Family Expectations
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Family Expectations

After three selfless summers I assumed my kindness would be returned.

Rachel Stein

Toco Hills resident Rachel Stein writes about spirituality and, working with readers, tries to help community members deal with dilemmas.

Providing a base for a nephew to serve as a camp counselor can be a good deed with no reward.
Providing a base for a nephew to serve as a camp counselor can be a good deed with no reward.

The first call came in May 2014.

“Hi, Debbie, it’s Lisa.”

I rolled my eyes, grateful we weren’t on FaceTime.

“How are you?” I replied.

“All is good. Busy, as usual.” She chuckled, and I nearly choked. What could she be busy with?

Oh, come on, Debbie, I chided myself. You know Lisa’s hectic schedule. What about her manicures and daily gym attendance, the intense responsibility of organizing pictures from her most recent cruise, and, I almost forgot, writing a list for her live-in housekeeper?

Emerging from my reverie, I heard her say, “I was just wondering.”

Uh-oh, I gulped. What could she want?

“Steve really wants to spend the summer in Miami,” Lisa said. “We found a camp in your area where he could work as a junior counselor. What do you think?”

Although Lisa and I don’t see eye to eye on just about anything, I do have a soft spot for my 13-year-old nephew. He’s a sweet, good-natured boy, and it’s not his fault Lisa and Rob are his parents.

My mind whirled as I figured out accommodations. I hope Shoshana won’t mind moving in with Rena so Steve can have his own room. It’s probably even good for them — letting them see we go out of our way to help family.

“Sure, why not?” I said.

“Oh, Debbie, you’re the greatest. Thank you so much. As soon as we have Steve’s itinerary, we’ll send it to you.”

“Great,” I murmured.

And that, apparently, was that.

When Steve came, I treated him like one of my children. I did his laundry, served him meals and chauffeured him wherever he needed to go. It was my pleasure, but an extra kid does amount to, well, an extra kid.

When the day finally came that I took him to the airport, a small measure of relief suffused my being. Life would return to normal again.

The following May, the phone rang again.

“Hi, Debbie, how are you?” A thin chuckle from her, another roll of the eyes from me.

And the conversation was repeated, practically verbatim. Once again, I opened my home and heart to my nephew for two months.

In 2016, when the phone rang, I was ready.

“It’s no problem, Lisa,” I said, cutting her off midsentence. “Really. We enjoy having him. And besides, what’s family for?”

Three summers in a row of hosting my nephew.

In September, our Shoshana was flying to Israel to study in seminary. We watched her walk through security and into her future. Like a typical Jewish mother, I worried. Would she be homesick? Who would take care of her if she got sick? Would she be happy? How would I manage a whole year without seeing her?

Unlike Lisa and Rob, we live on a tight budget, and a trip to Israel midyear wasn’t in the planning.

When Lisa called in December, I ran to check my calendar. No, I hadn’t slept the entire winter away. What could she want when there was a thin layer of frost covering the bare branches?

“We’re going to Israel for midwinter break,” Lisa said. Yes, my eyes rolled.

Was she calling to offer me a ticket? That would be a nice thank-you for the three summers we hosted Steve.

“So I wanted Shoshana’s number and address. I’d love to see her while I’m there.”

“That’s so nice,” I said, giving Lisa the information.

Pictures of Lisa and Rob treating Shoshana to dinner in a nice restaurant filled my mind. Maybe they will even offer to take her shopping for whatever she might need. It’s so nice to have family, I thought, even if we have our differences.

On the last day of Lisa and Rob’s trip to Israel, my phone trilled.

“Hi.” Lisa sounded breathless. “I can’t find Shoshana’s number, and I really wanted to see her before I go. Can you please give it to me again?”

A soundless fury worked its way up my legs, through my stomach and toward my head. After giving her Shoshana’s number, I slammed down the phone without saying goodbye. Was she for real?

I hosted her son for three years in a row. Selflessly, kindly, lovingly. And now, with the opportunity to show a modicum of kindness to my child, she couldn’t be bothered to reach out until the night before her departure? Had she ever heard of appreciation?

Dear readers, how do I handle this situation? I am so angry, I never want to speak to my dear brother and sister-in-law again. Am I wrong for expecting them to show a little caring for their niece, especially after I went out of my way for their child? Should I confront them or remain silent?


To help Debbie, please respond to by Monday, June 19.

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