| First of All |

First of All: Chapter 3

They smile at each other and she opens the car door, wondering why being retired feels a lot like shanah rishonah


The starter is just sitting there, staring her back in the face. Gosh, this is worse than that Dalgona coffee Bayla convinced her to make during lockdown.

“I don’t know what to do with you,” Toby tells the little jar.

“Just love me,” a small voice squeaks back. Toby shrieks as Aryeh appears behind her, laughing so hard he can barely speak.

“Mature,” she says icily, trying to hold back her laugh. “Very mature, Aryeh Berger. Give your elderly wife a heart attack, why don’t you?”

“Chas v’shalom,” he says, wiping his eyes. “To the heart attack and to calling yourself elderly. So why were you talking to a sponge in a jar?”

She rolls her eyes dramatically. “It’s sourdough starter. I’m trying to figure out how to turn it into sourdough bread…”

She leans back and squints, like an artist surveying her canvas. Aryeh grabs the key fob and dangles it in front of her. “You can buy sourdough bread at Evergreen and ask them if they want your sponge as a barter?”

That does sound tempting. “It’s a deal. Let me just call Bayla and Mimi and ask them if they need anything from the store,” she says while kicking off her slides and slipping on her ballet flats.

Aryeh tugs the phone gently out of her grasp. “Tobes. They’re big girls now. They’re fine. Let’s just buy the bread and then eat Rita’s ices by the lake in our clean little car with its seat warmers and no crumbs or car seats.”

“Mmm,” Toby says. “I’ve been daydreaming about their cherry sorbet. Fine, I’ll just text the girls on the way,” she says, snatching her phone back. It pings as they settle into Aryeh’s Camry. She shows him the screen. “Ohhh, look, Chavivi built a chair out of Clics.”

They kvell for a bit and then pull out.

Toby looks out the window, admiring the way the bare tree branches resemble arms held up to the heavens entreatingly.

“I love winter,” she says dreamily.

Aryeh smiles at her and swings into a parking spot. They don’t get out.

“Remember when the kids were little, you used to tell me you didn’t care what season it was, because to you it was laundry season, 12 months a year?”

She smiles sheepishly. “Yeah, yeah. I was overwhelmed. Let’s not look back, okay? I’m empty nesting, I’m retired, I know what season it is. Life is good.”

“I’m not retired,” he says in the same voice, “but life is still good.”

They smile at each other and she opens the car door, wondering why being retired feels a lot like shanah rishonah.

Need anything from Evergreen, sweetie?

Finally! Something from Ma!

I hit up the family chat first.

Ma has not been kidnapped or joined witness protection. She is merely in Evergreen

The pings are instantaneous, as I knew they would be. Good ol’ dependable sisters.

Um, Bay, anyone ever tell you that your imagination is overactive

Lol, and here I thought something interesting was finally happening to the Berger fam jam

Oohhh I love Evergreen, wish they had one in Detroit

Yaeli, of course there’s no Evergreen. It’s Detroit. Get over it

I laugh at Mimi’s comment and go find Mike. He’s fast asleep at the dining room table. Ah, to wake him or not to wake him, that is the question.

Well, second seder is starting soon… then again, the whole “You are not your husband’s vekker” thing everyone preaches.

But when he’s late to seder, he gets super grumpy and that makes me grumpy, so really, if I wake him up, it’s for the sake of shalom bayis.

Marriage is officially exhausting.

“Mike? Miiiiike?”

I’m whispering but he still startles awake, jumping up in a way that almost takes my eye out. “Ow. Mike, hi, sorry to wake you, thought you might want to go to your chavrusa?”

My voice is too cheery, too understanding. I hate it. Can we start over?

Mike is blinking too fast and I have the feeling he’s trying not to say anything he’ll regret. But honestly, all I did was wake him up. What is his issue?

“Also, Ma wants to know if we need anything from Evergreen?”

“Garlic powder,” he says hoarsely.

Oh, that’s true. “Thanks!” I say brightly and then back out of there before he can bite my head off. Men.

Garlic powder. KIND bars. Reese’s Puffs. Spinach leaves. Thanks MA!!!!!

I check a minute later, she hasn’t read my message yet, but that’s fine.

There’s a new message from Lara. I pull my hood down to my eyebrows, mentally steeling myself for criticism, critique, or just a general “you’re fired.”

The six-month online design course I took the year after sem and my obsession with fabrics and colors somehow got me a job… and an inferiority complex. Maybe Lara has finally realized that I’m 26, have never been to design school, and am way out of my league at her company. Taking a deep breath, I look down at the screen.

Bayla, great work on the Sternhardt couch. Please see me tomorrow at eleven. L.C.

“So obviously, she’s firing me,” I say, as we pull up to the Smokehouse.

Mike parks and looks at me. “Wait, what? Didn’t you just say Lara loved your choice of material for that couch?”

I grudgingly concede. “Yeah, she did. But she isn’t calling a meeting to tell me how well I’m doing.”

Mike looks at me, and opens the car door. “Bayla, you’re an amazing designer. I mean, I’m color-blind, so I don’t actually know about the couch, but your eye for spatial design and structure… you’re incredible.”

I’m genuinely touched, but I’m also not getting out of this car yet. “Mike!” I hiss. “Get back in the car for a sec.”

He pokes his head in, alarmed. “What?”

“Is my sheitel all matted in the back?” I turn my neck to show him.

“Oh.” He looks relieved. “No, totally not.”

“ ’Kay, phew.” I finally get out of the car, bundling my gorgeous kallah coat tighter around me. It’s a bit fancy for a regular night, but the Smokehouse is a nice restaurant, and Mike’s parents and sisters will be there.


Oh. They’re here already. Bracing myself against the wind, I turn around and wave a leather-glove-clad hand at Mike’s mom.

Small and narrow as Mike is big boned and broad, Shayna Leiber is a force to be reckoned with.

“Bayla, sweetheart, you look stunning. A beautiful bride!”

I kiss her, wave to my father-in-law, and try to act like a beautiful bride and not hop up and down from the cold like a three-year-old.

We walk toward the restaurant, chatting about their drive here from Passaic.

“Oh, Bayla, your sheitel is a bit tangled in the back, let me help you,” my mother-in-law stage-whispers.

“Oops,” Mike says, looking sideways at me.

I’m going to kill him.

“It’s just that I specifically asked you to check,” I say for the 900th time as we walk into our apartment.

I know I sound like a nag and a shrew and the worst wife in the world, but how could he do that to me? I was mortified, and had to ask the bathroom concierge if she had a comb because I’d left my emergency kit in my car, and we had driven there in Mike’s.

“Bayla, I’m really sorry. Really.” And he does look so genuinely contrite that I can’t help but laugh. And thank Hashem that I’m married to someone as genuinely nice as Mike Leiber, even if he makes me want to pull my tangled sheitel hair out at times.

I wander into the kitchen, opening cabinets, trying to figure out what I’m making for supper tomorrow night. Which reminds me… I check my phone. My shopping list to Ma has a blue check next to it. So Ma read it. But I never received any groceries. To misquote P. D. Eastman: Where is my mother???

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 781)

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