| Family First Serial |

Half Note: Episode 18 

Yes, her mother-in-law was intense and competitive, Shira thought. It was funny to think of her as having personality traits like any other person


“The last thing before the trip is to really anticipate the trip.” —Kayla Levin, How to Glow, Ep. 10


Iforgot about this, Eva thought as she looked around the succah table. Four of her six boys were there, and they were all smiles, jokes, and fun competition as they played Trivial Pursuit together on the first night of Chol Hamoed.

“Oh, no, Mommy is for sure gonna get this Arts and Culture wedge now!” Daniel announced.

His brothers laughed.

Ephraim pulled out a mock “world’s smallest violin” and played it in Daniel’s direction. “Speak for yourself, I’m winning this game.”

He looked down cockily at his younger brothers, who raised their eyebrows right back at him and laughed.

Could she have more of this, more time with her family around the table? Or were boys destined to leave home? Her other two marrieds weren’t here for Yom Tov; both were in Israel. What a tease.


“Stiff game?” Her father-in-law nodded his head in the direction of the succah. Shira laughed.

She’d joined the Trivial Pursuit game for the first few minutes, but left after she realized they played for keeps and actually knew the answers. She went to the kitchen to bring drinks and nosh to the succah; her father-in-law was there too, picking out jellybeans. He didn’t play these games?

“Very,” she answered.

“They get that from their mother.”

Yes, her mother-in-law was intense and competitive, Shira thought. It was funny to think of her as having personality traits like any other person.

There were taco chips and salsa in the cabinet, and deep river chips, onion rings, PopCorners, pita chips, corn chips, Bissli, and Bamba. There was so much more junk food around with the other boys being home.

Until now, Shira had been the one eating the garbage while her mother-in-law snacked on trail mix. The candy shelf was no different, with gummy fruits and animals, chocolate-covered everything, sour belts and sticks and who-knows-what-else. She grabbed every item off the shelf and brought it out to the succah.

“Hey, Shira, answer this one for Ephraim,” Daniel’s brother said. “If you get it right, he wins a History wedge.”

“For a wedge, no way am I taking over for him!” Shira protested and laughed. She looked at Ephraim, who seemed horrified at the idea. C’mon, she wasn’t that uneducated. “On second thought, try me.”

The brothers, Ephraim excluded, looked gleeful as Daniel reached into the card deck and pulled out the next one with a flourish.

He glanced at it and pulled a face Shira thought might be smug surprise.

“In the 1900s, which river reversed its flow in a feat of engineering?”

No clue, Shira thought. The only rivers she knew were the Mississippi, Hudson, and the Nile. Oh, and the Amazon.


“Ehhrrr ehhrrr,” Daniel mimicked a buzzer. He cleared his throat and bellowed: “Let’s give it up for the Chicago River!”

Oh. Shira felt the air leave her chest. She looked at Ephraim. He looked more disappointed than he should have been. He gave her a small “it’s okay” smile. It didn’t feel okay.

“Anyone want something to drink?”

No one answered; they were back in the game. Her little piece of entertainment was over.

It was weird having so many of her brothers-in-law home. The house was no longer quiet, but it was just more men, ranging from 17 to 21. She was suddenly envious of her two sisters-in-law still living in Israel, spending Yom Tov with their parents. She missed the easy camaraderie she had with them when they got together, which wasn’t often.

Back in the kitchen, her father-in-law was still picking out jellybeans.

“How were your parents’ first days? Did you speak to them?” he asked. It was funny how friendly he could be — when he was around.

“Nice. I spoke to my parents right after Yom Tov ended.”

“Are you gonna see them at all over Yom Tov?”

Shira frowned. Was he that out of the loop?

“Ephraim has class on Chol Hamoed, it doesn’t work out to go to New York.”

Her father-in-law fished around the container; there didn’t seem to be any blue jelly beans left.

“You don’t have class.”

Was he suggesting she go to New York herself with the kids? The idea both thrilled and terrified her. Why had she never considered this? She could’ve visited New York at any time.

She gave her father-in-law a pointed double thumbs-up. “Great idea.” She wasn’t going to interrupt the game — Ephraim was too involved. She texted him instead.

Thinking of booking tickets to visit my parents with the kids over Chol Hamoed. What do you think?

That was a diplomatic, open way to ask, no?

Five minutes later her phone beeped with a response.

Great idea, go for it.

Shira sent back a heart emoji and 20 minutes later had tickets booked from O’Hare to JFK at ten the next morning. It was exciting to be doing something, but why did the idea have to come from her father-in-law?

The next morning brought cranky kids, who did not want to be coaxed into a car at 7:30 a.m.

“We’re going to see Bobby and Zeidy!” Shira tried cheering.

It means nothing to them, she realized. Video conferencing went only so far to create a real relationship. Ephraim was already in school, so no help from him. The men were all in shul at that time, or didn’t want to be up, so her father-in-law had called a car service. Shira was grateful he took care of it, but also felt like an off-loaded burden.

Once they were in the airport, Dovi was in his BabyZen, and Racheli on the buggy board. Shira still had a large suitcase to check and her sheitel box, snack and activity bag, carry-on, and pocketbook to carry.

It was hard, but she managed. Dovi only cried while they weighed her suitcase. Shira placated him with Bissli. As they headed to the gate, which was of course on the other side of the airport, Dovi dropped the bag and burst into tears. Shira wanted to follow suit.

On hands and knees, she tried to collect the scattered Bissli while still keeping a hand and eye on the kids. It wasn’t working. She pulled out another bag of Bissli and pretended she had never dropped the first one. She knew it wasn’t right, but at that moment, she just couldn’t.

By the time they got to the gate, they were thankfully boarding first-class and families first. Shira lined up. Once in her business seats at the front of the plane, Shira noticed the woman sharing the row with Racheli was giving her the nasty once-over.

Ignore her, Shira told herself.

She settled herself down, gave Racheli a coloring book with stickers and Dovi a magnetic drawing toy.

“I’m thirsty,” Racheli said as soon as Shira took out her airpods.

A sippy cup she could handle. She pulled it out of the bag and handed it to Racheli, who took two sips, shook it, and said, “It’s not working.”

Shira reached over and tipped the cup on its side. The cover fell off and dumped water in the aisle. How did that even happen? She looked around, but no one seemed to have noticed. It’s okay, she told herself. She fished in the bag and gave Racheli Dovi’s sippy cup.

Dovi noticed and promptly started screaming. “Sippy cup! Sippy cup!”

Now everyone had noticed. She tried taking the cup from Racheli, who started crying, “I’m thirsty!”

This wasn’t happening. Shira pulled out her own water flask and gave it to Racheli.

“You get to use Mommy’s.”

Racheli immediately quieted down, Shira gave Dovi his cup, but he continued with muffled sobs.

They hadn’t even taken off. It felt like an eternity but the kids settled, the plane filled, and they started taxiing to the runway.

Five minutes later, she heard, “Mommy, I need to go.”

Shira huffed. Racheli had to be kidding. Now? Would they let? Could she leave Dovi himself? She leaned over to him.

“Mommy’s gonna be right back, I’m just taking Racheli to the bathroom.”

Did he get it? Shira unstrapped Racheli and made her way to the stalls in front.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, you need to be seated when we’re taxiing.” A flight attendant stopped her as she reached to push the door open.

“It’s for my four-year-old.” Shira pointed at Racheli.

“I’m so sorry.” The attendant said in her most unsorry tone. “It’s against policy.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“You need to wait until we’re at cruising altitude.”


“But—” Shira sputtered.

“It’s against the law for the pilot to take off or land with someone in the bathroom. It’s international safety law,” the attendant said, her palms up as if none of this was up to her.

“I don’t know if she can wait.”

“I’m so sorry, it’s not allowed.” the attendant repeated.

She seemed apologetic, but that didn’t help her.  She looked at Racheli, who had started whimpering. Shira wanted to whimper and cry herself. Would she be able to make it?

She took Racheli’s hand and walked back to their seat. Only then did she hear Dovi screaming for her, his eyes blotchy, body sweaty. The woman sitting across from him looked at him like he was a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

“Kids don’t belong on planes, especially not business class,” she said pointedly.

Salt on open wounds. Shira closed her eyes and squeezed to keep the tears from coming. It brought the rage up instead. She shouldn’t be doing this alone. Ephraim should be with her now.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 814)

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