As if raising 16 children of her own wasn’t enough, for many years my mother ran a small playgroup in her house. It was so successful that she eventually had to find a new location that was bigger, to accommodate two dozen kids at a time. Of all my sisters, I was the only daughter she “hired” as her assistant.
When my father passed away, the first thing my mother did after the shivah, even before Misaskim had arrived to collect the low chairs and other items, was to summon my siblings for a quick meeting. The speech she delivered was very dramatic; we suspected she’d rehearsed it throughout the week whenever sleep eluded her in the empty bedroom.
“Children, this has been a difficult time for all of us. Baruch Hashem, your father and I were zocheh to see you all married, and soon you will be going home to your spouses. Yes, Tatty will continue to live on in your memories, but his absence won’t be felt as keenly as I will feel it. Nevertheless, after you collect yourselves a bit, I have no doubt that you will call for a family meeting among yourselves to discuss how lonely Mommy must be, and the necessity of convincing her to remarry. You will cite examples of successful second marriages and cluck your tongues at the thought of Mommy spending her golden years alone. Why should such a vibrant and capable woman be alone? She needs a husband.”
My siblings held their breaths, their eyes downcast. Shia, the oldest of the clan, suspected where my mother was headed. “Mommy, can we please talk about this some other time?”
But my mother was determined to get the words off her chest. “Please let me finish,” she said before pausing dramatically. “I am not interested in remarrying. I know my mind, and I am asking you to never bring up the topic. The shivah, with all the incredible stories people told about Tatty, only strengthened my resolve. I was a very lucky woman to have been married to such a special man. Nobody can replace Tatty, and nobody will.”
My sisters and I exchanged looks that said, “Let’s give her some time. Right now, she thinks she can manage on her own, but eventually she’ll see how lonely it is to live by yourself.”
Yet despite our predictions, she carried on. Simchos, in particular, kept her going. She’d cook up a storm for every bris and kiddush, hosted sheva brachos for whoever got married, and always had a slew of children and grandchildren coming to visit. Of course, the playgroup was a lifesaver, giving structure to her day and forcing her to get out of the house. As an added bonus, the 20-minute walk back and forth was great for her health.
When the changes began, they were subtle and happened slowly. She seemed to have less energy and was often impatient with her young charges. She still loved them to pieces, but with every passing day she was becoming less capable. Without her realizing it, more and more of the playgroup’s responsibilities fell on my shoulders. In the lead-up to Purim, although there were supposedly two teachers running the place, I was a one-woman band when it came to creating costumes for 24 kinderlach. Pesach, with its elaborate arts and crafts Haggadahs and personalized matzah dekels, was another month of heavy work done single-handedly.