I come from a long line of very strong women. My dad used to tell me stories about his mom and the pants she wore as head of the household. There was a joke in the family that Great Grandma Yetta overthrew the captain on the way to Ellis Island because she knew the best way to get to New York.
I used to think this sense of drive or chutzpah was an East Coast or ethnic trait. Though as I grow older and wiser (cough cough), I have begun to realize that it’s just a people thing.
People who are in touch with their inner balabusta.
For as long as I can remember there has been a subtle pressure, a voice, that forever whispers in my ear. It showed up during my first heartbreak—“Enough moping, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Now get up and eat something.” Sometimes it showed up during college—“It’s time to hit the books, young lady,” or at work—”Really, are you a shmuck? Ask for a raise already!”
Sometimes this voice has a thick Brooklyn accent, and sometimes it throws in particular Yiddishisms like “shmendrick” or “tzuris”. But no matter what accent I hear, it is this voice that nudges me to have follow-through and to live my life with gusto.
Now if only I could channel this inner balabusta to help me navigate the sometimes murky waters of parenting.
At this point in the school year most parents have effectively dealt with separation issues. I am one of the lucky ones who is still peeling her 6-year-old off her leg each morning. I have done my due diligence and answered all the questions that usually come with this topic. So, before I go any further…
1. No, there have been no huge changes at home or at school.
2. Yes, I have reassured my daughter that I will come back.
3. Yes, I have read her “The Invisible String” ad nauseum.
4. Yes, my child has the ability to express her feelings by coloring, singing, dancing, or any other medium she wants to express herself in.
I think my daughter simply wants to be home with Mommy, and as sweet as that sounds, it just isn’t going to happen between the hours of 9 and 5. One Thursday I brought her to school and had to be at work by 9:15 for a staff meeting. Upon arrival, the peeling process had begun along with the tears. My spawn was having a more dramatic send-off than usual. I was losing all mommy patience and was at my wit’s end.
I took a deep breath and prayed for guidance and divine intervention. That is when it happened. Like rubbing the bottle for a genie, out she came—my inner balabusta.
I listened to the big voice that was stirring in my head (definitely a Yiddish accent right then). I knelt down until my daughter was eye to eye with balabusta central. In a voice that was stern yet loving, I said, “I am going to work and I need you to go to school. I will be back here at 2:30 to get you. You will make it through these five hours with a smile or with tears. That is up to you. I hope you choose to smile. I love you, now go to class.”
She just stared at me. I stood up, kissed her, and began to walk away.
I felt my eyes brimming with soon-to-be big tears. What did I do? I was so tough and strict.
Does she think I won’t come back? What if she is in shock and can never speak again? I was a complete mommy mess until my inner balabusta started singing her song.
This time it had a Brooklyn, grandmotherly tone to it. “Keep walking and don’t look back. She is just in school, you didn’t send her off to war.”
So I walked to my car. I knew she was safe and would make it through the next few hours. When I picked my daughter up later that afternoon, she was all smiles and ready for a playdate. Was it my inner balabusta that pushed my daughter through the day? Perhaps she heard her own inner voice who told her to smile and be strong because Mommy would be back soon. Had my daughter’s inner balabusta been born? Did it sound like me and have a New York accent?
A few days later I was very sluggish and didn’t want to go to work. I was just having one of those mornings. As I began kvetching enough for the entire house to hear, in marched my 6-year-old balabusta.
“Mom, do you see what time it is? You need to get dressed and go to work, you have a responsibility!”
As I was about to make some snarky remark about being the adult and making my own choices, I stopped myself. I realized that my “tough girl” was absolutely right. I needed to get up and choose to take on the day with a smile.
I gave her a hug and said I was about to go get dressed.
“Good choice, Mommy,” she said with a knowing smile.