Leah Kaplan – RESILIENT A.F.: Stories of Resilience


I remember the first day of school like it was yesterday. 

I was only five years old, but my birthday was in December, so I was one of the youngest in my class. Our house was just a ten-block walk from the school, but it felt like miles to a little five-year-old like me.

All the other kids had their mothers walk them to school that morning, but my mother worked long hours at her dress shop, so the caregivers were responsible for getting me ready. I was so nervous walking those few blocks alone, clutching my little lunch bag tightly. When I finally reached the classroom, the teacher directed us all to our assigned seats. That’s when it happened – I was so scared and overwhelmed that I had an accident right there at my desk.

The other kids must have noticed, but at least the teacher was kind about it. Still, I was mortified. When I got home that afternoon, the caregiver was furious with me. “You’re a big girl now. You don’t wet your pants!” she scolded. Her harsh words only made me feel worse. 

I just wanted my mother to comfort me, but she was never home except for Sundays.

Those early school years were lonely without my mom. I would call her shop in tears, begging her to come home. On the weekends, she was exhausted from working all week, so we didn’t get to spend much quality time together either. My brothers and I shared a small bedroom in our cramped house, while my parents had their own room. I slept in a crib until I was eight years old.

Everything changed when we moved to a bigger house with more bedrooms. I finally got my own bed – it felt like such a luxury! But the best part was when my Zaida moved in after my grandmother passed away. Zaida doted on me and became the parent I so desperately needed. Every afternoon, he would make me a snack, and we would play games together. Those moments with Zaida are some of my happiest childhood memories.

Looking back, I can see how much being raised without my mother impacted me as an adult. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom for my kids so that they would never feel as lonely and neglected as I did. All these years later, I still advise children in difficult family situations – to find people they can rely on for support, whether friends or other relatives. No child should have to feel alone in the world.

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