I’m your mother, and I need help badly. Why won’t you let your daughter pitch in?
Ruth: I’m your mother, and I need help badly. Why won’t you let your daughter pitch in?
Sara: I hate to seem uncaring, but this doesn’t work for me, my daughter, or our family.
When you’ve been making Pesach for close to four decades, you pretty much have it down to a science.
What you don’t take into account — at least, I didn’t — is that it gets harder and harder to keep up the pace.
Some things are easy: the grocery order, the menu plan. Pesach prep doesn’t involve much thinking these days. But scrubbing out cabinets, standing for hours at the stove, schlepping the Pesach boxes from the basement, or climbing on a step stool to wipe the furthest corners of the pantry — we were just not up to that anymore, Nachum and I.
What we really needed was family close by, but none of our five children lived near us. Sara, the oldest, lived out of town; her husband was the rav of a small, growing community. Moshe was married to an Israeli girl; they lived in Kiryat Sefer. The others lived closer, an hour or two away, but none of them were at a stage of life where they could take time off to help me.
On the other hand, except for Sara, they were all coming to us for Pesach. Which was exactly what I wanted — I just had to find a way to make Yom Tov happen.
I sighed and checked my phone. My friend Judy had mentioned that Lay Green had posted some interesting new Pesach recipes, and I figured I’d take a look. The kids would probably enjoy them. If I got to Pesach intact.
“Come to us for Pesach, the kids would love it,” Sara offered immediately, when I mentioned over the phone that I was anxious about how we’d manage the prep. Sara and her family never came for Yom Tov; they couldn’t leave the community. But it wasn’t practical for us to go there — I’d already invited the other marrieds, and besides, I wanted to make Pesach.
“Oh, we’re not up to that stage. I’m not giving up hosting all of you just yet,” I told her. “I mean, not you — you’re always invited, but I know you can’t get away during this time of year. But the others are looking forward to it, they’re all planning on coming, even Moshe — it’s been almost three years since they came last, can you imagine?”
“Crazy,” Sara agreed. “I guess that’s what happens when you live halfway across the world. When are they arriving?”
“Three days before Yom Tov,” I said. “And the others are driving in the night before, or on Erev Yom Tov. I’m excited for them all to come, but really, there is so, so much I need to get done.”
Sara was frowning; I could hear it in her voice. “None of them can come a few days earlier to help you out a little? You really have a lot on your plate….”
“With their kids? Please. I love them dearly, but having them around while I’m trying to clean would be more hindrance than help,” I said. “Besides, Shani’s in her eighth month, and you know how Malkie’s Sruli is — she needs to stay home as long as possible, where she has all the volunteers who know him and take him out. And Batya has work until Erev Yom Tov.”
I was still thinking about Pesach after hanging up the phone with Sara. She was right — all I needed was a pair of hands, someone to take the heavy work off of me, to share the potato peeling and onion frying and egg checking with, so I wouldn’t be doing it on my own. If only one of my daughters could come earlier or even send a grandchild. But their kids just weren’t old enough yet, and none of them aside from Sara had girls first in any case.
Sara, luckily, had three. She called them her team, three daughters in four years, and they helped her out with e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Goodness knows she needed it, with her communal responsibilities and her job and her eight children, bli ayin hara. Bassie, her oldest, must be 14, nearly 15, by now.
Almost 15, and I hardly got to see her. I felt a pang. I was proud of Sara and her husband Menachem, they were idealistic and passionate and doing a great job, but I just wished they would be able to get away to visit more frequently.
Bassie was the perfect solution!
The more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it. Bassie would come for a week or two before Pesach. I would have an extra pair of hands and treat her to a great time. And I’d get to know my oldest granddaughter, whom I barely got to see. She could even stay for the first days, meet her cousins, and spend time with the aunts she barely saw.
I couldn’t wait to call Sara back, but I had to wait till she’d get back from work. I wanted to share my idea with someone, though. I called Nachum, and of course, he thought it was a great idea, too.
“So I can look for tickets?” I pressed him.
“I think you should wait to speak to Sara first,” he cautioned. I agreed, but then headed to the computer. I wouldn’t actually book anything, but it couldn’t hurt to look.
I’d been checking travel sites for half an hour when my phone pinged. I looked down; it was another one of those clips of Biden stumbling. I tsked — what was the country coming to! Then I looked at my watch. In another two hours, Sara would probably be back from work.
When I finally tried her, it was Bassie herself who answered her mother’s phone.
“Hi, Bubby. Mommy’s coming, just a minute. How are you?”
That girl was such a sweetheart. “Bassie, I’m so happy you picked up. I’m actually calling because I had a great idea, and it’s got to do with you,” I said. I was so excited, and I knew she’d be also. “You know what? Let me speak to Mommy, and she can tell you about it. I think you’ll love it!”
“Hello? Hi, Ma. Is everything okay?” Sara sounded harried.
“Sure, why shouldn’t it be? I just had an idea….”
“Oh. Just a second, Ma, it’s a little crazy here.” I heard her dispensing snacks and instructions over a babble of noise. “Okay, I’m with you. So what’s this idea about? You changed your mind; you want to come here for Pesach in the end?”
“No, but I had a better idea,” I said. “How about I pay for Bassie to fly in for a week or two, and she’ll help me out? I’m sure she’d enjoy it, and I know your girls are super helpful.”
I was surprised when Sara hesitated. I’d thought this was a no-brainer: a treat for Bassie, a help for me. Yes, Sara also needed help, but she had two other big girls at home; I was sure she could spare Bassie for a week or so.
Besides, I hated to make money a thing, but Nachum and I sent Sara a nice amount every year to help her make Pesach. I know she usually spent it on cleaning help — she preferred the extra hours of help to a new outfit or fancier meats at the Yom Tov table.
I was helping her out; surely she would reciprocate and send Bassie.
But Sara was strangely reluctant. “It sounds like a nice idea,” she said finally. “But I just don’t want to send Bassie away right now.”
AT first I thought maybe something was up, something I didn’t know about. Maybe Bassie had a fear of flying, maybe she was struggling with something and didn’t want to leave home for two weeks. But then I spoke to Bassie, who told me that she loved the idea and really wanted to come. She couldn’t understand why her mother wasn’t excited about it.
To be honest, I was a little bit frustrated. If she said she only wanted to send Bassie for one week, not two, I would have been okay with that. But this outright refusal? She knew I needed the help, and she was just unwilling to send it?
Honestly, it wasn’t only about the help. I was disappointed, too. I’d envisioned special time with my oldest granddaughter, taking her shopping and playing games of Scrabble after a satisfying day of cleaning cabinets or filling the freezer.
“Give it up, let’s think of another solution,” Nachum said, practically.
But I couldn’t — at least nothing that would work as well as having a grandchild come over to help.
“I wish my Perry was old enough to come,” sighed Shani.
I laughed; her Perry was all of seven years old.
“Should I ask Sara again for you?” Batya offered. “I mean, it really is the best idea. It would be the perfect solution all round.”
“It’s fine, we’ll make it work,” I said wearily, as I wiped down shelves in preparation for lining the kitchen cabinets.
But it was tough going. I was cleaning, yes, but nowhere near as efficiently as usual, and I pushed off the upper cabinets for several days until I absolutely couldn’t wait any longer.
The step stool felt shaky — or was it me who was shaking a little, climbing up the three small rungs?
Just one more shelf, one more wipe down….
And then it happened. As I turned to put the rag down on the counter below me, I somehow lost my balance, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor, pain shooting up my leg from one ankle.
It was a sprain.
“No break, just a bad sprain and some bruising,” the doctor told me. I smiled weakly. That was good, I guess, but meanwhile, I was in so much pain, I couldn’t imagine doing anything.
I managed to get around a little, hobbling from my bedroom to the kitchen to make a hot tea, and from there to the couch to sip it, but Pesach cleaning and cooking were simply not in the cards until I recovered.
Now, I really, really, really needed help.
Shani, Malkie, and Batya called constantly. “We feel terrible. Maybe we just shouldn’t come for Yom Tov? I wish there was more we could do.”
“You are absolutely coming for Yom Tov,” I told them firmly. “I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks, it’s pushing me to get better quicker.”
“But how will you get it done? Practically, if you find it hard to stand up, how are you going to manage?” Shani asked me.
“I’ll figure something out,” I told her.
Sara called too, of course. She’s a great daughter; we’re very close. That was part of the reason why the whole Bassie situation threw me.
“Ma, how are you feeling? This must be so hard on you, I can’t believe it,” she said.
I waited for her to continue, to offer to send her daughter to help me — but no go.
“Are you getting enough cleaning help? Maybe I can speak to my friends who live in your area, ask them if any of them have a cleaning lady who can spare some hours. You really need it.”
Cleaning help? That was something, I guess, but please, it was nothing like having a granddaughter around, someone whom you don’t have to supervise, someone who can help with the little errands, the cooking, the shopping, the peeling, not just the deep cleaning.
Besides, at this rate I’d need full-time cleaning help, which would be super expensive. And forget about good company.
Scrabble games and sipping hot drinks….
My foot throbbed. I was in pain, stressed out, upset, and frustrated.
Bassie would love the break, and I desperately needed the help, Why wouldn’t Sara allow this obvious solution?
If I could tell Sara one thing, it would be: I really need help, and your daughter is the perfect person for the job — if only you wouldn’t stand in her way.
Erev Pesach for a frum woman is hard.
Erev Pesach for a frum woman whose husband is a community rav… well, let’s just say it’s a whole ’nother story.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what we do, and I’m so grateful that we can do it. It was Menachem’s dream, and this small-but-growing kehillah is a source of so much pride and satisfaction for both of us.
But making Pesach while your husband is busy selling everyone’s chometz, answering sh’eilos till all hours, and preparing a Shabbos Hagadol derashah is kind of a big deal.
Thank goodness I have daughters. Bassie, my oldest, is a dream with kids — for years, she’s been making a pre-Pesach day camp for my younger ones plus the other kids on the block. She keeps them busy and happy from morning until evening, and the mothers all love her. And I wouldn’t manage without her, either.
My next two girls are great helpers, too. Chani likes to spend time with me in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning, and Shiffy floats between assisting Bassie and her friend in the day camp, and doing odd jobs — grocery runs for last minute ingredients are her favorite.
With a big family, kein ayin hara, lots of guests, and Menachem so busy with the kehillah, I can’t say that making Pesach doesn’t make my shoulders tense up. But with my girls around, it’s infinitely more doable.
MY mother thrives on cooking and hosting, and she looks forward to Pesach all year. So I was surprised to hear her sounding harried when we discussed our Yom Tov plans.
“Oh, of course I’m excited,” Ma said, when I asked her if everything was okay. “It’s just, you know, Tatty and I aren’t getting younger. I’m not sure how we’ll manage all the heavy work, the schlepping, the scrubbing and kashering….” She laughed ruefully. “Pesach comes around to show me how time is passing, I guess. It’s not like it used to be.”
An idea popped into my mind, and I quickly blurted it out. “Why don’t you come to us for Pesach? The kids would love it.” We hadn’t spent Yom Tov with my parents in a long time; since Menachem took this position it’s been impossible. Maybe it was time for them to start coming to us?
“I’m not giving up hosting just yet,” Ma retorted lightly. “You know that everyone’s planning on coming, even Moshe — it’s been three years since they flew in. Can you imagine?”
I felt a pang. As much as I knew that we were doing what we had to do — and I was truly happy to do it — I missed spending time with family.
“When are they arriving?” I asked Ma. “I’ll bet they want to hit the New York stores as soon as they land.”
“Three days before Yom Tov,” Ma said. She gave a little sigh. “And then the others are driving in on the night of bedikas chometz or on Erev Yom Tov — I’m happy they’re all coming, but there’s just so much to do to prepare.”
Hearing Ma like this was unsettling. It wasn’t like her to stress about Yom Tov prep; she really was getting older. I wished I could just go over and help, but there was a small matter of several hundred miles between us. Besides, I had a family of my own and was making Yom Tov also — without much help from my husband. I was maxed out, too.
“It’s a shame none of them can come a few days earlier, to help you out a little,” I said.
“With their kids? Please,” Ma said. “It’s not much of a help once the little ones are around. Besides, Shani’s in her eighth month, and you know what Malkie’s Sruli is like. And Batya has work until Erev Yom Tov.”
I heard Miri staring to cry, and knew I had to get off the phone. “Tough one, Ma. I hope you do manage to get some help, maybe extra cleaning help? Or some bochurim to kasher and turn over for you?”
“Maybe.” She sounded noncommittal.
A couple of hours later, Ma called again. I was in the thick of bath time when Bassie came skipping up the stairs, eyes sparkling. She was holding out my phone like a trophy.
“What — someone’s on the phone?” I asked her.
“It’s Bubby. She said she has an amazing idea, can you speak to her?”
I balanced the phone precariously between shoulder and ear, scooping Chezky out the bath and helping him into his pajamas.
“Sara, I had a great idea,” Ma announced. She sounded full of energy, the nervous tension gone from her voice. It was nice hearing her sound like herself again, so why did I have a bad feeling about this?
I shepherded the kids downstairs for a bedtime snack. “Sorry, Ma. It’s a little crazy here. Give me a minute.” I settled them with apples, then sank down onto the couch. “So what’s your idea? It sounds exciting.”
“It’s great,” Ma said, sounding almost jubilant. “I was thinking, how about I pay for Bassie to fly in for a week or two and help me out? I’m sure she’d enjoy it, and I know your girls are super helpful. With her here, I could get everything done for Yom Tov, and she’d have a great time.” She laughed. “Besides, she’s my oldest granddaughter, and I haven’t seen her in ages. We could get some quality time in, too!”
Oh, boy boy boy.
“Oh. Wow. That’s… an interesting idea,” I managed, trying to figure out how I would break the news to my very excited mother that there was just no way I was sending my daughter alone halfway across the country to help her make Pesach.
There were just so many reasons it wasn’t going to work.
For starters, I needed her help. The other mothers, the day camp, everyone relied on her. She couldn’t back out now.
And even if she could find a replacement, figure things out, it wasn’t fair to her sisters. Bassie’s the oldest, she’s always getting these extras, and in the past few months alone, she’d gone on a few fun trips. First there was sleepaway camp this past summer — we’d never done it before, but we felt the time was right, and she really thrived there. Then when Menachem made a trip to another city, Bassie went along overnight to see camp friends. Then there was the midwinter reunion that she’d begged to attend….
Yes, Bassie’s hardworking and helpful — but so are her sisters, and I knew they’d feel resentful to be landed with extra chores because Bassie was off to New York.
And then there was the issue of technology, which I wasn’t even going to try to explain to my mother. My parents had a computer with Internet in the house, and Bassie was a teenager — curious, tech-savvy, smart. I couldn’t send her alone somewhere where no one would realize what she might be accessing.
And besides, I didn’t want my daughter flying off two weeks before Pesach. Ma was talking now about her plans for Yom Tov — maybe Bassie would stay, get to know her cousins, wouldn’t that be nice — and I just thought, no, no, no. I didn’t want Bassie away for part of Yom Tov. I wanted her home.
“And Bassie will be so excited, I told her I had a great idea.”
“Ma,” I said. “I’m just not sure about this whole plan. Were you— what did you tell Bassie? I would rather she didn’t know before I think about whether it can work or not.”
My mother sounded surprised. “I thought it was a great idea, to be honest,” she said. “I’ll pay her ticket, and you have your other girls to help.”
Of course I had Chani and Shiffy, but it really wasn’t the point. I didn’t want Bassie to go.
I hated to turn her down, but I had to make my position clear before Ma started booking flights. “It sounds like a nice idea, Ma. But I just don’t see it working out,” I said.
Obviously, that wasn’t the last I heard of it.
First it was Bassie, pressing me to tell her what Bubby’s idea had been, and was it about her going to help Bubby make Pesach.
I couldn’t hide it from her, so I confirmed that Bubby had suggested it, but that I wasn’t happy with the idea.
“There will be other times when you can visit Bubby, Pesach isn’t the right time,” I said firmly.
Bassie wasn’t happy, but she saw I was resolute about it, and she took it in stride.
I wished, though, that I could say the same for my siblings.
“Ma really needs the help,” my sister Malkie said, meaningfully. “I know you rely on Bassie’s help at home, but if there’s any way you could make it work….”
Malkie had a bunch of little children and a son with special needs; no one was asking her to “make it work.” But I understood what it looked like from her end: Here I was, with a team of big girls to help me out, refusing to send my oldest to help my mother.
But then again, Malkie and the others didn’t have teens and weren’t thinking what this might mean for me.
“If I could go, I would,” my sister Batya vowed. She’s the youngest in our family and very close with my mother. She also had an intense full-time job and a baby.
“And if I could send Bassie, I would, too,” I told her. I wondered if my sisters felt guilty that they couldn’t help more. Why else were they pushing so much for my daughter to go help Ma?
Shani was the only one who seemed to respect my decision. “You’re the mother, she’s your daughter, you get to decide,” she told me. “I’m sure if there was a way for you to help Ma, you’d do it.”
I was grateful that she saw my perspective. Hopefully, everyone would come around, realize that Bassie wasn’t the only possible solution to Ma’s Pesach woes, and they would just move on.
But then Ma hurt her ankle.
And the pressure really began.
Even Shani seemed to have switched “sides” in this campaign to get me to send Bassie to help.
“I know you had your reasons not to send her,” Shani told me earnestly. “But I’m sure you see that this is an exception, a one-off. I mean, Ma’s really laid up, she finds it hard to walk. She can’t climb up and clean anywhere, she can’t go grocery shopping, she can’t stand and peel potatoes… can’t you just figure out a way to spare Bassie for a week?”
“I would if I could,” I kept saying — to Shani, to my other sisters, even to Ma. I felt bad for her — it was horrible to be laid up right before Yom Tov — and I offered her again to come to me instead of making Pesach. Surely my sisters would understand if Ma canceled. Weren’t they lecturing to me about exceptional situations?
But Ma wanted to stick with the original plan; she didn’t want to travel, and she couldn’t let down my brother and his family, who were flying in from Israel after so long.
“Maybe I can help you find more cleaning help, speak to friends in your neighborhood,” I offered.
“No thanks, I don’t need more people to supervise.” Ma sounded miffed. I knew what she was waiting for — for me to offer Bassie’s help. I couldn’t give her that, though. So why wasn’t she letting me help in other ways?
I tried to show that I cared and wasn’t refusing to help for no good reason. I ordered in soups and suppers for a few nights, trying to ease things for my parents. (Did any of my siblings think to thank me? No. Everyone just kept on pressuring me to send Bassie to Ma. They seemed fixated on the idea that it was the perfect solution.)
“Bassie’s just one person, a teenage girl at that,” I finally told my siblings, exasperated. “Even if she would go, she can’t do heavy work or kashering….”
“It’s still the best option under the circumstances,” Malkie countered.
But it’s not. I’m Bassie’s mother, after all. And this “ideal solution” simply wasn’t ideal for my family.
If I could tell my family one thing, it would be: I would love to help, but this isn’t best for Bassie — or me. —
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 954)
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