“R ina? Hi, it’s Faigie calling. Faigie Grossberg?”

Rina’s hand tightened around the phone as she heard the wispy voice of Eliezer’s wife. Faigie always felt the need to re-introduce herself, with that question mark at the end, as if after more than ten years of marriage to Rina’s ex, she still wasn’t sure whether Rina knew who she was.

Swallowing her irritation, Rina said, “How are you, Faigie?”

“Fine, thank G-d. Huvy told me that she asked you about coming to our house to help out. I mean, it’s such a big help, with me in my ninth month. I just wanted to check that you’re okay with it?”

Rina gritted her teeth. It’s nice of her, to ask permission. She’s being sweet. And of course she needs help. So what if you do, too? So what if you’re drowning in work and family obligations, and have no idea how you’re going to get by for the next two weeks without Huvy’s help? Why should that mean anything to Faigie and Eliezer?

She took a breath. Really, how were they expected to know what was going on in Rina’s life? It would look terribly petty and childish to refuse to let Huvy help her expectant stepmother. And one thing she’d always prided herself on was the way she and Eliezer had handled themselves around Huvy.

Honestly, she hadn’t expected any less of Eliezer; he was too meek and passive to fight over anything or badmouth anyone. As for Rina, it hadn’t been easy, especially at the beginning. But she’d pledged, as her young marriage was falling apart, that she would never let her own mistakes ruin her daughter’s emotional wellbeing. And, despite her passionate and impulsive nature, she’d kept her promise.

It was something to be proud of.

“It’s my pleasure, Faigie,” Rina said, with all the graciousness she could muster. “B’shaah tovah.”

I ought to get an award for ex-wife of the year.

“Oh, thank you!” Faigie tittered. “Huvy’s such a wonderful girl, you must be so proud of her.” She paused. “Eliezer and I felt so bad when she told us how miserable she was at that camp.”

Wham. Rina reeled backward into her chair. Miserable? What was Faigie talking about? “Um,” she mumbled.

Faigie was still speaking. “…all the other girls excluding her. It must have been hard knowing she was so unhappy. What did you do about it?”

Knowing she was so unhappy? But Rina hadn’t known! Huvy hadn’t said a word! Everything was always “fine, okay, good.” Even when Rina had noticed the others treating her poorly, Huvy never seemed fazed.

Rina felt the phone slipping out of her trembling fingers. Was it all just a front? More to the excruciating point: Did Huvy feel more comfortable confiding in her stepmother than in her own mother? And did Faigie know it? Did she know she was stabbing Rina in the heart right now?

Somehow, she choked out a response. “Yes, it was hard. I’m working with the other girls on… on middos development.”

Middos development. Sounded impressive enough, as if she were so much more than a film producer, as if she were a molder of teenage girls, a mechaneches par excellence.

As opposed to an utter failure as a mother.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 620)