Is there a Yiddish term for midlife angst

“Hey Mom, she sounded just like you,” my college-aged daughter called excitedly into the phone.

She was speaking from a friend’s house where she’d overheard her friend’s mother yell to her husband, “I don’t have the koyach to fold your shirts.”

My daughter was both surprised and relieved to hear someone outside our family using a Yiddish word so naturally in conversation.

Koyach is actually a Hebrew word, one of many absorbed into Yiddish. Roughly translated, it means “strength.”

It’s a word I can see coming in handy as I explore my current and unexpectedly overwhelming midlife crisis.

Suddenly, I’m no longer needed as a hands-on mother. I always looked forward to the way life opened up as children got older and you could come back to grown-up activities that had been put on extended hold.

What I didn’t realize was how that urgent, hands-on parenting anchored me. It gave structure and purpose to my day.

Folding shirts is one thing. Figuring out anew how to wake up to a day of order and meaning is quite another.

I often come back to Yiddish expressions when sorting through my life. This tendency can be traced to my roots in the Sholem Aleichem Houses, a cluster of small, brick buildings in the Bronx originally developed as a worker’s cooperative.

These buildings formed the nucleus for the spirited environment I was born into in 1953. It was a neighborhood where mothers called to their kids from fifth-floor windows and old people with thick European accents pinched our cheeks as we played in the park across the street.

“Oy, a shayne maydele (“a pretty girl”) they’d mutter as they pinched us. Was this how I began integrating my neighborhood’s second language?

Did it come from the older men who argued Trotskyite politics loudly in the courtyard below?

Or was it from my mother, who so often told us to “Go shlof” (“go to sleep”) or “Eat like a mensch” that my sister and I assumed she was speaking her own brand of English?

The basement of the Sholem Aleichem Houses was home to a Workmen’s Circle Yiddish school. Three afternoons a week, we neighborhood kids trooped down to the musty classroom and learned the rudiments of the mother tongue.

After a day of public school, we were sometimes too tired to remember to open our books from right to left.

Chana, our teacher, had sharp features and a strong accent. Though “biculturalism” wasn’t a word back then, she guided us through stories and poems of shtetl life, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the sweatshops on the Lower East Side that somehow became interwoven with our regular American childhood.

Decades out of the Bronx now, I practice Yiddish only in my head or with several octogenarians in our temple.

But even they can’t help me translate my current undertaking. What is the Yiddish term for “midlife angst”?

At least I have more time now to go to the movies and be a “couple” with my husband. Yet something gnaws at me. I felt physically and psychologically ready to have kids when I turned 30.

Now that I’ve hit 50, I feel the tick of a different sort of biological clock. It’s one that compels me to muster my experiences and produce something. And that’s why I started writing about my midlife experience.

If I am going to spend a lot of time feeling unsettled, at least I should write about it.

When the thought of writing a Jewish midlife column was still a twinkle in my eye, my husband suggested calling it “Yidl in the Midl.” I reminded him that he stole that phrase from a wonderful Marlene Booth documentary we’d seen about growing up Jewish in Iowa.

Several days later he came up with “Mid/Yid.” That seemed to fit.

Though I started off as a shayne maydele, I need only look in the mirror or spend several minutes uncreaking my legs as I get up off the couch to realize I’m about as “mid/yid” as they come.

I think our generation needs airtime — and the best way to do it is by peering through the lens of the Yiddish outlook and expressions that traveled with our parents to America.

Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer and synagogue librarian from Providence, R.I.