an antique painting of moses shortly after striking the rock. the israelites crouch down with jugs to collect water.
Beset by whining Israelites, Moses struck a rock in anger to make water come out of it — as depicted in this painting by Nicholas Poussin.

Like Moses, a mother beset by a flock of whiners

Three o’clock. That’s when school gets out. And it’s no coincidence that it’s also when my cellphone goes into overdrive as it stoically endures a barrage of texts and calls, one after the other.

I am not so stoic, as I field the slew of nonstop texts and the incessant ringing of the phone.

“My teeth hurt.” That’s the first message. The one I expected. The first few days of braces are always uncomfortable. Before I have a chance to respond, he is already pushing the front door open. I catch it before he almost slams his fingers in the door. He’s mad.

By way of greeting, I wonder out loud if ice cream would help soften the scowl on his face. He agrees it would. But his bad mood continues even as he enjoys the last lick of mint chocolate chip.

My screen lights up again.

“Not going to football practice. Coming home.”

Why? I’m almost afraid to ask. He hates to miss a practice.

“Coach yelled at me for doing nothing wrong.” An angry red-faced emoji punctuates his words. Great. Now I’ll have to endure the company of two sullen teenagers.

I sigh and glance out the window. My daughter is dragging her feet as well as her backpack, and does not look at all happy to be done with school.

“Mom.” She’s out of breath as she comes into the house. “I don’t feel good.” She flops onto the couch and lies face down for a few seconds. That could mean anything. Headache? Nausea? Stomachache? “My tummy hurts,” she confirms as she slowly pushes herself upright. “And I’m lightheaded.” She grabs a cookie as she heads to her room. Hmmm. “Drink some water,” I call after her. “Do I have to go to ballet?” The hope in her voice almost carries her up the stairs.

This day is not really different from any other. “Three o’clock … the new witching hour,” I think to myself with a wry smile. As exasperated as I am with these complaining teens and tweens, I have to chuckle. (That, or I might cry!)

They’re full of whines, moans and groans on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Often it’s the only time I hear from them, when something’s wrong or when they need something. And let’s not forget the eye rolls, heavy sighs and sarcastic tone that often accompany most communication.

They stomp their feet if I remind them to take the dog out. They sigh if I (benignly) suggest they do their homework. They leave empty ice cream containers in the freezer, and cannot remember to put their dishes in the dishwasher, or at least the sink. Sometimes they forget to even close the freezer. They don’t want to go to the classes they begged me to sign them up for. They don’t want to do anything but lie on their beds in their (messy) rooms and stare at their screens.

They are teenagers.

As I push through today’s witching hour, I remember bestselling author Wendy Mogel’s wise words. In “The Blessing of a B Minus,” she describes the journey of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land, the one we just told at our Passover seders.

The journey was long, and “Moses had to put up with 40 years of directing a flock of whiners and complainers,” Mogel writes. This 40-year journey is often described as the adolescence of the Jewish people, a necessary passage of time between their childhoods in slavery and their maturity as managers of the Promised Land.

It’s unlikely that it took decades to get to Israel from Egypt, but HaShem and Moses intentionally led the people on this roundabout route so they could gain the wisdom they would need to live as a free people in the land of Israel, and finally grow up.

Just like my flock of whiners and complainers. This time is necessary.

As the witching hour creeps toward dinnertime, the feelings of malaise and discomfort seem to ease a little. They gather over their plates of roast chicken and rice, and for a few minutes all is calm as we talk and laugh together. Until one looks at the other the wrong way, and she decides the chicken is too dry to eat, and actually none of them like rice anymore. It’s my turn to roll my eyes.

They’re not easy, these teenage years. They’re not supposed to be.

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Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is RedBoots.me.