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A River Divided

As told to Leah Gebber

I was the golden child; daughter of my parent’s old age. I would comfort them, amuse them, distract them from their looming mortality. While they played overprotective parents, I played overprotective daughter.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

whirlpool I hurt them once — it was something silly, grades in school, perhaps. And I still remember the pain in their eyes, my father’s hunched back as he loaded up his disappointment in me and hefted it around along with his life’s cares. I couldn’t do that to them again, I knew. In those bowed shoulders, I lost my childhood. I couldn’t ever be free and easy, yell down stairs, or harangue substitute teachers. What if it came back to my parents? What if their delicate hearts were pricked with pain?

My parents, after all, had been through difficult times, and it showed. My father lost his business when he was in his 40s, and he never managed to hold down another job. My mother battled diabetes, and her vision was starting to dwindle and fade. In horror of their vulnerability, I tuned myself exquisitely to their emotional vibes. Body language, a cough, the smallest verbal hint — my fine-tuned instruments caught it, my emotional needle quivered, and I would swiftly dispel the worry and lift the mood.

As I matured, I took on stricter standards in my Yiddishkeit. Yet I engaged in an elaborate dance to shield my parents from the discomfort this might inflict. If they planned a night at the theater, I would steer them into a classical music concert. If they wanted to host a Shavuos Kiddush for all their friends and their children — without a mechitzah, socializing required — I would awake an hour earlier to help my mother set up and, when the table was festooned with flowers and cream cakes, slip out for a walk.

The intricate dance steps were good for me — they built me into a person who had clarified my standards of behavior while upholding what was so important to me — kibud av v’eim. Indeed, in this mitzvah my parents provided me with a sterling example — my grandparents had passed on long before, but I watched them care for elderly aunts and uncles with devotion.




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