She was a married adult. Why was my daughter still living in my basement?
Yaffa: Don’t you realize that this favor is no big deal to you, but means the world to me?
Leah: You’re a married adult. Why would you assume we’d be able to do this forever?
I guess it really started because of my big sisters. I’m the youngest of eight, six girls and two boys, and my favorite game as a little girl was experimenting with my big sisters’ hair accessories, makeup, and nail polish.
By the time I finished seminary, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: open up my own beauty salon. I could do what I loved all day long, and make money from it — what could be better?
My parents were supportive, though training as a cosmetician was a bit unusual in our circles as far as career choices go. All my classmates were going for speech or OT or graphic design, while I was enrolling in beauty academies and spending a fortune on equipment. But I took to it like a pro — I guess my sisters trained me well — and before long, I was ready to advertise.
At first, I did home visits, which worked well for things like simchah makeup. Eventually, though, I felt ready to do more — nails, skin care , the whole package — but for that to happen, I needed my own place. But a storefront lease would be expensive, super expensive, and I was still paying off loans for the equipment.
What about the basement? I thought. The basement had a laundry room and storage space, as well as a large guest room with an en suite bathroom, which was the room I wanted to use. I wasn’t too worried about what would happen when we had guests; we had four empty bedrooms upstairs too. And best of all, the basement had its own entrance — right next to the guest room door. Perfect for my clients’ privacy and comfort.
My parents were fine with the plan, and I threw myself into designing a beautiful, inviting space: redecorating, hanging up pictures and my logo, putting up acrylic shelving and sleek white furniture. The beds went into the large storage area at the back of the basement, leaving ample space for everything I needed. I invested in fresh curtains and a sound system to pipe soft music through the room, and the results were amazing.
“It’s as if the room was made for this,” Ma said when I brought her down to see it. “Lots of hatzlachah here, Yaffi.”
I smiled. My first visiting client was scheduled for that very afternoon. And I hoped that once she saw it, there would be many more.
Baruch Hashem, there were. Customers began streaming in. I’d get up in the morning, daven and eat something, and rush right down to the basement, where I was booked solid from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. Sometime in the middle of the day, Ma would give a tap on the door and leave me a sandwich or some salad for lunch. It was an added perk of working from home.
But the biggest advantage, of course, was the fact that I could work rent-free. I was finally making a profit, but I reinvested a lot of it in new equipment, more advertising, and eventually hiring and paying a part-time assistant. Things were good, great even. And then they got even better, when at 25, I finally got engaged. Ma was over the moon. Finally, her youngest child was getting married! I worked until a few days before the wedding, and hit the stores every evening, checking things off my list and setting up our little dollhouse of an apartment.
It was obvious to me that I’d continue working from my parents’ house. Our little apartment barely had living space for us; I couldn’t possibly set up shop or see clients there. Besides, the basement salon was large, centrally located, and running successfully. My parents didn’t need the room, and I had my own entrance. It was a perfect setup.
One thing I underestimated, though, was the time factor of working out of the house. Suddenly, instead of leisurely making my way downstairs a few minutes before my first client arrived, I was rushing, rushing, rushing. My mornings became harried and frenzied, a marathon of getting breakfast on the table, seeing my husband out, getting ready to leave, and then praying I wouldn’t hit too many red lights on the way to my parents’ house. Many times, I pulled into the driveway to find clients already waiting at the door. Occasionally, they’d knock on to the front door, and Ma would let them in to wait for me upstairs. This had never happened when I was single, and I felt bad, but most days I made it on time.
“How’s work going? You always seem so busy,” Ma greeted me one day when I came upstairs after a long day of back-to-back clients. I didn’t have any great ideas for supper; maybe Ma would have an idea, or even a couple spare portions of whatever she was cooking.
“Yeah, baruch Hashem, it’s good, we’re busy down there,” I said, opening the fridge. Leftover deli roll from Shabbos, half a container of cucumber salad. Hmm. “I just didn’t realize how much time it takes to run a house. Maybe I should cut my hours at the salon.”
Even as I said that, though, I knew I couldn’t. We needed the money. Although right now both sets of parents were helping us out, the support wouldn’t go on forever, and we wanted to save up for a house as soon as we could. If I could just figure out how to make supper and keep the house running and work full time…
“Want to take home some mushroom soup and baked ziti?” Ma offered. She gave me a knowing smile. “Take a couple of containers and help yourself. I made plenty.”
“Really? You’re the best, Ma.” That was supper sorted, phew.
“By the way,” Ma said casually. “I was thinking… we’d love to use that room downstairs as a guest room sometimes. You know, when we have a few couples for Shabbos, or other guests who would appreciate the privacy… I was just wondering what your plan for the salon is?”
Plans? Soup splattered over the side of the pot and I grabbed a paper towel to wipe it up.
“I— I didn’t really have any plans,” I said. “I mean, it’s an amazing location, I have it all set up, I definitely can’t use my apartment… I figured things were working out.”
Ma’s tone is too casual; it sounds like she’s planned this conversation. “It’s just that Ta and I… we were happy for you to run your business here while you lived at home, but now it’s— not so convenient, you know? Having people in and out the house all the time… especially since they often ring on the doorbell now instead of going straight downstairs… we can never go away and leave the house closed up… I was thinking maybe you had other ideas about premises.”
“I really haven’t thought about it,” I said. “I mean, we’ve only been married a few months, and this has been working really well… Would you mind to keep it here at least until we move into somewhere bigger? I just don’t know how we’d swing renting a storefront, and there’s no way I can use our apartment — the kitchen and dining room are open plan, no proper doors, and obviously the bedroom and bathroom aren’t the place for a beauty salon.” I filled a tin with baked ziti as I spoke. “I mean, if I think of any other options, I’ll let you know, but meanwhile…”
Ma hesitated. “I guess meanwhile, we can keep going,” she said finally. “Just… keep it in mind, okay? It’s not so easy for us to have a business running downstairs.”
I nodded. “Sure thing,” I said, but I didn’t really get it. What, exactly was the problem with having the salon in the basement? They had the space, the room was soundproof, and okay, I had to make sure to come on time, but if I was there early each day, there would be no reason for anyone to knock on my parents’ front door.
As for the guest room… no one had needed it for the past three years. Why should now be different?
Time went on and Ma didn’t bring it up again. I tried to be there on time, and most days you’d hardly know there was anything going on downstairs. After another year , the salon was doing well enough that I hired a receptionist for the morning hours. She had her own key, came early every day to set up, and now I could breathe easy knowing that the clients would be buzzed into the basement entrance even if I was held up.
Two children joined our family, and I appreciated even more that the salon wasn’t in my own home. When I was home, I was a full-time Mommy — no squeezing in an extra evening client or having kids banging on the door while I did a facial.
Yossi was three and Michali was nearing her first birthday when Eli and I decided the time had come. We had to move; our cute little one-bedroom apartment wasn’t the place to raise a family. Thanks to careful saving, and the fact that I’d been running the salon rent-free for all those years, we were able to invest in a place of our own: still on the small side, but it was nice, and a lot bigger than what we’d had, and best of all, it was ours.
“I’m so happy for you, Yaffa,” Ma said when I gave her a tour of our new place. She paused, and suddenly I knew what she was about to ask. “Are you planning on moving the salon now?”
I looked away. I wasn’t. I really wasn’t, for so many reasons.
Our new place had three bedrooms, true, but one was tiny, just enough room for one bed — certainly not the space I needed for a salon. Obviously, the two bedrooms we’d be using couldn’t function as my workplace, either. And the main rooms were, again, open plan, and there was just no convenient, comfortable space with enough privacy, no potential to create the same sleek and professional environment that I had in my parents’ basement.
And that was besides the location — we were on the edge of the city, while Ma was in the bustling center — and practicalities like parking (Ma had a large driveway, we had trouble finding parking for ourselves).
Besides, I liked working out of the house. I’d been doing it for the last five years or so since I got married, and I didn’t want to change that now.
The other option, of course, was renting a storefront or something. But we’d just purchased an apartment, and our finances were strained to the max. Ma knew that, I’d told her just recently how big a step this was for us. It wasn’t the time for another massive, ongoing expense — not to mention the initial costs of advertising and furnishing a new place.
Sure, I would move — eventually. But I was waiting for the right time. And meanwhile, the salon in the basement wasn’t making much a difference to my parents’ life.
Or was it?
It was around a month later that Ma knocked on the door of the salon, just after 4 p.m. I was rushing to leave and had clients booked in for that evening; it would be a busy night.
“Yaffa, do you have a minute?”
I didn’t, really, but I followed Ma upstairs quickly, texting the babysitter I’d be a few minutes late.
Ma twisted her hands uncomfortably. “Listen, Yaffa, Ta and I have been talking… it’s not working so well anymore, having the salon here indefinitely. We’re happy to have helped you out all these years, but now, you know, we’d like to have the room back as a guest suite, I don’t like that your employees have a key to the basement, and… we feel it’s time for a change.”
I was silent. What sort of change? I didn’t have any other options right now.
“I hear you,” I said finally. “I mean, my eventual plan is to open a storefront, for sure, but I’m just not holding there right now. I don’t plan to stay forever, you know.”
I smiled, to show I was kidding.
But Ma didn’t smile back. “Look, all this time Ta and I figured, we’ll wait till you have a bigger place of your own, your old apartment really was tiny. But now you’ve moved, and you still don’t want the salon in your own home. I understand that, but we also can’t have it here indefinitely. So we were thinking, it’s the beginning of January now, would you be able to relocate by, say, mid-February? That should give you enough time to find somewhere.”
My phone beeped, it was the babysitter. How long? I need to go out soon.
My throat clenched. “I — I don’t know what to say,” I mumbled to Ma. “I guess I’ll — get back to you.”
But as I buckled my seat belt and prayed for green lights all the way home, I wondered: What was there to say?
If I could tell Ma one thing, it would be: I wish you would understand that moving my business is a huge deal for me, financially and practically. The setup in the basement is perfect for me, and you don’t even use the space. Don’t you want to help me support my family?
I never really got the cliches about the youngest child, until I realized that’s exactly what Yaffa was.
Not spoiled, exactly. But there was definitely that expectation, maybe that’s the word. Like she could float through life and Ta and Ma would take care of everything.
And to a certain extent, we were happy to play that role. When she wanted to go to beauty school instead of getting a regular degree, we were fine with that. She had the talent; she’d do well. When she asked us for help buying her own car, we footed the bill entirely — look, she worked hard, she deserved it, we said, never mind that none of our older children had one. Being the bas zekunim has got to have some perks, after all.
The biggest thing of all, of course, was the salon. Ephraim and I had renovated the basement years before, when his mother had moved in for a few brief months before she needed full-time medical care and moved to a nearby facility. There was a private entrance with wheelchair access, and a spacious guest room with an en suite bathroom.
Yaffa was delighted to set up shop in there. She threw herself into the project of redecorating the guest room, transforming it into a beautiful, professional salon. She has a real talent for these things, even I was amazed at what she pulled together. And the salon did well; she was booked solid from morning to evening.
Ephraim and I were happy to see things working out for her. Of course, we also wanted her to move on, get married, start a family. At her age, all her sisters had been long married. But Yaffa was relaxed, and she assured us that everything would come in good time.
Despite her airy predictions, I heaved a huge sigh of relief when she actually got engaged. The engagement was a whirlwind of preparations and excitement, and the wedding itself beautiful and emotional (our last child!). Driving home afterward, I felt strangely empty.
“You’ll still see her plenty, don’t worry,” Ephraim assured me. “Remember, Yaffa’s salon is in our basement, she’ll be coming here every single day.”
I hadn’t thought about that. “I wonder…” I said slowly. “I mean, we never really discussed it, but how long is she going to keep the salon in our house? Like, it’s not so practical long-term.”
“Oh, give her a year or two to get settled, find a bigger apartment, then she’ll move,” Ephraim said confidently. “She’s just gotten married, let’s take one thing at a time.”
Ephraim was right, Yaffa was back home every day, but still, the transition wasn’t so simple. I’d be busy in the kitchen, or folding laundry upstairs, only to have the bell’s insistent peal interrupting me at 10:05 a.m. — Yaffa’s first client of the day had come, and no one was answering in the basement. It was cold out, I couldn’t ask them to wait there, and Yaffa always promised she was right nearby, just give me a few minutes, Ma, thanks a million!
So I’d stop what I was doing and play hostess, offering a drink and making small talk to keep my daughter’s client comfortable, but it bothered me. I had things to do. I didn’t want Yaffa to lose business, but why was the slack falling on me?
I tried to speak to her about it once, and she seemed surprised. What’s the big deal? I could almost hear her ask. She didn’t say it in those words, of course, but I could tell she was thinking it.
At my age, running up and down stairs to answer doors is getting to be a big deal, I wanted to say, but I didn’t. It sounded so petty. It wasn’t every day, and besides, I didn’t have to open the door. I just felt bad not to, knowing that Yaffa’s clients were out in the cold.
Then there were the deliveries. Yaffa was always ordering equipment: nail polish colors and pieces of furniture, a better quality machine or a fresh batch of white towels. There were the monogrammed napkins she liked to use and the paper towels for the bathroom, not to mention all the mail. And it all came — where else? — to our front door.
Back when Yaffa had lived at home, it wasn’t an issue. She’d take care of the deliveries, sort the mail, answer the doorbell when she was around. But now I felt like her personal secretary. I was constantly bringing packages down to the salon, after having them sit for days in the entranceway (“Omigosh, Ma, I totally forgot you said that they arrived!”) There were packages and envelopes and clutter and delivery men, and somehow, even more irksome than what was going on was the fact that Yaffa seemed totally oblivious to the fact that it wasn’t easy for me to have a salon running in my home.
“Oh, Ma, I can’t come in today in the end, could you just hang up a sign on the front door that we’re closed and put down my cell phone number for people to call?” she asked me once.
Or, “Ma, I’ve moved around the stuff you had stored downstairs to make a waiting room, hope that’s okay.”
It really wasn’t okay. I had stuff organized down there, and the salon was slowly creeping out from the guestroom itself and taking over my house. Sometimes women ventured upstairs to use the bathroom or ask for a drink — too many people in the salon itself, apparently.
Don’t get me wrong; I was happy Yaffa’s business was doing so well. But… we were paying the rent on her apartment, and we’d hosted her business for so many years. Wasn’t it time for her to grow up and move into her own place?
Then there was the issue of the guest room.
We’d never really needed to use it before; the married kids were happy to use any of the empty bedrooms upstairs. But every so often, something came up — a chashuve visitor from abroad, a family occasion where we really could’ve used the extra space — and then I would get frustrated. I had a beautiful room downstairs, with all amenities, and its own private entrance — but I could never use it when I wanted it.
“My brother Chezky is coming from Eretz Yisrael,” Ephraim announced one evening. That was big news; Chezky, my husband’s oldest brother, is a respected rosh yeshivah, and he hadn’t visited the States in years. “I think there’s some dinner, a fundraiser for his yeshivah, and he’ll be very busy, but if we could host him, that would mean we get to spend some time with him.”
I knew how much that would mean to Ephraim. He’d always been close to Chezky, but over the years, with the time difference and geographical distance, it was hard to keep up the connection. Having his brother stay by us would mean the world to him.
But we couldn’t offer Chezky one of the kids’ bedrooms; it wouldn’t work, for so many reasons. The rooms weren’t bekavodig, none of them had their own bathroom, and Chezky specifically was looking to stay somewhere with a private entrance so he could see students who wanted to come for counseling or advice. The basement, of course, would’ve been ideal… but the basement wasn’t an option.
“I wish we could use the guest suite,” I said. “But there’s no way Yaffa can move her salon in time…”
In the end, Chezky stayed a few blocks away, by Ephraim’s sister Mindy. She had a spacious guest room on the first floor, and an office with a private entrance downstairs, which she was happy to put to Chezky’s use throughout his stay. Ephraim popped over once or twice to say hello, but it wasn’t the same, Chezky was harried and busy, and Mindy’s large family was all over the place. He came home sad, feeling like he’d missed a great opportunity to reconnect with his brother.
It wasn’t the only time I felt resentful.
When my daughter Tehilla had to move out of her home for a month for some urgent renovations, she asked if they could move in with us. Tehilla has a bunch of little boys; active and adventurous and all over the place. I knew it would be hard having them underfoot all the time, but Tehilla really needed the help, she couldn’t afford rent, and she definitely deserved to be hosted as much as Yaffa’s business did. Yaffa’s wildly successful business, might I add.
I thought with a pang of how much simpler it would be if the basement were available. But of course, I couldn’t ask Yaffa to move out for a month, not on such late notice. So Tehilla moved in upstairs, I tried to close my eyes to the noise and the mess and the inevitable breakages, and when the month-that-stretched-to-seven-weeks was finally over, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I did bring up the subject of the salon moving once or twice, but Yaffa didn’t seem to get the message.
“Sure, Ma, don’t worry, it’s definitely on the plans… one day… when I can afford it.” She’d give a rueful laugh. “I mean, meanwhile we’re still in that tiny rental, and we’re gonna have to move Yossi out of our room when the baby comes… so we’re kind of dealing with one thing at a time, you know?”
I knew. Still, I wondered. She was running her salon rent-free, where was all that money going? I knew that she and Eli were saving up for a house, but… at whose expense?
I tried to just let things ride. Most of the time, the salon really wasn’t an issue. It was just those times when I really could’ve used the guest room… or when Ephraim and I went away and wanted the house securely locked up, not accessible to any of Yaffa’s employees, who had their own keys… or when the occasional new client turned up at my front door, traipsing through the house and down the stairs instead of using the salon’s own entrance… those were the times I’d think, That’s it, I need the salon to move.
But Yaffa was living in a tiny apartment, she was expecting her second, what could she do?
And then she and Eli bought their own apartment.
It wasn’t big, really not, but it had three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and she could have figured out a way to make it work. Use the small room for the kids and the big one for the salon, I don’t know. It wouldn’t be as sleek and luxurious as the place she’d set up in our basement, but the salon had been running in my home for eight years. Wasn’t I allowed to say that I’d had enough?
“So…” I asked delicately, after taking a tour of the new apartment, which Yaffa was in the process of decorating in true Yaffa-style. “Are you planning on moving the salon? You know, now that you have the space?”
She looked taken aback. “Move the salon? I mean, why mess with a good thing?” She gave a tinkly laugh, but I couldn’t smile back. “Listen, Ma, I know that we have more rooms here, and I thought about it, of course, but it doesn’t really make sense. The small bedroom is too tiny and we obviously can’t use the kids’ or ours as a salon. The other rooms don’t work either. And then there’s the parking, there’s like zero parking anywhere near me, and besides, the basement is just amazing for it — separate entrance, nice bathroom, you know…”
I could see she had no idea how much it bothered me. You don’t use the space, you don’t need it, what’s the big deal?
But couldn’t she understand that after eight years, I just wanted my house back?
In the end, Ephraim insisted that I take a stand.
“It’s bothering you enough, Leah, so do something. Tell her it’s time to leave. She’s a big girl, she has her own home and a family, she can figure things out. She’s owned a business for nearly ten years. She and Eli can handle it.”
I bit my lip, uncomfortable. “But maybe she’s right, it’s not such a big deal, and why not help her if we can…”
“We have helped her,” Ephraim said reasonably. “We’ve helped her for years and years. She hasn’t been paying rent or anything. It’s okay to say enough. You’re allowed to want the space, or the privacy, or just have had enough of having a part of our house turned into public property throughout the day.”
“Evenings, too,” I murmured. Since she’d had the kids, Yaffa had changed her hours, working from ten until four, and then again from eight to ten at nights. Sometimes she had clients even later; I’d see them drive in and out. I remembered one who’d unwittingly rung on our doorbell at close to 11 p.m., having missed the second entrance in the dark.
“Exactly,” Ephraim said. “I think it’s reasonable to give her a few weeks or so, ask her to find somewhere else.”
A few weeks?
“But they’ve just bought a house,” I said. “It’s gonna be hard for them to swing it now… setting up a new storefront, not to mention the rent and everything.”
Ephraim spread out his hands, palms up. “So when, Leah? Next month? Next year? In ten years? It’ll never be a good time, it’s always going to be a new baby, or a new home, or a busy season, can’t it wait until after Yom Tov, or they’re going on summer vacation… Look at it as a favor you’ve done for eight years, not as a problem you’re creating now. She could’ve had to find her own place right from the start.”
It was true. All of it. And I knew I was going to have to speak to Yaffa, give her a concrete time limit so she’d actually take my request seriously, instead of brushing me off like she’d unwittingly been doing for years.
I just wished she would have realized this on her own, instead of putting me in this uncomfortable position.
I thought of my daughter, all airy-fairy everything’s-going-to-be-okay, you’re the best Ma, and winced. This is not going to go down well, I thought.
If I could tell Yaffa one thing, it would be: Ta and I were happy to support your business for all these years, but it’s not as easy for us as you think. Don’t you understand that it’s time to move on and shoulder the responsibility on your own?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 894)
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