Chedva was keeping the rule — the one rule! — sitting in her seat quietly the entire lesson, but she was wrecking everything
Shaindy Brucker had to hear it from her neighbor.
She knew that Chaim wouldn’t go to the meeting last night — he didn’t care about speed bumps and stores in private homes, these made no difference to him. But he could have at least gone to hear his son say divrei Torah.
Later last night Chaim had come in from learning and asked Heshy what the derashah had been about. Heshy had laughed, but Shaindy could see he was embarrassed, as if it wasn’t Chaim’s type of speech.
A moment later, Heshy actually said that — “Ta, it wasn’t your type of speech, don’t worry about it” — which Shaindy found an odd thing to say.
Altogether, she was out of sorts from Heshy, feeling like the whole situation was slipping away from her. Early in her teaching career, there was a student who came and went during class, making a ruckus. The teachers from the previous grade told Shaindy not to even bother to try to rein Chedva in: Her father was the school’s biggest donor and that was it, just ignore her and cut your losses. Learn to work around it. Shaindy thought it was a travesty that they were cheating the poor girl out of a chance to grow, and she was determined to make a statement.
Feeling innovative, she called Chedva over and told her she had one rule and one rule only. She had to sit nicely in class, not interrupting. What she did in her seat was up to her, as long as she didn’t disrupt. She could eat or drink, doodle or nap, but she couldn’t go in and out during the lesson.
“One rule,” Shaindy had written on a page, spelling out the one and only regulation they had agreed upon and Chedva signed it proudly. See, Shaindy thought. It wasn’t that hard if you took a moment to think about what was good for the child.
But the next day, Chedva had a candy smorgasbord on her desk, the kind of candies that you could only get in that little store in Geula, it looked like, suddenly landed on a flat brown school desk in Boro Park. And while the other kids looked on wide-eyed, she made her way slowly through the bag, creating elaborate designs with her little Coke-bottle jellies.
The next day, she came to class with a pillow — a real pillow, not a folded up sweatshirt, but a pillow with a linen cover — and she waited until three minutes into class, then settled in for a nap.
That was it for Shaindy. She knew, at that dreadful moment, that rachmanus isn’t always good, and progressive chinuch doesn’t always work, and she was up a tree with no ladder down.
Chedva was keeping the rule — the one rule! — sitting in her seat quietly the entire lesson, but she was wrecking everything.
Now, as Shaindy looked around her shiny, white new Lakewood house, she thought about Chedva in that tenth-grade English classroom.
She didn’t mind the mess, the way Gitty kept ten baby bottles on the counter, the two highchairs in use at all times, and all the seforim lying around (Chaim, who learned most of the day, never left seforim everywhere, and Heshy, who wasn’t exactly ready to say shiur klali, always had opened seforim around him for some reason).
She didn’t mind the noise, though Heshy seemed to be pacing through any room she was in, always on the phone, always laughing and reassuring and advising, but never listening. Who was he talking to? And from where did he have so much information to share?
What was hard was the uncertainty, the sense that she had forfeited turf in her own house. She couldn’t ask when (if) he was leaving or how his plans were going, she just had to smile and offer to feed the baby when Gitty was sleeping in. That was her role. Nothing more definite.
Brachi was due any day and Shaindy would have loved to have her eineklach move in after the baby. That had been a big part of the plan when she’d come to Lakewood, to be there for her kids. But now, even though there were enough empty rooms, it just felt like she had nothing to give. It was like Chedva sleeping in her classroom: She felt like she’d lost control.
Akiva Putterman was the gracious type, the sort who bowed forward when he acknowledged his neighbors.
Now, as Chaim and Shaindy were doing a quick morning walk through the neighborhood, he approached them with that familiar gracious expression, as if they were royalty.
Ha, thought Shaindy, her husband was the one wearing black Rockports and his walking pants and Rabbi Putterman was in a navy suit and striped tie, looking immaculate.
“Good morning Bruckers,” he said warmly, doing the little bow thing, as expected. “Don’t let me stop the power walk, just a quick nachas note. Parents are never too old to hear a nice word about their child, and your Hershy… what can I say? I didn’t know what to expect last night, but it certainly wasn’t what we ended up getting. Wow. So much depth and insight for such a young man. I was inspired.”
Chaim smiled, as if Rabbi Putterman had complimented his sweater, and said, “Baruch Hashem, Baruch Hashem.”
Shaindy didn’t like when people said “Hershy,” which wasn’t her son’s name, but she managed a smile too, and a thank you. She was bursting to know what Heshy had said, but she couldn’t ask Rabbi Putterman. Maybe he had told Rina?
“Have much nachas,” he said, nodding once more, and continued on to his car.
She would take the shorter route, cutting through Edgeware Row so that they could get back home sooner and she could find out.
Shaindy came back into the house quietly, though not because she wanted to eavesdrop. She wanted to come in without making noise and having to do the whole “good morning how did the baby sleep were you too warm” thing. She was eager to go visit Rina Putterman, and just wanted a cold drink first.
But when she came in, she could hear Heshy and Gitty in the living room, and he wasn’t trying to keep his voice down. He was speaking to her in Hebrew, which made it a bit more difficult for Shaindy to follow, but she could hold her own.
“Until the end of the month,” he said, “that’s it. If we don’t figure it out by then, bli neder, we’ll give up the dream, okay? But I see so much possibility, Gitty, doors are opening every single day. Mamash, wide open. Bear with me a bit longer and we will see what the Ribbono shel Olam has in mind for us, okay?”
Shaindy didn’t move, but she didn’t have to. She could imagine her daughter-in-law’s expressionless face, the easy nodding, the regret in her eyes at having doubted Heshy. He would spend the rest of the morning overwhelming her with possibilities until she wished she hadn’t spoken.
Shaindy knew her son wasn’t being manipulative: Whatever he said, he sincerely believed, and he was certain, as always, that doors were about to open.
Poor Gitty. Poor Heshy. Poor her. She would get a cold drink at Rina’s house, she decided, and she let herself back out the door as quietly as she had entered.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 901)
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