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Glass Cage

As told to Gittel Chany Rosengarten

If Mrs. Mansbach hadn’t been there, or maybe if I hadn’t been paying $450 for the consultation (that’s like $7.50 per minute), I would have indulged in a delicious, warm burst of tears. I sat on her pastel rug with my three children, playing pretend grocery store, so that she could observe our interactions and tell me how to proceed with my eldest.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

glass cage

“There’s nothing wrong with this child,” she said, taking her glasses off so she could better stare at me. “If you’d only relate to Nachy as you do your other children, he would be like your other children. It’s your parenting that’s the problem, not the child.”

Her slap took the words right out of my mouth. I signed a check with a quivering pen, collected the kids, and navigated through the blur to the exit.

Nachy stopped to observe the fish tank in the waiting room, and refused to budge. Still reeling from the pronouncement of my doomed parenthood, I coaxed him softly, praying that talking wouldn’t release the tears waiting to be shed. We stayed there until the other kids lost it and I told Nachy I’m going, whether he joined us or not.

Nachy. From the time he figured out that his limbs would obey his commands, he became an imperious dictator. He dived headfast from the crib, bumping himself black and blue. He never learned to check if his diving turf was safe. I fastened a net dome over his crib, which he clawed at endlessly. I babyproofed the house but couldn’t Nachy-proof it. He was another species.

I spoke to him, hugged him, and tried connecting. I looked into his eyes. But his dark eyes were roving searchlights, and when I did catch his gaze and hold it, there seemed to be a thick wall between us. He was isolated from the world, from my words, from my love.

When the other children arrived, I realized that Nachy wasn’t quite normal — the contrast was too great. Our second child, Mendy, was a happy, lively child, who whooped with delight when the Lego tower fell apart. He crawled over to me and pulled at my skirt. He giggled when I kissed him, cried when he fell, and calmed down when held. He looked at me intently and communicated. He was so normal.

Often, after a day with the kids, I’d put my feet up and sigh. I’d beg, beg Hashem to please help me raise His child, my Nachy. I’d also unload to my husband. But Yossi wasn’t concerned. “A difficult child. He needs a stronger hand.”

So I tried harder, felt worse, and nothing changed. Eventually, I persuaded Yossi that we should take Nachy for an evaluation. Perhaps his behavior was symptomatic of something bigger. Perhaps if we knew the why of his behavior, we’d also be able to figure out how to deal with him.

No, said Mrs. Mansbach. There was nothing wrong with my child. There was everything wrong with me. If I wanted to see a transformation in my child, I had to change myself.


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