A mother’s pain comes in all shapes and sizes.
Your toddler falls and scrapes a knee, and your heart drops. By instinct, you stop the bleeding, clean and cover the wound, then hold him tight, tight, tight. Moments later, the tears kissed away, he runs off happy and free.
But no amount of gauze or ointment can remedy a hurt of the heart. I don’t wish for any parent to have to see their child experience acute disappointment.
My husband and I were both cautiously excited when our oldest son Y. joined the army of high achievers and decided to enter Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos last year. We have heard wonderful feedback on this program from friends with kids, none who had imagined its long-lasting positive effect before they got involved.
A completely extra-curricular learning program, Chidon has captivated our children. Making it to the top and attending the Shabbaton is every participant’s goal; beginning in the summer until the last of three eligibility tests in Adar, they dedicate every free moment to studying.
We had a long discussion with Y. last year, working to set him up for success. We hired a private tutor to guide him in his Chidon studies. He got a 75 on the first test. We breathed easier, confident that he had this in the bag. We took the family to a warmer clime for Chanukah vacation… goodbye tutor, so long extra study sessions.
The second test came around and our son did not pass. He got a 40. He was devastated. Most of his friends had made it seamlessly into the next round. I got a call from his principal, asking me to encourage him to step out of Chidon now before his disappointment would be exacerbated (and prolonged) when he fails to get a passing average. You see, to make up for his slide, he would need a minimum grade of 95% on Test 3 to join the Shabbaton.
Even knowing it was hardly feasible, Y. wanted to give it a shot. His work ethic was better than what my husband and I have seen in the adult professional world. Wanting this so badly, he could not let go. He thought he would make it in. We thought he would too.
He got a 90, but it wasn’t enough. Try to deduce what the scene in our house looked like that night. The crying and the tears engulfed us. Y’s misery was real and it was torturous to watch my child experience this devastating let-down. Energy finally exhausted, he fell asleep and I picked up the phone.
Wishful thinking had prompted me to call Tzivos Hashem. My husband got on the line, and we pressed Rabbi Shimmy Weinbaum to find a way to ‘set this right’. Our son is capable enough to have made it through, so the glitch was in the system. Something was wrong with the second test, right?
Rabbi Weinbaum listened to us, really, but then flipped the lens, gently pointing out where we had slacked off. We’d made decisions as parents that had set him up for failure, and as hard as he tried, as intelligent as he is (90% on a Chidon test!) our son did not recover. As parents, did we want to just push him ahead so he shouldn’t be upset, or swallow our pride and turn this into a learning experience?
At the end of our talk, Rabbi Weinbaum said that he was looking forward to welcoming us again next year. We may have rolled our eyes, but we have since seen the truth of his prediction.
Y. has jumped back straight into Chidon this year; he started studying at the very beginning of the summer (on his own this time and with his friends). He’s achieved a 95% on the first test. With the second test just around the corner, he’s holding tight. We stayed home this winter vacation, going on a few day trips, that, at Y.’s insistence, stretched to include some Chanukah Mivtzoim. (“I need all the siyata dishmaya I can get, Mom.”)
This is the lesson I learned as the parent of a child in Chidon: Get involved. Don’t let your child get crushed simply because of a lack of effort and time. Encourage them to keep going, ensure that they take full advantage of their chances. I’m publishing this personal experience so you can do it, too.
(The people in the picture are not related to the article)