Do I, don’t I, do I, don’t I, I made all the nano-second calculations we mothers do. “Yes. Sure”
The women’s eyes brightened when they saw the book. Just wait till they heard it! The past few times I’d spoken there’d been a rock in my stomach, chest, and throat. This time I felt excited. I wanted to do this.
“The Gift of Nothing,” I started dramatically. I held the book up, like it was story time in kindergarten, and warmed my voice, “It was a special day…” I continued to read the story of the cat Mooch who was looking for the perfect gift for his dog friend Earl.
The women leaned forward, some smiling, others looking a bit more skeptical. Mooch couldn’t find anything anywhere, I read, and ultimately decided to gift Earl with the gift of nothing — “nothing, but me and you.” I paused here to let it sink in, then finished the book. “So Mooch and Earl just stayed still and enjoyed nothing and everything.”
I lingered on the last page, letting the women take in the last picture and message. Gently, I closed the book, laid it down on the lectern, and stepped in front of it. It was supposed to be a normal speech, but I’m already breaking the rules, might as well really do it my way, and remove the space between us.
My belly flip-flopped. “With Rosh Hashanah coming, I find myself in kabbalah-making mode, but maybe my relationship with Hashem calls for a different approach.”
“Omigosh,” Sarah Singer, I thought that was her name, gushed. “I never thought about it this way.”
That was quick.
“We’re so transactional and representational in our relationships, when we really just need to be present,” a woman who talks like an English teacher added.
I hadn’t expected the discussion to happen so fast, but I was more than fine with it. “Tell me more,” I encouraged Leora. Hey, if she wanted to give this speech, go for it.
“It’s not a new message, just new packaging, and sometimes that makes all the difference. I’ve often heard that Hashem just wants us to have a relationship with Him, and it never completely resonated with me. But putting it in this context of familial love and quality time — l’havdil, of course — made it strike more of a chord with me.”
I nodded. That’s exactly what I intended. And while I saw a couple women cocking their head in skepticism or objection, there were other women nodding along. It was just like the library, the women exploring, me guiding and prodding a bit. It wasn’t a speech, it wasn’t a workshop, it was something else, a glorious something else. I felt like I was a school secretary again, asking just the right questions and comments to keep the parents busy and focused until the principal was ready to see them.
The discussion naturally wound itself down after 45 minutes, and before we veered into exchanging recipes I returned back to my place behind the lectern.
“Yamim Noraim can be a difficult time when I only focus on the enormity of it. Holding this thought in mind, this cozy embrace of just being with each other, helps me appreciate the powers of these days in a different light.”
The women started to stand and gather their things. I sensed their desire to linger. We needed coffee and cookies.
A few approached me. I asked their names and looked for quirks to remember them by.
“Thanks, I really needed to discuss this, not just hear it. Love what you did today,” Penina Diskener said. PD, pretty dimples, got it.
“Yes,” echoed Tehila Cohen. “Both the book, the discussion, you — really. It was very meaningful. I was so inspired.” TC, she had sleepy eyes, Total Chiller.
“Thank you!” I found myself clasping my hands together like a bona fide rebbetzin.
Slowly they all left. All but Yehudis. She had sat in the front right the entire time, not saying a word. I’d completely forgotten about her. Her face wore a strained smile. She didn’t like my book club. Oh well.
“Rebbetzin.” She smiled as she approached me. “You’re so creative in addressing your weak spots.”
“Thanks, Yehudis. So, nu, your critique?” I said, maybe a little impishly.
Yehudis furrowed her brow.
“I thought the idea was solid. The book was a clever crutch that can hold you up until you take the course. You seem a lot more comfortable with the women, which is wonderful.” She seemed to be consulting the notes she’d imprinted in her mind.
“Thanks. I did feel much more comfortable with everything today. I think it’s because I’m making it work for me, instead of vice versa.”
Yehudis raised a brow.
“I’m going to use a lot more kids’ books.”
Yehudis’s mouth opened, then closed. “I’m not sure if that’s what the women need,” she tried.
“That was a really enthusiastic group,” I cut Yehudis off. “And I’ve spoken to them before, I know what the top of all their sheitels look like because they couldn’t look me in the eye, they were so bored with my speech.”
Yehudis shifted her weight slightly.
“Everyone loves to try new flavors of ice cream sometimes, but they all come back to vanilla for a reason. This isn’t what they’ll want or need in the long term.” Yehudis seemed proud of her metaphor.
So I’m bubblegum ice cream now. Good thing I anticipated her resistance, I might’ve felt a little slighted otherwise.
“Look, Yehudis, I know the books are not your thing, and you’d like to hear something else. And I understand that completely. Don’t worry, I’ll give normal speeches too. But I do think this was really successful, and I’m sure the women who were here today would love to attend another speech like this.”
Yehudis pursed her lips like she was holding her tongue. She looked at her watch. “You know what, I really need to be going. We’ll continue this conversation later.”
“Sure thing.” I almost laughed out loud as she walked away. Who woulda thunk Yehudis Schloss would find her match in me?
Back in my car, my phone buzzed.
“Hello, traitor friend.”
“If I kvetch enough to you will you feel bad enough and move back?”
“Too late. I tried pulling that on my husband but it didn’t work.”
“Wait, what?” Abby seemed shocked. I told her a little about how rough the going was. Not about the baby.
Abby listened patiently. “I called about Shifra,” she said when I finished. “Have you spoken to her lately?”
I felt a surge of nerves and maternal energy and sat up ramrod straight.
“Wait — what’s wrong? Is she okay? Is the baby okay?”
“Calm down, mama bear,” Abby said. “Nothing real is wrong, Shifra’s just been sounding a bit too, I dunno, type A nerves. It’s the homestretch and she’s freaking out. Was just gonna suggest that you call her more often. That’s all.”
My muscles eased. “Oh Abby, look at you, such a nice caring friend!”
“Be quiet.” She laughed.
“I promise I won’t tell anyone about this side of you.”
Good night, moon. Good night, cow jumping over the moon. Good night light and the red balloon. I whispered the words to myself. The clock read ten, I was ready to wind down. I looked around the kitchen, clean enough. I picked up a Lego-Clics hybrid Tzvi made and put on the counter to deal with tomorrow. Definitely bedtime.
I turned around. Chaim.
“I’m staaarving. Can you make me pastrami eggrolls?”
My face must’ve been that bad.
“Deli roll?” he tried again.
Do I, don’t I, do I, don’t I, I made all the nano-second calculations we mothers do. “Yes. Sure.”
“Thanks, Ma. You’re the best.”
I returned to my mostly clean kitchen, set the oven to preheat, opened the fridge, and started putting together the heartburn known as deli roll. It’s only an hour, I kept repeating to myself. Your son is worth an hour. But there’s another little voice: dorms. I turned back to see Chaim on the couch, feet up, head buried under throw pillows.
“Could we talk about getting back into the dorm?”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 695)
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