Soon after candlelighting on Friday evening, for the fourth week in a row, several children from the building show up at my door for an hour of treats and fun. This week, after I give out treats to everyone, I begin a rousing round of races across the living room, followed by a cute circle dance that the two and three-year-olds especially love. It's the middle of the winter, but after all that exertion, I open a window for some fresh air, and wonder… where is Yisroel? Yisroel is the reason I invite all the little guests over and subject myself to an hour of intense activity at a time when I would rather be reading books or playing quiet games with my children. But Yisroel is nowhere to be seen. I quickly improvise a game of hide-and-seek, until we find Yisroel sitting by himself at the bottom of a cabinet. It takes me a minute, and then I remember; last week, after the races, we all went to play "schoolbus" in that cabinet, and Yisroel always likes to do things like they were done the time before. Once he establishes a routine, he will not willingly vary the order.

Yisroel bellows inarticulate cries until I interveneThe other children gamely engage in "schoolbus," which soon evolves into "scary animal jumping out of the cabinet." Yisroel does not like this game, and when I look for him again, I find he has slipped into a comforting session of bottle-and-cloth. In the meantime, I do not want our visitors to grow bored. Maybe Yisroel will want to rejoin us, and there are also future Shabbat evenings to consider, so I continue to play with the other children. They are soon involved in a very lively rumpus in the middle of the living room which does not seem to need my involvement, so I allow myself the luxury of sitting on the sofa.

As I watch, Yisroel, sufficiently soothed, mounts his tricycle and cycles the tried-and-true hallway/living room/kitchen route. Everytime he goes through the living room, he barges right through the group of children in the middle of the floor, completely oblivious to their game. Only when one of the boys blocks him from cycling does Yisroel seem to notice that there are other children in his path. Then he bellows inarticulate cries until I intervene and the other boy lets go. After a few more minutes of pedaling, Yisroel tires, flinging himself suddenly onto my lap. His big, round head butts into my stomach, his arms hang limply down either side of my legs, and his little fingers play softly, just at the level of tickly irritation, with my stockings.

These are the fruits of my efforts to help Yisroel see how typical children play. Yisroel goes to a kindergarten for children with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, part of the autistic spectrum), and while it provides excellent services, Yisroel does not get to see how typical children his age interact. Yet I am not even sure if he even registered that there were other children in the house. At least I can console myself with the fact that my other children had a fun time.

Yisroel's school was great at telling me what I could do for him, but not how to personally copeOf course, this is just an incidental benefit. Yisroel's siblings benefit from having him as a brother in much more profound ways. I used to think that the cliché about children gaining from having a sibling with a disability was just a string of some nice words. Maybe in other people's houses, maybe with a different type of disability, but not in our home, not with Yisroel. All we had was a child who cried loudly for long stretches of time, who was totally inflexible, who demanded more than his fair share of attention to keep up with his shenanigans, and who had turned his mother into a stressed out, bad-tempered lady who shouted too much. Quite frankly, even though I intellectually knew G‑d had put Yisroel into our family for our good and for Yisroel's good, emotionally, I resented my son with a disability. I did not feel that I had the tools to raise him, and I did not know where to go to for support. Yisroel's school was great at telling me what I could do for him, but not how to personally cope for myself.

Not knowing where else to turn, I called a Jewish parenting hotline, hoping that one of the counselors would have some experience in this realm. [Note: I live in Israel, and because my Hebrew is poor, I am not able to access all the resources that may be available.] Even though the counselors were not trained to deal with specific issues relating to disability, G‑d, in His kindness, set me up with the perfect match. My counselor explained that I needed to appreciate Yisroel more, and suggested I keep a daily log of all the clever, charming or cute things that Yisroel did during the day. I should record any and all positive interactions. This, incidentally, is great advice for any parent who is having difficulty with a child, and it also worked wonders with my relationship with Yisroel.

Instead of focusing on all the ways in which he was difficult, I found myself focusing on all the wonderful facets of Yisroel's personality. He is really cute, he has great mechanical-know-how, a terrific memory, and a lot of energy and enthusiasm for life. And the more that I focused on Yisroel's good points, the more the rest of the family did the same. As they noticed me sighing less in frustration, being more patient and understanding, and appreciating Yisroel more, they started to reflect that as well. The echo of my children's improved attitude resounding from my improved attitude reminded me how much the mother really is the lynchpin of the family. This point was driven home more strongly as Yisroel's behavior also improved the more he felt our positive acceptance.

With Yisroel along, they had a chance to shineSeveral months go by. In spite of my best efforts to avoid such a situation, I end up on one rainy, winter evening at the pharmacy, waiting in a long line with all my kids (except the baby who was being blissfully babysat) in tow. As a courtesy to its customers, the pharmacy has recently installed a small water cooler, the type where you push a button to choose cold or room temperature water. Most people view the cooler as an amenity. I think of it as a nightmare. If there are two things that Yisroel loves most to do, they are pushing buttons and playing with water. A water cooler is beyond cool in his eyes, and he just cannot stop himself from pushing those buttons, filling up cup after cup with water (it has to be a new cup each time), and then pouring each cup into the water overfill tray. Of course, the overflow tray does not have capacity for so much liquid, and soon overflows onto the floor…

And, of course, Yisroel, who knows what he wants and will not compromise, refuses to let me hold him. Every time I try to grab him, he makes himself go limp, balancing the thrust of his weight against my hold. Then he pulls forcefully away with long yanks, making funny noises low in his throat, until my grip slips, and he dashes wildly towards that water cooler.

Then his big brothers, Avi and Chaim, step in. First, they try taking him away and restraining him, but they are no match for such a skilled escape artist. Then they try running him off as he charges toward the cooler, distracting him, whatever they can do. Avi and Chaim love rough play, and stimulated by their spunky brother, they even seem to be getting some enjoyment from the challege. After a while they also start to tire of the struggle, but they valiantly continue until we finally have the necessary medicine and are out the door.

I would never willingly take Yisroel back to the pharmacy, but I cannot help but think of what the excursion would have been like without Yisroel. Avi and Chaim would have been bored, and with such a long wait, they would have been quite possibly vocal about their boredom. They might have started fighting, or started bothering me to give them money to go get some pizza from the bakery. With Yisroel along, not only were they not bored, but more importantly, they had a chance to shine. They got to help out, to really be needed, and to really perform. And they were not resentful, because they understood that Yisroel could not help wanting to play with the water cooler, and that being who he is, he cannot restrain himself from trying.

This is of course a model for me as well. It is not always easy having Yisroel as a son, but through raising him, I am also getting the chance to "shine" in my own way, to realize potentials that I did not know I possessed, to love in a way that I did not know I was able to. Yisroel is Yisroel, and he cannot help being who he is, and our whole family loves him for being Yisroel.