I now treasure, though have always loved.

Yeah, things have been different for a while now, but I never knew “different” could feel so good.

Daniel Ginsburg, who grew up in the U.S., lives and works in an Anglo community in Eretz Yisroel where he is learning to ask for, as well as receive, extra help. He can be reached at [email protected].

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