As I desperately try to shepherd my three daughters through their teenage
years and learn how to let them separate from me and be independent, I
look for recipes.
A recipe to figure out how not to suffocate them.
A recipe to step back and learn to control the Jewish worrying mom in me.
Recipes for success.
Recipes that will have guaranteed outcomes.
You know, a recipe to take care of them and be there for them every
waking moment, but still have a life and identity of my own that is not
connected to them.
I want a recipe, like that amazing one your grandmother gave you, that
I want THE recipe.
A recipe to help my students stay clean.
A recipe to combat recidivism.
A recipe to make this world a better place.
Recipes for change.
I want a recipe that can guarantee those outcomes I so urgently want in my
work and in my life.
Lately, I have been trying to come to terms with the realization that there
actually might NOT be an easy recipe. As cliché as it sounds, the only
recipe that might be the one that works is love. Love, love, and then some
Sadly, there are no recipes to keep your kids from being hurt. We must
watch them make mistakes, fall, and sometimes fail, and just stand there
and be present. Ironically, sometimes they will get over their mistakes
faster than we will. I think that is a part of love that no one really talks about
– how badly it hurts when someone you love is hurting.
There is another important ingredient, I have learned from my work – that is
to listen. Listen, listen and then listen harder. Don’t respond. Don’t try to fix
things. Just listen.
A student in a class about communication once said, “Ms., when you don’t
listen, it’s like missing something in a recipe. If you do that, what you’re
cooking comes out like shit.”
I have been teaching communication and relationships for two decades. No
one ever thought of that analogy. My team and I thought it was brilliant.
In a different class one of the women was upset. She told me, “Ms.,
everything was down (which ironically means up). I had it all set. I was on
the right, and still I was fucked. I didn’t get my kids and the judge doesn’t
want to see me for another 6 months.”
Sometimes you can have all the ingredients and the recipe just doesn’t
come out right.
“What is that about?” she asks me with tears in her eyes. “I am clean. I am
sober. I did the program. I am ready for my kids. I don’t understand?”
The past ingredients of her life are sticking to her even though she no
longer needs or wants them. I am quiet. What can I say to this? What
answer would or could possibly make her feel better? I think of my own
kids, and although I joke sometimes about wanting to not be in their
presence, if they were taken away from me, I don’t think I could survive.
“What did the judge say?” I ask, as if hiding in the answer I might find some
secret ingredient to tell her. She looks at me and says, “He said no. He said
that it isn’t time yet and that he wants to see me continue this lifestyle and
not go back to my old lifestyle. F-u-c-k-e-r.” There was something in the
way she said “fucker” that was really funny. I didn’t mean to, but I laughed
out loud. It just slipped out. I immediately apologized, “I’m sorry. That’s not
funny,” and as I said that I laughed even harder. I seriously don’t know
what happened to me.
She looked at me and said, “That’s cool, Ms. He really is a fucker, mother
fucker, fuck fucker,” and to that every single person on my Zoom screen
started laughing that crazy, uncontrollable laugh. I felt horrible and
wonderful at the same time. We all did.
After a good five minutes of laughing, I asked, “Are you okay?”
“You know we were not laughing at you. Right? It was the situation and the
way you talked about the judge.”
“That’s cool,” she said. “You’re cool.” It was quiet again.
“He told you to come back in six months,” I say. “That’s good.” I continue
and add, “Keep doing what you are doing. Stay clean and sober and
working, and we will pray. We will pray that we get the result you are
“Always good to put praying into the recipe, Ms. That can never hurt.”
“Yup,” I say. “Praying and laughter will always save the day.”
“You got that right, Ms.,” she answers. “You got that right!”
I asked her to stay after everyone else signed off from the Zoom class.
I told her, “I know this is really hard, but you must not give up. I know we
laughed a lot today. I also know this is hard for you and a setback like this
might, well, set you back.”
She was quiet. I don’t know what was with me that day that I was so
emotional. I teared up and said, “I have watched you these past months try
so hard. I am so proud of you. I am so sorry about the judge’s decision. I
know how badly you wanted this and -”
She cut me off and said again, “Ms., I told you he was a F-u-c-k-e-r.” I burst
“Ms., I’m gonna laugh. I’m gonna cry and I’m gonna pray. I’m gonna work
my ass off and listen to the fucker judge. It’s gonna be okay. Then I’ll get to
love my kids real close.” She lost her signal, and my Zoom screen was
I looked at my reflection on my empty computer screen. I took a breath.
And just like that my brave student gave me the recipe: Laugh. Cry. Pray.
Work your ass off. Listen and Love. All the ingredients needed for it to be
Laugh. Cry. Pray. Work your ass off. Listen and Love. Repeat.
It is both as simple and as complex as that.