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Wise Son

Riva Pomerantz

“Why would Hashem want me to suffer so much humiliation from being with my sister-in-law all Yom Tov? I mean, you know how small I feel next to her, Shmu—she’s an impossible act to follow!”

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

It all started when my mother got mono. 

Well, the truth is, it started way before that. Because the fact is that Mommy and Aunt Shana have never gotten along and apparently, at least where my mother’s concerned, it was hate at first sight. 

Look, I won’t deny it. Aunt Shana is definitely a tough act to follow. First off, her husband, Uncle Chaim, is a self-made millionaire, and as my Bubby likes to say, everything he touches basically turns to gold. Which means that while my family sort of struggles to pay the bills, their family lives in a massive mansion and has every new toy and gadget before it hits the market. And the other thing is that on top of it all, Aunt Shana is just so…nice. See, if she was stuck-up and snooty it would probably be easier to hate her, cuz then it’s just so black-and-white. But the problem is she’s this really sweet person who’s always running around doing chesed for people and volunteering for tons of organizations and stuff, so that complicates things a lot. Trust me. You know these things growing up. 

I’m only twelve, okay, but I can imagine that if I had a brother who was so crazy successful I’d also be insanely jealous, I mean, uh, uncomfortable around him like my parents are with Uncle Chaim and Aunt Shana. I mean, it’s really hard to watch. Especially because my father works so hard as a computer programmer but he hasn’t had much luck finding steady jobs, and my mother’s an OT and she has a terrible boss who makes her feel like dirt, so there you go — not a pretty picture! 

So back to the mono thing. We kind of knew something was wrong because my mother was in bed already for a week and not getting any better, and her boss kept calling and asking when she was coming back to work but Mommy could barely even lift the phone to talk. Finally, my father literally dragged her to the doctor and we got the news a day later: mono. A kid in my class had mono in fourth grade and he was out for an entire month, so it sounded pretty scary. Especially when my mother got off the phone with the doctor and this huge tear ran down her face and she said only one word: “Pesach.” 

Right. Pesach. Three weeks away. 

“We’ll hire people to do the cleaning,” my father said, going into his This Is Gonna Be Okay voice. “And we’ll just buy all the food.” 

“We can’t afford that,” my mother croaked out. “Maybe I’ll be better by then.”

 Yeah, right.

Photo: Shutterstock

In my family, it doesn’t take long for things to get around, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw Aunt Shana’s number on the caller ID. Thing is, I couldn’t exactly pass the phone to my mother because a) she was fast asleep, and b) even if she wasn’t feeling horrible, Aunt Shana would be the last person she’d want to speak to. So instead, I gave the phone to my father. 

Let me just confirm this for all you parents out there: Yes, we hear everything you say. Yes, we fill in all the blanks and interpret everything that isn’t being said, because we’re really smart and crazy intuitive. So all that little pitchers, big ears stuff is one hundred percent true, just so you know. And closeting yourself in the bathroom or talking in broken Yiddish or pig Latin doesn’t help much because we are truly uncanny. Not to make you paranoid or anything, just giving you the facts. 

Anyway, back to the phone call. 

After my father’s eyebrows shot up way past his eyeglasses and he finished pacing back and forth around the living room, he finally said, in this kind of shaky way, “Thank you very much, Shana. I really appreciate the offer. I’ll talk it over with Mindy and we’ll see what happens.” 

This was all happening while I was faking studying for my math test, you understand, and it was a good five minutes before I could get wind of anything interesting. Then my father said, “But we’d need at least two rooms — we can’t have you guys laying out that kind of money.” Eureka! It took every inch of restraint not to grab my father’s arm and say, “Just say “yes” fast before they take it back!” I mean, it was obvious that Aunt Shana was offering us a free ticket to a hotel for Pesach! 

I could tell when my father got off the phone that he was fighting with himself to be calm and collected. Now he had to pitch Aunt Shana’s offer to my mother, and that wasn’t going to be easy. 

We heard all about it, all right. Not directly, of course. I mean, their bedroom door was closed and all. It just so happened that I needed to shower and — coincidentally — the boys’ bathroom adjoins my parents’ room. Such a smart architect — I gotta thank him one day. Anyway, it was quite the fireworks, especially for someone as sick and weak as my mother. 

“NO WAY!” she kind of shrieked. “I’m not going to be her next chesed case so she can brag to the whole world that she sent her nebbach sister-in-law to a hotel for Pesach!” 

“And besides,” my mother panted. “Do you know how much money it would cost just to buy wardrobes for the kids? In these places it’s crazy what goes on. They change outfits every meal!” 

My father kind of mumbled something about Aunt Shana offering to take the kids shopping, but my mother cut him off. 

“This is ridiculous!” she said. “There’s no way we’re going and that’s final!” 

Call me an optimist, but I knew there was no way we were not going, and I think my father kind of knew that, too, because he said, “But Mindy, let’s be reasonable. We can’t make Pesach with you in this condition. I think we really have to consider this offer and not look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially under the circumstances.” 

By “under the circumstances” he probably meant the fact that he’s been out of a regular kind of job for a while and making Pesach is expensive, any way you dice it. Trust me — I know these things. 

That’s when my mother said, “Shmuel, don’t you get it? This gift horse bites!”

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