I have always said that I truly believe people mean well, and I try to be dan l’chaf z’chus in all situations. Yet I am human and sometimes I do get frustrated or annoyed at someone without knowing the full story or their intentions. That being said, when I read the email below, I felt for the single woman who wrote the letter. I truly do not think the intentions of her cousin were mean or in any way trying to flaunt the fact that she is married with a family and her single cousin is not. Still, the single cousin was hurt. Read on.
I spent the first half of Sukkos at my cousin’s house. We’ve always been close. She was the one whom I leaned on the most when I divorced after being married for less than a year. I don’t know why, but I feel it relevant to mention that. My cousin is married with, b’li ayin ha’ra, four children of her own. She and her husband invite me over for Shabbasos often, and we and hang out a lot together. I believe that it is because of our bond and how close we are; that’s why I am so hurt at what happened. Before I continue, I want you to know that my cousin doesn’t know how her words and actions affected me, and I’m sure she would feel awful and beg forgiveness should she find out how I feel – and no, she will not read this column, sorry.
A few days before Sukkos, my cousin called and asked if I would mind if we all went out for lunch one of the days to a friend of hers. I know the woman; we even have some mutual friends. I told her that it would be fine and thanked her for asking me if I would be comfortable. On the second day of Sukkos, my cousin’s ten-year-old son, Benny* (*name changed), woke up sick. There was no way Benny could have been given Tylenol and have gone about his day. I’m sure you can see where the story is going. My cousin pampered him and gave him everything a sick child could want; but time was moving and soon she and the rest of us would be expected at someone else’s sukkah.
I felt terrible for my cousin and her son. I remember my mother missing a wedding or a night out when my sister and I were younger and sick. I know it has happened to others, as well; plans are made, a child gets sick, plans are changed. So, you can imagine how shocked I was when my cousin asked to speak with me in her kitchen after her husband came home from shul. In a nutshell, she said that she “hated to ask,” and she knows it’s “unfair” and I “can say no,” but would I mind staying home with Benny while she and the rest of the family went out for lunch. She said that her youngest child started to tantrum when she was told that her mother would be staying home and not going to lunch.
I wanted to refuse. I felt like I was being asked to miss the party in order to babysit. If I was married, I wouldn’t have been asked to stay back. My cousin would have stayed back, and her husband would have dealt with the tantrum-child. I was looking forward to this lunch. It was a beautiful day, and I know the host and hostess. I also can’t afford to get sick. I am at the end of my sick and vacation days at work because of the chagim and I didn’t want to catch anything that would make me sick. Call me selfish, but I just didn’t want to catch a virus, cold, or flu from a child who wasn’t my own or a niece or nephew of mine. I didn’t think it would be wrong if I went to lunch and didn’t babysit, because after all, I am not the sick child’s mother. But then I imagined the young child acting out because her mother wasn’t there, and my cousin’s husband not enjoying and being able to relax if he was both Mommy and Tatty in someone else’s sukkah where space is an issue. In five seconds, 30 thoughts ran through my head. But the main thought that stood out was, I am a grown woman, not a single teenager being asked to babysit.
In the end, I knew what was right and I told my cousin that she should go with her family and I would stay to watch Benny. She and her husband thanked me and promised to send their older child (a 14-year-old girl) over with food from their host, because my cousin hadn’t prepared any food for lunch. The family they were going to for lunch was only a short walk from their house. After my cousin and her family left, I changed into my Shabbos robe and sat down to read a book. Benny soon came out of his room. I read him a story, helped him build a LEGO set, gave him some cereal, cleaned up when he threw up the cereal… You get the picture. When Benny finally went to take a nap, I saw that the clock read that it was 3 p.m. My cousin left the house before 1 p.m. Two hours had passed, and food hadn’t been sent! I was hungry (and tired at this point). Again, I sat down to continue reading. The next thing I realize, my cousins were walking through the front door. I had fallen asleep with my book. It was after 4 p.m.
After checking on her son and thanking me for staying home and watching him, my cousin apologized for not sending food. She said that she did, in fact, send her daughter with food, but five minutes after her daughter left to deliver it, she returned because she had dropped the plate of food in the street. Since they were almost finished with the meal, my cousin said it was safer for her to bring the food to me and thought they were only going to be there a little while longer. Before she knew it another hour had passed. My cousin said that she felt awful; here I stayed home and did a big favor for her and as a gift, she was starving me. I laughed it off but added that I was hungry. She told me that the plate of food was in the kitchen for me. When everyone left to nap, change, play… I walked into the kitchen and under some aluminum foil sat a cold piece of roasted chicken, an orange muffin (pumpkin? carrot?), green beans, a sprinkle cookie, and two slices of meat. I’m sorry to say that I looked at the pathetic plate of cold and unidentified food, had a flash of what everything would have looked like fresh out of the oven, and in one move threw the plate and foil into the garbage.
I felt like an afterthought. I felt as I had felt so many times before – that I am left behind while the rest of the world is moving on with their lives. My cousins were gone for over three hours; and even though they meant well by sending food, it never arrived. I had played with their child and cleaned up his vomit and then fell asleep in a chair like an octogenarian. Yes, I had a pity party for myself while I ate a bowl of Frosted Flakes. I came to my cousins to forget the situation that I am in, to have a good time. I come so I don’t go to my parents with the rest of my siblings looking at all their families and feeling sorry for myself. Usually I’m fine, but around the chagim, when families get together, that is when my situation affects me.
I kept my hurt in. A few hours later all was right again, and we were all in the sukkah for another meal. But I can’t forget how I felt that afternoon. I want people to know that singles – whether divorced or never married – are mature adults, not just large children. Just because we don’t have a family of our own, it doesn’t mean we should give up fun times or responsibilities for others who have a family. Yes, my cousin did apologize for asking me to stay home, the food incident, and the vomit – but she had three hours of fun and conversation and good food while I didn’t. I don’t mean to sound petty, but I wanted those exact same things, but instead spent the day indoors and hungry.
Singles aren’t mother’s helpers, babysitters, car pool drivers, delivery men or women. People need to understand that.
Thanks for hearing me out.
Esther, thank you for writing to me.
I can only imagine how you feel. True, I didn’t get married until I was well into my 30s, but I never experienced anything like what you wrote about. In fact, the opposite would happen with me. Many times, when staying with my sister and her family for a Shabbos or a Yom Tov, I did not want to go to one of her friends for a meal. Being single had nothing to do with my feelings. Plain and simple, I did not like my sister’s friend and wasn’t in the mood of spending a few hours trapped in her house, at her table, making conversation with her. I can’t lie, that’s the truth. I would offer to stay home with any tantrum-child or walk a niece or nephew to a friend’s house if there was a play date, just to leave early. But sadly, that was not the case with you.
I think I can answer your email using your own words: “She was the one whom I leaned on the most when I divorced. She and her husband invite me over for Shabbasos often, and we and hang out a lot together…” Unfortunately, I have found through my professional experience as a social worker and through life experience as a regular person, that when there is a tragedy or crisis of some sort, people gather around to help. It’s sort of like a triage center when a tragedy happens. Food is prepared and dropped off, phone calls are made to check on the person affected by the incident daily, etc. But after a month or so, the casseroles cease being delivered, and the phone calls slow down or stop altogether. People are left alone to pick up the pieces of their lives by themselves. Yes, friends and family mean well, and they are sincere when they offer their services and help; but after the initial crisis or emergency phase has passed, and days and weeks go by, people return to their own schedule, be it work, family, errands. Yes, they will still think of you, but they may feel, “Someone else is probably checking in on her (or him).” I mention this because it seems as if your cousin stepped in when you were going through a traumatic event in your life and she has remained in your life, including you in her life and her children’s lives, as well. That is a special person. I don’t know if the two of you were close growing up or if the bond was forged during the low time you had experienced, but it makes sense of the hurt that you are feeling because of the favor you were asked to do.
You are correct when you wrote that you would not have been asked to stay behind if you were married. And you are correct when you wrote, “Just because we don’t have a family of our own, doesn’t mean we should give up fun times or responsibilities for others who have a family.” I do not feel as though your cousin took advantage of you or the situation. She probably felt caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, her child is sick and she knows that her place is with him; but on the other hand, another child was acting in a very unruly fashion and she did not want her husband to have to deal with the child alone or for anyone to be made uncomfortable in the small space of the sukkah because of the child, although I am certain that the father would have been able to calm the child down and all would have been fine. But that’s neither here nor there.
Yes, it seemed like the saying came true in your case: “When it rains, it pours.” You did not get to get out for lunch, you cleaned up the child’s vomit, the food didn’t arrive, and when it did it was unidentifiable. My heart does go out to you, because that could ruin anyone’s day, no matter if you are married with a family or single.
My feelings are that you should speak to your cousin about your feelings. Don’t let this fester and have resentment build up. Don’t ruin a good friendship or relationship over this. Be forthcoming with your cousin. I would do it face to face and not over the phone. Tell her exactly what you wrote to me. Explain that you know she probably didn’t realize how the favor she asked of you had affected you and how you didn’t want to say anything because you didn’t want her to feel bad, but you can’t keep this inside any longer. I don’t think there will be a confrontation or an argument. I’m positive that there will be apologies and a lesson learned.
Hatzlachah to you all!
By Goldy Krantz