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Double Take: Wheel of Fortune

Shaina King

Now I understand that he only earned commission, but all I knew then was that sometimes there was money, and sometimes there wasn’t. Usually there wasn’t

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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Life is not only about getting married. It’s about staying married.

Mrs. Muller

Life is not about money. Don’t lose this opportunity.

I remember my mother’s money-voice. The words varied, but it was always the same tone. “I need to buy diapers,” she would say, or, “Can I do the grocery shopping yet?” She would look at my father, he would turn away. And we kids would run away, to another room, so we wouldn’t have to hear what came next.

I told my friends the official version — my father was “in sales.” Now I understand that he only earned commission, but then all I knew was that sometimes there was money, and sometimes there wasn’t. Usually there wasn’t.

In eighth grade I got a job helping a sheitelmacher in the evenings. By tenth grade I was the one who did my friends’ hair for simchahs. I did haircuts on the side, too, $10 each. I could earn $50 in two hours on a Sunday.

My high school principal helped me piece together grants and scholarships so I could go to seminary. Seminary is basically a place where you spend a year talking about the kind of person you want to marry. The teachers all talked about histapkus b’muat, sacrificing for Torah, and I wanted it so badly. But I knew something my friends didn’t.

I knew what it’s like to have a child crying with a fever, and to wait, and wait, and wait, and not take them to the doctor, because you don’t have cash for the co-pay or the antibiotics, and maybe it’s just an ear infection that might be viral anyway.

I knew what it’s like to have a car parked in front of your house, in decent working order, but you have to walk everywhere because you have no money to buy gas.

I knew what it’s like to stand by the window and watch the whole neighborhood play in the snow. Snow is free, but there are only two pairs of boots, and the smaller ones don’t fit you anymore, and your older brother needs the bigger ones to wear to school. Besides, who wants to wear boys’ boots?

I knew what it’s like to borrow a little money from your uncle, just for a few days — it’s the 25th and you get paid on the 30th — and then borrow a little more from your cousin, on the 15th.

I knew that marriage takes a lot of compromise and goodwill and good middos, and that all those things are in short supply when you can’t provide for your basic needs and you’re always thinking about your debts.

At the end of the year in Israel there were a few presentations from different degree programs. My roommate immediately chose a speech therapy program.

“What exactly do speech therapists do?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “Um, I don’t know, fix people’s lisps, maybe? The point is that it’s the shortest program.”

There was this enormous pressure to get a degree as fast as you can and start earning a huge salary immediately. For shidduchim, you know.

I didn’t go for a degree. I didn’t want my children to have the same childhood I had. I didn’t want to have the same marriage my parents had. Paying back student loans as a married woman working part-time on a speech therapist’s salary was not going to work. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 706)

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