The five perfect Yiddish words that capture pregnancy and parenting

Yiddish Words that Capture parenthood

Schlep, Schmutz, Shluf, Schmuck, and Kvell…

As a young child, my world was infused with Yiddish – a blend of German and Hebrew that my grandparents and others brought over from Europe when they emigrated to the US. The magic of Yiddish is that it has an edge of humor and often captures the essence of a situation with succinct clarity. Sometimes English just doesn’t cut it.

In the throes of pregnancy and parenthood – we need humor and perspective! Here are my favorite five Yiddish words that capture the essence of pregnancy and parenting and will hopefully bring a bit of joy, or a momentary smirk, to your day…

Schlep or the Act of Schlepping: Yiddish for Carry or Haul

Lugging your very pregnant body around to do errands (or even just to the bathroom) the last days before the baby is born – The physical shlep.

Bringing the non-stop laundry from the bedroom, to the washer/dryer, to the couch and then carrying it back into the rooms to put away – The laundry shelp.

The act of carrying the sleepy baby with their stuffies, the diaper bag and the day’s detritus (water bottle, food wrappers, crayon stubs, etc.) from the car into the house – The daily schlep.

When on a “walk” with the toddler, the baby strapped on your back in the carrier, and the toddler decides they don’t want to scooter anymore. The act of hauling the toddler, the scooter, and the baby, back to the car – The kid schlep.

Schmutz: Yiddish for dirt

You can almost understand schmutz just by the sound of the word… Here are some descriptions :

Schmutz happens…

The schmutz on your hair, aka the squashed banana that your baby smeared on you when you scooped her out of the highchair from the table.

The schmutz on your face, aka the marker the toddler accidentally wiped on your cheek, while you went to pull out the paper to prevent him from drawing on the seat-back-table on the airplane.

The schmutz on the shirt of your 38 week pregnant belly that dripped (unknowingly) when making pancakes and that you wore to the office.

The schmutz on your preschooler’s eyelids, eyebrows, and hair when they return from playing in the mud on a perfectly rainy day (see photo above!).

Shluf: Yiddish for to sleep or to nap

When it’s 3:00 pm, late in your third trimester, you’re deeply exhausted from work and from growing a baby and you can barely keep your eyes open – time for an afternoon shluf!

About an hour after the two month-old wakes up, plays and eats, she is ready to go down for her first shluf of the day (and maybe you too).

The amplified exhaustion after weeks of sleep training the baby, when you wake up after little to no sleep, enjoy your lifeline of coffee, and strategize the new day, desperate to figure out how to get in a shluf!

Driving the kindergartener to school, with the toddler tucked in their carseat, and you look down to notice your feet have on two very different shoes – a slipper and a sneaker. This highlights just how tired you are, and you dream about going home for a long, uninterrupted shluf.

The schmuck: Yiddish for, shall we say, a thoughtless human

(not aiming to offend anyone here – but this word totally nails it)

Pushing a cart in the grocery store with a wildly crying toddler, nothing will soothe him, so you race around to get the grocery shopping done as quickly and painlessly as possible. While feeling overwhelmed and utterly mortified, a fellow customer walks by and rolls their eyes at you… schmuck.

When you are standing in the airport terminal, clearly very pregnant, and a passenger avoids eye contact as they grab the last available seat at the gate… schmuck.

When you’re carrying the baby in the carseat on one arm with the overstuffed diaper bag slung on the other shoulder and the person ahead of you doesn’t hold the door open to the building…. schmuck.

You are discreetly breastfeeding on the plane, at the restaurant, on the park bench (or anywhere), and the person in the next seat or at the next table asks you to “cover up” – total schmuck.

Kvell (my favorite): Yiddish for filled with pride

Gazing at your newborn after a wild and long labor and recognizing that you created this miracle of a child… you kvell

When you watch your toddler meet their baby sister for the first time and offer her his prized train… you kvell

When your son bravely lets go of your fingers and enters preschool or kindergarten for the first time with tears tucked in both his and your eyes… you kvell

When you share the photos on social media of your child’s first crawl, toddle, biking exploit, first day of first grade, middle school graduation, prom, college dorm…. you kvell and feel so full with joy and pride that you want to share it with those whom you love and who adore you.


Do any of these Yiddish words or scenarios for parenting ring true?

So, when you’re in one of these types of situations, feeling overwhelmed and in the deep soup of parenthood or feeling so full of the wonder of the journey, take a deep breath as you lean into some offerings from your own or another’s culture. What you are feeling is real, and, of equal importance, it is universal.

Sometimes the English language doesn’t do the moment justice and you need a little chutzpah (Yiddish for self-confidence or courage) to lighten up the moment with a bit of humor and wit.