By Hannah Reich Berman

When a doctor decides to prescribe a medication with potentially dangerous side effects, he will often speak of a risk-versus-benefit ratio. This makes perfect sense in the field of medicine. Does the risk of the patient’s condition outweigh the risk of administering this medication to him? Or, conversely, is the danger of the medicine greater than that of the illness? But risk-benefit analysis is not restricted to medicine. There are other situations when one needs to give some thought to this ratio, and I found myself in one just last week.

On a bitterly cold morning (and I would describe 11 degrees at 7 a.m. as bitterly cold), I called my daughters–all of them! I knew that some of my grandchildren would be waiting outside for their school buses without having bothered to put on gloves, hats, or scarves. I can think of one or two of these kids who might not even have zippered up their jackets–if they even wore jackets. For some reason that is what some kids do, especially boys. It might be a macho thing, but who knows?

What I do know is that mornings in any household with kids rushing out to the bus and mothers trying to get ready for work–or whatever they have to get ready for–are hectic. And busy moms can be distracted. Hopefully they listen to weather reports, but that is not always the case, and I was not about to take any chances. My plan was to get to the moms before the kids ventured out the door. I would have to make several phone calls in rapid succession. But there was a moment’s hesitation. I knew without any doubt that my warning calls would be met with amusement.

There would be sighs and eye-rolling (which I would not see but could well imagine) followed by supercharged merriment after they listened to what I had to say and then hung up the phone. For me, this was clearly a risk-versus-benefit moment. Should I take the risk of being made fun of in order to give everyone a heads-up on how to dress, or should I skip the whole thing, not embarrass myself, and hope that the kids were dressed appropriately for the cold? My hesitation was brief. “So, let them make fun of me,” I thought. In the general scheme of things that happen in life, how much risk is that? The benefit of seeing to it that the youngsters were safe far outweighed the silly risk. So I made the calls.


Not being a big baseball fan, I am not exactly sure how to describe what happened. On the one hand, when I heard the responses from my daughters, I thought, “Well, it looks like I just batted a thousand.” Then I thought it over and decided that was not the right expression. A more appropriate description was that I had struck out! It did not sound as if, on a busy weekday morning in a hectic household, anyone was overjoyed to get my call, complete with warnings and dire predictions of the possible consequences if the kids were underdressed.

But there is a silver lining in every cloud. The comforting part of my experience was that at least I know that all my daughters are on the same page. It was nice to know that they think alike, even if the thinking is about what a weird mother they have.

There are several problems here. I have a mental “filter” that sometimes works and sometimes does not. It gets clogged and, when it does, I forget what I should or should not say. And I lack self-control. This is evident because, in spite of knowing that having a slice of cheesecake with my coffee will sabotage my weight-loss program, I often do it anyhow. But self-control involves more than just resisting cake; a lack of self-control can affect other decisions as well.

Putting my filter and self-control issues aside, there is a third problem. I no longer have a guide. My husband, Arnie, used to fill that role. Of course, he could only fill it if I chose to divulge my plans to him. If he were still here, I might have run my decision (to make those calls) by him. And if I did, he would have read the riot act to me. I can hear Hubby’s voice saying, “Stay out of it.” If he thought I would take his advice he would stop talking, but if he sensed that I was going to ignore his suggestion, he would take it further and say, “It’s early in the morning and the girls are busy. Everyone is rushing around getting ready for work and school. They know how cold it is and they will see to it that their kids are dressed properly. Trust me; nobody needs your phone call, Hannah.” Hubby was a great life coach.

But my life coach is gone, so now I need to rely on common sense. Like my filter, that too sometimes escapes me. That morning, common sense did not prevail. I made the calls. And, as Hubby would have said, I got what I deserved. Over the phone I could hear world-weary sighs that told me that my call was clearly unnecessary. It was an intrusion and a distraction on a busy morning. But the sighs were not the only thing I heard. I could tell that they were snickering and I sensed sarcasm in their voices as they repeated what I had said. “Yes, Mom, I will be sure the kids are dressed warm.”

There was no doubt that the statement was not meant for my ears alone. Each of my daughters was probably letting her husband or children know that not only was I sticking my nose into their business, but I was giving them advice they did not need. I should have felt chagrined. But the comfort of knowing that I might possibly have stopped one renegade grandchild from running out the door without the proper attire outweighed my embarrassment. It was one of those times when I felt the benefit was worth the risk. That’s the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.


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