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Babbi Cleans for Pesach

It’s in my DNA; I can’t deny that I love giving in to my cleaning neurosis

I’M cleaning for Pesach, tackling one closet at a time. I pull out sweaters and shirts and scarves and socks and shoes, sort out what to keep and what to get rid of. I refold each item with military precision, wipe down each shelf, and then put everything back in orderly stacks. I scrub the closet doors, dust off the top, shpritz the mirrors, and voilà! Another closet checked off the list.

I step back to look at my handiwork, to bask in my sense of accomplishment.

Every year my husband reminds me that Pesach cleaning is not to be confused with spring cleaning. It’s about getting rid of chometz. Spring cleaning is all very fine, and if you’ve got the time, fantastic, but know that 90 percent of the sweat and grit you’re expending has very little to do with actual chometz.

I then politely remind him that I am Hungarian, which is my go-to response to most differences of opinion we have. When I dust and polish and bleach every inch of my house, I’m simply continuing my proud heritage. Somewhere inside is a voice, I think it’s Babbi Erzsi’s, in her adorable Hungarian-accented English, telling me that this is the “vay” it has to be.

So as Purim exits and Pesach rounds the corner, I once again take up my post. It’s in my DNA; I can’t deny that I love giving in to my cleaning neurosis. I inhale the glorious scent of lemon and ammonia — it’s perfume to me — and try to ignore the eye rolls surreptitiously directed at me by my (supportive?) family.

Today is Toy Closet Day. I used to relegate this job to my older girls, but they’ve gone off and gotten married and have their own toddlers’ toy shelves now. I’m on my own.

I pull out toys and puzzles and games. I dump out Duplo pieces and Magna-Tiles and Menchies and pretend kitchen toys, boxes of cars and blocks and doll clothes onto the floor. The shelves in these closets are particularly deep; it’s not easy to get all the way to the back with my gloved hand and shmatteh.

I feel something and crouch down to peer into the shelf, reach all the way in, and pull it out. It doesn’t feel like a toy.

It isn’t.

It’s a wafer.

A whole wafer. Well, to be precise, a whole wafer minus an adorable bite on one side. A bite the shape and size of a little guy named Simcha or perhaps Elchanan, my grandchildren.

I hold the wafer aloft, triumphant.

All those fingers they wagged at me, all those critical people who pronounced me to be obsessive, fanatic… I’m finally vindicated. A whole wafer! Chometz gamur. It doesn’t get any better than this.

I bound up the stairs, wielding the wafer like a weapon, joyfully showing it off to everyone. “I’m not crazy, allow me to present this huge specimen of chometz,” I say.

Everyone has a good laugh. I call the girls to tell them. They laugh, too. It’s great.

I march back downstairs to keep at it with renewed vigor and self-righteousness.

But as I take up my shpritz bottle and scrubbing pad, I realize there’s something else filling me with such joy, and it’s not the satisfaction of finding chometz.

It’s my grandbabies. (Yes, girls, they are mine, despite your insistence otherwise). It’s the joy of finding whole wafers in my toy cabinet, crumbly residue from those little noshers, probably left over from Purim, when they were playing down here and raided the shalach manos bags piled on the table. It’s evidence that sticky fingers and chocolaty smiles and pattering feet and shining little eyes have been here. It’s the joy of feeling my heart burst with gratefulness when I think of my eineklach. It’s the utter thrill of being a babbi, loving it as they reach out their chubby arms, and I pick them up, and they bury their (eternally chocolaty) faces in my shoulder.

I don’t think I ever found a huge piece of chometz like this when my kids were little. I probably didn’t let my kids eat when they played; I was neurotic like that. My husband says that I’m old, that I forget. That they were messy disasters and of course they left trails of crumbs.

I don’t think so.

Or probably I only remember the good things, the stuff I kvell about, as every good Hungarian babbi should. (“You know my sons Peter and Lotsi? Dey are both famous doctors, all my kids are doctors.”)

A memory flashes before me. We were in Miami with the kids; my son Efraim not yet two, with long golden curls. Babbi Shari made us a fancy steak dinner on her porch. Efraim was going in and out of the house, banging on the sliding glass door and pressing his lips to it, playing peek-a-boo with us.

I started to clean up, clear away the plates. Babbi Shari paused by the door, eyed the sticky fingerprints and lip marks, and bent down to kiss them, proudly declaring, “I’m never cleaning this door.”

Of course she did, probably after we left. And of course I clean up after my grandkids, too, although whenever I do I feel a stab of guilt.

But I’m mostly beaming with the pride of being a babbi, of having fingerprints on the sliding doors and a wafer with a bite-sized chunk in my toy closet.

Because that’s really what my Hungarian DNA is all about.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 888)

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