There were a few regularly-used Yiddish words in my house when I was growing up. Like the word “kvetch” to refer to my great-aunt who was a known complainer. Now was “Aunt Kvetchie”, a nice thing to call her? Probably not.
Or “you are such a klutz“ – heard this one often. As in uncoordinated. An accurate description of my always bumping into things, not the least bit athletic self. And “what a schmuck he is” – my dad describing someone who was a real jerk. You probably know what schmuck means, whether you are Jewish or not.
One Yiddish word I didn’t learn until I became a Mom is “kvelling” (noun) – when a person is bursting with pride and pleasure. As in – “His mother was kvelling over his early admission to Harvard.”
Kvelling is done by all mothers, Jewish or not, when discussing their children.
In my lawyering years, I ate lunch (carry-out salads around a conference room table) several days a week with younger female colleagues at my firm. There was a lot of kvelling among us. My friend, Lisa, would tell us about her daughter’s star soccer skills. And Michelle would let us know that her son got an A on a tough social studies test. Denise was naturally thrilled when her daughter was elected class president in 6th grade. I shared my kids’ accomplishments as well. And when your kids are young, you have lots of achievements to kvell about. It isn’t boasting or bragging; you are just proud of your child. And o.k, maybe patting yourself on the back as a parent too. I confess to that as well.
When Lisa, Michelle and Denise’s and kids were in elementary school, mine were of high school and college age. Kvelling gets a bit trickier as your kids get older. Especially if your kid happens not to be on the do-not-pass-go direct path from high school to early admission into Harvard, then on to elite grad school or Wall Street or a fancy internship.
What happens to kvelling if your kid is on his or her own very different path?
By the time one of my kids was in high school we were on a first name basis with mental health struggles. In college the same mental health challenges grew worse. An elite grad school, Wall Street or a fancy internship did not seem likely. (although hope does spring eternal.) Since I’m not one to sit back and watch life happen, I sought out other parents whose young adult kids were also on different paths to adulthood. Not finding such a group, in 2008 I created, with the backing of our rabbi, a support & resources sharing group at my synagogue in Washington DC – called – wait for it, very clever name coming –“Parents of Young Adults who Struggle”. We have met monthly for the past nearly 6 years to share our stories, to talk about the rollercoaster rides that our kids put us on, to strategize on how to cope as parents and to laugh. Lots of laughing. We even have our own Facebook page!
In our support group we kvell often.
One of us will say how thrilled she was that her son, David, managed to get up on time on Tuesday morning and get to his doctor’s appointment. Yay, we respond. Or that Matt remembered to take his meds. Terrific, we cheer. Or that Rachel is taking a class at community college and hasn’t dropped out yet. Great news!
And while this different kind of kvelling was going on, I was still having lunch on weekdays with friends whose kids’ accomplishments were of the more typical variety. While my work friends were true pals, I wasn’t always comfortable talking about my kid’s struggles. I was dealing in two parallel universes here – I was certainly happy for my friends and their kids, even if I couldn’t always keep up in the kvelling department.
And when minor (to me) problems were shared – a son got a B- on a test or a daughter didn’t make the soccer travel team – I had some trouble summoning up the required murmurs of sympathy. I would think – you just have no idea what real problems are until you’ve met some of the people in my support group. There was perhaps a reverse pride in having tougher stuff than a bad grade or a missed goal to deal with.
So the next time you are having lunch with friends, and the talk turns, as it often does, to what your kids are doing, at any age, and the kvelling begins – one of the Moms is happy that her daughter aced the SAT’s, the other’s son just got into law school, a third mom glows about her daughter’s engagement, and you see that one of your friends around the table, is sitting silently, fiddling with her drink, just waiting for that part of the conversation to pass. Consider the quiet Mom; she loves her son or daughter just as much as you do. Smile at her, and ask her how her child is doing. She may need to do a different kind of kvelling.