To My Dear Sons:
While you were growing up, I made no secret of the fact that strings of pearls are my favorite jewelry, just in case any of you would ever have a fairly significant chunk of change lying about on my birthday. (I think women should not expect men to read their minds. Such a ploy is doomed to failure, in countless highly imaginable ways.)
There was a side benefit to sharing this knowledge: in your childish minds, pearls were a pretty big deal to Ema.
So when we were confronted with the usual parenting question of how to create a Petri dish filled with family harmony to grow and thrive in an environment usually laden with sibling rivalry, we had the perfect tool.
When you would come to us and “rat” on each other for some injustice — real or imagined — we weighed carefully whether we ought to get involved. We truly believe some fights should be left between the participants. We watched closely to see when a bigger kid might be playing the bully, or a little kid might be playing the manipulator, or anyone might be playing us. We would ask you if you really wanted us involved. Our involvement would mean getting to the bottom of the dispute, which usually meant nobody would walk away completely clean. And we made it clear that anybody trying to make himself look good by making his brother look bad gained only our deep disappointment. You learned to work things out among yourselves most of the time, without dramatic displays that didn’t net you much profit.
But my favorite way of instilling brotherly love in you was via “Ema’s Pearl Necklace.” When one of you would do something really nice — or even better, when one of you would “tell on” his brother for doing him a kindness — I would write with Magic Marker on a white paper plate a short sentence. “Josh helped Dovid with his homework.” “Aryeh shared his candy with Dani.” “The brothers did the dishes, without being asked.” I taped the plate to a string of twine Abba had run around the top of the wall, where people put fancy borders these days. Our dining room was a constant reminder that doing nice things, and saying nice things about each other, paid off “big time” in dividends of parental pride.
Today, you are all men I like very much. And Abba and I often remark to each other that if we gave you nothing else, the environment that allowed you to be very good friends (for life, we hope) was worth its weight in pearls.