I remember my mother, aleha haShalom (may she rest in peace) saying to me once that she used to be deathly afraid of bugs. She didn't want to communicate this fear to us, though, and she would force herself to smile and hand my brother an empty jar when he wanted to collect various creepy crawly things that he found in the great outdoors.
I remembered this a short while ago when the youngest westbankkid had a particularly difficult time with his homework. Screeching in frustration and throwing his pencil down onto his workbook, he said "I can't do this - I'm just stupid".
He was working on math problems.
Not just any math problems, but fractions.
I remembered my mother's words to me and I plastered what I hoped was an encouraging smile on to my face."I am sure you can do it, sweety", I said out loud.
What was happening inside my head was another matter. Behind my calm and upbeat exterior I was going through paroxysms of sympathy. "Yes, I know exactly how you feel," I thought to myself. "I HATED math when I was your age, and fractions were the WORST. I would rather write three book reports and study 100 words for a spelling test than do those blasted problems!"
I didn't express any of this of course. I want him to get over his frustration with math and not develop a phobia, so I covered up my own fear and loathing.
"Maybe Abba can help you", I said. (Which just goes to show you that there is always a place to say "gam zu l'tova" - "this is also to the good". He may be temporarily unemployed, and he drives me crazy in the kitchen, but he is available to help with math homework!) Westbankpapa did a great job explaining things, with a bit of help from the older westbankkid (how do you say "least common denominator" in Hebrew?).
As a matter of fact, westbankkid came home from school with a 94 on his math test! (Hurray! Kol HaKavod for westbankkid!)
I hope the fleeting joy of a good mark will leave a more lasting impression, though. Perhaps the next time he finds something difficult he will say to himself, "well, this is hard, but if I get a little help I can do it".
Which is probably one of the best gifts we can give to our kids.
A better life, indeed...