It became clear to me very early on in the lives of my children that the M’s (mem in Hebrew) are in charge. It began with pre-school. My son would come home from gan and talk about the M, Morah Rivkah, whom he adored. He spent an entire year pretending to be Morah Rivkah and had her down to a tee. He would even make brachos out loud with his “students” by saying, “Baruch Ata Ado…Elo…,” being careful, as she was, not to say Hashem’s name. Morah Rivkah was an absolutely fantastic ganenet. The love and structure that she provided when she took charge as an M was a very positive thing.
After we made aliyah, we decided that it would be a good idea for my son to repeat gan in order to give him a chance to adjust to living in Israel and get a good command of the Hebrew language before entering first grade. Since his birthday is borderline in relation to the cut off, it was pretty much a no-brainer. But when I went to inform the clerk at the Misrad HaChinuch (Education Ministry) of our plans, I was told that they will have to evaluate him and let me know about their decision. Was she kidding me? She was basically saying, in not so many words, that I did a great job giving birth to my son. Kol ha’kavod! Now I can sit back and relax and leave the rest to them. This sounded more than a bit odd to me. I had considered myself to be pretty well acquainted with my son and thoroughly equipped to be able to make this decision on his behalf. But I was beginning to learn the way things work. The M’s run the world. Luckily, they agreed with my assessment in the end.
My oldest son was very fortunate and, for the most part, had wonderful teachers throughout his schooling. Regrettably, my second son did not always have the same good fortune. So, I was beyond thrilled when it was announced that my favorite mechanechet (homeroom teacher) would be teaching his class when he entered third grade. But my ecstasy came to an abrupt halt when approximately two days into the school year I received a call from another parent who told me that our sons, as well as one other boy in the class, were plucked out of their class and put into another one. Couldn’t be! The school surely would have asked me. They would have at least consulted with me. I was certain that, if nothing else, they would have informed me. The next morning, all six of us parents (with no prior coordination) showed up at the office of the M, the menahel (principal). This was his first week working at the school, so mistakes were to be expected, but they would undoubtedly be quickly forgiven once rectified. We were sure that there was nothing here that couldn’t be fixed once he would understand why switching our boys was a terrible idea. Each couple met with him individually and pled their case. But he was an M who had issued his decree. He explained that what he did had nothing to do with each of the boys specifically, as much as it had to do with the balance of the two classes as a whole. My spontaneous fit of tears did nothing to move him in any way. He would not budge one iota.
When my oldest son entered post-high school yeshivah, we heard about a whole new slew of M’s. We were happy to hear that his magid shiur (Torah lecturer) explained the Gemara very clearly. Our son once apologized for not coming to the phone when we called, but he had been in the middle of a conversation with the mashgiach (spiritual guide). Another time, he went to visit his rav on Chol HaMoed. So nice, we thought. “The mashgiach?” we asked. “No, the meishiv (rabbi who answers questions regarding the boys’ learning),” he answered. And when our son got engaged, he would meet regularly with the madrich chatanim (teacher of chasan classes) and discuss the details of the chupah with the mesader kiddushin. Our son went to a wonderful yeshivah, and I will always be grateful to all of his rebbeim who did a great job preparing him for his wedding, marriage, and life. I was just kind of hoping to claim some ever so small part in that, as well, as we got closer to the wedding. I thought we would have a final dinner with “just us” the night before: maybe have a heart-to-heart “shmooz” – ya know, last-minute pieces of advice – some “Don’t leave your dirty socks on the floor” type of thing. But then I remembered: Leave it to the M’s. They will take care of everything. I tried to sit back and relax, as was expected of me, and then welcomed my son with open arms when he showed up at midnight.
One of my sons is currently training in the army. Every move he makes needs the authorization of one M or another. There is the mefaked kitah (squad commander), the mefaked machlakah (platoon commander), the mefaked plugah (company commander), the mefaked g’dud (battalion commander), the mefaked chativah (brigade commander), to name a few. They tell their soldiers exactly what to do, where to do, and when to do it. Before sending the boys home for a visit, the M’s run through a very long list of do’s and don’ts, which includes giving their mother a kiss immediately upon walking through the front door (not during “corona” times, of course). Not bad for an M, wouldn’t you say?
One of the upsides of the coronavirus has been that my grown children have moved back home to some extent. Some for weeks. Some for months. I’m happy to take whatever I can get. I’m sure it took some adjusting on their part to be back at home after years of various levels of independence. My husband and I have admittedly been rather machmir when it comes to maintaining the guidelines of the Ministry of Health. For a nice chunk of time, whoever was living in our home was not allowed to leave. Period. This is not a small thing to ask from young adults who are used to coming and going as they please. But our kids have been great, baruch Hashem. They go along with our restrictions, no questions asked. I believe they genuinely care about us and don’t want to see anybody get sick. But besides that, they know better than to mess with me on the home turf. After all, I’m also an M. I am their mother.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.