Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why I do NOT want to be a child therapist

Yesterday and today I woke up at 5 a.m. instead of 3 a.m. I suppose that's progress.

I spent Shabbat with friends and friends' children. Most of them were delightful.

First, I went to Alona and Adir's to accompany them and Batya to shul. We got kind of a late start, as often happens when you're trying to get a 3-year-old out of the house. I hadn't gone to davening since, I don't know, January. The rabbi gave a great shiur on conversion for marriage, weaving in anecdotes from his experience with halachic sources, including a terrific reading of the book of Ruth.

I never realized that the conversation Naomi has with Ruth is a metaphor for the way a Jew is supposed to discourage a gentile who wants to convert. Three times Naomi told Ruth to go back, just as you are supposed to turn a potential convert away three times, and Ruth refused. You're supposed to tell a potential convert some difficult halachot and some easier halachot, to give them a sense of what they'll be taking on. Naomi told Ruth that on Shabbat you can only walk a certain distance, and Ruth said, "Wherever you will go, I will go." Naomi told Ruth that she probably would not be able to marry or sleep with another man, and Ruth said, "Where you sleep, I will sleep." And so on. It was really beautiful, and I was very moved.

I have to say, it's a lot easier to have kavannah and bitachon when you're not severely depressed. Despair is antithetical to belief and trust in Gd. That's what really annihilates your soul and alienates you from yourself. I can't pray when I'm depressed. I just can't praise Gd when I'm suffering so desperately.

Then Alona persuaded me to stay and have lunch at the shul, which I hadn't planned on doing (or paid for). That was also fine, although the organizers were a little difficult at first, since I wasn't on the list. The assistant rabbi smoothed everything over; he was the guest speaker at last week's pirkei avot shiur, and I guess he liked what I'd contributed to the discussion. After lunch, we went to the park, and I stayed and played with them for a while before going to another playground to find Ruchama and Tikva.

I was a little afraid Tikva wouldn't remember me; I've only known her for a little over a year, and I hadn't seen her in about four months, which for a 3-year-old is a very long time. She was playing in the sandbox and didn't see me at first; then she looked up, smiled, and came over for a hug. "I didn't see you for a LONG time," she said; not an accusation, just a statement of fact.

"I've been really tired on Shabbos lately," I said, brushing sand off my clothes. And we were back to normal, which was a relief.

Later, I headed over to Eric and Ahuva's to babysit; Ahuva is in Israel for a wedding, and Eric wanted to daven maariv with a minyan. They've been wonderful friends to me, so I really wanted to do this for them, and at first it was easy; I was only looking after 18-month-old David, who is a very good-natured little boy, chasing after him with a plate of cold chicken as he played on the floor. "Open! Open up! Eat some chicken!" He'd take a forkful, then return to pushing his toy bus around on the floor. Apparently he loves buses.

Then Eric stopped by to drop off 6-year-old Mara, who apparently had been having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. After Eric left, she began screaming and whining. She'd had a bad day, her friends didn't listen to her, there weren't any toys she wanted to play with, whine whine whine. I was trying to get the baby to bed, and she was really making a racket.

First I tried to reason with her.

"Mara, I will play with you as soon as I get the baby to sleep."

"NO! I need you to play with me NOW! There's nothing I want to do! I don't like to read, I don't like to play, I can't watch TV..." scream, scream, scream, whine, whine, whine.

I tried to coax her. I tried being stern. I told her that if she wanted, I would talk to her father or mother about what was bothering her, but she had to be quiet now. Nothing worked. I had to drag her into the living room and went back to the baby's room, where I must have sung "The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round" 500 times. (I tried to work in some other songs, but he just kept saying, "Bus! Bus!" Never introduce a toddler to a song that you're not willing to repeat ad infinitum.)

And then Mara REALLY started to scream. David looked at me. "Mara crying," he said, sucking on his bottle.

"Can I go see if she's okay?" I asked him. He nodded solemnly. I went into the living room, where Mara was decompensating; she'd pulled off the head of one of her dolls and couldn't get it back on. I tried to fix it but couldn't, and I couldn't comfort her. So I sat on the couch and ignored her screaming. For 45 minutes. (I went in to check on the baby midway through the tantrum and he, amazingly, had managed to fall asleep.)

All that time, I kept thinking, "This is why I do NOT want to work with children." It's amazing how angry and helpless an out-of-control child can make you feel. I felt bad for her -- she was unhappy about how her day had gone, and she's only 6; her emotions aren't fully under her control. But I also started to understand why some people hit or shake their children, especially after she started hitting and scratching me. She's pretty strong and tall for a 6-year-old. I didn't know how to calm her down.

I ultimately put her in time-out, where she continued to scream, but at least it was in the kitchen and I was in the living room -- although, this being a typical Manhattan apartment, I could of course hear her perfectly. (I have no idea what the neighbors thought.) Eric FINALLY got home to find me sitting with my hands over my ears while Mara screamed.

"Have you ever thought about having her talk with somebody?" I asked.

Fortunately, Eric has an incredibly gentle, soothing presence, so Mara calmed down enough for him to make havdalah. But I honestly wonder how she'll react to me the next time I go there for a Shabbos meal. I spoke to her quite sharply at times while I was trying to get her to quiet down, even though I was trying to be patient and forbearing. So I wonder how she'll remember and react to me next time she sees me.

I told Eric, "You know how you and Ahuva always have me over for Shabbos meals, and gave me a ride to my ex-boyfriend's wedding, and give me such good advice and chizzuk? We're even."
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"

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