Have you ever tried to keep a secret while living in a close-knit Jewish community?

My husband and I attempted this recently. We compassionately decided not to tell my husband’s much younger siblings that we were expecting, as we felt it would constitute cruelty to children to expect them not to tell their friends the news. We stressed the importance of utmost secrecy to our parents and grandparents (who all still assure us that they told no one at all).

An elderly gentleman approached, winked, and said, ‘expecting a little mazal tov then, are we?’

As the newest addition to my husband’s family, I stood around a little awkwardly at my brother-in-law’s recent bar mitzvah, trying to take in all the new faces, which unfortunately should not have been new to me. ’Esther! Hello, darling! We were introduced at your wedding!’ was the way many ladies greeted me, while I smiled and tried not to mix up Mercedes the Spanish artist with Aunt Kitty, my grandmother-in-law’s cousin’s first wife’s sister. Consider the unfairness of it all; it’s much easier for them to remember me, the one in the enormous white dress throwing things at people while precariously perched on a wobbly table, than for me to recall every one of them. While I was pondering this, an elderly gentleman approached, winked, and said in a stage whisper, ‘expecting a little mazal tov then, are we?’

I gaped at the man (no, he wasn’t my grandpa-in-law, I have memorised some relatives’ faces). The gentleman winked again conspiratorially, then wandered off to ask my poor father-in-law if he was excited about becoming a grandpa. Meanwhile, I stood in a slowly widening pool of silence and sideways glances. Thank Heaven, we successfully engaged in damage control by yanking all the siblings out the hall and sharing the secret on the spot; but since then, I learned my lesson.

So when the first anniversary of my wedding started getting uncomfortably close and I still had no idea what to buy for my husband, I decided I wasn’t even going to try to surprise him.

ME: I have no idea what to get you for our wedding anniversary
HUSBAND: Ach, you don’t have to get me anything
ME: But you’re getting me something so I can’t not get you something!
HUSBAND (guiltily): I am? Um (tries to look like he has a surprise up his sleeve)
ME: Oh
HUSBAND: How about I drop a hint if there’s anything I want?

So that’s what we decided to do. I watched him carefully for a subtle indication that would steer me in the right direction and I didn’t have to wait long; the first time we walked past the neighbour’s Jaguar, he stopped for half an hour to expound upon the beauty of the car. I sighed and secretly decided to buy him a football – if he didn’t use it, his little brothers would. Then I thought of my innocent houseplants and glassware and changed my mind back to having no clue what to buy.

A small hope sprung in my heart when I heard my husband’s friend say in a Sheva Brachot speech: ‘Marriage only gets better and better. For our first anniversary, I had to take my wife out and buy her a card and a present. For our second anniversary, I just took her out and brought a card. This year, all I had to do was buy her a card. Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll get something?’

It was only when my husband explained to me that his friend was joking that I realized I hadn’t been handed a no-need-to-give-husband-presents-card for the first few years of marriage.

I finally decided to sneak out and purchase a really nice whisky for him. The fact that I know nothing about whiskies didn’t hold me back: for the next few days I constantly tried to steer the conversation to the subject of alcoholic beverages. What I gleaned was this: whiskies are great as long as they are not oaky, peaty, cheap or Laphroaig.

And so I selected a drink and headed for the checkout counter. The checkout lady looked carefully from the whisky, to me, and back at the whisky again. She leant forward and had a good squint at my face, then let her eyes travel purposefully down to my clearly pregnant bump. Her gaze settled on my tummy before moving pointedly back to the alcoholic beverage.

It took me a minute to realise what was going on. I’m short and have always looked young – but 18? No way do I still look 18! The checkout lady must have disagreed because ‘ID, please,’ she demanded.

No! I was so close! Tomorrow was our anniversary and then it would be too late to buy anything! Tears filled my eyes, which didn’t help me convince the lady that I was not, in fact, a pregnant teenager planning on getting drunk. After showing her every card in my purse, the lady relented, but I felt her eyes following me all the way out the store.

And yes, it was worth it. My husband likes the whisky. Or did a good job pretending to, anyway. And in the absence of a football, when they feel the urge to attack houseplants, my brothers-in-law are more than happy to use my birthing ball.