| Tempo: Second Guessing |


Okay, now I'm panicking. We must go to this dinner and literally NO ONE can babysit! I’ll pay her double?


t’s a perfect day.

It’s also my birthday. I contemplate these things as I stand in front of the new cinnamon bun bakeshop at the corner of the shopping strip. Some people might say that a bakery dedicated just to cinnamon buns is excessive and niche. To those people, I say, you’re missing out.

It’s my birthday. That’s the justification for the calories. But I also happen to be alone. Is it nerdy to sit by myself with a latte and a giant bun? And since I am now 38, do I care about being nerdy? These are the questions.

My feet, apparently, are not plagued by the same doubts as my mind, because they are skipping toward the line, and next thing I know, I’ve ordered a large bun with cream cheese frosting and a medium decaf latte.

I’m about to take my tray and determinedly not look around to see if I know anyone when someone pokes me in the shoulder.

Oh, no, it’s the nerd police.

Nope, it’s just my little sister, Toby.

“Tobes!” I say, holding out my tray to give her a one-armed hug.

“What brings you here?”

“Cinnamon buns!” she says happily. “Big frosted ones! I was going to take some home, but if you’re here….”

We crack up.

“You saved me from a social faux pas,” I say. “Come sit with me!”

I wait while she orders her own drink and then joins me. “Okay, Rivka. Why on earth were you going to sit alone on your birthday?” she asks, green eyes crinkling slightly.

I look at her, think how it’s funny that in my mind she’s six years old, yet is sitting across from me in her Sary. I don’t know her very well — to be honest, she’s 17 years younger than me — but ever since she married and moved to Lakewood, I’ve been getting to know this cutie sister of mine.

“Who’s watching baby B?” I ask.

“My next-door neighbor and no changing the topic!”

I laugh. “No big secret reason. Binyamin’s on a business trip, and I was doing errands; Chavi needed new uniform shirts and Davi mysteriously ran out of socks. Then I thought I should treat myself.”

Her eyes widen. “You were going to sit alone?”

“I’m a big girl,” I scoff heartily. “I can sit alone, thank you very much. But I’m so glad you’re here. I never see you. My long-lost baby sister.”

She laughs. “I knoooow. I’m so crazy busy between work and home and Baruch Ber. This is amazing, that we just met like this.”

I smile back. “I know. A real birthday treat!”

BY the time I collapse on the couch after putting away all the groceries, frying three packages of schnitzel, and putting up two loads, the impromptu date with Toby is nothing but a cinnamon-scented memory.

My phone pings, I glance at the little Nokia screen, squinting against an impending headache.


It was amaaaazing catching up like that. Plus, cinnamon buns! Anyhoo, we gotta go to Kalmy’s yeshivah dinner Wednesday night. Any chance Chavi can babysit?

Ooooh, Tobes. Toby, Toby, Toby. I’m feeling so grateful for our birthday date, and so happy in general that my baby sister has moved to my town, and then here she goes, asking me for the one thing I can’t give her. She only asked once before, and Chavi had very begrudgingly watched baby B. She’d admitted he was cute, but then reiterated that she absolutely detests babysitting.

OMG, I wish, hun, but Chavi hates babysitting and refuses.

Two minutes later, she responds. No worries! I feel her! Thanks anyway.

Uch, I hate disappointing her. I’m snappier than usual at my oldest as she cuts salad for dinner, criticizing the way she threw the vegetables haphazardly into the bowl and commenting on the mess she left on the counter.

By the time we all sit down to eat, we’re both in bad moods and I can’t even blame her.

Well, I could, but I won’t. I don’t really understand or appreciate her stance on things like helping out her young, fun aunt, but that’s teenagers for you, right? If I had a young aunt growing up, I’d have been plotzing to hang out by her.

Helllooo, is there anyone out there who can please, for the love of Hashem, shed some light on the mystery that is adolescent girls?

No? Okay, I’ll just keep blundering through, then.

I contemplate this enigma through baths and bedtime and cleanup. Yes, I’d taken off for my birthday, but other than my half hour with Toby, I can’t say it was a relaxing day or anything. But, Chavi. I know she wishes I was a stay-at-home mom, but I work, and so does Binyamin. She considers this akin to child abuse, as apparently, no one else in her entire grade has ever wiped a nose or fed a baby yogurt in their entire lives. Yes, we require her to help around the house. Yes, she has chores, and she babysits her siblings. Is that so terrible? Hello? Phantom audience? Anyone?

Binyamin is just getting home the next day when my phone pings. I ignore it in the hullabaloo of welcoming him in, and directing him to the kitchen where a plate is waiting — i.e., ensuring he doesn’t track mud in the places I’d already mopped — and only remember to check my phone much later, after I’d accepted the bag of laundry he’d brought me home as a souvenir.

Okay, now I’m panicking. We must go to this dinner and literally NO ONE can babysit! I’ll pay her double?

Argh. Like my day hasn’t been stressful enough….

Knocking on Chavi’s door, I catch faint strains of music and the murmur of a telephone call on speaker. I come in to find her lying on the floor, watching the ceiling fan go round and round as she does some sort of loungy-stretch-work- out thing.

She’s barely broken a sweat. Whose kid is this?

She smiles at me upside down. “Rik? I gotta go. Let’s do ten more minutes, then call it a night.”

I grin down at her. “You and Rikki work out on the phone together?”

She nods, counting under her breath as she switches sides, then springs to her feet.

“What’s doing, Ma? Was just going to shower and go shluff.”

Oh, gosh, she’s being so nice. I love this version of Chavi, and I almost don’t say anything because I know what it’ll do to her. But my sister needs help.

“Chavs… Aunt Toby messaged me. She’s really, really stuck without a babysitter for Baruch Ber. I know you hate babysitting, and I know you’ve helped me so much these past few days with Ta out of town, and I really do appreciate it. But I also think it would be appropriate if you stretched your chesed muscles just a little for Toby and babysat Wednesday night.”

I look at my daughter’s face, and as I suspected, she’s not being nice anymore.

“Yuck, Ma, I literally take care of our kids all day. Then I study and do homework. And help with dinner. And baths. And I never complain about it. Doesn’t Kalmy have, like, tons of money? Can’t they just hire a nanny or something? Besides, me and Rikki are going out on Wednesday to celebrate the end of midterms.”

I nod, trying to keep my face blank. “I hear you, hun. Okay, let me see if she finds anyone else by tomorrow.”

She nods, but her smile is nowhere to be seen as she wishes me good night.

Am I wrong? Should I not push her about chesed? Hello? Anybody?

Toby is desperate. By Tuesday, she’s texted me twice more. The dinner is tomorrow.

Binyomin thinks I should encourage Chavi to do it. “She can go out with Rikki the next night, and maybe we can offer to pay for her food instead of her paying for herself,” he suggests.

It’s a nice idea. Toby had also offered to pay double, so aside from the chesed aspect, Chavi will actually gain from this. But I just hate pushing her. And she does help me a ton at home. Still, I do want to help her aunt, and not just because we told her she has to. In her defense, she told me this morning, as she stormed around the kitchen making a jug-sized coffee, that she would totally help Toby out, but just not with babysitting.

“I literally hate it,” were her eloquent words.

But when Toby calls me on the actual phone, something I’ve heard is very, very difficult for Gen Zers, I put my foot down.

“Chavi, I need you to help Toby out,” I say firmly. “She’s a young mother, she needs to go to this dinner, and you love Baruch Ber. Just do it, please.”

Chavi glares at me, her mouth set in  a straight line. “Fine! I’ll just cancel on Rikki then, the one bright spot in my entire week,” she snaps, and stomps off to her room.

I’d totally forgotten to offer to pay for her food or tell her about the double pay. I guess it’ll wait until she stomps back down the stairs. In the meantime, I’ll just sit here wallowing, wondering if I made the right choice. Did I squash my daughter to help my sister? Or should Chavi know by now that chesed keeps the world going round?


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 879)

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