“We all paid our way... how could they just tag along for free?”
Ahuva: If you don’t pay, you can’t join. It’s that simple.
Gittel: Don’t arrange events in public areas and expect children not to come.
The game show guy was fully booked, the clown wouldn’t do a night show in the country, and whoever suggested a concert clearly had no idea how much these singers charge.
I hit pay dirt with the magician guy though, the one Chaya Esther had suggested.
He had the date free, and his price… well, it wouldn’t be too astronomical by the time we divided it between all the families in our section of the bungalow colony.
I posted a message on our group chat: Good news! Mike the Magician can do Motzaei Shabbos Nachamu. Will cost around $150 per family. Let me know if I should go ahead and book.
The replies came in quickly; a bunch of thumbs-up and other happy emojis.
Wow! Thanks Ahuva
Amazing thanks for arranging
Sure no prob
Nice, but not enough. I wasn’t going to give my credit card details until I confirmed that we’d be able to cover the costs between us. I’ve been in this colony for years, I’m usually the one who organizes events for our section, and I’ve learned from experience that everything has to be figured out up front.
I sent a bunch of private messages and jotted down a quick list as each family confirmed. It didn’t take long; we’re a close-knit bunch and we’ve been doing these kinds of things together for the past few years.
I left Gittel until last, when the costs were anyway pretty much covered by the rest of the families. Then, because I knew that I had to at least invite her, I sent a quick text:
We’re bringing in a magician to do a show for the kids on motzaei shabbos nachamu. It’s $150 per fam if you want to join.
It was a while before I received a reply.
$150 is too much for us, sorry.
Exactly what I’d expected.
No problem, I wrote back.
Well, that was done. Now it was time to figure out the pizza party for after the show.
Let me put it out there: this wasn’t about the Nestenbaums not having money.
Of course, you can never really know and yada yada yada, but here was a family who came to the mountains every summer, they had nice clothing, kids in camp, spent plenty of money on cleaning help and barbecues and other stuff. And you know how colonies work, everyone knows everything, and Gittel’s husband owned a successful business, it wasn’t like they were strapped for money.
It was just, somehow, they were always refusing to join anything we did as a group.
We’re around a dozen families in our section of the colony, and most have been coming for years, we know each other well, and we always had a good time — the children with their “summer friends,” the women schmoozing till all hours, kids running in and out of each other’s bungalows. Somehow, over the years I’d become the unofficial entertainment committee for those times when we wanted to bring in an entertainer, hire something fun for the kids, or even get the sushi or ice cream trucks to come down.
I didn’t mind organizing it; I enjoy that sort of thing. Even collecting the money isn’t so bad; everyone here is easy to work with, we’re all friends, it’s usually pretty simple to divide the costs, and get everyone to send their share.
Except for the Nestenbaums.
Almost every time we try to collect money, they won’t join. Like the time we wanted to install better lighting around the colony — it wasn’t necessary, but we figured it would be nice to have a brightly lit area at night, for the kids to play games or whatever. But it was expensive, and they just refused to join in.
I think it’s more of a chinuch thing; they want to stick to their principles. Like I said, I know they have the money. It’s more like they have their things, like ice cream from the truck only twice a week and not more, even if all the other kids in the colony are crowded around with their goodies. Sometimes I feel bad for the kids.
It wasn’t like there was anything awful or dysfunctional going on — and believe me, in a bungalow colony, we’d absolutely have known if there was. Gittel Nestenbaum was a great mother, fun, patient, and soft-spoken. Her kids were dressed nicely and had plenty of treats and expensive toys. It was just… some stupid principles of hers. Like the only money she would spend would be when she decided. And nowhere else.
I’d never heard of Mike the Magician before Chaya Esther mentioned him, so I was a little nervous about the performance I’d arranged, but turned out, he was super cool. He set up his table and props under those floodlights in the center of the colony — the lights really were coming in handy — and right on time, we were ready to start the show.
The kids settled on the ground and the adults dragged chairs over. And then, just as Mike began his routine, I noticed four of the Nestenbaum kids trailing over.
My jaw tightened. Here we go again.
Because this is what always happened.
We pay. Gittel doesn’t. And then her kids tag along and make themselves at home in the middle of whatever we’re doing, coming along for a free ride.
“I hate that they just do that,” I muttered to Chaya Esther. She shrugged; she knew immediately what I was talking about.
“Oh, let them watch, who cares,” she said. “Doesn’t take away from any of us….”
But I cared. We organized it, we paid, and they just got to tag along for free? It just… wasn’t how things worked.
I didn’t say anything, though. How could I? It wasn’t like it was the kids’ fault, anyway. But when Brachi and Chani Nestenbaum sat themselves down squarely in front of some of the younger kids, and when Moishe Nestenbaum ran ahead of the others to be Mike’s “assistant” on stage, I had to literally restrain myself from asking them to leave.
They didn’t pay, and now they were taking advantage and even taking away from our kids?
I wanted to say something to Gittel, but of course, she was nowhere to be seen.
None of us were going to say anything to her kids. But she was wrong for letting us all pay and then sending her kids to tag along and enjoy the fun at our expense.
ike’s show was an hour and a half long, and it was good stuff. He let most of the kids have a chance to volunteer, and everyone enjoyed it. I saved his number with a note — great show — so we could bring him in again in the future; not next year, that would be boring, but maybe the year after.
The pizza delivery arrived as Mike was leaving, perfect timing. I’d ordered per family, and distributed it between the mothers. Then I noticed the Nestenbaum kids, waiting at one side.
I didn’t have a pie for them. Their mother hadn’t wanted to join the night’s entertainment. What could I do?
I got busy distributing slices to my own kids, and then Gittel tapped me on the shoulder.
“Ahuva, you organized the pizza, right?” she asked, perfectly naturally, as if she hadn’t just blatantly taken advantage of all of us. “Do you have an extra pie?”
Was she for real?
“Everyone paid for their own,” I said, a bit irritated. What did she think, this was a birthday party?
“I’m happy to pay,” she said. “My kids would love pizza, I think they’re feeling a bit left out of the fun.”
Hello? Whose fault is that?
“I ordered the exact amount, for everyone who said in advance,” I said. “I don’t have any more.”
One of the other mothers overheard. “You want pizza, Gittel? Take this, it’s half a pie, we ordered far too much.”
“Thanks,” Gittel told her. “How much is it?”
“Eh, don’t pay, it’s nothing, would be going in the garbage.”
“I have a couple slices left too,” Chaya Esther chimed in.
Someone else had a whole pizza that had come with the wrong toppings. Within a few minutes, the Nestenbaums were loaded with a couple of pies and the kids went off beaming.
And then everyone turned back to their kids and the food and only I was left, seething inside.
hey don’t take anything away from us.” Chaya Esther tried to calm me down. “So what if we pay and they come along at the end, who cares…?”
“I care. It’s not fair for some to pay and others to keep taking advantage,” I said. “Besides, what if other families tried the same shtick? They see that you can get the fun without paying the price, so why not…”
“No one’s doing that, we’re all happy to chip in,” she reassured me.
Still, it rankled. It wasn’t like they didn’t have money. They had expensive new bikes for the kids and had put in some nice furniture in the bungalow, too. It’s just their precious principles and ideals. So fine, don’t pay, but then don’t come join the fun for free afterward.
Was it so bad to think that way?
And it kept on happening.
Toward the end of the summer, I organized a fun day for the kids, a moon bounce and a few other inflatable rides. And it cost a lot of money. This time, I didn’t bother including the Nestenbaums when I made a cheshbon of the amount, because why bother?
I asked everyone else if they were happy to pay. A couple of families said it was a bit much for them, so we figured out a discounted price, and I got some of the other families to cover the difference — we have some really generous people in our colony, and everyone understood. I felt good about that, and no, this was totally different from the Nestenbaum situation — especially because these mothers were so sweet and grateful, kept telling me they were giving as much as they could, and they’d try to only use the inflatables for part of the time.
Of course, I told them they could enjoy it with pleasure. It was so different when they recognized my efforts and were contributing what they could.
A couple of days before the event, I sent Gittel my usual text: hi, bringing in some inflatables on wed, want to join?
She replied with a predictable how much?
I texted back the number that most families were paying. She quickly texted back, sorry it won’t work for us.
Lucky that I hadn’t relied on her stepping up.
Wednesday was hectic; my sister and her family would be coming for Shabbos and I was trying to clean up and set up and cook all at the same time. Elisheva, another mother, offered to supervise the setup of the inflatables, and I happily took her up on the offer.
From my bungalow, I could hear happy whoops and kids cheering as each colorful monstrosity came to life. I was happy it was working out. This was a real treat for the kids. And the best part was that the inflatables kept them so entertained, I got through most of my Shabbos cooking in one shot. Elisheva and Chaya Esther were keeping an eye on my kids, I wasn’t worried, and it sounded like everything was going smoothly.
I went out a couple of hours later, kugels safely in the oven and chicken soup bubbling on the stove. I heard kids’ voices squealing and I smiled. Everyone was happy, jumping, and tumbling around — exactly as I’d imagined.
A bunch of mothers were sitting around supervising, and I headed over to join them.
“It’s my turn!” one of the kids was complaining to his mother when I came closer. “He’s been on it for ages and it only fits one person at a time!”
I turned and saw the smallest inflatable — a little castle structure, really made for the youngest kids — being monopolized by none other than Moishe Nestenbaum, jumping for all he was worth.
“He’s been on it for ages and won’t get off,” my daughter Rikki told me, running over. “Mommy, tell him it’s our turn! We’re waiting!”
The Nestenbaums. Again.
Now I was really angry. I stalked over to Gittel’s bungalow. She opened the door, looking surprised. As if. As if she had no idea about the inflatables, and the fact that her kids were enjoying themselves there on someone else’s cheshbon.
“We paid a lot of money for this activity,” I said shortly. “Please tell your children that it isn’t free play.”
If I could tell Gittel one thing, it would be: We spend time and money on brining in entertainment for our families. You don’t have to join in, but you can’t expect us to accommodate your children and give them a free ride every time.
Years ago, going to the country was different.
It was a wholesome experience, fresh air and sunshine, and as long as you had a pool and a grill you had the happiest kids in the world.
Now… I don’t know. Things changed, everything changed.
There’s just so much more. More options and more desires and more needs. And so much more peer pressure.
Suddenly, it’s not enough to be going to the country and attending day camp. Suddenly we need more activities, more entertainment, more takeout, more things. These clothes and that bag and those sneakers….
Honestly, if the kids didn’t live for their summers upstate, we wouldn’t be going to the country at all anymore. I just find it… a bit much. But they love it, and we have a bungalow, so we do it for them.
It all adds up, though.
Country life, day camp, clothing, groceries out in the mountains… it costs. Reuven and I budget for the summer, like we budget for all our expenses, but somehow, even when we leave a generous margin, there are always surprises in the bungalow colony.
Another show, another group activity, another pizza party or barbecue or whatnot that they ask everyone to contribute to.
Over the years, I’ve figured out some sort of balance, what we join in, what we don’t. I explain it to the kids: we can’t do everything, some things we’ll pay for, some things we’ll decide are not worth the costs.
“Going to the country, and going to day camp, are really the main parts of the vacation,” I told them this year, before we left for the mountains. “So if we end up doing extra trips or activities, they’ll be an extra. We can’t necessarily buy everything we see — so we’ll choose some things and have a really good time enjoying them.”
The kids all nodded along. I stifled a sigh; I knew this mature understanding would evaporate the minute the ice cream truck turned up.
And I couldn’t blame them. They were just kids. It was more about the rest of the colony, the people who kept raising the bar and expecting us all to follow along.
“Ma, can we get ice cream? Please, please, please?”
It’s the truck again. And yesterday it was sushi and the day before it was something else.
I made a quick mental calculation — eight kids, ice cream at five dollars a cone — and pulled out two twenties.
We had the money, we budgeted for extras like this. But I had to use it carefully, or we’d swallow it all before the summer was halfway over.
I was sitting outside with some of the other women later that evening, enjoying the fresh breeze. Nothing, really nothing, like the mountains.
“…need something new,” Ruchy was saying.
I rolled my eyes inwardly. Here we go again, need new, need better, what’s it about this time?
“That juggling show we had a couple years ago was nice,” Tehillah offered.
“How about a magician? I have one to recommend, one second,” Chaya Esther said, scrolling through her phone.
“Send me numbers, I’ll look into them all,” Ahuva said. She was the unofficial event planner for the colony, and the chief trendsetter, along with Ruchy-We-Need-Something-New-and-Different.
I kept quiet while they hashed out the options, back and forth. Magician, clown, singer, Simon Sez. All fun ideas, but all waaaaaaay more money than I wanted to spend. I mean, the kids had all these kinds of shows in day camp, anyway. And this Motzaei Shabbos Nachamu tradition of hiring entertainment — I mean, when did it even start? Why? Who has all that spare money?
I glance around at the other women. None of them seemed too bothered about the fact that they were discussing bringing in entertainment worth a couple of thousand dollars. How?
I know them, they’re middle-class kinda folks, like us. Bring in enough, have what they need, but no one in our colony is a millionaire or anything like that. So where do they get the money for these things? Aren’t they dealing with tuition, mortgage, groceries, bills, inflation, just like us? Tehillah made a bar mitzvah this year… some of them have daughters going to seminary in Israel… aren’t they saving for weddings?
It’s just not possible to keep spending and also prioritize the important things in life. Another $200, $350, $500… and the money just goes and goes and goes.
I got up to head inside. Why sit around joining this conversation when there was no way I’d be spending so much on entertainment for one night?
Apparently, the magician prevailed.
I got a text from Ahuva asking if we’d join — $150 per family — and I politely declined.
When the kids came home all excited, “Laya told me her mother called a magician and there’s being a show on Motzaei Shabbos!” — I sighed. They were all hyped up, and now I’d be the bad one, telling them they couldn’t join. Why did this keep happening?
“Kids, Tatty and I discussed it, and we decided we’d rather spend the money on other things. Like going on a family trip or getting ice cream a few times.”
I hoped I was explaining it well; I just wanted them to understand that money is not limitless and sometimes it’s about choices — would you rather this, or that?
The younger ones didn’t care, the older ones shrugged, but my elementary-school-aged children — Chani, Brachi, Tzvi, and Moishe — were upset. This magician was all that any of the kids were talking about, and they badly wanted to join.
I understood them. And honestly? It didn’t seem fair to me. They go and organize an expensive entertainment, they expect everyone to jump up and pay $150, and then they run it out in the open, tantalizing anyone whose parents can’t afford it, or choose to spend their money elsewhere?
“The show’s starting and it’s behind the Perlowitzes’ bungalow! In that big field. Can we go? Can we go?”
Moishe and Brachi were hopping around the house, fairly jangling with anticipation.
I pursed my lips. The show was out in the open. We belonged in the colony as much as they did. What could I say?
I wasn’t going to go — I knew the magician was privately hired. But I couldn’t make the kids stay indoors. It was our colony too.
“I don’t see why you can’t watch from the back,” I said. “It’s outdoors, after all.”
They were out the door before I could even complete the sentence.
I couldn’t deny I enjoyed the blissful, wonderful quiet. The kids were out for an hour or two, and I cleaned up everything from Shabbos, put the baby to sleep, and reveled in the peace.
Eventually, they all trooped back home, raving about the amazing performance, and I was happy that they’d gotten to enjoy it, even without officially being a part of it. You could see plenty from the sidelines in these kinds of shows. And no one had said or asked anything about the money.
“Everyone’s having pizza now, Laya’s mother is giving out,” Chani told me breathlessly. “Can we get? Can we get?”
I hesitated. We had plenty of food in the house, I could make them pizza in the Betty Crocker in a flash. But we could swing a pizza pie, and I wanted them to feel like everyone else.
“Sure, let me come pay,” I said.
But when I got outside, there was no pizza left.
“Sorry, I ordered the exact amount, I don’t have any more,” Ahuva said, a little coldly.
Whoa. That was… rude. And snobby. What, only the ones with money for magicians were invited to order pizza via her exclusive arrangements?
“I want piiiizza,” wailed Moishe.
“You want this?” Tami Geffen, bless her, held out a pizza box. “It’s half a pie, we ordered too much. Enjoy.”
Half a pie wouldn’t get us too far, but I appreciated her saving me from having to reply to Ahuva. “Thanks so much, what do I owe you?” I asked.
“Nothing.” She waved a hand. “It would go straight in the garbage, you’re doing me a favor.”
It was nice of her, but really, I was happy to pay.
A few other mothers offered their leftovers too, and between all of them, I had enough slices for the kids. They pounced on the boxes like they were starving, and I have to say I was embarrassed. We had food. And I would have ordered pizza had I known about that part of the program. But because of Ahuva, I was left looking stupid — like some nebach who needed handouts.
And I wasn’t! We had money. We were just choosing to be prudent about where we spent it.
And then came the moon bounce incident.
I only heard about it a day or two before, via some text from Ahuva, just letting you know we’re bringing in inflatables.
She may as well have written straight out that she was only texting me out of obligation, but had no intention of having me join.
Well, actually, I would have wanted to join — my Moishe is hyperactive and obsessed with anything jumping-related. He would really enjoy it.
But we’d had no prior warning — did Ahuva really tell everyone else about this only now? — and as it happened, we’d taken the kids on an expensive family trip to a trampoline park, just the day before.
And the inflatables cost so much money….
I calculated again, thinking whether or not we could swing it, and then decided it just wouldn’t be right. We’d pretty much maxed out our budget for extras, we had Yom Tov coming up, and honestly, paying the bills was stressful enough.
I texted Ahuva back that we wouldn’t join — I wished she would get the message and start bringing in lower-cost options, or better yet, ditch the whole “extras” thing to begin with — and then tried to figure out how to explain it, once again, to the kids.
The girls didn’t take it too badly, but Moishe was another story.
“I want to go jump! It’s not fair! Why can’t we do anything fun, ever ever evvvveeer?” he wailed, kicking the wall. “Everyone’s jumping, why can’t I? You’re the worst Mommy in the world!”
I hated this, hated being the bad one because the other mothers kept going along with Ahuva’s extravagant schemes.
“You can ask the other mommies if you can have a turn,” I told him, exhaustedly. Surely, they would understand, let a six-year-old boy jump around a little. I could see the tops of the inflatables from my window — there were at least three big ones, and a couple of smaller ones too. And once again it was right here, in the center of the colony — how could they not let a child join the fun?
Moishe lit up, his tantrum evaporating as instantly as it had started. “There’s no one even jumping on the small one. It’s going to be mine,” he said, and he disappeared out the door.
I shrugged. What was I supposed to do, keep him cooped up all day?
Apparently, that was what Ahuva wanted.
The next thing I knew, she was rapping on the door, eyes snapping, voice made of ice. “You didn’t pay for the inflatables,” she said, not bothering to greet me or even word it nicely. “Please keep your kids away so that everyone who did pay can enjoy it.”
My mouth dropped open. I was honestly shocked. They dangle things in front of children, outdoors in the middle of the colony, what do they want? He wasn’t taking anything away from them, was he?
And then on the heels of the shock came the anger: How could she do this? Raise the bar higher and higher, bring up the level of peer pressure and financial stress, and then expect those of us without the money for these extras to restrain our kids from joining the free entertainment that all the other kids were enjoying?
But I couldn’t say my piece, because she simply turned her back on me and stalked away.
If I could tell Ahuva one thing, it would be: Not everyone can afford the increasingly extravagant activities you keep arranging. But if you dangle entertainment and goodies in front of kids, you can’t expect them not to come join.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 971)
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