M iriam Levinsky stood in the narrow doorway. “Hey, gut voch, Shvigger,” Chaim said. He had never gotten used to calling her Mommy, even though his father-in-law had been Daddy from day one. Perhaps it was because he called his own father Papa, though Rivky liked to play analyst and ascribe it to his own Mommy issues.

“Come in, Ma,” Rivky said, putting down the tablecloth she’d been folding and leading her mother inside. “Can I make you a cup of tea?”

“No, no. Just came to say hello.”

“Oh, okay, then,” Rivky said, standing there uncertainly, suddenly grasping that her mother wanted to speak to Chaim alone. She looked at him meaningfully, and stepped back into the tiny bedroom.

“Sit down, Shvigger, what’s up?”

Early on in his marriage, Chaim had heard from Rivky that her mother found him aloof, feeling that he never really spoke to her unless he had to. “What should I talk to her about, the markets? Coffee futures? The daf?”

“No,” Rivky would say, “make small talk. Ask about her day, little things.”

He’d tried, but it had never really worked. His other brothers-in-law had been much more successful in that regard: Shaya shared his mother-in-law’s interest in reading and they would often analyze the frum magazines together; Bentzion was handy, so he’d often gone up to fix things for his in-laws, earning himself the title of savior. (“Bentzion came and figured out what was wrong with the washing machine,” they would say, and “Bentzion got the lightbulb working again. I don’t know how he does it.”) It was only Chaim who would nod awkwardly and try to make conversation after 35 years of marriage.

“You know, Chaim, how happy we were that you and Rivky left home and joined us here in camp,” Miriam Levinsky said. “It really was too much for Daddy this year, but he was being stubborn about coming.”

He saw determination in her eyes: There was a prepared speech coming, one she’d likely been rehearsing all Shabbos.

“Now, I know that he can’t do too much anymore and you’ve really stepped up and filled his shoes. The others, Mr. Langsam and Rabbi Singer, would never have been able to manage. Daddy is very proud of you.”

“Thank you,” Chaim said, nodding. The flimsy door to his room trembled, and he imagined Rivky standing straight, trying not to breathe as she listened intently. Maybe she was even texting her sisters. Mommy’s here, having a head to head w Chaim. Big stuff. The sisters would no doubt drop everything and stay glued to their phones for live updates on this emergency situation. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 654)