| Musings |

How Are You?

Everyone is buying new shirts for the play!” says my nothing-if-not-persistent daughter


ou’d think it’s the key to a treasure chest, the way I hunt it down.

But, no, it’s just a white button-down shirt, girl’s size ten. For the fifth grade kibbud av v’eim play, apparently, a white shirt is required. But not just any white shirt. My daughter has her heart set on a Betty Z., with the pocket, which shouldn’t be too difficult to find, considering it’s officially a uniform shirt option, but then, so is a blue shirt, and that’s the one unofficially chosen by Every. Single. Girl.

When I purchased uniform shirts at the beginning of the school year, I was asked to buy — unequivocally, irrevocably, exclusively — blue.

Which is why it comes as a surprise when the school requests a white one for the play.

Everyone is buying new shirts for the play!” says my nothing-if-not-persistent daughter.

“If I buy it now, would you wear it to school on other days? Would you ever wear it again?” I ask.

“No,” she replies.

Honesty. That’s good.

“Listen, I’m not buying a uniform shirt just for one play — not at that price, anyway. Sorry.” Parenting blunder? Maybe. But at least, “I’ll be happy to ask around for one to borrow!”

And ask I do. I post on the block chat. I post on the community chat. I text additional neighbors and friends whom I know have a girl around my daughter’s age. But the only ones who own the perfect white shirt are, seemingly, the ones who also need it for the play.

Until I finally get a text from Shani. We have one! You’re welcome to borrow it.

I wait for the clock to strike eight. “Good morning! I’m sooo sorry to bother you 15 minutes before carpool, but, I’m kinda desperate (shhh, I’m on the phone!!) Can I pick the shirt up at 8:15?” I ask.

“Tonight? Sure.”

“Uh, no. This morning. Like, in fifteen minutes. She needs it for today’s practice. Tomorrow’s the play.”

“Oh, let me just make sure I can find it….”

I grasp the phone, waiting, hoping, praying….

“Hi! How are you?” she says.

To me?

In my mind’s eye appear flashbacks of all the times I’ve returned people’s waves only to realize they were waving at the person behind me.

“Are you talking to me?” I ask.

“No. I was talking to my daughter.” (Told you so.)

Wait. What?

Something blinks in my mental radar, beyond the rye bread defrosting in the microwave for my younger kids and the sourdough waiting its turn on the counter for the older ones. Beyond the empty Bissli bag that somehow had got eaten before it made it into my toddler’s lunch box and beyond the applesauce smeared all over the pants I’d finally convinced him to let me pry over his flailing legs.

How are you?” In the morning. Minutes before carpool. To your daughter?

Where does this lady come from?

“Wow. You’re a really nice mother! Gosh, I’m learning a lot from eavesdropping.”

“Okay, found the shirt. Oh, uh… it’s kinda dirty. I have to wash—”

“I’ll wash it! I have to drop it off at school by ten.”

“Okay, then. Sure.”

Just as I hang up the phone, my high school daughter enters the kitchen.

“Hi, Michal! How are you?

She looks at me like I have an entire spinach quiche stuck between my two front teeth. “Um. Good?”


We get the shirt, I wash it, dry it, and drop it off at 9:59. Phshew.


The guilt. About the neighbor-schnorring? That, too. But that how are you to her daughter that rolled off my neighbor’s tongue with the ease of a skilled interpersonal relationship coach. It was just so… nice. And, I hate to say it… unfamiliar.

Sure, I smile at my neighbors, “Hi! How are you?” And my kids’ teachers and school faculty and even, occasionally, the mail lady.

But it comes as a surprise when they actually answer.

Like, the only one who ever answers the question is the babysitter who watches the kids down the block, passing my house every day when she takes them for their walk. She’ll tell me about her sister who lives too close and about her daughter who lives too far.

Everyone else? “Baruch Hashem, you?” is as far as it goes. And they’re not really expecting an answer, either, just saying.

But Shani’s “how are you” was different.  You could tell she was expecting her daughter to answer.

The following morning, sitting at the play, I can’t help scanning the stage, surveying all the other white shirts to see how many are actually as new as my daughter claimed. Let me tell you, it’s only a handful. The rest are just as starch-free as the borrowed one she’s wearing.

Still, maybe my daughter was right. Maybe she is the only girl who doesn’t own a single-occasion white shirt. But you know what? It doesn’t matter.

Because just before she heads back to class after my picture-snapping finale, I pull her close to ask the three words I’ve been taste-testing since the previous morning: “How are you?

She looks at me funny, but just for a moment. “Great!” she says. And off she runs.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 891)

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