| Second Dance |

Second Dance: Chapter 36

"If the kids want to come down, they come down for a Shabbos, if they don’t, they don’t. This is not about them"



echama Stagler watched the precision of the Erev Shabbos parade, as she called it in her mind, and wondered why it was making her feel upset.

There was a line of cars waiting at the booth at the entrance to Alameda Gardens, Odysseys and Siennas waiting to get in, vans that would turn right and left and wind around the development to send scores of happy eineklach running into the homes of waiting bubbies and zeidies. It happened every Friday, one of the unwritten Lakewood customs that everyone seemed to know about, even though it wasn’t written anywhere and was never expressed, that the local eineklach would come every week to say “Gut Shabbos.”

But as Rina Putterman liked to joke, “saying Gut Shabbos” meant a four-course to’ameha party and then being sent off with a few bags of nosh, maybe hot challos and a kugel too. Rina was good-natured about it, but she loved living in Lakewood, so to her it was a big joke. All part of the charm.

It helped to have endless money, Nechama thought. Rina didn’t actually have access to her son-in-law’s money, but she had that rich person E-ZPass, as Nechama called it — also in her mind, she had once expressed it to Reuven, and he grimaced, as if it was beneath her to say it — and so Rina never had to pay for things. She had the discount at Full-On Fashion because her son-in-law owned the building; the guy at Lunch Spa waved away the suggestion of paying, since he catered all of Shea’s business lunches; and, even if she herself didn’t realize it, the schools were lining up to hire her husband only as a way of getting on the son-in-law’s radar. Of course Lakewood worked for Rina.

To Nechama, though, there was something off, and she knew why it irritated her. It was like all the nice people in Alameda Gardens were just boxes to be checked off, details in creating the perfect scenario. Yes, the eineklach coming on Erev Shabbos for kugel was sweet, but it was the systematic, methodical, textbook way it happened, as if there were rules — how the children had to look, be dressed, what time they came — and even worse, what happened if they didn’t come. Reuven told her that Goldfinger, from three houses down, had asked him, “What, the eineklach boycotting the kishke this week, it wasn’t good?” if their grandchildren missed a week.

Reuven had other issues with it, because the traffic control was a nightmare. Everyone seemed to come at once, parking at impossible angles and blocking the streets. The kids ran across the grass, and he’d seen one family throw used napkins out the car window. He told Nechama that he was working on a proposal to have all the cars park in the empty lot near the tennis court and allow only foot traffic between two and four on Fridays.

“Good luck,” she told him.

The whole thing was too Alameda Gardens for her. It was a system that worked on the premise that all these people who had retired and moved here were following a pattern: They had worked hard, sent off their children into the world, put away a bit of money, and now they had to go live the dream and be the world’s best bubby and zeidy. What if she wanted something else?

She hadn’t even told this to Reuven, but her friend Helen had gotten her thinking.

Helen and Moish had moved to Boca at the same time that Reuven and Nechama moved to Lakewood, and they loved it. Helen had never sounded better, Nechama thought.

They had been speaking on the phone, Helen rambling about something or other, and suddenly, she said something that made Nechama stop in her tracks.

“If the kids want to come down, they come down for a Shabbos, if they don’t, they don’t. This is not about them. Moish has his daf and his golf, and we’re just fine doing our thing, I don’t need them lurking around every corner of my life to complete the picture, know what I mean, Nechama?”

Nechama did. She knew exactly what her friend meant, and that scared her.

She had fallen into the trap, needing her children to be there, following her around, to make her feel like the move was justified — and her children just weren’t that type. They were happy to have her around, but they weren’t clingy, all busy with their parents. They had their own lives, and Nechama was proud of it.

Shaindy would understand this, Nechama thought, since her kids also seemed to have full lives — except for the one who lived in her house, that was a little too much. She had to find Shaindy alone, without Rina, and share this theory with her and see how she reacted.

She wondered, as she watched a gaggle of Hirshler eineklach happily carry their Shabbos pekelach to the car, how Reuven would react if she suggested selling the house and moving to Boca.

Maybe after Shabbos, she decided.


The opportunity came sooner than she thought.

Reuven wasn’t generally one for frum media, but on his way to the study after the Friday night seudah, he stopped to make a tea, and noticed an open magazine.

“The Beginner’s Guide to Middle Age,” he read the headline aloud. He tried to sound jovial, like he was just doing it to be entertaining, but she could tell he was interested.

“Just like we expect maturity from our children, and then our teenagers, the call to be mature continues throughout your life,” he went on. “At a certain point, a person reaches a fork in the road, and they choose whether to face outward, focused on helping others, or whether they want to turn back toward narcissism and self-absorption, putting themselves first, like the way they were at the very beginning of the journey.”

Nechama held her breath as he read. This seemed to have been written specifically for her.

And she didn’t like it one bit. Her children had always been first and foremost, and that hadn’t changed. But that didn’t mean that she had to park herself in their rearview mirrors so that she could breathlessly boast to others about how she “lived for her eineklach.”

Boca would be nice. The kids would have a place to come to midwinter, and there were like ten flights a day from Newark. A little privacy wouldn’t make her a narcissist.

Reuven was perplexed. He’d been trying to be playful by reading the magazine out loud, and clearly, his wife didn’t find it very amusing.

“What?” he asked her. “Why do you look so serious?”

“Reuven,” she said, as if he hadn’t spoken, “how come young people can try out different places and no one judges them, but when you’re doing it for the second time, you better get it right on the very first time, no backsies? Why aren’t people a bit more understanding that any decision is a risk, and sometimes, it takes more than one shot to get it right?”

“Huh?” he sat back down, which she knew was hard for him. Once he had a hot tea, he didn’t like to get sidetracked. “What are you talking about, Cham?”

She smiled. They could go to Boca. They were still okay.

“Nothing, go learn,” she said happily.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 914)

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