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Second Guessing: Too Close for Comfort

I run a hand over my face. I’m too old for this. I’m too tired for this. I’m too Lanni-phobic for this


I totally biased if I say that my daughter is a sweetheart?

I'm pretending to wash dishes as I watch the neighborhood clique split up for jump rope circles. Laykie Taub is picking teams and of course Sori is picked right away. But she reaches over and grabs Toby Tropper’s hand before flashing Laykie a thumbs-up. Gosh, if I had half her confidence, PTA would be much more enjoyable.

Toby smiles gratefully at Sori.

“Spying on the kids again?” asks a voice in my ear.

I give a little shriek and drop a spatula into the sink. It bobs happily around in a bed of soap bubbles while I try to fish it out.

“Koby, you scared me half to death.”

My husband grins. “C’mon, you totally were spying on them. Sori is great, no? What are you expecting to see?”

I rinse the cutlery and set them into the drain rack.

“Nothing to do with Sori. Lanni Tropper called me again to complain that her Toby is being bullied and she ‘highly suspects’ Sori has something to do with it.”

Koby snorts and reaches for a bag of chips. “Yeah, right.”

I sigh. “You know, it’s funny. Lanni is so overprotective of Toby, always hovering and micromanaging. But in school, Toby seems totally regular. Like, you barely sense any social issues at all.”

Koby raises his eyebrows. “Sounds like someone might be creating issues where there are none.”

I’m not one to wash dishes and gossip, but I’m pretty sure Koby just hit the nail on the head.

It’s the night before the tumult, and I’m enjoying the last licks of bein hazmanim.

Koby and I don’t speak, we just walk slowly, enjoying the sweet scents of summer. “Ready for a new zeman?” I ask, my voice soft, not wanting to disturb the fireflies and honeysuckle.

He gives a half smile. “Avaadeh. Ready for a new class?”

I shrug. “Not really. But I’ll get into it. I always do.”

Middle-school extracurriculars doesn’t sound too strenuous, but it can be a lot. And between me and the fireflies, I’ve made a real difference. I know that; I see the girls leaving my classroom different from when they entered. I know that’s unusual for a three-time-a-week teacher, and I’m proud of my success. Everyone shines somewhere. Teaching is my place.

But tonight, I’m exhausted already.

“These new policies are exhausting to learn,” I say, a whine creeping into my voice. Uch, I hate whining. “But they really will make things run much smoother.” It’s an attempt to take it back.

“You have one more week to figure it all out,” my husband reminds me.

True, true.

And conversation slowly fades as we watch the stars overhead begin to twinkle through the sky.

The fifth-grade Ivrit class list pops into my inbox just as I’m tucking Temima into bed. I already received the sixth-grade list, plus the fifth and sixth Music class lists. I kiss my daughter’s forehead and go check my Bais Yaakov Outlook. Class list 23-24, higher track. Here we go, the moment of truth. Whose sisters, whose mothers I was in school with myself, which names I’ve been warned about, who’s new to the school.

Greenburg, that’s Raizy Klein’s married name. And yup, Kayla Rubin, Dassi’s younger sister. And oohhh, Malky Klein. I continue scrolling, and there, at the bottom: Toby Tropper.

My mouth drops open.

No. Way. This is not happening. Not to me. Not this year!

How did I not realize that Lanni’s daughter was going to be in my Ivrit class? This is what happens when you get overwhelmed by life; you miss out on the most obvious things. Well, now the real question is: How on earth do I get Mrs. Cohen to switch Toby Tropper out of my class without Lanni noticing? Did she push Toby into my track? Because Fraidy Rosenbaum, who teaches the other Ivrit class, is great.

I run a hand over my face. I’m too old for this. I’m too tired for this. I’m too Lanni-phobic for this. But also… Toby. I know her. She can be painfully shy. Emphasis on painful. It’s hard to watch her when she gets together with the girls in the neighborhood. And then when Sori convinces her to join the group, I hear about it from Lanni. It bothers her to no end that Sori is a social butterfly, and I feel for her, I really do. But do not call to complain about my daughter when my daughter is kind and caring and includes your daughter in every neighborhood activity.

On the other hand, it’s like I told Koby. Toby seems to do well in school. She has her friends, I know that. I guess I didn’t realize that I’ve been keeping tabs on her, but it’s not like she eats lunch alone or anything.

Really, I know I’m exactly what the doctor ordered for Toby Tropper. She’s complicated, and I don’t want to brag, but being in my class would be the best thing that ever happened to her. Last year, a couple of weeks after I assigned a group project specifically designed with the class’s internal politics in mind, Farkas’s mother called to tell me that her daughter had had friends walk over on Shabbos afternoon for the first time in her life. I may or may not have cried when I heard that.

TO switch Toby or not to switch Toby? That is the question.

“Leave it be, it’s only three times a week,” Koby advises as he rushes out to first seder.

Thank you, that clears everything right up.

“Do NOT engage with Lanni Tropper,” my sister Batsheva warns me darkly. She knows Lanni from exercise class. “Stay far away.”

I’m sure that was l’toeles. And it was what my instincts were telling me in the first place.

But Toby would do so well in my class….

I call Bashie Tenenbaum, her fourth-grade limudei kodesh teacher.

“Toby Tropper? Oy, I miss her. You get attached, you know? Anyway, Toby is adorable, and she can really be placed in either track, but between you and me….” She lets the sentence linger. “You’re good with people, Dini, I just thought the whole situation could use your finesse.”

Flattery will get you everywhere, but I really have no koach for this.

Does Toby actually need me? If she was placed in the lower track, she would do just as well, Ivrit-wise. And no one would blink an eyelash.

I hang up and sit at my desk, palm pressed against my forehead in an effort to stem the rising headache. Toby needs TLC, that much is evident. But I need to balance my home vs. work life. On the other hand, I went into teaching because I love kids, especially the ones who have a hard time at home. But Toby is my neighbor; it’s a bit close for comfort. I rub my temple. If not me, who? Bashie Tenenbaum said she chose me especially. On the other hand, I only teach three times a week, let’s calm ourselves with the whole making-a-difference thing. Okay, this is what I’m known for; I have a reputation. But Lanni could kill said reputation if I annoy her in any way. Maybe I should just continue to be the friendly neighborhood mom to Toby and build her up that way?

Yup, headache has officially arrived.

“Dini, how are you?”

I lock the recycling bin into place, and turn to face Lanni, a smile pasted firmly on my face.

“Baruch Hashem, how are you?”

“Greeaaaat! Can’t believe summer totally flew by like that.”

I nod. “I know. Although some days seemed to be more like crawling, but yes, it’s hard to believe it’s over.”

Lanni laughs. “Totally. Each day takes a year, but the years fly by and all that, right?”

I laugh, too. “That’s right.”

We smile at each other, genuinely this time. Am I having an actual nice moment with Lanni Tropper? Strange.

“I love summer nights,” I share.

Lanni looks around. “Me, too. Oh, except last night, when Menachem parked at the end of my driveway and made a total ruckus.”

Aaaaand we’re back.

My face tightens. “Mmmm.”

She tries to be chilled. “Teens, right? Anyway, if you can tell him not to block my driveway, that’d be great. And also, to keep the music lower.”

I straighten my shoulders, turn back to go inside.

“For sure,” I say.

And then I call Mrs. Cohen. And ask her to switch Toby Tropper out of my class.

OF course, I don’t sleep the rest of the week.

I’ve never done that before, switched a girl out of one of my classes. Koby doesn’t think I should have done it, but he also doesn’t see what the big deal is. It’s not like she’d be bored in the lower track of Ivrit class.


And then I see Toby slouching her way into Morah Rosenbaum’s classroom, and my insides shrivel in guilt and shame. I didn’t have the capacity to deal with Lanni Tropper all year long… but was that at the expense of her daughter’s progress?


All I can think is: What should I have done differently?


S.L, Jerusalem

Dini, you did the right thing. Way too close for comfort!! Being a good neighbor is already a tricky balance. A neighbor is a unique relationship; you live in very close proximity while trying to give each other privacy and space. And that’s before you mix in the tricky dynamics at play here. To become the teacher of a daughter whose mother is nitpicky and already has what to complain about as a next-door neighbor… that’s bringing stress into work so that there is nowhere to escape! Like you said, Toby will do well and accomplish in the other class, and you can help her out in small ways from your vantage point as a neighbor. Nobody can promise that from teaching Toby three days a week you can turn her life around — this is Ivrit class, not Early Intervention! And there is a pretty high possibility that as Toby’s teacher, you’d have to deal with flak and complaints and issues… all year long. Mothers lead busy, stressful lives. Work can be an oasis or a nightmare. Why take the chance of turning it into a nightmare when the returns are so open-ended?


Mindy G., Monsey

My gut reaction was yeah, sure go for it — make the switch and you’ll have an easier year. But when I give it a second thought, I’m not so sure. Where I grew up, there was one school with one class per grade. The option to switch your difficult neighbor’s child out of your class did not exist. It was part of growing up and accepting the challenges Hashem sent your way. You claim to be a teacher with passion for reaching kids, “especially the ones who have a hard time at home.” You can’t choose situations where you will shine. You need to think about the child and let everything else fade into the background.


Rivka B., Lakewood

As I read your story, I was trying to understand if you didn’t want to teach Toby because you wanted to maintain peace with your neighbor, or if you just had no patience dealing with Lanni, though you had the skills and would have been be able to. Your motivation for making the switch is key. You say that every time you saw Toby your insides twisted and you felt a pang of guilt. That tells me that you don’t think you made the right choice. Sometimes our minds can trick us in a way that our bodies don’t. What would the world look like if teachers picked their students based on how they felt about their mothers and families?

Would you like to contribute to this column as a Second Guesser? Email familyfirst@mishpacha.com with Second Guesses in the subject line.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 858)

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