| Family First Serial |

Half Note: Episode 23   

Don’t be passive-aggressive. It never works. But what should she tell Danielle, no? That felt rude, although she wasn’t sure why


“There’s a certain healthy degree of selfishness — a person should have a healthy self.” —That’s An Issue, Dr. Michael Herskovics


Interesting idea, Eva thought. She supposed it was smart of Shira; recording her thoughts could help her sort through them without the labor of writing. She should have deleted them, though.

Eva sat up straighter in her wingback chair. She didn’t know what was going on with Shira and Ephraim. Say nothing, do nothing, pretend to see nothing — her duty as a mother-in-law. But she couldn’t help but keep watch. She wasn’t sure if she should take full blame for Ephraim’s self-centeredness. Was it arrogant to think that her son had learned everything about life from her?

Eva took a sip of tea, then looked at her phone. Should she try Shira’s approach? She turned the background music off; she wasn’t sure if it would interfere with the recording.

The red button was a bit daunting. She’d never recorded herself. But today, everyone seemed to be doing it. Even Racheli had recordings of the rudimentary playing she did.

In a quick deliberate stab, she pressed record. Silence. Eva watched as the numbers advanced, filling up the space with nothing. She inhaled deeply and attempted to express herself.

“I’m trying to figure out what do, but first I need to figure out where I’m coming from.”

Eva drummed her fingers on the armrest. She should have tried writing, it felt easier than this. She stopped the recording, took another sip of tea, pressed record again, and closed her eyes.

“I thought I’d finally found a cause that drove me, that spoke to me, that gave me purpose, and individuated me. I also thought that I was perfectly situated to take it on. I have an appreciation of music as well as the financial means to make something meaningful happen. And here I am, with nothing but dwindling ambition. I’m still not sure where I went wrong.”

She paused and took a deep steadying breath.

“I still believe in the cause 100 percent. Music is everything and more.”

Eva shook her head.

“But why doesn’t anyone outside the people who already get, get it? Why is there so little interest? I had such big plans, I was ready to give my all, and now, it’s nothing.”

Eyes still closed, she took another sip of tea.

“You can’t give people what they don’t want. And I can’t fix my past by giving it to other people. But I change my past by taking care of myself — musically. I need to go back to music, as a creator, not just as an audience.”

Her body started to feel lighter. This was something she could do.

“Stephen Covey says to focus on your sphere of influence. The more you focus on the things you can affect instead of the things out of your control, the more your sphere of influence naturally shifts.”

Eve laughed at the way she could easily quote other people’s wisdom yet could only attempt to live by it. She suspected Shira was the same.

“I will embrace the cello again, I’m giving music to Racheli. I’ll see what else pops up and work from there. We’ll see where things can grow organically.”

Someone knocked on the den archway. Eva jumped.

“Are you talking to someone?”

Eva turned; Binyomin was standing there. For how long?

“Yes.” She paused and met his eyes. “You.”



hira took a deep sip of her coffee and smiled at Danielle sitting across the kitchen table from her. It was Sunday, Ephraim had study groups, her mother-in-law was watching the kids, and she and Danielle were just hanging out, enjoying each other’s company. Call it self-care or whatever you wanted to call it, she deserved it and she wasn’t going to feel bad about it.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you, I was hoping to get a head start on Chanukah for the Northwestern group,” Danielle said, after popping a hash brown in her mouth. “Anyway, it’s my husband’s last year, and we need to do a changing of the guard, so I figured getting you on board now will make it easier later.” Danielle winked.

Shira put her cup down slowly, unsure of what her face was saying and what she was thinking. She looked around at the kitchen. Small, generic. Not bad, but it didn’t reflect the personality Danielle was. Was she asking for too much herself? Did everything have to be perfect in order for her to feel all right?

“Umm, yeah,” she mumbled.

What should she say? Ephraim obviously hadn’t filled in Danielle’s husband, or he hadn’t passed on the news to his wife. Could she change the topic, give an excuse to leave? She cleared her throat, feigning a slight coughing fit to buy time.

Don’t be passive-aggressive. It never works. But what should she tell Danielle, no? That felt rude, although she wasn’t sure why. She could say yes, and that would quasi-force Ephraim to stay on. But that would be too awkward. For who, though? She picked at crumbs on the table.

Ephraim had no problem saying what he thought. She was the one running into every back alley, jiggling doors, and praying they opened, while he always waltzed in through the front.

“You okay?” Danielle asked.

Shira waved her hand. “Yeah, yeah, just…” Shira’s voice trailed off.

“It’s no pressure, Shira.” Danielle laughed. “I thought it was something you’d enjoy, but if not, no biggie.”

Shira looked at her. Did she mean it?

“You can say no, we’re still friends.” Danielle said quickly, putting a hand on top of Shira’s. Instinctively, Shira started to pull her hand away, but she stopped herself. Danielle wasn’t saying anything radical. Why did it hit so hard?

She tapped on her phone with her other hand absentmindedly. The audio she’d been playing previously popped up.

“You also listen to DeeDee Dvorkus?” Danielle said.

Shira breathed, happy to change the subject. “Love her,” Shira enthused.

“You’ll like this episode, it’s very smart.” Danielle said and took a bite of her donut, too quickly. What was that about?

On her walk home, Shira put on her AirPods and turned on DeeDee. What did Danielle mean? She had already listened to the first 15 minutes, DeeDee had a kallah teacher on.

“The problem I see many girls having these days is becoming ‘yes women’. They’re like bobble heads, always nodding and bobbing, and there’s no give and take, just acceptance.”

That was her, but it also wasn’t. Shira leaned in.

“There’s also the woman who’s had it too easy, which sounds odd. But there are many people like that. They haven’t reached their life’s nisayon yet, school was fine, so were friends, shidduchim, kids. Yes, they’ve faced challenges, but nothing that really forced them to dig deep. These people say yes, because why not, but they’re losing themselves. This is their challenge, and they often don’t even recognize it.”

Shira gasped. Who was this woman? She felt so seen. But was she really suggesting that the mess she was in now was partly her fault? Look what Ephraim had done!

“Look what he did to me!” she said out loud to her phone. A passing woman looked at her strangely, but she didn’t care.

“People often think that saying yes is always right and saying no is being difficult. Why say no, if you can say yes? And in some cases, they’re right. Flexibility is a wonderful trait. But if you’re always saying yes, and never gut-checking yourself, what do you really think, what do you really want… are you really a partner in the marriage, or are you a glorified secretary?”

“I am a good wife!” Shira scolded her phone. Why was she so defensive?

“There comes a point where these women are miserable, and they point fingers at their spouse, who may or may not be innocent — some spouses do take advantage of their partner’s yes tendencies. But they don’t realize their part in the dance.”

“I’m a terrible dancer!” Shira’s pace picked up, rounding the corner to home. “I am a good wife!” she repeated.

She closed her eyes to refocus. When she opened them, Ephraim’s car had pulled up next to her and he’d rolled down the window. Shira almost turned on her heel, then she stopped. She and Ephraim had been ships passing in the night, but now he was here, taking a new step. Could she be a better dancer?

Shira slowly met Ephraim’s gaze. Softly, she echoed him.

“We need to talk.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 819)

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