No one could possibly be living like this. Everyone else has more time, more money, more help — or all three
Thank You, Hashem, for leftovers.
Thank You, Hashem, for a freezer that holds those leftovers until my kids forget that I once served them. Thank You for the microwave that gets those leftovers on the table in time for supper, even though I thought about supper way too late, and thank You for ketchup that covers the taste of food that’s been in the freezer for way too long.
I walked in the door from work with no idea what I could prepare for supper in under an hour, and besides, I knew that if I didn’t put in a load of laundry right then, it wouldn’t be ready to go in the dryer before I had to run out, and then…. And while I was aimlessly opening and closing doors and cabinets in my kitchen, were those dishes still dirty from Shabbos? I won’t even tell you what day of the week it was… I turned my face upward and said, “Hashem, these are Your children too, and You have to help me think of something to feed them for supper!” And right then, at that moment, those meatballs seemed like a miracle to me.
A lot of the time, I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread. I start thinking that there must be something wrong with my life. I try to think of some solution.
Work fewer hours? But I need both the salary and the mental stimulation I get from my job.
Get more help? But from whom? If I had extra money for help, I could just work fewer hours and do things myself.
Get more help from my husband? As if he isn’t stretched as thin as I am.
Lower my standards? Believe me, they’re pretty low already.
Sometimes a voice in my head shouts, “THIS ISN’T NORMAL!” No one could possibly be living like this. Everyone else has more time, more money, more help — or all three. Everyone else has easier kids, easier schedules, easier lives. I can give you examples. I have proof. And even if I didn’t, I don’t need proof. If everyone was doing what I was doing, then they’d all be insane. But they’re not. So that’s all the proof I need.
But then I get a phone call from my sister-in-law, Atara.* “I really don’t want to tell Tuvia he has to stop traveling. These trips are so good for him. I see how invigorated he is when he gets back from a week or two of speaking engagements. And the extra cash doesn’t hurt either.
“But it’s not normal to be running a house as a single parent. Just think of all the little things you ask your husband to do in a day. Pick up milk on the way home, drop the kids off at school, lend a hand at bedtime.” I rarely ask my husband to do any of those things, and I work a lot more hours than Atara, but that’s not what she wants to hear, so I keep my mouth shut.
“And those are just the little things,” she continues. “I don’t think anyone could handle this.” I murmur an “uh-huh” that I hope sounds convincing, but remain non-committal.
Tila, my coworker, meets me in the coffee room on Tuesday. “I’m thinking of quitting,” she confides in hushed tones. “I don’t think it’s normal to keep up this schedule. Running home and trying to get my kids to all their appointments and therapies….
“You don’t understand, my kids don’t just have ear infections or need the occasional strep test. A lot of them need extra help. Shayna needs regular checkups at the orthodontist, and,” she lowers her voice, “Pinny still isn’t reading, and I think Ari may have ADHD. Rina definitely does — and all these things take time and a lot of my energy to deal with. There isn’t time left for me to blow my nose.”
I’m a bit taken aback at this unexpected confession. “But what will you do? Can you afford not to work?”
She sighs. “I really don’t know what we’re going to do about money. But what choice do I have? No one would expect a person to be doing this.” She clearly expects an answer from me, a confirmation that I think her life is just not normal, not manageable. Honestly, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t have more than one kid who needs intervention of some kind. But I nod as she speaks and she takes that for agreement.
Later in the week, I hear my former neighbor, Leah, became a grandmother. I call to wish her mazel tov. “Can you believe it!? How did time fly by so fast? Wasn’t it just yesterday you were telling me how hard a time you were having toilet training Efraim? And now he’s a father! Soon he’ll be worrying about toilet training this baby!”
“Actually, I do believe it. He was two a very long time ago. You know I’ve had more struggles than most people have to deal with — it’s aged me.” We lived next door to each other for years, we were in and out of each others’ houses all the time, and if I’m going to be really honest, we shared way too much information.
Still, I don’t at all know that Leah’s life has been harder than anyone else’s, but she’s waiting for me to confirm what she’s said. What should I tell her? So I sigh and hope it sounds to Leah like I acknowledged what she said.
All I want is for someone to vouch that my life is just too hard. But before I have a chance, it seems everyone else is waiting for me to agree that their lives are the ones that are just too hard. So, as much as I’m tempted to call Tila or Atara or Leah and tell them that I’m serving meatballs for dinner that have been in my freezer so long that my kids don’t even know they’re leftovers, and I had no time or energy to do anything other than add half a bottle of ketchup to the sauce and daven hard that it be palatable, I won’t call anyone.
Because if they’re having a good day, they’ll tsk-tsk while thinking that my life is pretty average, when all I want to hear is that my life is impossible. And if they’re having a bad day, they’ll flat out tell me how lucky I am to have found leftovers to serve and that my kids don’t remember I’d once served them. And I’ll know they’re right, but I’m not quite in the mood to hear it right now.
What I really want to do is stand on the rooftop and say: We’re more or less all in the same boat. We all have our challenges — not enough time or money or energy or all of the above. Maybe there really is something we should change, or maybe there is nothing we can change. A lot of the time we all feel that no one else has it harder.
But the important thing to remember is this: When we really feel that the last lone thread is ready to snap, we should call out to Hashem, and then we’ll find meatballs in the freezer, and just for today, our kids will eat them.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 680)
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