Mrs. Lemon Face

Mrs. Lemon Face

Yesterday morning, I had an appointment at 8 AM, which meant that instead of sitting down for a solid breakfast, I threw 2 cookies in a bag for each boy before rushing out the door. While heading out, 3-year-old Yoni ran back to the living room to grab a book to share with the boys at gan, and then we were off. As quickly as possibly. Each boy carrying his backpack, with his bag of cookies in hand.

When we arrived at the gan, as we were walking up the stairs, one father with glasses I never saw before pointed at my boys with their cookies and said, “This one is going to be a doctor when he grows up!”

I looked over at Yaakov and Yoni, their cookies in hand and in mouth, and I responded in kind to the father’s sarcastic tease, “Right, cookies for breakfast, very healthy.”

“No, I was talking about the book he’s holding,” and I looked over at Yoni and noticed that the book he had brought to gan was called the “Human Body,” an anatomy book for kids complete with a diagram of the human skeletal muscle structure on the cover.

What the father saw, it turned out, was not what I thought he saw at all.
2 years ago, new in the neighborhood, I was eager to make friends. My then kindergartner, Tsofia, spoke a lot about her new best friend in gan, Bracha*. She wanted to play at Bracha’s house or have Bracha play at our house. Bracha even spoke English! They were the only English speakers in the gan, Tsofia told me. At the Chanukah party, I was looking forward to finally meeting her mother.

But when I introduced myself to Bracha’s mother, a petite, elegantly-dressed woman, and told her how much Tsofia loves Bracha, she just nodded vaguely, gave me a cold sour look, and walked away.


The next year, Tsofia and Bracha were in the same 1st grade class. Again, they were the only 2 English speakers in the class. Whenever I saw Bracha’s mother on the street, I would try to smile, say “Hello,” engage her in some way, only to be met by that same cold sour look.

I took it personally. Here was this young, petite, put-together mother, with an elegant European vibe. And I’m an older mother, not especially petite or put-together or elegant. That must be why she didn’t like me.

For that year, every time I walked by her, it stung. I wanted to yell at her, “Hello Mrs. Lemon Face! Have an awful day!”

But about half a year ago, something in me switched regarding this mother.

Every Shabbat I read the personal stories written up in the magazines–by this mother in an abusive or cold marriage, by that mother struggling with clinical depression, or by that mother in despair after a series of miscarriages.

And I considered the possibility that this mother is struggling in some way. Was her expression really sour? Suddenly, I actually wasn’t sure. Maybe it was just sad?

So, since then, anytime I see her, I pray for her. That she should have great marital harmony, that she should be blessed with healthy children, that Hashem should shower upon her an abundance of happiness and blessing.

Because maybe what that mother sees, is not what I think she sees at all?

And this way, both of us benefit. For her, who doesn’t need blessings in one way or another? And for me? It’s much more pleasant for me to replace the hatred I once felt for her with love.


  1. So beautiful, so wonderful, so inspiring, so true, so touching – love it !

  2. Reminds me of something I was taught to say if I ever get offended….
    “Bless them and change me”…ultimately we have no control over others but we can change our own attitudes and actions!

    • Love that! So simple! When what I usually think is the exact opposite… bless me, change them….

  3. Chana and Surie, thank you! This was so helpful!

  4. Wow that takes real strength. Good for you and thank you for sharing. Very inspiring.
    Are you planning on putting out another book any time soon? An anthology of all these beautiful articles that uplift me and I’m sure many more mothers.

  5. you are very honest and modesy chana jenny!thks for thid inspiration

  6. Think positive and bless her – great points. It will surely have a good effect.
    Also, I am thinking, along the lines of your message in this article,that actually maybe what YOU think you see is not what you see. Because I can relate. I have several memories of sour-faced neighbors or acquaintances who were never makdim beshalom and rarely returned a smile. One was a woman with a heart full of love but rather poorly developed social skills, and she had to deal with challenging children as well. Another was shy and extremely insecure, and I think carried around a feeling of inferiority. My super cheerfulness might have been a tad intimidating for her nature, perhaps. But through the grapevine I eventually did get feedback, that in fact they liked me and valued my warm hellos, etc. Keep up your friendly overtures. They mean something to this mom. …unless, of course, Tzofia just THINKS her friend’s family speaks English, and really, the mom doesn’t understand a word you’re saying, LOL!

    • Hadassah Aber

      I was thinking the same thing. The child may speak English from the father, a previous baby-sitter, grandparent, and the mother might not. Or she may have a physical problem preventing her from smiling. It may have zero to do with you! Your insight and good will can only be positive. Would love to hear the “rest of the story!”

    • this is really interesting, thank you. Regarding the English, I’ve heard the mother speaking English with her kidS.

  7. A great lesson for all of us! We never know what a person is going through. A smile or a kind word goes a long way.

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