Her Mother’s Daughter| December 21, 2021
If each of her siblings were a diamond in her mother’s crown, Bailey felt like the dull space between the glinting stones
Bailey took a break from her frantic scribbling on the board and looked longingly at the song sheets still on her desk from the previous week.
A ripple of laughter burbled across the classroom, and Bailey felt the heat rising in her face as she turned to face her students. They were bored, for heaven’s sake. Well, she was too.
She looked down at her watch. Twenty more minutes until class was over. Sneaking a quick glance at the window in the door facing the hallway, she made a quick calculation. Mommy was meeting with the yearbook editors now; she probably wouldn’t leave her office before recess.
“You know what, girls,” said Bailey, eyes twinkling, “we’ve worked hard enough today. Let’s do something fun.” She noted with satisfaction that the glazed looks were gone.
Flipping her brown sheitel over her shoulder, she began issuing rapid-fire instructions. “Okay, girls in the first row, you need to make a game incorporating all these dates on the board. Quick! We only have 20 minutes left. Next row, you girls need to make a review game on the material we covered yesterday. Last row, here’s an oaktag, draw something that we can hang up in our classroom summarizing what we’ve learned this past week in historia.”
The classroom erupted with noise, and the girls chattered loudly as they separated into their groups. Bailey sat down on the cracked leather chair, sighing with relief.
Bailey had started off the year dazzling her students with fun, exciting lessons. They’d done skits portraying different periods in Jewish history, composed songs, and played hilarious review games. The girls had had a blast, and Bailey had fun too. But when May came and she realized that she was still only about 60 percent through her curriculum, she had no choice but to start cramming it all in.
But the girls weren’t happy to buckle down to serious learning, and truthfully, neither was she. Each day felt endless.
She was in the car driving home when her cell phone rang. It was Mommy. Bailey felt her shoulders stiffen.
Mrs. Rosen had never understood Bailey, her creativity, her spunk. The principal’s world was one of letter grades and number scores; Bailey’s burst of color had no place there. But now, Bailey was one of the most popular teachers in Bnos Tova. She reminded herself of her new status and tried to relax as she took the call.
“Hi, Mommy, how are you?”
“Hi Bailey, just checking in. I didn’t see you earlier. Did you get the memo in the teachers’ boxes about the assembly on Monday?” Bailey gripped the steering wheel. Did her mother check on all her teachers? Or was it just Bailey she didn’t trust? She willed herself to speak calmly.
“I got it, Ma, don’t worry.”
Her mother continued, sounding rushed as usual. “And I wanted to invite you to Shmuel Yosef’s siyum. Rena is making it in our house next Tuesday.”
“Oh, so nice, Ma. Another siyum already?” Bailey swallowed hard, pushing down her burning feelings until they were just quiet embers, smoldering beneath her consciousness. She would get through this conversation.
“Oh yes, another siyum.” Bailey could hear her mother’s pride through the phone line. “And did I tell you that Suri is going to be 12th grade mechaneches next year? And she’s only been teaching in that school for three years!”
Bailey imagined her mother sorting through papers and beaming as she spoke. She wasn’t in the mood for this today. It was always about her older siblings. Shmuel Yosef, the talmid chacham, Suri, the accomplished mechaneches, and all the rest, each boasting an impressive résumé. Bailey, the youngest, never seemed to catch up. If each of her siblings were a diamond in her mother’s crown, Bailey felt like the dull space between the glinting stones.
“Well, Bailey,” Mommy continued, “I can see you as a mechaneches in another five years or so. The girls rave about you!” Bailey smiled and felt her grip on the steering wheel loosen. She was 23 years old, but she felt as though Mommy was finally seeing her for the first time.
They hung up, and Bailey’s smile faded. It had been kind of Mommy not to mention how behind Bailey was in the curriculum. So far the red-inked comments in her plan book, in Mommy’s elegant script, had been the extent of the reproach. In their conversations, Mommy always chose to focus on how popular she was with the girls. She felt something clench in her gut. Would she spend the rest of her life chasing after the elusive pot of gold? Trying to earn Mommy’s approval but never really making it?
Sunday afternoon found most of the local Rosen children stopping in at Mommy and Tatty’s for at least a few minutes. Bailey shifted Dovi from one hip to the other as they headed toward the living room.
“Hi, we’re here” she called out. Bailey remembered what things had been like when Suri had come to visit with Chaim. They’d all run down the stairs, vying to be the first to hold him. When he’d been born, her mother had even taken a day off from work and gone on a shopping spree for everything her first einekel might need.
No one was running toward her and Dovi; everyone already had their own kids. Who was interested in hers? And Mommy? Ha. Bailey didn’t think Mommy had even held Dovi for more than ten minutes since he was born.
She put Dovi down, he ran gleefully to join his cousins playing in her parents’ worn playroom, and Bailey wandered into the kitchen. Her sister-in-law Devorah was sitting at the table, feeding Yossi, her toddler.
“Hey, Bailey, how are you? How’s it going?” She grinned. “You starting to look forward to summer vacation? Lucky you, you get to hang out with Mommy in Bnos Tova, and you’re going to be off soon for two months! And Mommy says you’re incredible with the girls!”
Bailey smiled. A hole in her heart she’d always tiptoed around was closing. She might be behind in her lesson plans, but she was an excellent teacher, and Mommy knew it.
“So, tell me Bailey, what’s teaching really like?” Devorah asked her, sounding genuinely interested. For the hundredth time, Bailey remembered why she liked Devorah so much. Her older sisters just assumed she loved teaching. She was a Rosen, Mommy’s daughter, how could she not? Devorah’s real curiosity made her feel recognized as an individual.
Bailey crunched a plastic cup between her fingers while wondering how to respond. What did she feel about teaching? She loved interacting with the girls, loved using her creativity to make dry material more palatable, but the lesson planning? The grading? The discipline?
“I don’t know,” she answered finally. “It’s going well, and the girls like me, but it’s also kind of stifling.”
“Would you want to get a degree in something?” Devorah asked. “You’re still young, you guys only have one little baby.”
Bailey shook her head. “I like being in a school framework. Hey, like you said, I get two months off!” she answered lightheartedly.
What she couldn’t say was that being a successful teacher was giving her the admiration from Mommy she’d always craved.
They heard the click of Mommy’s heels as she walked into the kitchen, makeup and sheitel impeccable as always, and the conversation ended. Mommy sat down at the table, and Devorah turned to her.
“Mommy, I heard Bais Miriam is opening up a high school. Is that true?”
Mommy sighed, and Bailey noticed the wrinkles under her carefully applied makeup. She’s getting older, Bailey thought. Mommy shook her head and cradled her coffee mug as she answered, “It’s true.”
She raised her voice a bit as she continued, “I don’t expect it to affect our registration, but we will try to raise the bar a bit.”
“What kind of changes do you have in mind?”
“We’re going to be rebranding ourselves as a school that prioritizes close relationships with our students. We’ll be hiring a student liaison and an extracurricular coordinator,” Mrs. Rosen answered.
Bailey felt her face turning hot, but her mother seemed oblivious. Extracurricular coordinator! What she wouldn’t give to land the job! She’d be perfect for the position. Was it too much to hope for that Mommy would consider her?
Bailey left the kitchen, mumbling something about checking on Dovi. There was no reason to feel bad that Mommy hadn’t offered her the job, she told herself. She’d never discussed this with Mommy. And anyway, Mommy would probably say she couldn’t single Bailey out; it would smack of nepotism. Still, all through the rest of that afternoon, as she smiled and schmoozed, she couldn’t help but feel invisible.
Bailey left school in a hurry, with an apologetic smile at the small crowd of girls who’d been hoping to speak with her. If she hurried, she could pick up her sheitel before getting Dovi from the babysitter.
“Hi, Bailey, I’ll be with you in five,” said Leah. Bailey pegged the middle-aged woman in Leah’s chair as a teacher; sensible shoes, boring outfit.
“So we’re really getting there,” the other customer said.
Leah nodded, a strand of the wig held tightly in her curling iron. “What’s the name of the new school again?”
“Bais Miriam,” the woman answered. “It’s a continuation of the middle school. Can you curl the other side a bit more, Leah?” Bailey sat up straighter in her chair and pretended to be busy with her phone.
“You have all your teachers and everything?” Leah asked, fixing a stray hair on top of the wig.
“We have most,” the woman said, getting up and taking out her wallet to pay. “We’re still looking for a G.O. advisor and extracurricular coordinator, though.” She nodded politely to Bailey, who took the seat she’d vacated.
“Who was that?” she asked Leah, in as casual a voice as she could muster.
“Her name is Shifra Stern,” Leah answered over the roar of the blow-dryer. “She’s going to be the principal of Bais Miriam’s new high school.”
Bailey stood behind her old brown desk, plowing through dates and names. She would have loved to do something that would engage the girls, but they were so behind as is. As she watched them frantically scribbling information into their notebooks, she felt her frustration ballooning. By the end of the lesson, her mind was made up. She couldn’t do this again next year. She was going to get over herself and ask Mommy to consider her for the extracurricular position.
The day suddenly seemed a lot brighter. The bell rang, the girls filed out, and Bailey picked up her teaching bag.
Bailey walked down the noisy hallway toward her mother’s office. Mommy was on the phone, and she stood at the door hesitantly until Mommy gestured for her to come in. She perched gingerly on the edge of a chair, her heart thumping, and tried to breathe deeply. Finally, her mother hung up the phone and gave Bailey a warm smile.
“Hello, my dear. How was your day? I’ve been hearing such great things about your classes, Bailey! The girls told me about the game you had them prepare with the dates. Brilliant!” Bailey felt a warmth spread through her. This was the opening she had hoped for.
“Thanks so much,” she answered, then cleared her throat.
“Um, you mentioned on Sunday that you were hiring an extracurricular advisor.” Bailey swallowed. “Would you consider me for the job? I like teaching, but this is something that really speaks to me, to my strengths.”
She felt like she was ten years old again, begging to be allowed to go on the Chol Hamoed trip with her older siblings. She stopped, breathless, and looked at her mother, who seemed uncomfortable.
“Bailey,” her mother started, in that saccharine voice that made Bailey know the answer before her mother spelled it out, “I feel terrible, but you know, we have teachers who have been on staff here for many years. Mrs. Gold really wanted that job, and I agreed to give it to her. I’m sorry, sweetie.”
Bailey wasn’t surprised, but somehow the words still felt like a punch in the stomach. She struggled to give a weak smile as her mother continued, “Besides, you’re a star teacher! I can’t let you give up so fast when you show so much promise!”
Bailey forced herself to smile. “It’s okay, I understand,” she said, and then stood up and left the office quickly before Mommy could see the tears pooling in her eyes.
On the drive home, the sky filled with gray clouds. Things were the way they had always been. Bailey the baby… Never mind that she was married and a mother. In her mother’s eyes, she was still a baby.
By the time she’d gotten Dovi into bed, she’d calmed down somewhat. Her mother was right; it would look bad if she gave the job to her own daughter when there was another equally qualified veteran teacher on staff. Still, the thought of another year in the classroom, tedious lessons interspersed with an exciting activity here or there, made her sigh.
Laying down two chicken cutlets into the grill pan, she froze. That woman from Leah’s salon… what was her name? Mrs. Stern? She’d said she was looking for an extracurricular coordinator. Could she allow herself to consider it?
“It’s horrible, like super terrible, that I’m thinking of calling this Mrs. Stern, right?” she asked Binyamin over supper. “I must be an awful person to even think of going to my mother’s competition.”
Binyamin looked at her, amused. “No one could think you’re a terrible person. Did you speak to this woman yet? Do you even know if the position is still available?”
Bailey stood up and started pacing. “No. Truth is, I’m scared to call. If she says it’s open, what would I say? And should I even call her? Mommy’s finally proud of me. Can I give that up?”
“Bailey, you’re not eight years old anymore. You’re an adult now. You don’t need to be a part of your mother’s school to be close to her. I’m sure you can find other ways to connect.”
After Binyamin left to Maariv, Bailey paced her small apartment. Then she wiped her wet palms on her skirt, and riffled through the local directory for Shifra Stern’s number. But when Mrs. Stern’s crisp hello came on the line, Bailey, feeling about five years old, pressed end and hung up.
Mommy’s voice, laced with approval, “You’re a star teacher!” rang through her head. The school was her mother’s life. And Bailey was finally a part of it. If I break away, I’ll be invisible again.
But the urge to do what she was really good at was equally strong, and Binyamin’s words followed her as she climbed into bed. You’re an adult. You can find other ways to connect. She lifted the blanket over her face. No, I don’t think I can. If I leave my mother’s school, I leave my mother’s radar completely.
She tossed and turned for a long time before falling into a disturbed sleep.
Bailey woke up to the sound of Dovi whimpering in his crib. She got up quickly — his cry sounded strained. His eyes were glassy and his cheeks were flushed. She knew he had a fever even before putting her hand to his forehead.
“Oh no, poor Dovi, no babysitter for you today!” She picked him up and changed his diaper. “Don’t worry, Mommy’s calling school right now to tell them that I can’t come in today,” she crooned while rocking him.
Picking up her phone, she saw a text that had come in a few minutes earlier from her mother. Good morning! Need you desperately to cover in ninth grade, fourth period. It’s our toughest class and you’re seriously the only one I can trust to handle them. Hope you can leave Dovi a little bit longer at the babysitter. Thanks in advance!!
Bailey felt the tension curling her stomach into a tight ball. She looked at her phone screen and back at Dovi, switching him to her other hip. She pressed her palm against his forehead again. He wasn’t really so warm…. Didn’t they say babies’ temperatures were always highest when they first woke up? She pressed again. Maybe just a bit warm.
She looked down at her phone again and quickly walked to the medicine cabinet, rummaging through it until she found the infants’ Tylenol. She filled up the syringe and squirted it into Dovi’s mouth as he spluttered and then swallowed it. “It’s okay, Dovs, you’ll be as good as new soon. I wanted to stay home with you but Bubby needs me today.”
Dovi babbled in response and gave her a weak smile. “See, you’re okay,” she said. And when the Tylenol kicks in, he’ll be perfectly fine.
Pushing away her guilt, she quickly got Dovi dressed and drove him to the babysitter. “Hi, Chana,” she said breathlessly. “Dovi might be a bit under the weather, but I think he’s fine. Call me if you need anything, okay?” Chana raised an eyebrow, her eyes lingering on Dovi’s flushed cheeks, and reached out to take him.
“You sure he’s well enough to be here today?” she asked.
“Oh, um, yeah, I think so,” Bailey stammered, hating herself as she said it. Come on, Bailey! Every working mom has to do this sometimes, it’s not the end of the world! “See you later!” she called out, and headed for the car.
Mommy was waiting for her as she clocked in at the office. “Good morning, Bailey. Did you see my text?”
“Hi Ma, yes, I did. I’ll take care of everything, don’t worry.” Mrs. Rosen’s face glowed with pride, and Bailey let herself forget all about Dovi and his fever as she basked in her mother’s approval.
“I knew I could count on you, Bailey.”
Bailey checked her phone between classes, relieved not to see any missed calls from Chana. The fourth period class was challenging; Bailey understood why her mother had been anxious to have her cover the class. Then the bell finally rang, and Bailey breathed a sigh of relief. Heading for the car, she checked the phone again and gasped. Four missed calls from Chana!
She could feel her heart racing as she fumbled with the key in the ignition. Chana’s number was busy, and Bailey was beside herself imagining Dovi crying.
She double-parked the car and raced up the stairs. Chana answered, looking annoyed. “Finally,” she said. “Dovi really needs you. This guy is definitely running a fever.”
Bailey mumbled an apology and reached out for crying Dovi. “Oy, you poor, poor baby. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
They got home, and she got Dovi ready for his nap. She sat with him in the blue striped rocking chair next to his crib and slowly rocked back and forth. “Shh,” she soothed him, feeling her own face growing wet from tears.
How had she left him this morning? She’d always promised herself that her kids would come first. Bailey knew better than anyone else what it felt like to play second fiddle to her mother’s job. And now she’d done that to her own son! He’d needed her today. Does my need for my mother’s approval go so far?
Bailey rocked and rocked, pressing her face close to Dovi’s until his breathing was even with sleep. As calm settled over the room, Bailey felt something inside her ease. She knew what she had to do.
She moved Dovi to his crib, took a deep breath, and reached for the little piece of paper where she’d written down Mrs. Stern’s number. She might always be the youngest, but that didn’t mean she had to be a baby forever. It was time for her to let go of her childish insecurities, to realize that the only one who still thought of her as juvenile was herself. And perhaps in a new environment, with a job suited to her strengths, she’d finally grow up.
“Bailey,” her mother said, looking at her expectantly. Bailey felt her heart pounding. When she’d asked her mother to schedule a time to meet with her in school, her mother had seemed surprised, but hadn’t asked any questions. Now, sitting opposite her mother’s office desk, with the paperweight that said Principal with Principles! Bailey felt her courage wilt.
Then she thought of how Dovi had looked when she picked him up from Chana burning with fever, and she felt a renewed surge of confidence in her decision.
“I…I…” she started, then stopped. There was so much she wanted to tell her mother. But she didn’t feel able to share any of it, so she simply swallowed and took a deep breath.
“Mommy, I have to tell you something. I took a job with Bais Miriam’s high school for next year. I’m going to be their extracurricular coordinator.” Bailey paused. “I… I hope you’re not upset, but this is really the kind of job I want.” There was a deep silence. Bailey looked up and saw a flash of hurt in her mother’s eyes.
Her mother gave a small cough. “Well, I’m very surprised. I thought you were happy here in Bnos Tova.”
Bailey looked down. Mommy’s disappointment… this was what she had been dreading. But then the moment passed, and Mommy’s face assumed the mask of professionalism that Bailey had seen so many times before. “But it seems as though you’ve made your decision. So while we will definitely miss you, I wish you a lot of hatzlachah, Bailey.”
“Thank you, Mommy,” Bailey answered, and feeling like a recalcitrant student, she turned and left the office.
The next few weeks of teaching passed by quickly as the school year drew toward its end, and encounters with her mother were awkward and infrequent.
After her last day at Bnos Tova, Bailey headed home and got out of the car, holding Dovi as she walked toward her basement entrance. As she reached for the door, she noticed a bulky package sticking out of her mailbox. She put Dovi down to take it out and open it.
Tearing off the paper, she saw a book titled Social Engagement for Teens: Activities for the School Setting. On the front cover was a note, handwritten on Mommy’s personal stationery. It said, “For Bailey, love always, Mommy.”
Bailey picked up Dovi and gave him a tight squeeze. Then she went inside. It was time to call Mommy.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 773)
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