Out of the mouths of babes

I hit it off with my in-laws from the very beginning, and till today I am their closest confidante. I don’t think there are many people who have such a close relationship with their in-laws, and I consider myself blessed. When my motherin-law calls our house, even if my husband is the one who picks up, she will invariably ask to speak to me.  She will then outline her aches and pains,  worries and doubts, or whatever else is on her mind. We’ll rehash them at length until my father-in-law takes the phone to discuss what’s on his mind. It takes time, and I put effort into the relationship. Some people look at me and say, “They have sons. They have daughters. Why don’t they confide in them?” But I know it’s worth the effort, because whatever we put into a relationship, we take out. And it’s not just discussions about doctors and prescriptions. Between them, they have a lot of wisdom to share. In their younger years they tried running several businesses, including a grocery that burned down, a children’s boutique and more recently, a trimmings store. After several failed ventures, they were forced to go abroad to collect funds to cover their debts. They went together, leaving their teenaged boys in my care. I didn’t mind because the boys added energy to our house, and I knew they were very appreciative and would return with a renewed bounce in their step and tales of their travels. My in-laws came to rely on me implicitly.

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Even when it came to shidduchim for their younger children, they included me in the process. I’d go to the ends of the world for information. The decisions weren’t mine, of course; still, they valued my stamp of approval on a prospective suitor. My in-laws were people-savvy and with siyata dishmaya they managed to find fine spouses for their children. There was one shidduch that was suggested for my husband’s sister that I disapproved of. Usually, my role is to just listen. I provide my in-laws with a listening ear and my input so they can decide what works for them. However, this time I felt that I needed to step in and actually stop the match. Yes, I could see why my in-laws were interested. The Feldmans* were a nice family: the father a lamdan who worked in foreign exchange, the grandparents seventh-generation Yerushalmi, the children friendly and warm. The family was appealing on all levels. I knew, however, that several members of the immediate and extended Feldman family suffered from various types of mental illness. And while this particular girl who was being suggested seemed to be well, I was wary and felt that my in-laws must do more extensive research. In the end my brother-in-law married a different girl, albeit from a less prominent family. She was no-frills; even her wedding gown was stark and simple. But the shidduch turned out well and my in-laws are grateful that they have a good marriage and are raising a beautiful family.

For their next daughter, they inexplicably decided not to involve me at all. That’s because another Feldman child was being suggested. He was a cousin of the girl who was originally redt to their son, and was reputed to be an excellent boy. My in-laws were told that he was learning more than full sedarim, that he was handsome and gentle. Nobody had a bad word to say about him. My in-laws didn’t feel like doing the kind of research I had urged them to do previously. They only wanted to grab this boy who was one of the top ten in his yeshivah. For the first time since I joined the family, I was told nothing about an impending shidduch…until I was invited to the lechaim. My sister-in-law got married, settled down and seemed happy.  Several months passed. My brother was getting married and I knew we’d be returning from the wedding in the wee hours of the morning, so I asked this sister-in-law if she could babysit for my daughter in her apartment overnight. “No problem,” she said. After my husband picked her up the next morning, we innocently asked her how everything had gone at her aunt’s. “Her ‘Tatty’ is funny,” she answered. “He runs around the table to catch her and she runs away.” “Whaaat?!” we both asked in alarm. Our daughter repeated what she had said.

She was three years old, and we couldn’t press her for details. But my husband paid a visit to his sister and broached the subject. His sister broke down and cried. “Yes, I’m struggling. At first, I didn’t detect that anything was wrong with my husband because we went to my in-laws for meals, and they’d slip him his pills while we were there. But once we started eating at home more often, I began to notice that things weren’t right.” Relatives of her husband would come by daily to deliver his medication and make sure he took it. Once, when her husband was asleep, his sister just left his pills out on the night table. At that point my sister-inlaw finally connected all the dots. She began to understand why his behavior was erratic or he would yell at her for inconsequential matters. Why he seemed to be so… off. The deception stung. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” my husband asked her. “I told my mentor that I was afraid of him,” she said. “That was before I knew exactly what was going on. She told me to have more confidence and that all he needed was respect. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I was too ashamed.” We invested our energy into researching her options and urged her to record her husband when he was in one of his rages.

Askanim all agreed that a divorce was necessary but would be difficult to obtain. In the meantime, her husband realized he was being monitored. His parents urged him to give his wife a divorce before she asked him for one. One afternoon, when my sister-in-law was visiting her parents, her husband walked in and announced that she shouldn’t return to their home. My in-laws were in complete shock.  Baruch Hashem, my sister-in-law remarried half a year later. When we first started shidduchim we would never have imagined her marrying such a man. He was from a completely different culture. Today, when we look back, my motherin-law says that when Hashem wants things to happen, He makes them happen. Well, that must be why He made my in-laws decide not to consult with me, and stopped them from looking too deeply into their daughter’s shidduch. Ultimately, however,  my sister-in-law married a wonderful man, someone who would have never even been considered a year ago.


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