I should probably let the shul know that I won’t be available to host in a few months... But then again...
"Whoa! It really works, Mrs. Shere!” Rolando cried from one corner.
“Told you it would,” I replied with a smile.
Around my classroom, 20 students were diligently testing different recipes for homemade cleaning products. The sounds of mixing and scrubbing filled the space as they measured ingredients, poured them into containers, then tested them in comparison to store-bought cleaners.
“I can’t believe people spend so much money on this stuff when they can just make it,” he replied, then went back to scouring the dark countertop.
“Every student should take this class,” I heard another student mutter to himself. “This is the most practical stuff I’ve learned all year.”
It was the week of Memorial Day, or Week Without Walls, as we dubbed it in the public high school where I taught. Every year, academic classes were canceled during this short holiday week, and instead, students signed up for elective classes taught by the staff. The teachers picked topics important to them and developed their own curriculum; in my hallway alone, there was a class on film production, a soccer refereeing course, and a class on medical history.
I had chosen to teach something near and dear to my heart: personal finance. As the week progressed, my students learned about budgeting, avoiding debt, and paying for college. Today was the last day of the class, and we were learning about living frugally. Naturally, we were making some DIY cleaning products and doing a few other activities, such as designing mock meal plans.
I looked around the room and caught my student Giselle looking at me skeptically.
“You know,” she said snidely, “I think this activity is just a trick to get us to clean up your classroom, since the school year is almost over.”
I chuckled. She’s figured out my ulterior motive.
“Guilty as charged,” I replied with a wink.
“It’s okay,” she said, returning my smile, “You probably shouldn’t be cleaning this big room now, anyway. Bad for the baby, right?” She turned back to the beaker she was rinsing out.
I walked to my desk to pull out the materials for our next activity, then put a hand on my belly. After the crushing loss in November, our doctor had suggested one last try, with a few adjustments to the treatment. We’d decided to give it a go, and the procedure had done its job. I was due smack in the middle of the chagim.
“Hey, Mrs. Shere,” Rolando cried out again, “What else can we make ourselves in order to save money?”
“I love that question,” I said. “Let’s discuss it as a class and make a master list after lunch today.”
At four, the final bell rang, and my students spilled into the hallway. I set out the papers I would need on Monday in neat stacks, then made sure all the chairs were pushed in and that the floor was relatively clean. Then, satisfied with how the room looked, I tucked my work laptop and grading folder into my bag and trekked down the stairs to the parking lot.
Once I got home, I set to work setting up our home for Shabbos with guests — we’d be hosting a father and son from the Five Towns. I pulled out our hosting basket (another budget-friendly tip I’d developed over time) and checked that it was stocked with water bottles, mini toiletries, and towels. Setting it on the bench in our guest room, I let out a sigh.
I should probably let the shul know that I won’t be available to host in a few months… But then again, there’s no guarantee that things will go the way we expect them to. It can wait a while longer. After years of failures and losses, I was cautious about letting myself feel too excited about this pregnancy.
A few hours later, our guests were seated around the table, enjoying homemade matbucha and caramelized onion dip with their challah.
“That’s a cool painting,” said the son, looking at the watercolor cityscape that hung on our dining room wall.
“Thanks!” I said, “One of my senior students painted it.”
“Really?” the father said. “It’s good. Are you an art teacher?”
“No,” I replied, “I teach biology. But the art department at my school puts together a formal show every year, and the seniors get a chance to sell their artwork to the public.”
It was one of the events that Nat and I saved for during the year, so we could always purchase a few meaningful pieces to decorate our home.
“Huh. I would never think to buy student art. Is that an ‘out-of-town’ thing?” the father asked.
Nat and I broke into matching grins.
“I don’t know about ‘in-town’ versus ‘out-of-town,’ ” Nat began, “After all, we live in one of the 50 biggest cities in the US. But I think my wife and I just do things a little differently.”
After clearing the dinner table, I plopped into my usual Friday night spot on the couch with my latest library book. Nat sat in the chair across from me, reading a book of his own.
“Do you think we’re really that different?” I asked Nat.
“What do you mean?”
“Are we… weird?”
“Pfft,” Nat sputtered, “I don’t think so at all. What makes you think we’re weird?”
I immediately began listing some of the unusual practices we’d picked up over the years.
“I make almost 100% of our food from scratch. We use washcloths instead of paper towels. I sew our napkins. We hang up most of our laundry to avoid paying for the dryer. We save up and buy artwork slowly—”
“You mean we cut our living expenses where we can, and we budget intentionally to support young artists like your students?” Nat asked, his eyebrow raised. “Honey, if that’s weird, then normal sounds terrible.”
“You have a point,” I conceded, and we both turned back to our books.
“I mean, how fancy are we talking?” I asked as Nat merged onto the highway.
We were on our way to a prenatal appointment, discussing the costs of a bris or kiddush as we drove to the office. It was the Friday before Rosh Hashanah, and my due date was looming. We joked about tossing our budget to the wind and going all-out for the event.
“We’ll hire a ten-piece band,” Nat said with a sardonic smirk.
“Serve prime rib,” I interjected.
“Not fancy enough. Only filet mignon will do.”
“We’ll see if there’s room for an ice sculpture, too,” I said.
“You mean a second ice sculpture, right?” asked Nat.
We both cracked up and kept the levity going as we parked at the office, entered the exam room, and met with my midwife.
We stopped joking very quickly after that, though. Soon after taking my vital signs, her face fell.
“I don’t want you to freak out just yet,” the midwife said, “But we’ve got a problem…”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 866)
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