The other day my daughter sent me an Instagram post that featured an “influencer” (I think this means someone who likes skin care) posting about the weather. I know, what could be more banal than the weather, but I guess when you’re an influencer even the weather becomes witty and trending.
Anyway, the post was a photo of the woman holding a scarf around her face, and the caption said: “Dear xxx (her city), Why you gotta be so bipolar with your weather? Sincerely, Pretty Cold Girl.”
This post did not sit well with my child. It bothers us when people use mental health disorders as a joke. “I’m so OCD I literally can’t take a mess.” “The weather is so bipolar.” People who actually suffer from these disorders know that they are no joke. Mental illness can steal years from your life and alter your relationships. People who suffer from them have to work that much harder to lead a normal life.
So she wanted to know if she should send a private message to the influencer.
I told her it reminded me of an incident that happened once when I was speaking at a Shabbaton in LA. I was teaching about parenting, and mentioned that there are two types of kids: dandelions, and orchids. Dandelions bloom anywhere. In fact, you can’t get rid of them. But orchids are fragile. You can nurture them as lovingly as possible and they may still wilt. I joked about how bad I am at nurturing orchids. I said, “I give them that darn piece of ice every week, exactly like the instructions say, and they still die… I’m good at keeping kids alive. Not good at keeping plants alive.” Everyone laughed, and I continued my talk.
After the talk, three women came over to me. They complimented my talk, and thanked me. Then they said something I’ll never forget. “Ruchi,” they said, “We are three bereaved mothers. Each of us has lost a child. Since you’re a public speaker, it’s important for you to know that it can be hurtful to joke about keeping kids alive. Bereaved mothers often feel guilty, questioning if they truly did everything to help their child. We know you’d want to know.”
I felt as though the floor had swallowed me up. Obviously I felt terrible, and apologized to the women. I also thanked them for opening my eyes and helping me to be more sensitive.
I told all this to my daughter. I suggested she use the same formula as the women from LA to reach out to the influencer. Share your appreciation, and use it as an opportunity for education since she has a large platform. She did. The woman was somewhat defensive, and did not remove the post, but I’m pretty sure she’s thinking about what my daughter said.
On July 30, a young man in our community passed away. He had just turned 21 last month. He was a good friend of our kids, and it was a shattering loss. I now look back at my joke with horror. How could I have ever joked about keeping kids alive?? Are our kids’ lives ever really in our hands? Life, like the metaphorical orchid, is so fragile. And as parents, can we ever really say we did enough? Can we ever really blame ourselves if we didn’t? We try so hard to do right by our kids, but life holds no guarantees.
I told my daughter that that conversation in LA was extremely uncomfortable, and therefore held great potential for learning and growth. May we always realize, with humility, that we have so much more to learn. God, in his infinite wisdom, will help us learn it.
But we must have our hearts wide open, ready to receive.
Dedicated in memory of Yonasan Dov ben Nachman