| Family First Serial |

Half Note: Episode 15 

Did this explain things? The way she just said yes, and didn’t think it through for a second, until she was here crying in a corner?


“Is exercise really as worthwhile as we think?” 

—Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics, Ep:150

Shira started at a slow pace, she liked to pick it up slowly. Danielle had recommended the path when Shira had told her she wanted to take up running again, then Ephraim told her that his mother often walked there. Funny how she actually could have asked her mother-in-law for something and she would have gotten an answer.

The trail was busy: a few bikers ahead of her, some walkers behind her, a few couples laughing on benches. Watching their easy banter made her look again, then wince. But most people were by themselves, for once she wasn’t the only one with no one.

Shira picked up her pace, it felt good to move. She tapped play and turned on DeeDee Dvorkus. Today’s topic was parenting teens.

“The prefrontal cortex doesn’t finish developing until 25, which means that people under that age don’t always think about the long-term consequences. It’s not that teenagers can’t think of them, but it takes longer for the mind to do it. By the time the message gets to the brain, there were other, probably more fun, thoughts that got there faster, and so they may have already made a decision or committed to something — something that’s often against their best interest.”

Shira gave a small gasp, she was 25. She’d made the decision to move to Chicago when she was 24. Did this explain things? The way she just said yes, and didn’t think it through for a second, until she was here crying in a corner? She’d never been like that as a teen, though — could it happen later? She crossed Touhy and jogged past two women who were brisk walking.

“Shira?” a voice behind her said.

Shira turned midstride. Bad move. Her foot got caught, and she lurched forward while half her body held back. She fell, hard, and cried out in pain. The two women ran toward her.

It was her mother-in-law and her friend Miriam. One of them must have called her name. And now she was on the ground in a heap.

“Are you okay? Is the baby okay?” Miriam was on the ground next to her, reaching for her leg.

“Don’t touch me.” Shira put her arm out.

She looked up at her mother-in-law, who was hovering on top of her. Why wasn’t she on the ground?

“Can you get up?” Miriam asked.

Shira grimaced and put her palms on the ground to lift herself. She was able to straighten her right foot, but when she tried unfolding her left leg, the pain intensified. She shook her head.

“My son-in-law has a friend who’s a podiatrist, affiliated with Evanston. I’m sure I can get you in now.” Miriam started tapping on her phone and was talking to her son-in-law a second later.

“Shua, you gotta help Eva’s daughter-in-law, call your friend Davey, call in a favor, she needs a foot doctor ASAP. She’s pregnant, she’s on the ground on the McCormick trail. He needs to see her. Call me back.”

Then to Shira: “I’m gonna call an Uber to take you, by the time you get there it should all be sorted out.”

Shira sat, stunned. It was easy to have things taken care of, she didn’t have to decide how much it hurt or didn’t, and which doctor to go to. Miriam just took charge, and things happened.

“My kids,” Shira started, and tried getting up again. The pain shot up her legs. but Miriam reached under her shoulders to hoist her up.

“Help us out here, Eva,” Miriam said, and her mother-in-law stepped up and helped lift her to her feet.

Shira couldn’t put weight on her foot, but at least she was off the ground. Lucky there was a park bench nearby. Once she was settled, Miriam started probing again.

“Is it your whole foot? Your knee? Your ankle?”

“Just my ankle,” Shira said. “I need to get back to my kids, Clarissa is watching them for 45 minutes.”

“Eva will watch them,” Miriam declared.

Shira took a quick glance at her mother-in-law, and as usual, she couldn’t read her. But Shira couldn’t really see it happening. Of course, she loved her grandkids, Shira didn’t doubt that. Did she? But her mother-in-law wasn’t really the get-on-the-floor-with-them type.

Miriam’s phone rang. She checked the screen and flashed a smile. “My son-in-law.”

“Yes, yes, perfect. What a mensch, she’ll be right over.” That seemed good. Miriam hung up.

“I told you so, he’s made room for you in his schedule, just get yourself over there.” She consulted her phone. “The Uber should be here in a sec, let’s get you to the curb.”

The Uber pulled up, a white Prius. It took both Miriam and her mother-in-law to pack her into the car.

“I’m gonna go with her, there’s no way she’ll be able to get out of the car. You go home to the kids.” Miriam said.

Wow, she was bossy, Shira thought, but didn’t really mind. As Miriam went around the car to enter on the other side, Shira realized she should probably call Ephraim. She looked at the time. Smack in the middle of class. She’d wait.


va turned the lock to the front door and inhaled deeply before entering. She’d been useless, she knew that. But she’d felt so stunned and guilty, knowing it had been her fault that Shira fell. She’d been so surprised to see her on the path that she called out her name, and then her daughter-in-law crumpled like a piece of tinfoil. Thank G-d for Miriam. There was a time and place for her personality, and that time was now, Eva could appreciate that.

But what to do with the kids?

She could have Clarissa continue watching them. But that struck her as wrong. You can play with your grandkids, you played with your boys way back when, she told herself and crossed the threshold. She heard noise in the distance, probably the basement, and she headed there, her trepidation growing.

“Bubby!” Racheli ran to her when she saw her.

That was sweet and unexpected, Eva thought. Copying his older sister, Dovi came and wrapped his hands around her legs, nearly tripping her.

“I’ll take over,” Eva told Clarissa, who raised a brow but said nothing as she passed Eva to go back upstairs.

Eva looked around. There were Magna-Tiles all over the floor, and all sorts of trucks. Also dolls and a kitchen set. She recognized the trucks, but the Magna-Tiles hadn’t even existed when her kids were growing up, and dolls and kitchen stuff were girl toys in her book. She had none of them.

Eva felt a rush of shame. These were the toys she should have bought for the house. This was probably some of the million packages Shira had gotten. Eva didn’t ask herself why Shira hadn’t said anything, she knew why.

“What are you playing?” she asked Racheli.

“The policemen and firemen need supper, so I’m making it.”

Eva nodded, made perfect sense. What could she do? she wondered. Should she just sit on the side and watch?

“Can I help?” she asked.

“Set the table,” Racheli said.

The girl knew what she needed and had no problem saying so. Just like her father. So unlike her mother. Eva tried shushing the second thought, but a third popped up instead. You haven’t really made it easy for her, have you?

“Let’s listen to music,” Eva announced, trying to distract herself.

She went to the HomePod and tapped in, “In the Hall of the Mountain King.’’ All kids loved that. As the familiar dun dun dun da dun dun da dun dun filled the speakers, Eva relaxed. Music, the great distracter.

As the music sped up, Eva took Racheli’s and Dovi’s hands and swayed them gently in time to the beat. Racheli was having none of it; she started jumping and twirling as the song increased in tempo and intensity. She jumped off-beat with each drumbeat, laughing, Dovi copying everything she did.

When the song ended with a final drum roll, Racheli giggled and said, “Again.”

Eva smiled and felt it reach the corners of her eyes and the bottom of her heart. She played it again and again and again. They danced every time. Racheli asked her for Uncle Moishy and Eva didn’t even grimace, she sang, danced, and had teatime and truck pileups to “Hashem Is Here,” and “The Pizza Song,” and “Shabbos Is Coming.” She didn’t even hear footsteps coming downstairs and jumped when she heard a voice.


She whirled around and came face to face with Binyomin. He had the strangest expression on his face. She grinned at him.

“Don’t laugh at me, join me!”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 811)

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