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Confessions of a Bogus Balabusta

For me, a smoke detector functions like a kitchen timer, only a lot more shrill

Smoke detectors and housewives like me aren’t a good combination.

I went to a safety evening sponsored by Hatzolah, and they kept on repeating how important it is to install smoke detectors. They can save lives. So being the safety-conscious (read: paranoid) mother I am, and the organized and efficient balabusta I wish I really was, I went out and bought a few. My husband placed them in all the strategic places: in the hallway outside the bedrooms, by the front door, and in the kitchen.

Yes. The kitchen.

We overlooked one thing: My tendency to burn dinner. For me, a smoke detector functions like a kitchen timer, only a lot more shrill. The perk is that I don’t have to remember to set it; it lets me know automatically when the frying pan is on fire.

We installed the smoke detectors three days ago. I’ve made dinner every night since. And the smoke detectors went off every time, of course. My neighbors have already stopped evacuating the building when they hear it.

Sigh. My husband and children are getting tired of eating barbecued potatoes every night. That’s what I call what was supposed to be mashed potatoes. If you scrape up the burned bits from the bottom of the pot, you get that charcoal taste of a real outdoor grill, and I can pretend I’ve taken the kids on a camping trip and am roasting potatoes-wrapped-in-foil in the bonfire.

But seriously, how am I supposed to remember I put up a pot of potatoes to boil? There’s so much competing for my attention: My toddler has undressed himself and is starting to fill up the bath, a neighbor is knocking on the door to borrow something, two other kids are wrestling each other to death, and my cellphone is ringing for the third time in a row. Combine that with my ADHD and there’s way too much going on.

Once I’ve finally got everyone bathed and in bed, it’s after 9 p.m. There’s a load of laundry to hang out, and two loads to rewash because they smell like mildew by now after sitting and waiting patiently to be hung. (Why can’t my kids wait that patiently when they need me?)

My mother always says, “The dirty dishes won’t run away. You can always do them tomorrow.” I tell myself that every evening to justify getting into bed without having done any chores, but on Thursday night when I want to make Shabbos and there are no clean pots and pans to cook with, I kind of regret I listened to her.

Then there are the school lunches. The key to getting out of the house on time in the mornings is to prepare it all the night before, says every home-management and parenting guru everywhere. But when do you do everything else on your once-the-kids-are-in-bed to-do list? In the morning?

People who don’t go to bed until the dinner dishes are washed, the sink shiny, the stovetop wiped down, and the sandwiches and snacks lined up on the counter: What time do you turn in every night?

If I made sure to do all that every night before I went to sleep, I’d go to bed just as my children were getting up. And then who would help them through the morning routine?

Speaking of cleaning up the kitchen every night, I’m not even sure why I bother dirtying my kitchen making dinner. Everyone’s become so picky, the only thing they want to eat is schnitzel.

But breading and frying all those cutlets is painstaking work. And no shortcuts for me. No matter how much oil I spray them with, they know when I’ve baked them in the oven instead of fried them. Have pity on me, kids! I just want to avoid standing over the stove, lifting up each individual piece of chicken and putting it in the frying pan, then trying to guess if it’s been in the pan exactly two minutes per side.

Last week, when the balabusta fairy sprinkled her magic dust on me, and for an hour I was actually the organized and efficient balabusta I wish I really was, I made stuffed cabbage. I was the only one who liked it and ended up eating the whole batch myself throughout the week, ’cuz there was no room in the freezer for the leftovers. (Don’t ask me what’s in there; I don’t have a clue.)

Luckily, my family also loves edible junk that can pass as food. Things like hot dogs and instant noodles. Extra points if they’re served on disposable dishes. Apparently, it makes things taste better. One of the kids even told me the chicken roasted in store-bought sweet chili sauce is the best Shabbos food I’ve ever made!

Meanwhile, I’ve got more ground meat that needs cooking. It was on special yesterday, and it would’ve been a waste of money not to buy it. Maybe I’ll make supper for my neighbor who just had a baby. Though it’s beyond me why she would need me to make supper for her. Last time she gave birth, she returned the containers I sent her dinner in, washed and dried, at seven thirty the next morning. I won’t tell you how many days it took me to wash the pot I cooked her meal in.

Do other families manage so well after they have a new addition? I know my family does; when I’m in hospital recovering from giving birth, it’s the only time my kids go to school on time, with matching socks and brushed hair to boot. That’s ’cuz my husband’s on paternity leave and in charge. (If only he wouldn’t usually have to be at the train station when the rest of the family’s still pressing snooze on their alarms.)

Maybe I should permanently move into a postpartum convalescent home. The problem with that is my kids wouldn’t be able to visit me much. They’re too noisy. The staff would throw them out for disturbing the peace.

Or call social services.

I was scared poison control would do that after I called them for the fifth time this year. When it comes to child-proof bottle caps, my children are little Houdinis. One time, I had the ingenious idea to call the American poison control instead of the Israeli one, and all was going well until they asked me for my zip code. I’m not American; I have no idea what an American zip code sounds or looks like.

I hastily hung up and called the Israeli poison control.

So here I am, lying on the couch again, procrastinating getting up and doing something productive. I always say that if procrastination were a middah, I’d be the gadol hador. Women would line outside my house to get brachos, look at me as their personal role model for an eishes chayil.

Though come to think of it, my son did give me a giant hug at bedtime tonight and said, “You’re the best Mommy.” That kind of sounds like one of the lines in Eishes Chayil, doesn’t it? Her children rise up and praise her.

What more could a woman want?

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 722)

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