| Tempo: Second Guessing |


Should I have swallowed my self-respect in the face of his generosity? 


othschild TLV, eight thirty. Be ON TIME!

“Blah blah blah,” I say maturely. Then I roll my eyes for good measure. I love that my brothers and I are close, but there’s bossy and then there’s overbearing, and my brothers like to dance on that very delicate difference.

Am I ever late? I tap back, smirking. That should keep them laughing.

I won’t even answer that.

Ha, I’m going to give Dovi an ulcer one of these days.

Although family gatherings on Thursday nights aren’t great for my health, either. Who, exactly, is going to be cooking and cleaning while I’m watching the men drink cocktails in the private room at an upscale restaurant? But since I’m the only one without cleaning help, I’m sure no one considered the inconvenience of it all. #storyofmylife.

Chezky strolls into the room, sipping a Coke Slurpee he picked up on his way back from the hospital. I used to tell him not to drink caffeine right before his naps, but he has now grown impervious to caffeine’s effects. Or alarm clocks. Or earthquakes, for that matter. There is no waking the man after a shift.

The only tried-and-true method is letting twin toddler girls run loose on his chest.

“Uncle Shmuel is in New York from England for a few days. He’s holding court at eight thirty,” I say dryly. “Don’t be late.”

Chezky grins. “Am I ever late?”

I don’t explain why I’m cracking up as I run to pick up the twins from playgroup while he grabs a quick post-shift nap.

Rothschild TLV is one of the nicer places I’ve been to, and we’re just as late as Dovi thought we would be. “Your shirt is untucked,” I say to Chezky as we’re guided to Uncle Shmuel’s “party.” He stuffs in his shirttails. I give him another once-over. Uch, why didn’t he shave? Oh, well, too late now. I smooth my sheitel, square my shoulders, and hitch a smile into place. Here goes nothing.

I force myself to slow to a glide as we enter. No need to give anyone any more material about “how harried Shani always is.”

“Long-lost Shani,” Uncle Shmuel drawls, a wry half smile on his face. “How’s my favorite niece?” Nobody is fooled for a second; I am the only female Shwartz born in the past three generations, and therefore everyone’s favorite, hands down.

“Nu,” he says, patting a leather armchair on his right. “And her wonderful husband, Chezky, how’s the schooling going? Cut anyone open yet?”

Shmuel, I am amused to note, seems to be wearing some sort of pajama suit. I spy his personal assistant, Guy, in a corner, three iPads on the coffee table in front of him, feverishly glancing from one to another. Well, that seems like a fun job.

My brothers are hocking around; their wives have stayed home with the kids, I see. Lucky girls. Although whoever comes is usually well compensated for it. At least, I think it’s good enough compensation. Chezky doesn’t believe that the slightly patronizing nuggets of advice the gifts come wrapped in are worth it. There was that time before we had kids when Uncle Shmuel booked us a five-star hotel room, and then got all up in arms that we got to the hotel hours after check-in. And the time he gave us a large check and we spent it on yuntiff groceries. The boys get it, too — it’s somewhat of a joke in the family — but we are definitely hit the worst.

Uncle Shmuel calls me closer.

“Chezky’s doing well? Working hard? Does he miss the kollel life?”

I smile, feeling shy. “Baruch Hashem. He learns with a chavrusa on the train, so there’s that, and then it’s on to the grind. But we’re almost at the end, so things should be calming down for him.”

Uncle Shmuel nods approvingly. “Very nice. And how are the twins? Are they ready for a new sibling?”

I shrug. “Well, ready or not….”

Shmuel smiles. “B’shaah tovah. Well, here, your mother mentioned something about a new stroller?” He takes out a wad of bills and motions Chezky over. “Buy your baby a stroller. Every baby deserves a new stroller,” he says, a little reproachfully.

Well, we have the Doona; it’s not like Baby was going to be strapped onto a wooden board on my back. But a new bassinet stroller would be a dream.

Chezky stiffens and then smiles politely, pocketing the gift. “Thank you, Uncle Shmuel.”

My uncle nods. “And if there’s anything left over, buy that wife of yours a gift. She works much too hard.”

So there’s an obvious double standard in the family, but we all know about it, so is it even a problem? A tree in the forest, and all that. My brothers are considered amazing husbands for helping out with their kids, but when Chezky so much as picks  up the twins from the babysitter, everyone whispers that I’m working too hard.

It happened when he was in kollel and it’s been happening since he started med school, and the truth is, even when he finishes residency and becomes a full-fledged surgeon and b’ezras Hashem I’ll be able to afford help, it’s still going to happen. Occupational hazard of being the baby and only girl. Which I accept. Chezky, for all his laid-back patience, has a harder time with it.

Whatever. From the look of that wad, he’ll be able to get me a gift. I’m sure my brothers received cash, too, although from the ways their eyes pop, not as much as we did. I feel my heart skip a beat. Or maybe the baby’s kicking. Either way, I hadn’t dreamed of buying a new stroller. Being the favorite really pays off sometimes.

WE go stroller shopping the following Sunday. We order a gorgeous single stroller — we only have a double from the twins — and go all out on the accessories and options. Why not, right? Afterward, there’s just enough left for a nice café lunch. Then it’s back home to pick up Mindy and Rikki, try to make it through the afternoon without passing out from exhaustion, and then time to get ready for dinner out with Uncle Shmuel before he leaves back to England tomorrow.

We make it to the city and are only a half hour later than everyone else, so of course, bring on the comments about how you can’t be late when it’s surgery, you don’t want the patient waking up in the middle, yada yada yada. They should all work in stand-up comedy.

Uncle Shmuel gives a lazy wave. “So did you buy a stroller yet?”

I smile brightly, aware that all of my brothers and sisters-in-law can hear our conversation, and also aware that Chezky has a fixed smile on his face that makes him look like he’s in tremendous pain.

“We did! Thank you so much, we ordered something beautiful, with all sorts of nice add-ons — you gave us the perfect amount! — and it should arrive just after the baby does, b’ezras Hashem!”

“No late shipping either!” Chezky quips, and everyone laughs politely.

Uncle Shmuel lets out a low whistle as the appetizers arrive. “Wow, wow, wow. That must be one nice carriage. I mean, that was a hefty sum for a stroller.”

I feel my face bypass red and turn purple. I turn to Chezky, but he’s busy discussing Lakewood traffic with Dovi. “Yes,” I say to Uncle Shmuel. “We figured, spend now, save later.”

Uncle Shmuel spoons an eggroll onto his plate and shakes his head. “I wanted there to be something left over for some jewelry for you, or maybe a nice coffee machine, something. Aunt Dina specifically said she hoped you’d buy something for yourself.”

The last time I saw Aunt Dina — who never accompanies Uncle Shmuel on his trips — I was heavily expecting the twins and probably looked like I was about to fall over.

I sit up straighter and force a smile onto my face while telepathically commanding Chezky to stop yapping and come rescue me.

“Uh, that’s okay, I’m just excited to have something nice for this baby,” I say airily, feeling increasingly more uncomfortable.

Uncle Shmuel sighs so deeply that I feel like a four-year-old who has disappointed him by coloring on his favorite couch.

I eat woodenly, my ears burning, my heart racing. It’s honestly not worth it. Chezky and I have discussed this ad nauseam over the years, but I’m deciding, right here, right now, that gifts that come with speeches are just not worth it.

Chezky turns to me. “You okay, Shan?”

I clench my teeth. “No, I am not,” I mutter. I jerk my head to the side, we murmur polite excuses, and step over to the wine bar.

“What’s up?” Chezky asks, forehead creasing in concern. “Do you feel okay?”

“Fine,” I snap. “Except I’m about to kill Uncle Shmuel.”

Chezky’s face goes blank. “Oh.”

My feet are suddenly aching. “Yes, ‘oh.’ He gives us this huge gift and then sits there, complaining about how we used it, making me feel about two inches tall. I didn’t ask him for the money. I never do. I’m perfectly happy to see him, give him nachas, and say goodbye. He gives us gifts and then treats us like irresponsible beggars. It’s bad enough that everyone treats us like a couple of late, scatterbrained teenagers. I am twenty-five and the mother of almost three children. Or the almost mother of three children? Whatever, there are going to be three kids under my watch. Not to mention, you are a great father and a great doctor. They are a bunch of patronizing snobs, and I am so SICK of everyone.”

Chezky looks pained. He reaches out and picks up one of those cocktail shakers from the bar and starts shaking it enthusiastically.

“Shan, you know I hate the attitude as much as you do, but once we accept the gift, we need to just have hakaras hatov,” he says. “Be—”

“Do not say beggars can’t be choosers!” I snap.

He raises an eyebrow. “I was going to say beginnings are hard, but im yirzteh Hashem, soon enough, we’ll be past this stage.”

“Thank you, Morah. Did you want to throw a ‘gam zeh yaavor’ in there as well?”

He doesn’t deign to answer that, just gives the shaker one more spin, smiles happily at it, and then follows me back to the table.

I reassure everyone I feel fine and do not need an ambulance, and regally turn to my food.

I’m about to take a big bite when I hear Uncle Shmuel telling Dovi, “…some fancy stroller. More than a couple thousand dollars. Not going to be able to pay off student loans with that kind of mindset, that’s for sure…”

Blame the fact that I’m about to give birth, but I absolutely lose it.

“Excuse me!” I blaze. “We were offered a gift, and we took it, very appreciatively. But we are people, and we are adults, and it is just rude to discuss our financial decisions with other people, and at the dinner table, no less.”

I ignore Chezky’s closed eyes and my siblings’ shocked faces and focus just on Uncle Shmuel.

“We appreciate your generosity, but you can’t treat us with zero respect,” I say coldly.

And then I leave the table for good, feeling like absolute garbage.

Uncle Shmuel gave us a tremendous gift, and I couldn’t just accept it with a nod and a smile.

Should I have swallowed my self-respect in the face of his generosity?


Contribute to this column as a Second Guesser! Email your response, including your name as you want it to appear, to familyfirst@mishpacha.com with Second Guessing in the subject.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 883)

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