| Words Unspoken |

Dear Balabusta

Neh, you’d say, big deal. It’s nothing. But nothing it is not. It’s major


Dear Balabusta,

Do you dread preparing a complex high school lesson with profound mefarshim and intriguing questions? That’s joy for me.

Do you get rattled when sitting at the computer trying to string words together to compose a powerful, persuasive letter? Please call me.

I, on the other hand, dread planning menus and preparing mishloach manos. I cringe when I stand at the supermarket’s freezer choosing which cut of meat to buy for Yom Tov.

Thing is, my primary role in life isn’t teacher and writer. I’m first a wife and mother. In those roles, prominent on the stage is ensuring that my family is nourished and nurtured with wholesome and appetizing meals.

And to a great degree, we reach our husbands’ hearts, as well as our children’s (and grandchildren’s), through food. I know this, but I can’t live this — because I’m balabusta-challenged.

You exclaim in wonder over my ability to compose a poem. You’re deeply grateful when I guide your daughter through preparing a model lesson. But please don’t wish to be in my place. Don’t dream of giving up your balabusta-know-how for my ability to polish an obituary about your departed grandfather. Nor for the fabulous Chanukah game I handed you as a gift.

Instead, dear balabusta, smile in your mind’s mirror as it reflects the glittering crown you’re fortunate to wear. I see your balabusta crown in all its shimmering glory. I’m saddened to hear you moan, “Oh, if only I could write…. If only I would have creative ideas!”

As a fellow member of our shul, you’re impressed I can give a powerful talk on the parshah. As a reader, you comment glowingly about my article in the local newsletter. As a businesswoman, you’re awed when you overhear my former students tell me I made a difference in their lives.

But think about what you can do!

You can cook up a storm — and then know how to package it to freeze it or send it on. You can set up a kiddush in your house — without having to call your sister from the chocolate and nuts aisle with a desperate plea asking which ones and how many of each to buy. You can serve an army — and confidently let your daughters-in-law stand in the kitchen while you do it, not feeling awkward and embarrassed at what a miserable mess you’re making.

The areas you excel in are crucial for a Yiddishe mamma; my areas of strength are secondary. Yes, it’s wonderful to know how to write a poem. But it’s far more important to know how to write a menu. You see, you can always call someone else (me!) to write the poem for you, but can I expect you to figure out which side dishes I should serve at which Yom Tov meal based on my family’s likes and dislikes?! And after making those nerve-racking decisions, I still need to hope and pray that my cooking efforts yield successful results.

You don’t realize the frustration, the helplessness I feel, when facing a task that you and, it seems, the rest of the world, perform without a second thought. I had brain freeze when I thought about what to bring my daughter in the hospital after she gave birth. I’m tempted to cancel the family trip because of the overwhelmingness of packing food (even just for the ride). I feel sorry for my younger children, who can never proudly carry into their classroom their mother’s culinary contribution to a siyum.

If I would try to tell you how blessed you are, you’d laugh me off. Neh, you’d say, big deal. It’s nothing. But nothing it is not. It’s major. You know how to whip up hot chocolate pudding for your grandson in a jiffy, cut up fruit beautifully for pop-in guests, shop for the freshest salmon, ripe cantaloupe, and sale items. You know how to maneuver the pans of food on the blech, remember if the lasagna has to be baked covered, bread cutlets neatly and efficiently for a crowd, know how to prevent the potato kugel from coming out gray. And calmly, self-assuredly, you train your daughters to do the same.

You consider yourself a normal, average cook. But recalculate: You’re talented! I try not to be jealous, but I do daven to Hashem that He grant me hatzlachah and seichel in the balabusta arena. While I struggle with my challenges — and celebrate my small victories — I decided perhaps I could succeed in convincing you how fortunate you are.

Your Neighbor the Poet


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 794)

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