This was nice for them because upon befriending one boy, their social circle automatically increased 2- or 3-fold when brothers came into the picture, making one big happy gang.
Of course, this means a certain amount of chaos for the mother (i.e. me), including dealing with the consequences of normal boy adventures, like tending the bloody head wounds of someone else’s child.
One evening, after I thought everyone had scattered off to their different homes, I proceeded to dole out dinner, tidy up, then put everyone to bed.
I was desperate for some private down-time after their bedtime.
But my two oldest boys wouldn’t settle down.
I kept coming to their room upon hearing them whispering excitedly and moving around. Each time, they leaped back into bed, smothering giggles.
Finally, with my nerves shot after close to 3 hours of this (around 11PM), I opened the door to see one of their friends (age 12) hiding in their closest.
Startled & feeling a serious invasion of privacy, I totally freaked out and I chased him out of the house, yelling all the way.
Then I came back and yelled out my own kids (I am nothing if not fair) and then sat there with my nerves totally fried, feeling like I just can’t get a break.
Now, as the kid raced over the stairs out of our building, I vaguely noticed that the expression on his face wasn't been the usual gleeful “Wheeeeee!” expression boys wear as they flee trouble.
On the contrary, he looked frightened. But I put it out of mind because he was one of the livelier happy-go-lucky kids in the crowd, often getting into scrapes, and those types usually forget minor negative experiences a few seconds after they happen.
Two years later, my boys came home after running into that same boy. While chatting about it, they said, “He asked if you were still mad at him.”
“Why on earth would I be mad at him?” I said, having forgotten about the incident. “He’s so good-natured and was always so kind to your younger siblings.”
“He thinks you don’t like him.”
“Why?” I said, mystified.
Then they reminded me of what had happened that late night two years ago.
“That why he stopped coming around. He’s afraid that you’ll yell at him again.”
I got that sinking feeling you get when something you sense you've done something really wrong.
If he was still recalling it—and especially if he thought I was angry at him and is afraid of me—then that means that my yelling at him affecting him a LOT more than I’d imagined.
“I’m not mad at him at all,” I said. “I really like him. And I wouldn’t just stam start yelling at him or anybody else—I mean, as long as I don’t find him haunting my home at 11 o’clock at night, why would I yell at him?”
But my sons were excited by the fact that their mother was considered tough & scary by their friends, and were no longer paying attention.
Later, I told them to tell him that I do like him, and that I was more freaked out than mad at the time, and that he needn’t be afraid.
And I thought that would be the end of it.
He went away to yeshivah, but my boys again reported that his brother mentioned to them something like, “Your mom really doesn’t like him, right?”
Not true! I actually like him a lot!
But I got that sinking “Uh-oh….” feeling again, and realized that I really needed to speak to the boy myself & apologize.
I kept wracking my brains to think of how I could contact him. A letter? A phone call? But either one meant going through the yeshiva, and I assumed the yeshiva would let the parents know (it was that kind of yeshiva) that this strange lady was contacting their son.
Now, most people would be fine with that if you explain why you’re contacting their son. But the boy’s father is a bit strange and I wasn’t sure how he would respond to it, even after explaining why.
Around then, I heard a shiur about this very issue.
The rabbi said that if you can’t find a way to contact a person to apologize, you should ask Hashem to help you. So I started davening to Hashem to help me rectify this issue.
At one point, I heard that the boy had come back home. Great!
But then I realized that calling him would only work if he answered the phone, not his parents or his siblings. Ditto with sending him a letter or showing up at his home.
And it made me uncomfortable just imagining how his odd father would respond to any of it.
So I kept davening.
Then the first night of Rosh Hashanah arrived. My husband and most of our sons had gone off to shul when I heard a knock on the door.
I opened it to see this exact boy standing right in front of me!
I couldn’t believe it—Hashem had provided the opportunity to make amends!
The boy towered over me (he’d grown a lot since he was 12) while standing in this tough-guy posture, and asked if my oldest sons were around.
(One was, actually.)
But before I went to get my son, I took the opportunity to apologize for the time I’d chased him out of the house, yelling at him.
He tossed his head. “Eh,” he grunted. “It’s okay." He paused as he shifted his eyes and tossed his head, before looking me right in the eye in a challenging manner and said, "I deserved it.”
“No, you didn’t!” I said. “You were a really good boy. I could’ve just explained to you nicely not to do that kind of thing. I didn't need to yell at you. You're not the kind of kid who needed to be yelled at. I just freaked out and I wasn’t thinking. And I’m really sorry.”
He looked me right in the eye again, as if sizing me up. Then he shrugged his shoulders and made a non-committal sound.
I realized he was waiting for the conversation to end and for my son to appear.
(Yes, this kind of scenario is very uncomfortable for 16-year-old boys.)
But there was one more thing I needed to do.
“Do you forgive me?” I said. “I am really sorry and I won’t do it again. Do you forgive me?”
He looked me in the eye again for a moment, looking all tough and adorable again, and grunted, “Yeah.”
And I could tell, despite all the posturing, he really meant it.
He needed an apology & I needed to apology.
These are genuine needs.
“Thank you,” I said, very relieved, and went to get my son.
I learned from this that if you really want to make up with someone, but can’t find a way to do it, then Hashem really does help you—even going so far as to bring the person right to your doorstep, if necessary.
For the story of how asking Hashem for help worked to decipher whether another party felt wronged: