Upper Class: Chapter 1| February 7, 2023
“It’s really not going to be as bad as you think, Nomes. I promise. Eleventh grade is amazing”
Tell me there are older married siblings in the home without telling me there are older married siblings in the home.
I gingerly step around a baby bouncer, hop around a baby swing, and jump over a box of Magnatiles, all conveniently located in the not-so-spacious kitchen. Considering the youngest in our house, Lazer, is 14, this can mean only one thing: The marrieds descended for Shabbos. And they did not clean up very well afterward.
Baruch Hashem, I was at Debbi’s and missed the chaos. I’m so annoyed by the mess that I forgo my usual coffee and banana, grab my bag, sling it on, slip into my Adidas, and head for the door.
I’d stay and help Mommy clean up, I really would, but Debbi is expecting me at her house for a camp-packing brainstorming session.
Also, I really don’t want to.
I’m not what you’d call a “camp girl.” I don’t wait all year until I can finally be my true self, express my creativity, shine in ways I don’t in the classroom. Because, let’s face it, I kind of shine in the classroom.
But I do love camp. The freedom, the fun, the girls, the grounds. And this year — bumbumbumdadum — we are finally, finally going to be staff. Which is the only reason I don’t tell Debbi to regular calm down. I totally get it. I’m excited, too. But also, she needs to stop pacing around her room, or I’m going to throw up from motion sickness.
“Can you sit?” I say finally, as she bounds by me again, the packing list in her hand coming precariously close to my eye.
I don’t think she can actually hear me above the sound of her panic.
My phone rings. Well, that’s Debbi saved by the bell, because I was about to kill her.
“Shh!” I say fiercely, waving my phone. “It’s Gershy and he’s babysitting.”
My sister Sima has gone out for her first excursion into the world, post-baby, and I think my twenty-six-year-old brother-in-law’s current mindset would make teenage Debbi seem like the queen of calm.
“Naomi? Naomi, it’s Gershy.”
I roll my eyes. Yes. Thanks, Captain Obvious. I have Caller ID because it’s not 1990. “How’s it going, Gershy?” I say aloud, “How’s Princess Penina?” There’s the sound of heavy breathing and then I hear poor Penina wailing.
“Great. Perfect, she’s great. She just seems… thirsty.”
I smirk at Debbi who’s eavesdropping. “What time is it? Two? Yup, she wants her daily glass of tea. One spoon sugar, lemon on the side.”
Gershy is not amused. “Glass of… Naomi. I am very close to a nervous breakdown. For the love of Hashem—”
I sigh. “Okay, okay, she’s hungry. Take the bottle that Sima left you, warm it in a cup of hot water. Test it on your wrist. If it’s not too hot, feed it to your child. Uh, Sima didn’t tell you any of this?”
Gershy sounds sheepish. “She did. Twice. Plus she wrote it down. I just forgot because the sound of Penina’s crying actually has the power to make me lose my mind. Thanks, Tanta. You saved the day.”
And he’s off before I can come up with an appropriate reply about how I always save the day.
Debbi is finally calm and gazing at me in awe. “You really are like a little grandmother in a very put together teenage body.”
I grab the packing list from her hand, roll it up, and whack her on the head with it, so her perfect blonde hair stands on end.
“Ouch,” she says, grabbing it back from me.
Smoothing it out, she goes over it again. “Okay, listen, we have to wear shirts with collars. But should we also bring along other clothing? For like Melaveh Malkahs and outings? Who should we ask?”
We look at each other. “Libby,” we say together.
My older sister Libby is currently in nursing school, which means I get to see her once in Yovel. But she’s also kind of my favorite person in the world, and she’ll know exactly what we need.
Debbi throws herself backward onto her bed, so her hair fans out in a flawless cloud. If I did that, my hair would puff up like a brown thunderstorm. Not that I should complain, my hair is gorgeous. It just isn’t effortless like Debbi’s.
I call Libby. She’s already on her way home, and crunching away on something.
“Lib? Are you eating chips?”
My health-conscious sister does not eat oily fried foods.
She laughs. “Nope, ice cubes leftover from my latte. What’s up, Nomes? Hi, Debbi!”
“Baruch Hashem,” I say, as Debbi calls out hello. “Basically, we’re all into the packing list for Ashreinu, but super confused over what exactly we’re packing as waitresses. We don’t need to be those clichés who pack way too much, but also, we want to have enough, you know?”
Libby laughs again. “Well, yeah, that’s what every person going to camp has said. That’s the camp conundrum, hun. Same with seminary.”
“Ohmigosh,” I groan, “do not talk about sem. The seniors are acting insane. Everyone keeps crying.”
“Two more years and that’ll be yooouuu,” Libby teases.
I roll my eyes, although she can’t see me. “Yeah, well, first I need to survive 11th grade.”
Libby sighs, and Debbi studiously starts brushing her hair. The silence stretches, and then Libby says softly, “It’s really not going to be as bad as you think, Nomes. I promise. Eleventh grade is amazing. Think of all the freedom, the study periods, the privileges. And Chumash is only three times a week. And we all did it. Miri, Yocheved, Dass, me. It’s just one class.”
“Double period,” I counter.
And it’s way different for me, I say silently.
I hang up with Libby and turn to Debbi. She’s sitting Indian style on her bed, chin in her hands. The packing list is now folded into a fan in front of her. She makes a sad face at me.
“What am I going to do?” I ask softly.
She shrugs. “You’re going to be you. The fabulous Naomi Taub. And you’ll figure out Chumash class. Just come in with a plan.”
I raise an eyebrow at her. “A plan on how to deal with Morah Taub?”
She looks at me. “A plan on how to get along with your mother while she’s your main 11th-grade teacher.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 948)
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