In the interest of full disclosure (how I like to go about communicating with you and the others in my life), I’m going to drop a guilty mom truth bomb on you. (Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?)
I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but my reasons might be different than most. And maybe I even think they’re more warranted than most other reasons that the club of guilty moms worldwide would have for doing what I’m about to admit to doing.
Any minute now…
I buy my kids a lot of stuff to distract them from the glaringly devastating loss we suffered.
I don’t want to call it “spoiling” them. Because I don’t think it’s doing that in our specific case. It’s not like I endlessly buy them gifts all day, every day, in the hopes that they’ll forget they don’t have a father.
It’s not like that at all. But nine times out of ten, if they ask for something (within reason) I grant them their wish. Bikes, roller blades, trips to the batting cages, video games, their fourth or fifth pair of sneakers … sure, sweetie, no problem.
I know it can’t assuage their fears that arise when we do yet another new thing without Moshe. But giving them these small moments of enjoyment is a temporary reprieve from the immense guilt over something I never had any hand in causing. Guilt over not being able to protect them from this heartbreak, from a sadness no kid should know.
I don’t know how I’d deal with losing my own parents, chas v’shalom, and I’m a fully grown adult, so I can’t begin to understand how my teenager feels.
I actually marvel at how they’re able to genuinely enjoy themselves day to day. They bump into small pockets of time when the reminder of their loss hits them hard, the grief that comes in waves, often without warning. It crashes into them, and a bottomless sadness envelops them like an ocean and threatens to keep them struggling in the water for longer than they can handle it.
So they approach me, sometimes tentatively and sometimes brazenly (depending on the kid and the request), and sometimes I say yes without even realizing I did.
Until I notice my kids are rollerblading around the house and I think to myself, “They have rollerblades?”
I’ll pose the question to the master of all Amazon shoppers (a.k.a. Dovid Hirsch), and he’ll respond matter-of-factly, “You told me I could order rollerblades for everyone.” And then I realize that I respond “yes” to basically everything asked of me — besides two things, so far:
(1) A Peloton. I fear that it’ll turn into a very expensive clothes hanger for stuff I don’t want to place back into my closet and will never actually be used to, say, exercise.
(2) A puppy. Single mom taking on even more responsibility than raising five children? No, thank you.
Otherwise, any and everything is basically fair game. (Don’t get any ideas and send your kids here with their requests — this is strictly for the Hirsch clan.)
My kids ask my parents the same thing at times, and I’m fairly certain they know what they’re doing when they present their extensive lists of must-haves to either me or my parents. They know we’re at a loss as well and want them to be happy and feel good.
Just ride the dopamine hits of brown cardboard boxes every few days.
Seeing them get pampered occasionally is a far better feeling than seeing them realize that they’ll never have the more meaningful things their peers have.
The father who walks in at the end of a long day of work. The Shabbos walks to shul. The Sunday lunches out where we’d order pancakes and milkshakes and mac ‘n cheese. The father–son trips to the bowling alley or batting cages. The lazy weekends at home all together, just watching movies. The things they might forget about if I don’t remind them of those precious times we had together as a family.
So I buy the pricey sneakers. I UberEats food from the restaurants because taking them out alone is harder than with a husband. I order the video games that I hope they don’t become addicted to. I get them the fancy sports equipment.
I tell them that I love them and he loved them and we’re sorry for what has happened through the consolation prize of stuff that shows up on Barnard Avenue, that they excitedly tear into immediately.
It might be wrong. Maybe it’s not the right chinuch. Or maybe it’s not so bad. But it’s what I need to do for now.
I bet they’ve forgotten the squeals of delight that would ring through the house when he’d get home at night. I bet they don’t quite remember seeing his car pull up slowly in front of our house and running out to greet him, jumping into his arms as he walked up our walkway.
I don’t know if I want them to forget or not — to move on from the pain or cherish the bittersweet memory of what they once had. I hope they haven’t forgotten the feeling of real, unadulterated happiness manifested through the love of their father. I haven’t forgotten.
I know all this stuff won’t make up for what they lost, won’t give them back the feeling of security and comfort of having their dad. The feeling of knowing it’ll all be OK. It’s not OK. It’ll never be the same OK that it once was.
Every year this time we pray for health and life. Usually we get it, and we take it for granted. One year, G-d said “no.” We are working on accepting it, but that “no” hurt so badly that I want to offer up as much “yes” energy as I can to my little ones. We don’t get to decide about all the big gifts — for those we need to pray. But I’m blessed in that I can shower little gifts on them, and use them to generate the gifts of hope and newness, moment by moment.
We can create a new cobbled-together kind of OK. A different, makeshift happiness however we’re able to. My kids aren’t shallow or dense. They know that genuine happiness isn’t “things.” But if, as we’re doing our business of healing and rebuilding, I can decorate their lives with gifts that bring smiles and fun, I feel like it’s the training wheels we need. We’ve been forced to think outside the box. Or order a bunch of boxes of stuff that fill our home with play and color and laughter again, and recreate a Plan B for happiness that’ll have to suffice for now.
Have you watched “Father Daughter,” the new 5TJT.com webcast featuring my dad and me? We talked about books that have made an impact in our lives. I recommended two books that have helped me confront my grief. Plan B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Check out our webcast and these books!
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.