I didn’t see Bracha burn her finger on the grilled cheese sandwich. I looked up when she began to cry and scream.

“What happened? Did you bite your finger?”

“No.” Sob. “I burned it.”

“On your sandwich?”


I couldn’t believe the cheese inside her sandwich was so hot, but I showed her how to run her hand under the tap, how to get relief from the cool water. She was crying so hard. Inwardly, I rolled my eyes at the dramatic display. Then I let it go. She hurt herself. This is her reaction. Fine.

Inwardly, I rolled my eyes at the dramatic displayThe afternoon progressed. Bracha found a bakery cookie I was saving for later. She split it with her little brother and they ate it in secret, spreading crumbs over their bedroom. How could one cookie make that many crumbs? Bracha denied involvement. She couldn’t account for how those crumbs got there, or why there was chocolate smeared around her mouth. I sighed loudly and gave the kids the broom and dustpan.

Just before bedtime, my three-year-old son snuck into my bathroom like a ninja and painted on the tile walls with my lipsticks. One of my favorites was broken off completely. I roared like Godzilla.

Bracha’s twin sister came in to assess the situation. “Bracha threw your red lipstick in the toilet,” she informed me.

Again, Bracha got very quiet and said no, she did not have anything she wanted to tell me. That’s when I really got mad. I became fixated on making her admit that she ate the cookie and helped her brother destroy my lipsticks. I said stupid, hurtful things.

She went into her room, sat down on her bed and wept, just fell apart. It shredded my heart up. I sat down next to her.

“My fingers hurt so much,” she sobbed.

“And just think,” I pointed out, unable to stop hectoring, “that was just from hot cheese in your sandwich. Imagine how much it would hurt if you touched the sandwich grill. That’s why I’m always warning you to stay away from it.”

“I burned my fingers on the cheese . . . I didn’t touch the grill.”

I looked closer at her hand and saw two raised white lines where she’d touched the grillShe stopped crying and looked at me. “Did you see how I burned my fingers?”

Suddenly, I understood. “You mean, did I see when you reached over and touched the back of the sandwich grill?”

She began to cry again.

“You didn’t know that part was going to be so hot.”

She sobbed harder. “I thought it was unplugged.”

“I didn’t see you do that. I didn’t know why you were crying so hard.” I looked closer at her hand and saw two raised white lines where she’d touched the grill.

Later, I thought about how little I can really know these small people. Bracha got a serious burn while I was sitting in the same room, and I didn’t even know it. If I’d known, I would have comforted her more. I would have gone easier on her about the cookie and the lipstick. I would have let a lot more slide.

But every day, each of my kids has a whole inner world that is hidden from me. What do I really know about the day’s subtle cruelties and fears? What transpires when they are away from me? How do they feel about themselves? How do they feel about their father and me, about their siblings and their own place in the family?

Do I judge my children favorably? Am I available to listen with compassion when they are ready to talk? Do I remember how fresh on the planet they are, and what their limitations are?

Too often I treat them like makeup-destroying, cookie-swiping tornados who should know what I know and do as I say. And when I approach them that way, I am quick to anger, because they are terrible, terrible robots.

But they are wonderful, complicated people. They are funny and surprising and intelligent and weird. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes obedient. But I get in trouble when I chase after the sweetness and compliance.

These are not my ducks. They are their own ducksI once heard someone say, “I was always trying to get my ducks in a row. I finally realized they weren’t my ducks.” These are not my ducks. They are their own ducks.

Motherhood is a holy service. When I’m paying attention, I think the opportunity to raise up another person in the world is pretty mind-blowing, pretty awe-inspiring. And I’m raising three little people. The problem is that most of the time, I’m not paying attention.

I’ve noticed that some people put a lot of stock in parenting instinctually, in trusting their natural inclinations. Not me. I am a lizard mother. When I go on maternal instinct, I revert to two basic positions: Do what I tell you to do, and go play quietly and leave me alone.

So Bracha’s hand on the grill woke me up from my lizard stupor a bit. Right now, I want to let go of how well they behave and how much they listen to me. I want to listen to them. I want to know them, as much as possible. I want to value them. I want to parent them consciously, spiritually, not instinctually. And most of all—humbly.