| Tempo: Second Guessing |

Time’s Up    

 I’m trying to be calm. “Just a reminder I need to leave at three thirty,” I say in my most “I’m a professional” voice



eep beep beep.

I sit up and then immediately lie back down. No sitting. Sitting bad. Must. Lie. Down.

Malkie comes into my room sounding like a small hurricane. “Mooooommmmy, come give me cereal.”

Shhhh. Shhhh!

“I don’t feel well, sweetie, take on your own, okay?” I rasp out.

I’ll be paying for that one later.

Nachi comes in, tallis bag slung over one shoulder, whistling.

“Are you still sleeping?” he asks, his tone surprised.

“Don’t feel well.”

He’s silent, and then, “’Kay, I’ll get the kids out, I guess.”

My head hurts too much for me to process this at a deeper level. “Thank you.”

Wait, no, I can definitely process that. Why did he hesitate? Why does he “guess?” Why can’t he just be sympathetic? And why is everything with him always, no matter what, tense? WHY??

He pops his head back in. “Didn’t you have a photo shoot booked for today?”

I roll my eyes with tremendous effort. Was this his way of poking fun? That I’d be able to stay home, sick, if only I didn’t indulge in my silly photography hobby? Nachi wishes for nothing but to say that I stay home all day doing nothing. Instead, according to him, I let my sport take over my life.

But wait, he’s right. I lie in bed, dozing, knowing I must call Avigail Rotberg ASAP. I wish Nachi could be the kind of husband who would help his wife, and cancel on her client because she has the flu, but then again, I wish Nachi was the kind of husband who did a lot of things that he’ll never do. I cough and then call Avigail, my throat protesting with every word.

“Avigail? Penina Mandelbaum. I’m so, so sorry, I won’t be able to do the photos today, I think I have the flu.”

Things sound lively on her end for ten a.m. Oh no, did she end up keeping her kids home because of the shoot? She had said she might, when we were figuring out timing. Something about bathing them right before so her boys’ hair would dry right. Don’t think about it, I coach myself. Focus on what you need to feel good.

She’s quiet, and then with a politeness that could only have come from a five-star upbringing she says, “Wow, don’t worry about it. Just feel better and we’ll reschedule.”

I thank her and hang up, my hand dropping in exhaustion. My throat hurts, and my head is stuffed full of cotton, and I’m sleeping before I even close my eyes.

The flu lasts a week, a long, miserable, dark week. I message Avigail once to tell her I’m still unwell and I’ll be in touch. She is so understanding, it literally renews my faith in humanity. At least, in most of humanity. Nachi seems to think I got sick on purpose, which is amusing, but also not at all. He’s been taking the kids to and from school and serving grilled cheese and a great deal of muttering for dinner. Deep breathing when he comes to check up on me. It’s truly a lovely backdrop to convalesce to.

I manage to edit last week’s shoot of the Friedman sisters late Wednesday night when my Advil finally kicks in, and then tumble back into bed. And then one glorious winter Monday, I wake up and I feel… okay!

Pretty good. Well enough to get the kids out, clean up breakfast, and daven a little. Then I message Avigail that we can do the shoot any day this week. She messages back that she’s glad I’m feeling better and Wednesday would be great for her.

Fantastic. We confirm for 2:30 p.m., Maple Leaf Park. I hope she doesn’t keep her kids home again; maybe she can pick them up at noon or something. But that’s not my affair. We discuss outfit colors and combinations; I remind her to have the kids well fed and to bring treats and bribes. I also tell her that she should be prompt because I’ll need to leave for carpool at exactly three thirty. Two thirty gives me a 45-minute shoot and 15 minutes for the seven-minute drive home.

I didn’t used to mention time; in the beginning I enjoyed getting lost in a shoot, bonding with the family, going overtime as we hit the right sunbeam. But Nachi has zero patience for my avocation (though just because our parnassah is not contingent on my sessions does not make it a hobby), and he will not step out of work to do carpool unless it’s for something “real.”

Like the flu. I remind myself that he really did help me a ton this week. But there’s absolutely no way I can ask him to get Malkie and Layla at four. And I’ve also maxed out Sari Rubin’s assistance. She did more than her fair share of carpooling this week when I was in bed. So no Nachi and no neighbors. In other words, I can’t be late.

Avigail says of course she’ll be on time, and we hang up. I’m sure she will be; people usually are. Photoshoots are a big deal, and people tend to over-plan, which I appreciate.

That taken care of, I go take a nap. I’m still pretty weak.

But first, I open my phone calendar and find November 2024. I tap in GET FLU SHOT.

Wednesday dawns perfectly. The skies are blue, the sun is shining, and it’s cold but not freezing. I’m happy for Avigail, her photos are going to come out stunning, if I do say so myself.

I arrive at the park at two fifteen to scout out the perfect spots. I have my favorite places, but every family is different. I kneel near a tree and focus upwards. Yes, love that. I move toward a tire swing; this will be perfect. She said she has four little boys and one baby girl. We’ll put the baby in the middle and have the boys all around.

Oh, and this low tree with the branches spread like open arms is a fave.

I take some sample snaps, switch lenses, drink some water. Two thirty comes and goes, Avigail calls to tell me she’s stuck in traffic, but they’re almost there and she’s so excited. She sounds like such a nice person, I’m excited to work with her.

Trying to remain calm, I spy my neighbor on a walk with her elderly father. I take some pictures of them posing, framed by gorgeous skies, and promise to email them. I’m always happy when I can do what I love and also make people happy.

At two fifty-five, I hear a commotion and turn around to see a navy minivan pull up, and four redheaded boys spill out.

Redheads! My favorite!

She’s dressed them in neutrals, and I can already see the perfection that these photos are going to be. She and her husband get out, obviously beyond stressed, her in a gorgeous taupe dress, him in black and white with a taupe sweater. I watch him help with the baby and carry Avigail’s bag for her. He’s a good husband. That much is obvious.

I take control of the chaos and corral everyone toward the first spot, the big open armed tree, and begin directing the kids with my usual repertoire of jokes and sounds. They’re such good kids, they listen and smile, and they jump when I say jump. A real pleasure to work with.

Avigail is still trying to get her bearings; she’s looking in a little mirror and fussing with her sheitel; her husband is trying to be helpful, but is kind of just standing around, getting in the way.

I get some more gorgeous snaps of the boys when Avigail suddenly says, “Omigosh where is Henny’s bow?”

We all look around; baby Henny looks back at us innocently, her rather bald head gleaming auburn in the sun. Mr. Rotberg sprints back to the car and begins pulling it apart. I’m almost surprised that there’s nothing snarky about the way he does it. But it’s three ten. I need to leave at three thirty on the dot. Forget the bow.

I open my phone and scroll through my contacts. Is there anyone who can pick up the girls? Maybe a babysitter? Nah, that won’t work, none of my babysitters drive. What about my sister? No, no, she has her own carpools on the other side of town. I put away my phone regretfully. I’m just going to have to bounce out of here, what can I do? It’s just not worth annoying Nachi, I’ll never hear the end of it.

Mr. Rotberg finds the bow and waves it triumphantly, and Avigail smiles gratefully, hand pressed to her heart. Oh, they’re adorable. I quash the flicker of jealousy and give a thumbs-up. The boys cheer.

I’m trying to be calm. “Just a reminder I need to leave at three thirty,” I say in my most “I’m a professional” voice.

Avigail looks at her watch. She looks at me.

“That’s in twenty minutes,” she says.

Her husband’s mouth drops open.

“Yes,” I say calmly. “I need to pick up my daughters from school.”

They say nothing — there’s that good upbringing — but I can see that Mr. Rotberg’s upset.

Relax your jaw, I tell him silently. You’re bringing tension into the photo. Avigail’s smile is dimmed, that happy, carefree look she wore earlier despite her stress gone.

They’re marring their own photos.

Or rather my stringency is marring their photos. Actually, I think, as my stress slowly builds, Nachi is marring their photos. Nachi and his need for a showcase life. Nachi and his inability to understand my passion, Nachi and his self-absorbed attitude toward his work. Nachi should apologize to the Rotbergs.

I gather them for a family shoot, then just the boys grouped together, then baby Henny alone. There’s no question they need alone shots of this girlie with her giant bow. No time for solo shots of each boy though.

Snap, snap, snap. I check the display. Gorgeous. They’re coming out gorgeous.

At three thirty-four — I’d given them an extra few minutes and prayed I’d make every light — Mr. Rotberg speaks up. “Can we get some pictures of just me and my wife?”

I don’t make eye contact. “I’m so sorry, no, we’re overtime.”

He takes a step back; Avigail looks at the ground. Is she crying? If she cries, I’m going to cry.

“Your family is beautiful,” I say, walking backward toward my car. “We got absolutely perfect pictures. I’ll edit and send them to you for choosing. Thank you so much, be well!”

And then I face forward and hightail it to the school.

I wish I could have stayed. They had been so accommodating when I was sick, and I really do think she kept her kids home that first day, when I had gone and canceled on her. But they came 20 minutes late, wasted more time looking for the bow, and I’m not in a position where I can ask Nachi for any more carpool help.

The Rotbergs are upset right now, but I think when they have their photos, they’ll be okay. And I really don’t think there was any way I could have stayed to make them happy.


Contribute to this column as a Second Guesser! Email your response, including your name as you want it to appear, to familyfirst@mishpacha.com with Second Guessing in the subject.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 891)

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