By Mordechai Schmutter
DISCLAIMER: I know that kids sometimes read my columns–and I love that they do but this week’s column is for adults only. If you’re a kid, this is not for you.
OK, this isn’t going to work. The kids are specifically reading it now. But what am I supposed to do?
Let’s try this.
WARNING: You kids out there wouldn’t be interested in this topic. It’s all about mortgages, investments, and boring adult things you don’t want to hear about.
OK, now that the kids are gone, I should tell you that this column isn’t really about mortgages and investments. I don’t know about those things, because I always left the room when my parents discussed them. But what I do know is that it’s impossible to have a private conversation with your spouse out of earshot of your kids. These kids are everywhere. Where do they keep coming from? They weren’t here when we got married.
I don’t know why I even talk to my wife anyway. My wife’s answer to everything I ask her is, “I already told you.” I could ask her what time it is, and she’ll say, “I already told you.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did. I remember last week you asked me, on Tuesday at about 2:30. I know, because I told you it was 2:30.”
But important things come up, and you don’t necessarily want the kids around for those discussions. A lot of times they’re about the kids.
Sure, sometimes you speak about the kids in front of them. This is how you impart your philosophies on life, because they don’t listen when you talk directly to them. But if you talk to someone else, they’ll hear every word. That’s why you have multiple kids. To teach them things. When you discipline a kid, that kid is all belligerent and specifically not listening, but all the other kids are taking notes. They know exactly what the first kid did wrong, because they’re the ones who told you, and now they know what he got for it and exactly how you feel about it.
But some conversations about the kids have to happen out of earshot. For example, you could be talking about possibilities of plans for the future, and you don’t want them to think that every possibility you mention is definitely going to happen.
It’s basically a meeting of the board of directors.
And it’s increasingly harder to find times of the day you can do this as your kids get older, and neither of you is awake enough to have these discussions at those times, but you’re like, “There are no kids around; let’s do this.” At three in the morning.
“Wake up. We have to talk about Chanukah presents.”
Then you can have a groggy conversation that neither of you will remember. And during which the two of you take turns falling asleep while the other one is talking.
But some conversations can’t wait until the next day. (“OK, everyone–nap time.”) So a lot of parents have their discussions right in front of the kids, but they do it in Yiddish.
What do the goyim do? Maybe that’s why they don’t have so many kids.
But my wife and I don’t really have a common language like that. My Yiddish hasn’t progressed beyond second-grade level, and it’s mostly words you would find in a Chumash up to about halfway through parashas Lech Lecha. And my wife went to school out of town, so she was taught French. (A lot of schools up north learn French as a second language, in case the Canadians take over.)
So we can’t have a conversation where I speak second-grade Yiddish at her and she speaks high-school French at me. That’s not gonna be productive. It’s going to devolve into making fun of each other’s pronunciation. Why do the French even bother putting consonants at the end of words if they’re not gonna use them? There are children starving in Africa!
Though it’s not like French is useless. She’s a huge help when I’m learning Rashis.
But she never learned Yiddish. On Simchas Torah, on the way home from shul, my wife asked me what “tzu vemen and tzu vemen” means.
“It’s not in my Siddur,” she said.
So I told her that “tzu vemen” is “two women.” Tzu vemen and tzu vemen = four vemen.
Recently, her Yiddish has been improving, though, because she started working for Chassidim. So I bought her a picture book that is designed to teach Yiddish to little kids. My wife pored over the book, and she now knows a bunch of Yiddish words that Chassidim don’t even use, because whenever they get up to the crucial part of a sentence, they just stick in English. For example, one day her boss’s husband ordered, quote, “Tzvai box cookies.”
He then turned to my wife: “Do you know what that means?” (He occasionally speaks tzu vemen.)
And she did. So my book was money well-spent. Point is, I don’t know that speaking modern Yiddish in front of the kids would be that helpful. (“Zul mir koifen zei cookies?”) Also, they’ve been reading the Yiddish book.
We can try communicating in Hebrew, except that my wife speaks conversational Ivrit, and I speak in Chumash words, and, more often than I realize, in Aramaic.
Many people spell out the crucial words so their kids can’t understand them. But eventually you have to teach your kids to spell. So you and your spouse just have to graduate to using bigger and bigger words. Like instead of your wife asking if you could take the kids to the “Z-O-O,” she’ll ask if you could take them to the “M-E-N-A-G-E-R-I-E,” and then she’ll pause for a moment so you can go get a dictionary. Eventually, it becomes about spelling tough words as fast as you can and hoping your spouse gets them before the kids. You can always tell which kids’ parents do that, because they’re the kids who win all the spelling bees.
My kids can’t spell anything, but if I spell out a word, they’ll figure it out. One kid catches about half the letters and says some random word that doesn’t make sense in context, and then the rest of them help him figure out a similar word that would fit.
Now they’re working together.
Some people say that you should have a “date night” with your spouse once a week. But, unfortunately:
- Some people specifically don’t talk about family stuff on date night; and
- Some circles don’t date. It’s “beshow night,” which means your parents and kids are in the next room. That solves nothing. Everyone knows they’re eavesdropping.
Sure, you could say, “Get out; we want to talk.” I tried that. Nothing makes your kids want to stand there more than if you tell them you’re about to talk.
“Oh, this is the good stuff. There is where I find out the politics of the house.”
To kids, it’s like listening to the news. It’s not like there’s an official news report for your household. It’s not like every night at 6 o’clock, one of your siblings gets up and starts saying the news.
“Officials are still looking into who drew on the wall in peanut butter . . . In other news today, no one is getting candy tomorrow due to border disputes in the backseat. And now for traffic and weather: Totty refuses to turn up the heat, and there are a lot of delays predicted for the bathroom on Friday afternoon, so make plans to avoid it. Now here’s Chaim with sports.”
Sure, you can go into your room and lock the door, but then the kids know you’re talking about them, and when you open the door, they all fall into the room, ear first. They also keep knocking for stupid questions.
“Can I take a carrot?”
“You can always take a carrot.”
“Which carrot should I take?”
“This didn’t have to be a separate trip.”
I want to discuss whether we should do something nice for the kids, but it’s such a pain to get them to leave that I no longer have any interest. I’m thinking of making up some kind of awesome thing the kids want that I can just pull out and tell my wife that we’re not doing whenever I hear them eavesdropping, to discourage them for the future.
“They’re eavesdropping on our conversation. I guess we shouldn’t get that trampoline we were going to talk about!”
“How do you know they’re eavesdropping?”
“I hear someone chewing carrots.”
Maybe that’s an idea! Give your kids something really noisy to eat right before you start your discussions–carrots, pickles, apples, Cap’n Crunch, celery, or Amish pretzels. That’s how the Amish do it.
The best idea, though, is to try to have all your discussions before you have kids. And then save the rest for after they move out of the house. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible, because:
- Kids create topics for you to speak about;
- Some marriages begin after there are already kids in the picture; and
- Some kids never seem to move out of the house.
“What are we going to do? He’s not moving out, and he’s 47.”
“Are you guys talking about me? I heard my name.”
“I said get out! I’m counting to three!”
“Can I have carrots?”
Anyway, I’m gonna go. I hear crunching.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.