| Parallel Journeys |

How the Other Half Lives

It’s like I know the magic words, but I’m obviously not waving my wand right

I looked at the receipt and shook my head, then shrugged and put it away.

“What?” my mother asked

“She only charged us $65.”


“Well, it should have been at least $72 before taxes.”

“That’s nice,” my mother said lightly. Clearly, the discount was no surprise. And that’s why I love going shopping with my mother (well, in addition to the fact that she invariably ends up paying for something). My mother has friends — shopkeepers, business owners, dentists, and who knows who — and when I go places with my mother, I get a discount, or an appointment that’s suddenly available, and who doesn’t love that?

My mother is very proud of her “yichus atzmi” as my grandfather dubbed it. You’ve probably never heard of her; the only one writing articles about her is me. My mother’s superpower is her extroversion. She loves people. And they love her right back, hence all the discounts.

Her favorite game is Jewish Geography, and she always wins. I joke that my mother knows everyone, but I often feel like I’m not joking, just speaking a universal truth.

And then there’s me. I’m an acquired taste, not like coffee or wine, more like a Scottish haggis. Even my husband tried to say no after our first date. I try being warm and engaging like my mother, but even if I use her words, I come off as stilted and maybe a little manipulative. It’s like I know the magic words, but I’m obviously not waving my wand right.

Our conversations, when we have them, are fun. I say “when we have them” because, while I like to think of myself as a loving, dutiful daughter, I don’t call my mother as frequently as I’m apparently supposed to.

“Hello, Stranger,” my mother often greets me when I do call. “Do I know you?” And we laugh. I try to call often; I know that this is love and connection to her. But honestly — and I know I shouldn’t be excusing myself, but I am — I don’t call anyone. I just don’t feel the need for people, so sometimes, well, more than sometimes, I forget.

When I don’t call Erev Shabbos, but remember Motzaei Shabbos, my mother answers with, “A gutten Erev Shabbos, Esther.” Again we laugh.

We didn’t always laugh; my mother’s response used to be an admonishment. But then one sad day, my grandmother, who lives next door to my parents, got sick. My mother, as the only daughter, was very busy taking care of her, too busy for anything else.

Even when I remembered to call, our conversations were short and terse. “Everyone’s good?” my mother would ask. And after I answered in the affirmative she said, “Okay, I’ll talk to you later, I have to go.” And she’d hang up.

It was like that for a couple of months, and when things finally settled down with aides in place and my mother actually cooking supper for my ever-patient father, I asked my mother about it.

“You would hang up on me, Ma!” I said, incredulous.

“I know, I know,” she said. I could hear the regret in her voice. “But Esther, you don’t understand, after a whole day of being so busy taking care of things and other people, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to be by myself. Breathe a little bit, read a book.”

I paused a moment, taking in the irony.

“Ma,” I said, “I feel that way every day.”

“Oh,” she replied. There was a pause on her end, then we both burst out laughing.

These days, my mother gets me. Now if only I could get discounts with just my smile, the world would be perfect.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 537)

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