| Teen Fiction |

Another Try

I wished the plans to have everybody together could have excluded Avi and Dina. Whenever Dina was around she somehow managed to take all the fizzle out of the fun

“Yay! They’re here,” Benny announced from his vantage point on the windowsill where he’d been perched for the last few hours, ever since my parents left for the airport (each in a separate car) to pick up my two siblings and their families, both arriving from Israel on the same flight.

“Who’s first?” I asked.

“Yehuda and his family.” Good thing he didn’t say Avi (my other brother) or I would have stayed sitting. Instead, I ran excitedly to the door to welcome my brother, favorite sister-in-law, and their two girls. When I’d finished giving my two delightful nieces enough kisses and hugs to do justice to the amount of time I hadn’t seen them for, I turned to welcome my sister-in law. “I’m so excited you’re finally here,” I said, giving her a light hug. “I’ve been waiting for you to visit since you left after Succos!”

“We’re excited to be here, too,” Chaya enthused in response to my excited welcome.

“And so are we,” a voice said from behind.

I whirled around to greet my other brother, Avi, who had arrived in the interim. I didn’t think the “we” included his sullen wife, standing next to him. I wondered if she always looked like that, or only when she visited us. From her facial expression, you would think she’d just been condemned to a lifetime in prison as opposed to a two-week stay in our house.

Last year nobody came home for Pesach. This year, as a present to my mother who was turning 50 on Chol Hamoed, my father had decided to bring everyone home. My two brothers in yeshivah were only coming the next week but we would all be together for Yom Tov. We were planning a big bash on the actual birthday — a surprise of course.

I wished the plans to have everybody together could have excluded Avi and Dina. Whenever Dina was around she somehow managed to take all the fizzle out of the fun. I had actually made the suggestion to my father to leave them out of the party and he was horrified. “They’re part of the family.” Even when I recounted all my grievances from the last time they’d been here, he hadn’t been swayed. “Give it another try,” he said. “It’s been half a year since then. Try to have a positive attitude toward them, Dina in particular, and hopefully she’ll reflect that back to you.” And then he pulled out his trump card. “Do it for Ma. A birthday present for her.” There was nothing my mother liked more than when we all got along.

So I was going to give it another try. Spring had just begun, the weather was stunning, and I felt a sense of renewal. I was inspired to make a change. To try to better our relationship.

“Hi, Dina,” I said with the biggest smile I could muster. A hug would have been too much. “It’s so nice to see you.”

“Same here,” she said, her tone implying the opposite. Oh, well. I tried.

“What rooms are we in, Ma?” Avi asked when all the luggage had been unloaded and dumped in the hallway.

“You’re in Ruthy’s room, and the kids are in the purple room next door. Yehuda and Chaya, you’re in the other two rooms, and Zevi and Mendy will be in their own rooms when they come home.”

Even though Dina got the best rooms, she still didn’t look happy. I was very sorry if our house wasn’t good enough for her royal majesty.

I hated giving up my room for Dina. Chaya on the other hand was always so grateful and she always made a point of leaving behind a small treat with a thank-you note when she left. Not that I needed the chocolates or treats, but it was nice to know that if I had to move out of my bedroom and squish in with my younger siblings for two weeks, my efforts were appreciated.

Unlike Dina, who never even thanked me. In fact, from the way she acted, you would think she was doing me a favor by taking over my room. On Succos, her kids had torn up some of my books. When I complained to Dina, she hadn’t apologized, and even told me bluntly that she couldn’t be responsible for whatever I left out in the room. There was no use complaining to Avi. He always stood up for his wife, however ridiculous she was being. He used to be my favorite big brother but ever since his marriage to Dina he’d lost that position.

Not anymore, the voice in my head said. Positive thinking. We’re not harping on old gripes. We’re trying to improve things. Easier said than done. Still, I was determined to make it work. So I banished all my old hurt and resentments, and cheerfully offered to carry their suitcases up the two flights of stairs. I was pleasantly surprised when Dina even thanked me for my efforts. Hey. Maybe she was also trying.

Late that night, my mother and Chaya were busy discussing their plans for the following day. “I would love to hit the mall tomorrow and buy my kids’ summer wardrobe,” Chaya said.

“Hey, I can babysit your kids while you go shopping,” I offered eagerly.

Chaya’s eyes lit up at my offer. “That would be a real treat,” she said. But then she hesitated. “Are you sure you want to be stuck looking after my little ones for the better part of the day? And also, I don’t want to take your help away from Ma. With so many extra things to do before Yom Tov, I’m sure she needs your help now more than ever.”

“Don’t worry,” my mother reassured her, “Ruthy has been waiting to take your kids out and show them off to all her friends. And about the helping, we’ll figure that out between us. You enjoy.”

It took a bit more convincing, but Chaya eventually accepted the offer while thanking me profusely. Avi happened to walk into the kitchen just as we were finalizing the deal, and he quickly jumped on the bandwagon. “If you’re babysitting tomorrow anyway, you can look after Aryeh and Michoel, too. Then Dina can get together with her friend without the kids hanging onto her skirt.”

“I don’t know if I can handle so many kids,” I said, though we both knew it was a lame excuse.

“No playing favorites here,” Avi said. “If you’re looking after Dassy and Elisheva, then you can look after my kids, too.”

With his attitude, anyone would understand why I wasn’t interested in watching his kids.

“Bye, kids,” Dina said the next day as she prepared to go out. “Make sure Ruthy lets you have fun in the park.”

I bristled at the implied implication. Not even a thank-you for giving up my free afternoon so that she could have fun with her friend.

Don’t take it personally, I tried to tell myself. That’s just her way of speaking. But it was hard not to.

I met up with my friend Raizy, who had volunteered to take her younger siblings out and we spent the afternoon pushing kids on the swings, giving out snacks, and kissing boo-boos.

“The kids look like they had an amazing time,” Chaya said, thanking me effusively when she got back. Dina just about managed a curt thank-you.

Pesach finally arrived. The men were in shul and us womenfolk were sitting and schmoozing. Except for Dina who was busy reading in her room while we all chatted. Couldn’t she make an effort to be part of the family? I wondered, irritated at her absence.


Yom Tov was beautiful, and on the first day of Chol Hamoed — my mother’s birthday — we all went out besides Avi and Dina who stayed behind to set up with my married sister Basya (who lived locally and had prepared the food, with my help!).

When we arrived home (my father was in charge of delaying my mother) I was stunned. The table looked spectacular. When Avi had volunteered Dina to be in charge of the decor, I figured she’d do a half-hearted job and pick up some basic plasticware. But she’d clearly gone all out.

I complimented her and her response was genuine. For the first time, she seemed happy to be talking to me. Apparently, the day I had looked after her kids, she had gone shopping with her friend, who is a professional party planner, to buy everything for Ma’s party.

Dina was less reserved during the party and I could see she was making an effort to join in the family conversation instead of just talking to Avi.

The party was a turning point. I won’t say our relationship had a complete overhaul and we were suddenly best buddies (far from it), but I could see she was slowly thawing. Like when I joined Dina on the couch one day and instead of disappearing she made polite conversation with me for a few minutes. Or when she made the effort to thank me warmly after I babysat her kids one Yom Tov afternoon.

There were still lots of things Dina did and said that annoyed me but these incidents gave me encouragement to keep exuding friendliness toward her.

Relationships can be complicated.

Some are effortless (like my relationship with Chaya).

Others are harder.

I was happy that I listened to my father and gave my relationship with Dina another sincere try. After all, she’s part of the family. And there’s something special when family gets along.


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 956)

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