I knew a few Yiddish words while I was growing up. "Kvetch" was used to refer to my great-aunt, the complainer. "Klutz", as in "you are such a klutz," was directed to me, the non-athlete. And "what a schmuck he is," was said by my Dad when describing a real jerk. You probably know what "schmuck" means whether or not you know you are Jewish or have even a passing familiarity with Yiddish.
But one Yiddish word I didn't learn until I became a Mom is "kvelling" -- which means bursting with pride or pleasure. As in, "his grandmother was kvelling over her grandson's early admission to Harvard."
Kvelling is done by all mothers, Jewish or not, when discussing their children. In my lawyering years, I ate lunch nearly every week day with three younger female colleagues. We did a lot of kvelling about our kids. My friend, Lisa, would tell us about her soccer star daughter's latest on-the-field triumph. And Michelle would let us know when her son got an A on a tough social studies test. Denise was thrilled when her daughter was elected class president in 6th grade.
When Lisa, Michelle and Denise's kids were in elementary school, mine were already in high school or college. Kvelling gets a bit trickier as your kids get older. Especially if your kid happens not to be on the do-not-pass-go direct path from high school to early admission to the elite college of their choice, and then on to a top grad school or impressive first job.
What Happens to Kvelling if Your Kid is on His or Her Own Very Different Path?
By the time one of my kids was in high school, we were on a first-name basis with mental health struggles. In college, these struggles increased. A top grad school or impressive first job did not seem likely (although hope does spring eternal). I started to seek out other parents whose young adults were also on different paths to adulthood. Not finding such a group, I created my own. And in 2008, I began a support and resources sharing group, with the backing of our rabbi, at our synagogue in Washington, D.C., called -- wait for it, very clever name coming -- "Parents of Young Adults Who Struggle." We have met monthly for the past six years to share our stories, to talk about the roller coaster rides we and our kids are on, to strategize on how to cope and to laugh. Lots of laughter. Who knew that mental illness could be so funny?
In our support group there is lots of kvelling. One of us will say how thrilled she was that her son, David, managed to get up on time on Tuesday morning and get to his doctor's appointment. "Yay," we respond. Another will share that Matt remembered to take his meds. "Terrific," we cheer. And a third person around the table will report that Rachel is taking a class at community college -- and hasn't dropped out yet. Great news!
And while this different kind of kvelling was going on, I was still having lunch on weekdays with my work friends whose kids' accomplishments were of the more typical variety. Sometimes their kids did have problems, but to me, they always seemed minor, a B- on an important test or not making a soccer travel team. I had trouble summoning up the required murmurs of sympathy. I would think to myself, you just have no idea what real kid problems are until you've talked with some of the parents in my support group. There was a kind of reverse pride in having to deal with tougher stuff than a bad grade or a missed goal to deal with.
So the next time you are gathered around the table, having lunch with friends, and the talk turns, as it often does, to what your kids are doing, and the kvelling begins -- one Mom is thrilled that her daughter aced the SAT's, another's son just got a great internship and a third is thrilled that her son got the lead part in the school play -- and you see that one of the Moms is sitting silently, fiddling with her drink, just waiting for this part of the conversation to pass. Consider the quiet Mom; she loves her struggling son or daughter just as much as you do yours. Smile at her, and ask her how her child is doing. She may need to do a different kind of kvelling.