Looking For The Good

I have been very challenged by Raizel recently. Her behavior at home has been very difficult. This past Shabbat, it reached a crescendo.

Briefly, as a family, we have experienced many changes and stressors in the past year. I think anyone of them would be objectively difficult for anyone.

As I  have shared, recently we made the difficult decision to place Raizel in public school. Now, Raizel no longer attends a yeshiva, like all of the other children in our community.

Thankfully, she is doing better and  more resources are available to meet her needs. But, it is a terrible feeling of rejection — no appropriate local yeshiva even accepted  Raizel for high school.

My husband’s health status has changed significantly in the past year as well. He is not the same person with the same capabilities.   I remind myself daily that I am grateful he is alive.

Due to my husband’s health, we made the difficult decision to sell our house. We are now in the process of downsizing to a smaller and more manageable home. There are lots of moving parts involved, and everything is in a state of transition and flux.

Raizel is not fully aware of herself and how her behavior affects others. What did emerge is that Raizel is clearly suffering from all the changes we are experiencing as a family. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but I see her as the canary in the coal mine. This was a cry for help.

So, we decided that every night, we  would write down our 5 G’s.

The 5 G’s is my daily writing exercise that I have developed over the years.  I practice it personally and use professionally with my patients. Since I have started using it, it has made a big difference for me. I have seen a big change with my patients as well. Over time, I have learned how to change my negative thoughts into positive thoughts. And, I can find something good and positive in all people and in every situation. Raizel has agreed to do this exercise with me before bed. So, we are experimenting.

Here are each of the 5 G’s. There are several variations that I have created, but this is what we are doing right now:


We write down 3-5 gratitudes every day.



Next, we list 1 or 2 things that we did that we are proud of, or that make us feel good about something we accomplished.

Sometimes, I find that my patients sadly struggle to find anything to feel proud of. So, I ask them to list something that they did that day that demonstrates a good or positive quality about themselves.


Oddly, it is difficult for Raizel to come up with something that she did well or that she is proud of too. So, I am glad that we are doing this together.

The next 2 pictures are variations of the same thing of looking for the good and appreciating the kindness of other people.

This version is a little simpler for some people to understand:

Good: what was the best or nicest thing today?
Good: what was the best or nicest thing today?

This one has more of a direct connection to the idea of goodness:


Looking for the good in others
Looking for the good in others

We do not answer all of the questions. Just one or two. I try to write down 2 things that Raizel did that day that I really like and appreciate. Raizel has to do the same for me.

In the past, I would not tell her that I was doing that. However, I noticed that on her own, she started to do more and more often the very things that I wrote down on my “good eye journal.” It really changed my relationship with her.

I had stopped focusing on including her in my “good eye journal” so I am happy we are doing this together.

I think that looking for the good is very reinforcing, even when the other person doesn’t know what you are doing. When we notice the good, we see more and more good. When we notice the negative, we see more and more negatives. This is a very simple technique with very powerful outcomes.

Glitches & Gains
Glitches & Gains


This is also very effective. Rather than focusing on my daily petty annoyances, I try to see and appreciate what is good about even the things that bother me.

Goals: S.M.A.R.T.
Goals: S.M.A.R.T.

With my patients and myself, I try to list daily S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals are: Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

I feel that this creates realistic expectations and sets me up for success. Every day that I feel like I have accomplished my goals helps me to appreciate and validate my successes.

So far we have been doing it for 3 days. Incredibly, Raizel already notices the difference. Raizel said, “I feel happier.”

So, I am hopeful.


Here is a PDF of just the pictures:

5 G’s pictures 4-14-2016


Coping With Children With Special Needs As They Age

Some people express surprise that I am so open about my children and their challenges. I often wonder, what does that mean?

I am open about my children, because this is my life. This is my reality. I have a choice: I can either accept it and move on, or resist and be stuck.

I try not to compare my circumstances to other people. It is very clear to me that I am on a different journey than the general population. I focus daily on being grateful to be a mother and for the blessing of children.

As my girls are growing up, coping with the challenges of raising them is changing too.

There is an expression: “small children, small problems, big children, big problems.”

I remember when Yaffa was a baby, her cardiologist quoted that proverb to me. It sent fear and trepidation into my heart.

When the girls were babies, Yaffa was so sick. Between the feeding tube, the heart surgery, the ear surgeries and frequent illnesses, we were “frequent flyers” at the hospital. I became a nurse because my experience taking care of Yaffa. I feel like her nurse all the time. The thought that these problems could become bigger did not make me happy.

I am not sure that their problems are getting bigger per se, but, they are becoming more complex. 

I have always struggled to find the balance between meeting my daughters’ educational needs with their emotional and spiritual needs.

It is the norm in our community to educate children by sending children to a religious school or yeshiva. These schools are privately funded. The financial costs are high, but the spiritual benefits are incalculable It is seen as the best way to pass on the spiritual traditions of our faith and maintain a strong Jewish identity.

It is more difficult, for many reasons to educate Jewish children with special needs within a yeshiva. So, many Jewish children with special needs attend public schools.

Yaffa’s disabilities are visible and her developmental accomplishments are more predictable. Public school is the best place to address Yaffa’s complex medical and educational needs.

We supplement her Jewish education through summer camps, weekend social activities and a Sunday school program. The people in our community are also wonderful.  We have many volunteers who come to the house to play with her which helps to connect her to the community. For the most part, it works, and we are happy with this arrangement.

Raizel however, is a different challenge. Raizel falls in the gray zone of “almost normal.” Her disabilities are invisible. They are much harder to address. Raizel also has the awareness that she is different, but does not understand why.

For children who have learning disabilities, and/or neurological deficits, it is difficult to understand the world. These children lack the skills to express themselves well, cope with change and be resilient. Coupled with impulsivity, lack of insight, lack of awareness of cause and effect and an inability to self soothe, growing up is hard, and functioning in the world is confusing.

Raizel wants nothing more than to be in yeshiva, participate in summer programs and follow the conventional path of the other children in the community. We are pained by our inability to find an affordable and appropriate yeshiva that will accept her for high school. For this reason, we recently made the difficult decision to withdraw her from yeshiva and put her back in public school. The summer camp, which has an inclusion program for children with special needs, is reluctant to take her back too. They are insisting that we participate in intensive therapy first. And, if the therapy is insufficient, then what?

As her mother, this is very painful. More than anything, I want my children to have a sense of place in this world. I want my daughters to feel connected and cared about by the community. If Raizel is socially ostracized, and unwelcome in the schools and camps, how can she have a solid identity and a sense of belonging? Is Raizel more likely to be accepted outside the community than from within? Are my wants unrealistic?

Other people’s children grow up and become more independent. The path of my children is different. Over time, I see that the gap between my children’s growth and development is getting wider compared to their neuro-typical peers. It is a daily disciple to readjust my expectations and increase my acceptance.

I want so much to prevent pain and suffering for my daughters. And yet, I cannot. Every day, I must remind myself that that God, in His infinite wisdom has a plan for my daughters that is good and better than anything I could imagine. I am not in charge. It is a daily process of letting go of expectations, surrendering to what is and trusting in a benevolent universe.


Peace Of Mind

As someone who works in mental health, the nature of giving, receiving and feeling loved comes up regularly.

Very often, patients report feeling angry, dissatisfied, and hopeless.

When we discuss these issues further, patients come to realize that true joy comes from giving to others, without expectations of receiving in return.

When we give to give, we feel love for others and loved by others. 

When we give to get, it is a recipe for resentment and disappointment.

A meaningful life filled with purpose and service is the secret to serenity, peace of mind and true lasting happiness.

Ultimately, happiness is a choice.  It is a daily disciple to focus giving and sharing rather than taking or getting.

Daily writing exercise:


What did I do for others today?

Was I willing to inconvenience myself to help another person today?

Was I willing to let others’ needs be satisfied before my wants?

Did I help another person without waiting to be asked?

Did I do something nice for someone I dislike? 

Did I do something nice for someone anonymously? 

Yaffa Is Singing Again

When I was at summer camp, we used to sing a song:

“The whole world is a very narrow bridge; And the main thing to recall – is not to be afraid – not to be afraid at all.”


Life is a balance. That we exist at all in this world is a miracle and a gift.

In particular, I experienced this when my husband suffered a massive heart attack.

The whole time my husband Jay was in the hospital I couldn’t understand why my daughter Yaffa, who has Down’s syndrome, did not seem  upset.  I truly questioned if she understood what was going on.

Then, on the Friday night after my husband came home from the hospital, Yaffa started singing at the table.  I suddenly realized that while she never seemed upset or sad, the whole time my husband was in the hospital, Yaffa did not sing.

One of the unique gifts of special children is that they are wired for joy and happiness.

For most of us, we feel elation only on very special days — our wedding day for example.

For Yaffa, she feels joyful and elated as her norm. So, when she is not happy, she really seems just like our normal.

I only realized she was unhappy when she began to sing again.

Now that my husband is home, Yaffa is singing again.

This whole experience has been very humbling. We have so much to be grateful for.

Coping with children with special needs

This was something that I wrote a number of years ago. It was published in Spirit! Magazine, not under my name, to protect my children’s privacy. I am including it here, since I often find it helpful for new parents of special needs children. I hope that it will be a service too for others who may be reading it now.

I am a grateful mother of twin girls, both of whom have special needs, and one of whom is multiply handicapped. Caring for any children is a challenge. Caring for special needs children is a special challenge. So many people say to me: “I don’t know how you do it. I never could”. And, it is an odd feeling to know that people look at me and count their blessings that they are not in my situation. However, I count my blessings too. Every day I thank H”S (G’d) for making me a mother, and giving me the opportunity to improve my character and practice unconditional giving.

The road to parenthood was a difficult one for us. Our first baby died, a week after she was born. I remember when she was in a coma, and things were not looking good. A well-meaning friend said to me: “I prayed for your baby to die. If she would have lived, she would have been profoundly disabled”. I remember thinking – I wanted that baby any way I could have her. People do not have to be perfect to have a right to be here. In retrospect, I can say that was a test. Having had a child and lost her, I feel very grateful for the children that H”S has given me.

I remember my reaction when the doctor told me that one of the babies had the marker for Down’s Syndrome. Did I want to consider amniocentesis and selective termination? “No” I told her. I felt that you cannot second guess what H”S (G’d) has planned for you in this world. We are not in control. Everything that happens in this world happens for a reason. We all have choices: either we learn the lessons that we are meant to learn in order to earn our place in Olam Habah (the World to Come); or, when we leave this world, we will have lost the opportunity to fulfill our mission.

Yaffa, my daughter with Down’s Syndrome was born with a host of medical problems. She had a heart defect that required open-heart surgery when she was 2 months old. She was failure to thrive and was on a NG feeding tube and then a G-tube until September, 2008. On top of that, we discovered that she is significantly hearing impaired. Our life became a series of hospital stays, medical appointments, and therapy sessions.

One friend, to comfort me, said “you will have nachas (joy) from your daughter, you will just have different nachas (joy)”. The lessons that children with Down’s Syndrome have to teach us are important lessons for us all. On paper, Yaffa has so much less than others. Yet, she wakes up each day with a smile on her face, and a joy at seeing the ones she loves. Every day, she signs to me: ‘Mommy, I am happy today.” And, when she is not happy, she signs “excited” instead. How many of us, with so much more, live with such simple joy? We can all learn from such people, if only to learn the gift of gratitude for what we do have.

When we call these children special, there is a reason. With my children, I know that I really do not have to worry about them. They are truly under H”S’s special care. H”S loves all of us, and gives all of us what we need. However, with my daughter, she is surrounded by tremendous hashgachas pratis (divine providence). All I have to do is wait for the miracle, and miracles happen all the time. H”S truly takes care of them.

Although my children are different from other children, I believe that their neshamas (souls) are special and they are more closely connected to H”S. When my daughters were little, I used to play a game with them. I would sing “Mommy has a hat, what do you think of that, Mommy has a hat, what do you think of that? She takes off her hat, and gives her hat to Yaffa….” and the hat would be passed to Yaffa, and go around the room. Don’t ask me why, but, when I would put the hat on her, I wouldn’t see a hat, I would see a schrimel. To me, Yaffa looked like a Hasidic rebbi who might of passed away in the Holocaust. Now, when I look at my daughter—I see my daughter. However, I still believe that her soul is special. H”S placed her neshamah in her body because she has less that she needs to accomplish in this world, in order to achieve her lofty status in the World to Come.

Sometimes, my other daughter, Raizel, will say things that are so simple, and yet so profound. After Passover this year, Raizel dropped a bottle of raspberry syrup. The bottle shattered all over the floor. Syrup was everywhere. Raizel said to me: ”H”S wanted me to brake the bottle, because he wanted me to daven (pray) to him.”

Recently, Yaffa fell down and cut her forehead. For 11/2 hours, every time I would stop the bleeding, Yaffa would rub it, and make it bleed again. Any band-aid that I was able to put on, was promptly ripped off. I was distraught. Raizel began to daven: “Please H”S, please, bless my sister with a refuah shelemah (speedy recovery)”. Within 10 minutes, Yaffa calmed down, let me stop the bleeding, and put a band-aid on. I felt as if H”S heard her prayers.

Often, I say to myself—“this is a world of shekar (lies). Things are not as they appear. When the time comes for me to leave this world, and enter the Olam HaEmes (World of Truth) I believe that only then will I have the pure clarity of vision to fully appreciate the specialness of our children.

Having special needs children is a process of acceptance, developing one’s relationship with H”S and growing in emunah (faith) and b’tachon (trust in G’d). When the girls were first born, I focused on the fact that my other daughter, Raizel, was at least normal. I worried about their relationship, and whether or not my typical child would feel burdened by her special needs sister. The differences between the 2 seemed as if it was growing wider each day. However, at 18 months, I began to notice developmental delays. We had her evaluated. Much to everyone’s surprise, she qualified for early intervention services too. Now, we have 2 children with special needs, both with completely different issues.

Raizel looks normal, and her disability is invisible. I forget sometimes her limitations. It is a constant exercise of acceptance and patience when I am confronted by them.

Every day, I ask H”S that He should guide us to care for these 2 special children, and direct us to what is best for them. I know that I cannot do it alone. I can only do it with His help. I try my best to maximize their potential and accept their limitations. I trust that He is guiding us and that the wisdom and beauty of the gifts that He has given us will be revealed in His time.

Finally, coping with the challenge of children with special needs is a journey. One can only try and do the best one can, moment by moment. Then, be flexible and adjust to any changes that need to be made. H”S is in charge and everything unfolds according to His plan.

Here is one of Raizel’s recent art projects:

What Makes You Smile?

What makes you smile?

This is a thought provoking question that I often use when starting off a group with my patients to generate discussion.

Yesterday, was a bitter sweet day for me. In the midst of some triumphs, I also felt despair.

One of my patients attempted suicide and the family called to tell me that he was in a hospital. I monitor this patient very closely. I was shocked by his act of desperation.

This is not the first time, but, it was the first time that he made a suicidal gesture while working with me. I didn’t see it coming…….

I came home, sad and upset.

In general, I try not to bring my work home with me or discuss what happens during my day with my family. Yaffa, who is not able to understand what I do, sensed how I was feeling. She tried to cheer me up.

While we were eating, she signed to me: “I love you, Mommy.” And, then, she batted her eyes and gave me a big kiss and hug.

If that wasn’t enough, it was how she signed “I love you” that was particularly endearing.

In sign language, there are several ways to sign “I love you.” One is to finger spell each word:

Another is with the hands, with the thumb, pointer and pinkie raised.

A third way is to sign each individual word “I” “love” and “you.”

What Yaffa did, which was particularly adorable, was sign “I” “heart” “you.”

It is the equivalent of a play on words and similar to making a pun.

So, not only was she saying “I love you” she was trying to make me laugh.

And, it worked! I felt so touched by her sensitivity and support. Her intuition and emotional intelligence astounds me.

So, what makes me smile?

Yaffa makes me smile.