| Second Dance |

Second Dance: Chapter 2

 She loved her kids, but no one had ever nominated her as the mother of the year


Shaindy and Chaim make the move from Brooklyn to a new Lakewood development “with a very youthful vibe.”

New neighbors. Even the words made Nechama Stagler queasy, as if there were expectations she would go flying out with fresh apple pie and come back with a new best friend. As a child, she had been the perpetual new neighbor, moving three times before her bas mitzvah, her mother prodding her all along, “Look, they have a daughter, see the red bike?”

She got it. Her father had been a hospital chaplain, devoted to what he did, and each larger hospital was an opportunity to help more Jews. It was service, not unlike the military, he often told them, and in theory, she understood. Unasked, and not even articulated in the children’s own minds, was the question of what about service to them — his family — who wouldn’t have minded a little boring familiarity in a school, or hometown, for that matter.

One of Nechama’s kids had once called Reuven a boring father, and she had wanted to explain to them what a joy it was, how, as a child, she would have given anything for a settled, predictable pattern to life, but she’d been too exhausted to try.

A few years after that, when she had discovered therapy and been intrigued by all the gloating women in the magazines whose “lives had changed,” and “worked on themselves,” she thought maybe she should talk to someone.

But then Daddy was gone and she spent the week of shivah listening to people who had been touched by him. They described this malach of rachamim with incredible compassion, dignity, rock-solid emunah, and she felt small, suddenly, having these negative thoughts when really, she’d had the good fortune of being his daughter, part of his team.

So she read the emails that came in, passed the tear-stained printouts back to her sisters and sniffled along about the incredible zechusim and resolved never to complain again. It was okay.

But after shivah, she went back to Queens, to her house that looked precisely like ten other houses on either side of it, and reveled in the dullness, which suited her just fine.

She and Reuven had lived in that same house from two years after their wedding until now, raising seven children between the slightly slanted walls. Moving wasn’t an option for her, certainly not to Lakewood, a place she didn’t get at all and always left her feeling dizzy. But then Gila had a baby with special needs and she made it clear that she couldn’t leave New Jersey anytime soon, the services were all lined up for her, and Nechama, newly retired, realized that even if she couldn’t help her children the way other people did — with money — there was lots that she could do.

Gila had two other children to take care of, and there were endless appointments for the baby. The first time she and Reuven had taken little Yehuda for a few hours, she had felt like a hero — more so, in a way, than she ever had in 39 years of marriage. The surprised gratitude on Gila’s face affected Nechama in a way she hadn’t imagined and she realized she wanted to see it again. She wanted to deliver.

She and Reuven would often discuss how everyone around them seemed capable of swinging support for married children, one after another, month after month, yet they could barely meet their commitment for the first year. She loved her kids, but no one had ever nominated her as the mother of the year: She wasn’t the baker who made legendary babka, and she wasn’t the all-star shopper who could snap up matching outfits for her eineklach either.

For her 60th birthday, all her children had gotten together and made her a party. It was very nice, but the next Shabbos, her 11-year-old granddaughter confided that it had been tricky, because, “Bubby, they couldn’t find a theme for you, they just kept saying that you’re so solid, you know? But like nothing stands out? My other grandmother is very into cooking, so they had this huge kitchen theme, but they couldn’t find something for you that everyone agreed on.”


By the time baby Yehuda had turned a year old, Nechama was coming to Lakewood one day a week, and reveling in her new role of savior. Her children were falling apart and she was there to pick up the pieces. She read stories to the little ones and played games with the oldest. She stayed after supper so that Benny and Gila could go out by themselves a bit.

She loved it, and when Reuven told her that his company was going hybrid post-Covid and he would be working from home most of the week, she saw an opening.

She was surprised at how quickly he agreed, though it had less to do with being there for Gila and more to do with the fact that they didn’t need a big house (big house, she thought, lol) anymore. The prices were sky-high for homes in Queens and there would be enough after the sale to buy a place in Lakewood and also pad a real live savings account, like other people had.

The kids were indifferent when she told them the news, as if forcing themselves to profess nostalgia for the old house and share their disbelief. Nechama wondered if she had succeeded in creating any memories at all — why did other people’s kids always seem so wistful and emotional when a childhood home was sold while hers were acting like she’d changed the wallpaper? Reuven assured her that it was because they were good kids and happy for Gila to have the extra help, so they weren’t making it about themselves. She liked the explanation and ran with it, even though she didn’t believe it for a second.

Alameda Gardens came highly recommended by Reuven’s cousins, who lived in Lakewood, but it was hard to get in. They had a waiting list and asked all sorts of personal questions, but it was affordable and the age bracket seemed about right and most of all, it was just a few minutes from Gila, so she and Reuven endured the process.

The eager young sales agent looked up in alarm when he learned they were from Queens, then quickly said, “Nothing wrong, davka very nice, just we don’t have anyone else from Queens here yet.” Then, to compensate, he told them how much he and his wife had enjoyed the steakhouse in Flushing, near the airport. Pashtus, he said seriously, it was one of the best in the city. As good as Manhattan, with no parking hassles. Reuven suddenly got passionate, telling the guy that Queens had its share of parking issues, it wasn’t that simple, and this irritated Nechama because it meant that he had already overlooked the snide remark while her face was still locked in a frown.

They had been approved, and sold their house easily. There was a goodbye kiddush in shul, more for Reuven than her, she thought, and just like that, an era came to an end. Reuven and Nechama Stagler had moved into 105 Wimbledon Loop, just a few days earlier, and now they would have neighbors.

New neighbors. Nechama looked through the window for the third time and wondered where she’d find the courage to go say hello.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 880)

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