Tova stifled a yawn which was threatening to escape,
gathered the rest of the strength she didn't know she
had, and crawled out of bed. The exhaustion of the last
few sleepless nights, compounded by the overwhelmingly
busy days, threatened to overwhelm her. It wasn't that
she was worried about Tzippy; even the doctor had
reassured her that the lack of sleep was due to
teething. As far as her little girl was concerned, she
didn't look sick at all, especially after being picked
up and brought over to her mother's bed. Actually,
that's when she really cheered up and her tears turned
"Boruch Hashem!" Tova sighed to herself. Boruch Hashem
that the crying isn't due to anything more serious than
teething or spoiling. But even though she wasn't
worried, she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to
manage the house at this pace. How long could she keep
it up on four hours of sleep -- with interruptions and
cries in the middle? It seemed that this past night she
had woken up every fifteen minutes.
She went over to the little one whose cries seemed to
increase from moment to moment. Even before she could
decide what to do, Tzippy had leaped into her arms and
was now playing with the chain hanging from her neck.
Not even a trace of tears was left on her face.
Tova held back a whoop of joy, so that the rest of the
family wouldn't wake up. But the fact remained that she
had no idea what she was going to do now with Tzippy --
at this point she didn't look like she had a problem.
Now, walking into her bedroom with the clever,
manipulative child in her arms, Tova tried to think
what she would do with her plans for the rest of the
night. The only alternative, which seemed totally
unappealing to her, was to take the child into bed with
her. And this is what she finally did.
She lay down on her bed with the baby and tried to put
her to sleep. The possibilities seemed remote,
especially when little Tzippy started crawling around
on the bed, pulling here and there at the sheets,
threatening to wake up her father who had also fallen
asleep at a late hour.
"I guess I'm meant to be up late tonight," she mused.
Tova found herself becoming more and more tired from
lying around with Tzippy and in a burst of energy, she
picked up the child and took her out to the living
room, where a pile of toys sat in the corner.
Depositing her carefully, she was amused to see Tzippy
becoming engrossed within a few minutes and playing as
if it were the middle of the day.
"She'll make up for it tomorrow," Tova said to herself,
"but I'll have to wait awhile before I can make up for
lost sleep." She sat down on the sofa and felt her eyes
getting heavy. Trying her best to keep an eye on the
little one, she wondered what she could do to keep from
falling asleep. Suddenly, she noticed the paper lying
on the table. Great. She could read the Shabbos
section she hadn't had a chance to look at this week.
The weekdays were filled with chores and Shabbos was so
short, she hardly had a chance to read anything at all.
She quickly grabbed the paper and sat down to read. The
interesting material would surely keep her wide awake.
The first pages were torn and scribbled upon. Now she
remembered why the paper had been left on the table.
There was a notice there about a Tehillim group being
organized for a sick woman whom she knew and Tova had
intended to volunteer for this important mitzva,
but by the time she got around to writing down the
number, lively Chaimke had torn that page to shreds.
She remembered the feeling of frustration and
helplessness she felt whenever the children got out of
control. Instead of her being in charge, these little
beings controlled her in the daytime as well as at
night. "Look at that," she thought gloomily, "here I
was ready to go and say Tehillim with a group, in spite
of the difficulty, and dear little Chaim came and tore
the paper. Now how am I supposed to go and find the
number I need?"
She had put the paper aside, planning to search for the
scrap that had the number circled in red. That was, if
she ever got the chance to look, or the possibility to
find... and then, the time to actually attend... Her
mornings were taken up with the two little ones and the
house, and in the afternoon the rest of the lively crew
joined the family circle.
She didn't know exactly what it was; perhaps the long
night or the exhaustion, or both, that suddenly made
her depressed about her situation at home. No, that's
not what she had expected out of life. That's not how a
home should be run, or how kids should behave. She was
even more disappointed in herself and her relationship
Tova glanced across the living room. Her whole house
looked like a kingdom ruled by rambunctious children.
The living room and bedrooms had certainly seen better
days and hopefully, there would again be better ones in
the future. The children had long ago stopped playing
only in their room and now their toys extended to every
corner of the living room as well.
True, she tried to make order every day -- to pick up
the shreds of paper, broken crayons (before they got
hopelessly crushed underfoot) and even to erase fresh
markings on the walls, but still, Tova had no doubt
that a living room was meant to be more orderly and
pleasing to the eye.
Fortunately, the sofa still looked decent, thanks to
the practical cover she had put on while it was still
new. When would she every enjoy the lovely velvet couch
underneath it, in all its beauty? When it was finally
torn and its springs sprung? Instead of the elegant
vases which used to grace the table, there were some
old baskets filled with dusty artificial flowers. "At
least those don't break," she comforted herself.
The buffet was full of small fingerprints and even the
mirror was decorated with chocolate marks. Was it
surprising that she was so exhausted and disappointed?
She looked at Tzippy playing calmly, no traces of pain
or tiredness on her face. Tova noticed now with dismay
that she had dressed her sweet one-year-old darling in
mismatching pajamas, and added this to her list of
Who would ever believe this of her -- a purple top with
a pink print and red pants with blue roses? True, the
other pajamas were still in the wash because of last
night's misadventure, but still, she couldn't come to
terms with this mismatch. Even the bed sheets and
pillowcases didn't seem to match any more in the
children's room. How had she ever reached such a stage?
Of course she was trying her best, and the children
were clean and decently dressed during the day, but
somehow, she was sure that by others, things like this
didn't happen. If at least this lack of order left her
feeling relaxed and not guilty, she wouldn't have
minded it, but she knew she did. It made her nervous
and more upset with the children.
Yes, she was aware that she didn't have enough patience
for her children. Once upon a time she had been
accustomed to playing with them in the afternoon or
telling them an interesting story. Today, the way
things were, the little ones interrupted and upset the
games, and she had no patience to calm them and keep
them out of mischief while she occupied the older ones
with something worthwhile that she could supervise and
enhance. She solved the problem with lots of paper,
coloring books, felt tipped markers, crayons and
cutouts. No didactics; no mother-child conversations,
nothing -- just a comfortable substitute which allowed
her to help Sorele with her first grade homework. At
least she managed that...
She was a total disappointment to herself. Not only was
she tired all the time, but also a failure in running
her life. Once she had found time to sew a bit, to
knit, to paint, to decorate the house attractively, but
these days she could hardly keep up with the basics.
She had managed to finish that little skirt for her
daughter's gan party, but the sweaters she had
planned to knit had turned into sleeveless vests for
lack of time to finish them off. What a shame! What a
pity! How was it that everyone managed except for her?
Tzippy continud to play, all the while emitting little
gurgles of contentment. Tova couldn't help smiling at
her shining little face. "I must read that story. Its
auther, S. Zehavi, is rather good," she thought to
herself as she picked up the paper lying next to her.
But as she read, her face reflected more and more
anxiety. She never realized a story could hurt so much
and make her feel so inept. She couldn't have picked a
worse time to read it. At one point, she just stopped
reading without even getting into the plot. After just
the first paragraphs, she felt her nerves being
stretched to the breaking point. As if she wasn't
anxious enough before starting to read.
The heroine Gita was a young woman in her early
thirties who managed her home superbly; she was the
type every woman dreams of being. She took care of her
house and six children in a calm, unruffled manner
while her Kollel husband confined himself to the `four
cubits of Torah,' learning without any interference.
Not only that: everything worked perfectly according to
schedule. Her successful children were simply, yet
tastefully, dressed, in clothing she had helped to make
herself. They did well in their studies due to the
support they got at home from their mother, in the form
of actual encouragement and help with homework, and the
congenial atmosphere in their calm, neat home.
In Gita's home, games were stored in boxes on the
shelves and although used frequently, they were always
put back in place without any fuss. The house was
tastefully decorated with pictures and flowers, yet it
was simple enough so that the children could feel at
home. Gita always looked fresh and relaxed and spoke in
a calm manner. Her whole demeanor simply commanded
respect and admiration, especially in the afternoons
when instead of resting, she devoted her time to the
children after she finished her chores in the morning.
She would sit on the bench in the front yard and feed
the little ones fruit and yoghurts while telling an
interesting story to the older children. The children
had the best of everything -- they enjoyed the food,
their mother's attention, the fresh air, and the games
with their friends.
Tova just couldn't go on reading any more. Envy was
burning inside of her and she didn't know if it was the
positive kind of envy or just plain old jealousy
gnawing away at her bones. She felt that if she wanted
to continue watching her Tzippy without losing her
mind, she just couldn't continue with the story. In her
heart, she tried to comfort herself by saying that such
women only existed in stories.
To think that she, who tried so hard to be like the
woman in the story, was so far from her ideal. For
instance, the idea of going down in the afternoon with
the children -- well, she did that often enough, if
only to maintain any semblance of the order she had
managed to install during the morning, but where was
the relaxation, the joy? For her, it was not a matter
of choice, since they would all be much worse off in
the house, getting in each other's way and on each
other's nerves. How often had she felt during those
rainy afternoons that she was getting nowhere. So when
she could, she went down to let the kids get rid of
their excess energy outside, where she could also enjoy
some fresh air. Maybe there their attention would be
diverted and they would stop taking advantage of her
and she would be able to control her anger better when
it came to bedtime. "Nu," she thought, "go and compare
a simple action like going down with the kids by her
and with this paragon, this Gita-character in the
story. "No wonder she makes me nervous."
Tzippy stopped playing, crawled over to her and lay her
head in Tova's lap. It seemed she was finally getting
tired. She picked up the little girl and gently laid
her down in her crib. To her sublime happiness, Tzippy
fell sound asleep as soon as her head touched the
pillow and Tova hoped she could finally catch a few
hours of much needed sleep, herself.
The next day was pretty much the same as the one
before. Straighten up the house and do some cleaning,
cook, go shopping. By 4:30 in the afternoon she had
finished helping Sorele with her homework and felt she
didn't have the patience to get through the rest of the
afternoon with the little ones at home. She put
everything on hold -- the dirty lunch dishes, the
(mild) disorder in every room, the Tehillim she had
wanted to finish (she had gotten hold of the full name
of her friend and decided to say Tehillim for her at
home), and went down with the children to her place of
refuge, the bench in the front yard. There the children
usually behaved better and she could also relax a bit.
Then she arrived. The truth was that Tova hardly knew
her; she had only recently moved into the neighborhood,
and besides a friendly `Shalom', they really had
nothing in common. Tova knew from her neighbors that
her name was Golda Shapiro and that she lived in the
building opposite them on the top floor. Why was this
Golda coming towards her now with a big smile spread
all over her face? Tova couldn't figure it out.
"Thanks so much. I've been meaning to tell you. I hope
you're not upset with me."
Tova checked her surroundings to see if anyone else was
being addressed or if Golda was actually speaking to
her. But no one else was around and without a doubt,
she was addressing Tova.
All sorts of thoughts raced through her mind: perhaps
she had recently sent a cake to the chessed
organization, which she did occasionally, and Golda,
for some reason, had received it? Perhaps as a Welcome-
to-the-Community? But no; she really couldn't remember
the last time she had baked a cake for someone. She had
offered to prepare meals for the chessed group
but at this point, she had no time for baking.
O.K. So the thanks wasn't for a cake, nor for anything
else she could imagine. It was clear she hadn't
extended help to this lady in any way. "You're probably
mixing me up with someone else," Tova mumbled
apologetically. But Golda didn't seem put off by her
"No, I've been meaning to thank you and only you. What -
- you haven't figured it out? I thought you would be
upset that I took advantage of you."
"You took advantage of me? How?" Her look of
incredulity revealed that she really had no inkling of
what this woman was talking about.
"It seemed so obvious to me," said Golda. "I was sure
you'd recognize yourself immediately."
"Me? What in the world are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the story, of course!"
"What story? I don't remember having lent you any books
or even exchanged half a dozen words with you!" Tova
exclaimed. Golda smiled so brightly that Tova found
herself getting somewhat annoyed.
"Alright. I see you really don't realize what it's all
about. Well, let me tell you. I don't feel comfortable
with this, but I simply based my last story on you, and
elaborated in great detail. I made you the central
character and I was sure you would recognize yourself
immediately. I was also afraid you'd be angry but I
guess you never even read it."
Tova was still confused. "Wait... What do you mean you
wrote about me? Where? To whom? What could you possibly
write about me, anyway? You don't even know me!" The
questions flowed from her in a stream and for the time
being, she forgot all about her daily problems and the
guilt feelings that weighed her down constantly. To her
relief, the children were busy with their games so that
she could chat for a few moments. She moved aside and
patted the place next to her on the bench in a silent
invitation to her new neighbor. It would be nice to get
to know her.
"Well, if you don't already know, I'm a writer. I write
for the newspaper. Not as regularly as I'd like to, but
"But I never came across your name before," Tova said
with natural curiosity, almost forgetting that she was
somehow connected to the latest story.
"Oh, that's because I use a pen name: Zehavi."
"You mean to tell me that you're S. Zehavi?" exclaimed
Tova. "Oh sure, I've read your stories and they're
usually quite good. Except for the last one, which
was... which was..." Tova wanted to say how much that
last story had upset and annoyed her, but didn't want
to hurt Gita's feelings.
Meanwhile, Gita had taken up the thread of the
conversation. "The last story was dedicated to you.
Yes, I realize that we hardly know each other, but ever
since I've moved here, I've been watching you. From the
porch of my third floor apartment, I see you many
afternoons during the most exhausting hours of the day
together with your children. You sit so patiently with
them and occupy yourself with them, even telling them
stories sometimes as you hand out fruit or yoghurts. I
admire you so much. Your calm demeanor, the children's
wonderful behavior, their simple but charming clothing.
It's all so lovely and inspiring.
"So I decided I had to write about you. Even if I
couldn't emulate you, at least I could write a story
about you. I don't know if you remember, but when I
first moved in, I came to your house late one night to
borrow something and even then, I was surprised at the
order in your home and at the nice home touches of
flowers. Your living room looked lived in, and very
comfortably so. So now you know that I decided to write
about you last week. I'm just surprised that no one
mentioned it to you. Even the name is the same except
that I switched it to the Yiddish and called the
central character Gita."
"Oh." That was the only sound Tova could manage. She
was too astonished to react. What could she say,
anyway? That her personality was as far removed from
Gita's as east from west? Should she tell Golda how
much the story had irked her and aroused her jealousy?
Luckily, it was dusk, and Golda couldn't discern the
surprise on her face.
"If you haven't read it, you should. I hope you'll
enjoy it," Golda said with a friendly smile. "I'd love
to have your opinion afterwards. Don't worry, I didn't
write anything bad about you. I don't think I ever
Golda's children were shouting down from their third
floor porch and Gita got up to go. After making up to
meet soon, Tova collected her children and took them
home, her mood much brighter than it had been in a long
Much later, when the children were finally asleep,
their breathing even and relaxed and with her husband's
gemora niggun in the background, Tova dared sit
down with a cup of tea to read the story from beginning
to end. For some reason, Gita seemed less threatening.
"At least we have the same name and number of
children," she mused. "Who knows? Maybe there are even
some other similarities..."