| Musings |

Back from Seminary

I knew there would be challenges, but “pick me, pick me — count me in!”


fter my return from a year in seminary, I was inspired, but certain my feet were still firmly planted on the ground. A life of Torah, yiras Shamayim, and using my kochos to serve Hashem sounded great. I hadn’t fallen off the deep end: I knew there would be challenges, but “pick me, pick me — count me in!”

When I called Rochel for post seminary wardrobe advice, my newly married, very nauseous friend confided that the bottomless stack of dishes and endless supper preparation was exhausting and took foreeeever.

“But Rochel, each dish is a mitzvah, each salad a zechus!” I exclaimed.

“You don’t get it,” she interrupted me. “Do-NOT-tell-me-that!”

“But it’s true, isn’t it…?” my voice trailed off, confused. It was true. How had she forgotten so quickly?

Pretty soon it was my turn. The kollel years were magical, though I quickly realized I wasn’t as geshikt as I thought I was. Somehow, I just could not conquer the “beautiful, calm wife greets husband with warm dinner in clean house” image our teachers had painted, and night seder was long and lonely.

But I pinched pennies, learned to do laundry, found a job, and tried to greet my husband with a smile each evening even when the other elements of that image were missing. I shared my husband’s excitement about his learning though the words he used confused me.

Did an upcoming shiur klali mean extra late nights and lots of pacing or was that the iyun vaad? Did new chavrusas (and Shabbos invites) come with a blatt shiur or a sugya switch? Was he preparing for his chaburah with a chavrusa or for his chavrusa with a chaburah? The divrei Torah shared were lofty and inspiring, but between the haze of exhaustion and the confusing terms I wasn’t always sure my encouragement came out as intended. “Learn well. I hope they shlug you up!!”

Twenty years later, I have the yeshivish lingo down pat, though we rarely have time to discuss his learning. With a house blessedly full of children, a work schedule that stretches on endlessly, and a floor that seems to sprout toys as soon as I clean up, I still have yet to conquer the “beautiful calm wife…” picture.

Now my days start with someone crawling into my bed to whisper (lest they wake me!) their early morning woes in my ear. Bleary-eyed, I try to get my kids to eat breakfast before they run out the door (or before I push them out when the bus honks!) Brushing hair and matching socks are extras — I’m sure my precious ones’ inherent chein is enough to overpower their appearance. I squeeze in some brachos and rush to work as I try to cram in calls to the doctor, dentist, and Indian chief. The messy breakfast table and dishes wait very patiently until I return.

Then comes shopping and appointments and teacher meetings and plumbers and homework and tutors and therapy and supper and laundry — always laundry. My home is filled with love and laughter… and kvetching. “There’s nothing to eat.” “But why can’t I?” “It’s not my mess.” “I have nothing to wear!” “It’s not fair.”

Some days I laugh. Some days, in the dash to get it all done, the only goal I can remember is getting through the day so I can collapse into bed and sleep. Some days I wonder if I signed up for a life I can’t handle.

When my daughter got back from seminary, I suddenly remembered my return, years before. I saw her suitcase full of rumpled clothing, recalling the must-have-seminary-wardrobe we had splurged on. I breathed a sigh of relief that we had gotten through all those Erev Shabbos “help, I have no plans” phone calls. I thought about the friends she had made and was missing.

But mostly I looked at her and remembered all the goals and dreams, the energy and sense of purpose. I looked at her, and I looked at my home. What does she see from her perch on the “post-sem cloud”? Is it the inspiration between the exhaustion? Is it the mess and chaos? Is it my overwhelm and frustration when all I can see are the pieces falling apart, when I forget that this life is blessed?

Recently, I went out of town alone for a simchah and ran into a few seminary friends at a kiddush. We hadn’t spoken in years, and catching up (over the heads of their children) was great. In between cholent for this one, playdate arrangements for that one, and sopping up a soda spill (that special Shabbos way), they spoke of their days, of their juggling and struggling. Of doctors, of worry, of financial woes, and teen angst.

With the perspective of an outsider and the calm to contemplate (I was far from the hecticness of home ), it was clear to me that they’re “doing it!” Even while we chuckled about our floaty post-sem daughters, my friends were living the life we had fantasized about, comfortably curled up in the dorm all those years ago. They were supporting, encouraging, learning, and enabling Torah. They were raising doros with purpose and meaning. They were stretching; they were clinging to Hashem in the chaos.

On my return trip it dawned on me. Could it be… maybe… that I’m “doing it too?” I had to pause and think. Perhaps this is the adult version of the plot I had dreamed of, albeit with more roadblocks and messes and failures than I could have imagined.

The drama and accomplishments are not the newspaper-worthy kind — but they are real. I’m not as calm, agreeable, organized, or skinny as I envisioned myself, but I guess, in the ways that matter, I am living my dream.

“Every dish is a mitzvah, every salad a zechus.” Though I now know offering some empathy or a helping hand is better than a reminder, I still know it is true. Yes, I could use a nap (or three) and need to find a way to refocus, but this is the life that I want.

“Pick me, pick me — count me in!”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 797)

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