If I would be taking care of these precious little boys for the next two weeks, some things were going to have to change
Iwas Pesach cleaning the guest room when Chavi called.
“The kids are so excited, Ma,” she chirped. “What time do you want us all over?”
Kids. Right. Purim seudah. I looked at the Windex and shmattehs and stifled a laugh.
“I’ll let you know about that, okay?”
“Any news from Kayla?” she asked. Kayla, the only one of my children to live out of town, was due just after Purim. There was no news yet, but as soon as there was, I would be on the next plane.
“Not yet,” I told Chavi. “Don’t worry, you’ll hear when there is.”
“Well, let’s hope she makes it till after Purim. You wouldn’t want to miss your own seudah!”
I shrugged. “All of you moved in after birth. Kayla needs the help just as much – even more, since she’s by herself there.”
Especially, I thought after hanging up the phone, since this would be Kayla’s fourth – and her three little boys were a handful, to say the least. I’d moved in for a couple of weeks after the last two as well, but this time I couldn’t imagine how she’d manage at all without help. Besides, the timing – shortly before Pesach – was a hectic time for everyone. Which was why I was getting ahead of the game this year, trying to clean the upstairs and the basement even before Purim. Hopefully I could spend two weeks with Kayla after the baby, and still get back in time to clean and turn over downstairs, and cook for Yom Tov.
I got lucky with the timing. The Purim seudah was beautiful, and I had one day to clean up and sort out the debris of mishloach monos, cellophane wrapping, and costume components that got detached from their rightful place during the fun. Late at night on Shushan Purim, I got a text from Kayla: It’s a girl!
The next morning, I was on the plane.
Pink and white, bows and ribbons, little shoes and heart-shaped cookies... and of course, for Kayla it was even more exciting. The first girl after three boys! She would be a real princess.
And then three was the name. My mother passed away nearly two years ago, and typically, we had had three grandsons in the interim – and this was the first girl. Kayla had been close with her Bubby, and I had no doubt that they would be naming the baby after her.
I spent the plane ride in a happy daze of Kiddush ideas, color schemes and flower arrangements and centrepieces... this was going to be one special simchah.
Still, travelling gets tiring. I arrived at Kayla’s house to find it in disarray: she’d clearly not had a chance to clean up after Purim. The kids were in school, Baruch rushing out with shirt half-untucked. I headed for the guest room to put down my bags. I could put the house in order, or go visit Kayla, or have a quick rest before the real action began.
I sat down for a moment, and the wave of exhaustion that hit decided things for me. A couple of hours’ sleep would make all the difference later on, when I needed the energy.
And boy, did I need the energy. Yanky, Shmuli, and Eli arrived home in a wild burst of noise and mess, tossing backpacks and heading straight for the cookie jar.
“Boys, be good with Bubby,” Baruch called after them. “I’m going to the hospital now, Mommy and the baby are coming home later!”
The door slammed. Two-year-old Eli started to cry. Yanky and Shmuli were fighting over some toy. Someone spilled apple juice on the carpet.
“Eli, come here, sweetie,” I said. He looked at me suspiciously and cried even louder. That’s what happens when grandchildren live so far away.
“Shmuli, Yanky, first we’ll eat supper, then later you can have a cookie. Let’s sit down to eat.”
The boys were still stuffing chocolate-chip garbage in their mouths. I winced. I knew Kayla was a relaxed parent, but this was really undisciplined.
“Let’s pick up our knapsacks and hang them on the hooks,” I said loudly, in best kindergarten-Morah voice.
“Mommy does that,” Yanky informed me, taking another cookie.
“And when Bubby’s in charge, the kinderlach hang up their knapsacks,” I told the boys brightly. “And then we sit down at the table to eat supper.”
If I would be taking care of these precious little boys for the next two weeks, some things were going to have to change.
It wasn’t that simple, though. It didn’t take long to find out just how far Kayla’s laissez-faire approach went. The boys ate way too much junk food, liked to have breakfast while they played instead of at the table, and they barely cleaned up after themselves. Maybe Kayla didn’t mind tidying up the toys every evening, but I certainly did.
“Yanky and Shmuli,” I said one evening. “Before we have baths tonight, we’re going to put the toys away in the box. Let’s go!”
The boys looked baffled.
Kayla was sitting on the couch with the baby. “Ma…” she started saying, then stopped.
I raised my voice a little. “Come on, kinderlach, let’s see who can pick up twenty pieces of Lego the first!”
It took about twenty minutes, but eventually, my little grandsons caught on. We restored the living room to some semblance of order, and then I sent them upstairs to Baruch to get ready for bed, but my voice was completely gone.
“It won’t take long until they get used to this routine, clearing up after themselves,” I tried to reassure myself – and Kayla. She had sat silently watching throughout.
“Thanks,” she said, but she didn’t sound happy. Maybe she felt bad that her kids were so difficult to handle. I mean, Yanky was almost six, he really could be expected to do better. And I couldn’t understand Shmuli at all. He had boundless energy, zero patience, and barely seemed to register most instructions.
“Did you decide when you’ll do the kiddush yet?” I asked, changing the subject. From upstairs, I could hear stamping feet and the beginnings of a temper tantrum. But Baruch was up there, he was the boys’ father. And frankly, I didn’t think I could deal with them for much longer.
Kayla was distracted. “The kiddush? I think next week. But it’s not a big deal, we’ll order some platters, the neighbors will send a few things, and some high school girls will set it up in the shul… we’ll have a few platters here if any women want to come over.”
A few platters? I pictured the kiddush I’d been planning: elaborate tablescapes, rose and silver colors, elegant arrangements.
Besides, a high school girls’ arrangement in the dingy shul basement would be an utter embarrassment. It was nice that my daughter was so not into gashmiyus, but things had limits. A simchah is a b’kavodik event, not white plastic tablecloths with bowls of potato chips.
“Kayla, leave the kiddush to me,” I told her, feeling a new energy. This was my forte, more than trying to manage three undisciplined little boys, anyway. “This little princess is going to have the most spectacular kiddush you can imagine.”
Kayla gave a weak smile. Then someone burst out crying upstairs, screams escalating hysterically, and Baruch was shouting, “Turn off the water, Yanky!”
Kayla looked at me.
“I’ll take the baby for a few minutes,” I said. “I think the boys need their mommy.”
It didn’t get any easier with the kids, but kiddush planning was my outlet. Kayla looked shocked when she heard me on the phone to the florist, but I told her I was footing the bill, and it was going to be fine. Somehow, the to-do list didn’t get smaller even though I spent half the day on the phone. Maybe because I kept adding ideas.
“I’ve ordered the table décor on Amazon Prime,” I bubbled to Kayla one morning, when the kids were safely out the house and I’d cleaned up from breakfast.
She smiled wanly. It made me annoyed, couldn’t she show some enthusiasm? This is what we did, this is what our family did. We had the money, and we celebrated simchos in style, was she better than all the rest of us?
Post-birth, I reminded myself. Just be patient, she’ll appreciate it when it’s done.
“You look so tired, go have a rest while Ruti sleeps,” I told her. It made me smile to say the name, not that it came as a surprise when Baruch came home from shul on Shabbos morning announcing that the baby was named after my mother. Now it was Tuesday, which gave me a few more days before the grand kiddush.
“Yeah, I should rest,” Kayla said, yawning. “Just… about the kiddush, Ma, you really don’t have to work so hard.”
I put down my phone. “What do you mean? I’m loving every minute of it. Anything for my granddaughter! Besides, you know what we think about simchos. Making it nice shows gratitude to Hashem for this wonderful brachah. What sort of hakaras hatov is there with a few cheap paper goods?”
“I know, and it all sounds amazing.” Kayla stifled another yawn. “Just that, you know, it’s not a fancy community. I don’t want to make a statement, you know?”
A statement? Seriously?! No-one was making any statements. It was an at-home kiddush, for goodness’ sake. It wasn’t like we’d rented a hall or anything.
“Don’t worry, Kayla, it’ll be fine. You just relax and enjoy it all, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks for all your work, Ma.” She headed upstairs.
I spent the morning dealing with the caterer – we’d serve some hot dishes, the men always appreciated that – and the bakery order. Chavi called to find out where she could order a chocolate arrangement from, so I let her know the color scheme. I washed the dishes, put up supper (chicken, potatoes, and green beans), and tried not to think about dealing with my grandsons when they came home.
I had made some marginal progress with the hanging up of knapsacks and eliminating unhealthy snacks, but it wasn’t easy. Inevitably, suppertime brought tantrums and spills and fighting; Yanky turned his nose up at the food while Shmuli picked at his and Eli adorned the floor with the bite-size pieces I prepared, and they all lunged for the cookie jar as soon as suppertime was over. Kayla generally appeared to help out, but her help often consisted of bribing the boys with various treats so that they should co-operate. I bit my lip too many times that week, trying to hold back from commenting.
Baruch took over the baths and bedtime, and frankly, I was usually collapsing from exhaustion by then. The morning rush wasn’t much better. I loved my grandchildren dearly, but it was getting increasingly frustrating to take care of them.
“How’s it going?” chirped Breindy, my daughter-in-law, when she called on Thursday.
“Busy preparing the kiddush, and everything,” I told her vaguely. My back was aching from picking up the toys in the living room (I’d given up on getting the boys to tidy up after themselves), and the cleaner was due any minute. I wanted her to do a real deep-clean of the dining room and living room, get it all ready for the kiddush.
“Wow, I’m sure it will be gorgeous!” she enthused. It was nice to get some positive feedback for a change. Kayla wasn’t giving me much response these days. Well, she was post-birth, to be fair. I tried to just stay positive and keep going with the kids and the housework, but to be honest, I was starting to look forward to going back home.
Friday was busy. I spent most of the day setting up the kiddush, all except the food which would be set out fresh. The décor was stunning, and I was happy I’d put all that work into it. Even Kayla looked suitably impressed. I hoped she’d enjoy the event when it was actually happening. For sure, she’d look back and be grateful that we’d made it so beautiful.
I was also busy preparing for Shabbos, I didn’t want Kayla to have that on her head as well. I barely got to speak to any of my other children until Shabbos was over.
“Ma, how was the kiddush?” Chavi asked, calling me immediately after Havdalah. I was sitting in the middle of the dining room, exhausted.
“Really nice,” I said automatically. It was. It was everything I’d planned, and it had gone off without a hitch for the most part. But the sugar high had left the boys even more hyped up than usual, and there was food to put away, and carpets to clean, and Eli was refusing to go to sleep. I could hear Kayla trying to deal with them while rocking the baby, and I felt bad. But I couldn’t be everywhere, and someone needed to clean up.
Things quieted down after that. With the kiddush over, I had more time and energy to deal with the children. They seemed to settle down a little, too, and Yanky even cleared up the Lego one evening without being prompted. I hoped he would keep it up; that would make Kayla’s life easier in the long term.
I flew back home a few days later. Kayla’s house was spotless once more, I’d filled the freezer with meals, and things were running smoothly. But there was something uncomfortable in the air between us when I said goodbye. She still wasn’t smiling. And never once, not after the kiddush, not when I left for the airport, not after two weeks of giving myself entirely up to care for her family – did my daughter say thank you.
If Ma could tell Kayla one thing, it would be: I’m making myself available 24/7 to help you out. Why don’t you appreciate that?
“I don’t know what to do.”
Baruch poured out two cups of orange juice and slid one across the table. “About what?”
“You know what.” We talked about the same issue approximately once a day. Or rather, I talked about it, and Baruch listened, gave his usual logical response, which I turned down… and then we rehashed the whole conversation the next day.
“Why don’t you just tell your mother?”
“What should I tell her?” I picked up my phone, held it to my ear to simulate conversation. “Hi, Ma, it’s me, just want to tell you not to bother coming to help out after the baby in the end. Um, it’s easier without you. Why? Well, it’s the kids… I’ve seen that it’s hard for you to manage them, and to be honest I’d rather send them out to friends after school than have all the noise here. And yeah, I know we have a guest room, but it’s really hard to have to host with a newborn baby… of course you take care of everything, but I’ve got to prepare the room, make sure the kids don’t disturb, keep the bathroom clean… it’s a lot. And then, you know, there’s the privacy factor. Having a shvigger in the house for two weeks ain’t gonna make the man too happy.”
I glanced up at Baruch; he was chortling.
“I’m glad you find it funny.”
He sobered up. “Listen, I think we should just find a way to ask her to change the plan somehow.”
I shook my head. “It’s not happening. My mother has it all planned, it’s her ‘thing,’ to come out here and help after a baby. It would come out all wrong, and she’d be really hurt.”
“But the help is not actually helpful.”
I considered that. “Well, it is, a little bit. I mean, she’ll shop and cook and stuff, but on the other hand, if I didn’t have anyone flying in, the neighbors would be sending in meals. And taking the kids after school.”
“She’ll let you nap in the day, watch the baby.”
“Yeah.” I stretched and yawned. Exhaustion was a constant companion these days. “I guess we’ll just have to make the best of it.”
For the first half a day, I didn’t regret that decision. Coming home to a clean house and a hot meal was bliss. The baby was quiet, and Ma carted her off to bond with her new granddaughter. The kids were ready for bed, and went off surprisingly quietly.
The next morning was when the trouble really began.
I came down after the boys were off to school. Ma took the baby for a few minutes and I went to find some breakfast. Baruch was sitting in the kitchen, looking exhausted.
“How were the kids?” I asked him.
He shook his head.
“Crazy,” he said. “You know how they get with a change of routine… your mother, bless her, was trying to make them all sit down for a healthy breakfast… I tried telling her that it might work better to let them eat while they play or something, like you do, but she insisted that it’s much safer to eat sitting at the table. But then…”
“Yanky started fighting with Shmuli, and Eli spilled everything and cried, and they all started throwing food,” I said gloomily, good mood dissipating. I know my kids, and I know what works for them. Mornings are hectic enough without giving them reason to make food fights. I usually fed Eli in the kitchen and let the older boys eat pancakes or toast or something in the other room. They ate enough, I cleaned up the mess afterwards, and I didn’t have to wage a daily battle about sitting at the table and not teasing Eli.
“Your mother prepared them lunches, though. Really healthy-looking ones, too,” Baruch said, grinning. “Vegetable sticks and sandwiches and some cut-up fruit… pretzels, too, I think,” he added quickly.
I closed my eyes briefly. “But the boys… they don’t eat this stuff. Wait, she didn’t put lotus spread on their sandwiches either, did she?”
“Of course not. I think it’s egg today.”
I pressed my lips together. “They are not going to eat a bite of it.”
Baruch shrugged just as my mother floated back into the kitchen.
“Kayla, she’s just a dolly! Look at those eyes! And the hair! A real Perlman face, too.”
“Really? I thought she looked more like my in-laws.”
My mother looked horrified. “No way. She’s the image of you as a newborn. Chavi, too.”
I shrugged. “All babies sort of look similar.”
“Not this one. She’s gorgeous,” Ma said fiercely. I didn’t remember her getting so heated about my other kids’ looks. “Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about the kiddush. You’re planning to give the name on Shabbos?”
Kiddush? I’d barely come home. It wasn’t as if it was a boy and we had to make a sholom zochor.
“Wow, you’re forward-thinking!” I looked over at Baruch. “I didn’t even think about when to make the kiddush. Maybe next Shabbos, what do you think?”
“Let’s discuss it soon,” Baruch said. His voice was neutral, but I could tell he wasn’t happy that my mother was taking charge. It was our simchah, after all.
We didn’t have much for conferences, though. The boys were completely out of sorts with the change in routine, and I ended up spending too much time refereeing fights and trying to convince them to eat Bubby’s suppers.
“But I want pizza!” Yanky whined. “Or pasta and cheese! Not this icky thing!” He stabbed a finger towards his plate of meatloaf. I sighed. My kids didn’t do very well with adult food, but of course, my mother cooked delicious, wholesome, meaty meals every evening. Baruch and I enjoyed them, but the kids were constantly turning up their noses.
“Just try it,” I urged Yanky, conscious of my mother watching. “For dessert, Mommy will find something special, okay?”
“I can’t handle it,” I complained to Baruch later. “It’s so much more of a hassle for me this way! I need to convince them to listen to Ma, eat her meals, clean up the toys… I feel like it would just be easier to manage on our own.”
He nodded, but stayed quiet. I stopped talking. Ma had gone upstairs, but she could come back down any minute. So I couldn’t even vent in my own kitchen. Great.
Then there was issue of the kiddush.
Where I grew up, fancy kiddushim were the norm (by now, they probably resembled wedding receptions). But out of town, things were simpler. I’d planned to order a few trays of cake, some nosh, get a few girls to set up in shul, and host the women in our dining room. How many people would it be, anyway?
Ma, though, had other plans. “I’ve arranged everything with the caterer!” she told me exuberantly one day. “It’s going to be fabulous.”
Caterer? This was a little kiddush, not a five-course event.
Amazon Prime boxes were littering the hallway. Tablecloths, vases, centrepieces, table decorations. The color scheme was rose and silver, apparently. Ma asked if that was okay with me. Honestly, I’d have set up the kiddush with my regular white tablecloth and used light pink paperware, but Ma wouldn’t have dreamed of doing things so simply.
At one point, I tried to say something about the community standards, how it would look strange, how this was all unnecessary. Ma just gave me a wide-eyed look. “Unnecessary? For my granddaughter? And your first girl? Of course it’s necessary.”
She didn’t say it, but I was sure the name had something to do with it. We named our baby Ruti, after my grandmother, and my mother had lost no time in calling all her siblings to share the news. But the kiddush thing was getting me nervous. It just felt out of proportion.
“This is going to be so embarrassing,” I told Baruch one night. “The Greens down the block made a kiddush a few weeks ago, remember? A couple of cakes and some trays of candy, that was all. And now we’re doing color schemes and tablescapes.”
“She’s paying for everything, she’s doing all the work, just leave it alone,” Baruch advised me. But even so, it was making things harder in the house. Ma had even less time and patience to deal with the kids’ antics while she was planning her mega event. She hired a cleaner for Thursday morning to clean the dining room and living room – she wanted to host the kiddush all in our house, so she could supervise the set-up of the men’s and women’s sections – and asked us to keep the boys out of there until after Shabbos. I was exhausted, moody, and out of patience to deal with Shmuli’s temper tantrums and Yanky’s complaints about how boring it was to play in the bedroom. It just wasn’t working.
“Go along with it,” was Baruch’s advice. Right, as if we had a choice in the matter.
You’re so lucky! Your kiddush is gonna be beautiful, one of my sisters texted.
Frankly, I didn’t care about a beautiful anything, except some quiet and some sleep. But I wasn’t getting much, between Ruti and the boys, the constant battles to get the kids to cooperate with Ma, and taking over when she got yet another ‘urgent phone call’ about the kiddush.
I couldn’t wait for the kiddush to be over.
The kiddush was absolutely beautiful. And just as bad as I’d thought.
There were the boys, who had to be contained all morning from destroying the tablescapes and making off with pockets full of cake. The house was swarming, since the entire kiddush was at home instead of mostly in shul. And I had to be dressed and presentable, and so did Ruti, and there were far too many people to greet and smile at, when all I wanted was to go back to sleep.
I was hoping Ma would enjoy her party at least, but she was far too occupied with trying to keep Yanky, Shmuli, and Eli from dismantling all her efforts.
“Boys, come have some kugel, sit down quietly,” I heard her saying in a tight voice. I pretended not to hear. What could I do already? There was no way I could keep my little boys from moving in their own house, especially with all that cake and nosh around.
This wasn’t my choice.
I wished I could tell that to the neighbors. Some people just smiled and winked – “wow, a really special simchah, look at that,” – but there were other comments, too.
“Oh, I forgot, you’re from New York,” a woman from down the block told me, wrinkling her nose.
“Setting new standards for our simple community,” commented another neighbor. There was an edge to her voice.
I tried to smile and deflect the comments. This wasn’t my choice. But what could I say?
The kiddush was over, not a moment too soon. Ruti was crying, and I dashed upstairs to see to her, escaping the dining room just as World War 3 erupted between the kids. Baruch was still seeing out the last few guests, so Ma was trying to sort out the crisis. It didn’t sound like she was being too effective.
I stayed in my room until it quietened a little, and came down to find Eli asleep on the sofa (this was going to make bedtime a disaster) and Baruch reading a story to Yanky and Shmuli. Both of them had stains all over their fresh Shabbos shirts. Ma was sitting on the couch, and the room was in shambles.
I knew I should thank her for all the hard work, for coming to help us for so long, for all her efforts to take care of the kids. But I just couldn’t say a word.
If Kayla could tell Ma one thing, it would be: I really appreciate that you want to give help and support, but this way just isn’t working for us.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 804)
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