| DMCs |

Give or Take    

Everyone else has pairs and pairs of fashionable shoes. Why am I always different?

As told to Devorah Grant


t’s the Veja sneakers that are really the last straw. We have our school’s end-of-year, three-day hike coming up and I need another pair of shoes. Unfortunately, Mom and Abba think otherwise.

“We’re sorry, honey,” Mom says, leaning forward over the array of dirty cereal bowls, “but we just don’t think you need another pair. You already have four pairs of shoes in perfect condition.”

“But everyone has two pairs of sneakers for the hike!” I explode, making the milk vibrate in the bottle. Abba sighs from the doorway. Mom sighs at the table. I pull back my chair and storm out.

I march my way past the piles of baby toys in the hallway, up the stairs which desperately need a vacuum (we don’t have a cleaning lady), and through my bedroom door. I feel like screaming. Everyone else has designer knapsacks. Everyone else has real Shabbos earrings. Everyone else has pairs and pairs of fashionable shoes. Why am I always different?

I fling my closet open and stare balefully inside. I have some nice clothing, I admit, as I finger the lines of summer outfits. I have pretty dresses and fashionable two-pieces, plus some cool maxi skirts which flutter and fly in the wind. Mom always takes me shopping at the beginning of each season, and Abba gives me money to buy something nice for Yom Tov. But still, it’s not the walk-in closet that Sara Devora has, or the designer labels Peshy wears from head-to-toe. Their parents would buy them another pair of sneakers. Then again, their parents have more money than we have.

Ugh. Money.

I’ve already made many promises in my mind to my future children. They won’t need to beg for another Shabbos outfit; they’ll get designer stuff for their birthdays, and they’ll never have to pay for stuff with their own hard-earned money. They won’t lack. Unlike me, that is, who is now counting through my purse to fund a new pair of sneakers. I’m $30 short.

The next few weeks find me babysitting at every available opportunity. I wipe dirty noses and clean yucky faces; put mischievous children in baths and struggle with stubborn ten-year-olds who won’t and don’t do their homework. I count my earnings and say yes to every desperate woman who calls, and two days before my hike I become the proud owner of a pair of brand-new sparkling white Vejas. They’re perfect, I think, as I take the crinkly paper out from inside them, admiring the full 360. But I’m still angry at my parents.

The hike is a blast. I come back hoarse and exhausted, and I fall asleep at supper and land in my bed fully-clothed after three days of screaming, shouting, cheering, and singing. I’d fit in perfectly with the crowd with my two pairs of sneakers, gleaming white at first, then becoming scuffed and faded as we ran, jogged, and puffed our way up hills. “It was amazing!” my friends and I enthused. And it really had been. Only thing was, I’d found out something else on the hike, too: Everyone was getting Tiffany bracelets for their going-to-camp presents. I knew I had to have one.

“Do you need it or want it?” Abba asks me, when I approach him in his study on Motzaei Shabbos to ask. I scowl and look down at the worn wooden desk, a cheap blue ballpoint, and looseleaf full of bills. I just don’t know what to say. I want to tell him I need this — after all, everyone else has one. But then again, how can I say I need a brand-name piece of jewelry when I heard Abba say last night that he’s not sure how he’s going to pay for camp this year?

Thoughts war inside me as I ponder and then hear myself say, “Need.” Abba looks at me an extra moment, then reaches into his wallet. “How much?”

The guilt weighs on me like lead those next few weeks. I go and buy the bracelet, but there’s also this horrible niggling feeling when I see Abba and Mom poring over the bills one evening, and a tug at my heart when I hear Mom is doing extra hours at the office during the summer. I determinedly bat away the thoughts and think about how I’ll give my children all they want without them feeling the way I do right now…

It’s just a few weeks before camp when I walk past Mom’s calendar and notice a purple scrawl, which makes me start. Tuesday is Abba’s birthday. Of course! But then the phone rings, and I promptly forget about it, and go off with Sara Devora to the mall. This time, I don’t have much money left, and have to content myself with window shopping, even while Sara Devora shops freely, swiping her father’s credit card, earning miles for her next vacation abroad. At one point, I leave her and wander off. Okay, I admit, I’m bitter. The only thing my family ever did was go to the mountains for a few days, or if we’re lucky, a Shabbos. My family has old plastic chairs in the dining room and second-hand bookcases held together with too many nails. My family… The thoughts stop in their tracks as I notice something in front of me. It’s a pop-up stall in the middle of the mall. The ones that usually sell jewelry or flowers. Today, they’re selling cufflinks.

I stare at the stall, and it stares back at me, silver and gold and blue and green cufflinks winking in the bright lights. “Excuse me,” I find myself saying, “how much are these?”

“Thirty dollars,” the woman says, pearly white teeth flashing at me. “Twenty-five each if you buy two pairs,” she adds hopefully. I consider. I have $36 in my purse, 36 hard-earned dollars, borne of hours of running around after kids, telling them stories, putting them to bed… Do I really want to spend this on Abba?

I walk away from the stall, look over the glass railings to the level of stores below.

People rush to and fro, bags swinging merrily at their sides. Women in heels with coordinating handbags, men in business suits, children clutching teddy bears and lollipops and who knows what else. Everyone buying the things they want to keep them happy for the next little while, until the next fashion change or the next kid in the class gets something new. And then, I think, there’s Abba…

Abba, who rarely asks for anything and buys nothing for himself. Abba, who buys Mom flowers for Shabbos and hands me the bills I need to pay for my needs — my wants. Dare I say it — my desires. Abba, who sits for hours at his computer, then at his Gemara, working, moving, toiling, trying to give his family what they demand. Abba, who is going to get a new pair of silver and blue cufflinks, just from me.

The woman gift-wraps the present and I write a card. I stop and start, then write freely, thanking Abba for the things he does which so often go unrecognized. My purse is basically empty, and I worry about how I’ll fill it again, but there’s also a sweetness rising up inside of me, which I know no money can buy.

Sara Devora leaves the mall with four massive bags; I have a small box which rattles in my hands.

On Tuesday, I give Abba his present, after he cuts the cake. At first, he is surprised and bewildered. “You bought these yourself?” he asks, question marks in his eyes. I nod and smile, staring down at the blue wrapping paper and the card attached, while Abba tells me how much he appreciates it and how thoughtful I’ve been. He is touched.

I have to work hard the last week before camp. I work as an assistant in a day camp and get small tips from the mothers at the end, loose change rattling in my purse. It’s not enough to buy everything I want, and I’m not happy, but something small has changed inside of me. I’m still frustrated, but somehow I can cope with it more. My resentment and bitterness begin to fade.

My dream for my future children changes slightly then, too. I still want them to have their needs met, and I’d like them to have some of their wants, too. But a new dream is sprouting and taking shape in my mind as I think of Abba, Mom, and all the givers who make this world go ‘round. Because taking is nice, but giving, I’ve found, fills me up more than any new shoes, bracelets, or gadgets I can buy. And that’s why, I realize, I want my children to be givers, too.


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 918)

Oops! We could not locate your form.