| Family First Feature |

Journey Like You’ve Never Seen

“Uh, Ma?” Shana interjected. “Is there music coming out of that cornflakes box?”


eah wiped a dust bunny off her forehead, then lay her face back down on the cool floor. Gingerly, she inched her arm forward, grasping blindly until she felt a familiar smooth coolness. Got it!

Triumphantly, she inched her hand back, slowly, slowly, the precious treasure in her grasp.

“I fouuuuund it!” she called. “The shoe was under the couch, exactly like I told you it probably was!”

“I checked there a million times!” Shana limped toward her, dramatic as ever, dragging her unshod foot behind her.

“Well, maybe if you just put your shoes where they belonged, we wouldn’t need to search the whole house every morning,” Leah muttered.

“I did! I put it in the shoe rack! Is it my fault if the kids in this family always—”

“I did not!” Miri said. “No one touches your dumb shoes!”

Miri, Leah noted, was wearing two shoes, but her hair looked as though she had shoved her ponytail into the rotors of an oscillating fan. She reached out to try to smooth her pony, then reconsidered. “Miri, go brush your hair!”

“I want to! But is it my fault if Shana always loses my brush?”

“I do not! Maybe if you didn’t—”

“We do not have time for this right now,” Leah forced out. “The bus will be here in fifteen minutes, and I am not driving you for the third time in a week.”

“Can we have waffles?” Shana perked up.

“Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” Mendy came clattering down the stairs. “Ma! I forgot to study for math, Miss Perler is going to kill me, can you write me a note that I couldn’t study because I was helping you clean the kitchen?”

Leah looked from the counters, still bearing smudges of tomato sauce and fragments of dried spaghetti, to the full sink. “Mendy,” she started, “I reminded you last night that—”

“Are we having waffles? The Shenkmans always have waffles!”

“We are not,” Leah gritted her teeth, “having waffles. On a school morning. After everyone overslept and lost their shoes and brushes and—”

“I’m staaaarving!”

“How can I even do math when there’s never anything normal to eat in this house?”

Leah threw open the pantry door, then winced. It really was past time that she stocked up, but there was just never any time to…. She took out a box of granola bars, then grimaced. Empty. It really wasn’t menschlich, the way those kids….

“Aha!” From behind an oversized box of hot cups, she withdrew a box of cereal. “Here you go! If anyone wants breakfast, they can have cornflakes!” Frowning, she dusted off the top of the box — just when had they bought this? — before plunking it on the table. “You have thirteen minutes!” she reminded them.

Grumbling, the kids sat at the table, then alternated between pouring, spilling the milk on the kitchen floor, and general grousing.

Leah rubbed her temples. Her head was pounding, and the grumbling wasn’t helping.

Surreptitiously, she picked up her cell phone and pressed a button till it dinged loudly.

“Oh no, kinderlach,” Leah called. “That was the bus driver texting me that he’s coming early today! Both of the bus drivers! Quickly finish breakfast so we make it on time!”

“Uh, Ma?” Shana interjected. “Is there music coming out of that cornflakes box?”

Who raised their voice when kiddies fought?
Not me, not me,
Who ever thinks a stressed-out thought?
No, it was not me.
Who shrieked when she stepped on toys?
Not me, it wasn’t me!
And who is acting so annoyed?
No, it was not me.
Midvar sheker tirchak
Mommy never lies,
Your rebbi said to go to sleep so please just close your eyes.
Honestly, this supper was the Chofetz Chaim’s fave!
And Bubby wants to send you treats if you’ll just behave.
Who’s gonna call the babysitter?
Not me, not me,
And who hides chocolate in a pan called “liver”?
No, it was not me.
Who replaced a goldfish quick?
Not me, not me,
And who says crossed eyes always stick?
No, it was not me.
Midvar sheker tirchak
Mommy never lies,
Your tooth fell out? So save it and you’ll get a fairy’s prize,
Honestly! I’m watching every cartwheel that you do,
And saving every single scrap on which you ever drew.


he music came to a stop and Leah shook her head. That was… strange. It was almost as if that dusty cereal box was trying to tell her something. Weird. But of course, everyone knew that cereal boxes couldn’t play music, and that advanced personal middos-tracking surveillance and spyware systems had been ruled illegal by that new guy who took over the NSA, what was his name again? Dr. Dumsht-something? She shook her head briskly to clear it of errant thoughts.

“Kids, you have five minutes left. Miri, I need you to go back upstairs and make sure there’s no clothing on the floor. Shana, I have no clue what spilled out of your knapsack yesterday, but make sure there’s not even a trace of it left this morning. Mendy, did you make your bed?”

“Maaaa! I don’t have time!”

“I don’t care,” Leah said firmly. “If you were worried about time, you could have gotten up when your alarm rang. Sandra is coming today, and this house must be spotless before she comes.”

Miri kicked at her chair. “What’s the point of having Sandra come if we need to clean up for her?”


Leah narrowed her eyes. “Anyone who doesn’t like when Sandra comes is cordially invited to scrub the bathrooms and mop the—”

The kids froze, as the spray bottle that Shana had grabbed started to emit a tune at the same time that Leah’s phone pinged with a real incoming message.

Don’t be a shlump, don’t make a mess,
Don’t wipe your dirty feet at this address.
Mop up that spill! Breathe bleach till it hurts!
Go wash the windowpanes, get rid of the dirt.
You gotta be neat, you gotta be clean,
Cuz Sandra is coming; things must be pristine.
And when she is coming, everyone knows,
We clean up, that’s how it goes
Don’t be a shlump, don’t make a mess,
Did you stock up on cleaning supplies, please say it’s yes.
Sweep up the floor! Scrub the glass till it gleams!
The cleaning lady’s coming, it’s gotta be clean.
Does Mom follow you with a mop and a pail?
Cuz if the floor’s dirty, the cleaner might bail.
And when you want to eat, do you get a no?
We gotta keep the kitchen clean in case she shows.
You gotta be neat, you gotta be clean,
Cuz the cleaning lady’s coming, things must be pristine.
Stop with that whining, don’t tell me your woes,
What she wants is what goes.
And in the morning, does Mom blow her fuse,
When she takes out the telephone and she sees the news,
The cleaning lady canceled, she won’t come today,
If she’ll ever come again, we really can’t say.

A tear slowly trickled down Leah’s cheek as she read Sandra’s text. The children watched, alarmed.

“Uh, Ma?” Shana’s face had the look of polite nervousness you get when you’re pulled over, and you’re pretty sure one of your headlights was out, and your registration is lost, and also maybe you were doing 80 in a school zone. “We have to go now, ’kay?”

Leah nodded mutely.

“Will… will you be okay?”

Fine time for her kids to develop some interpersonal awareness. But then Leah straightened. The last thing she needed, especially on a cleaning lady-less day, was to have to drive the kids to school.

“Oh, I’m fine!” She made shooing motions with her hand as if she were a rosh yeshivah dancing at a chasunah. “Go! Have a great day! Bye!”


ater, at work, Leah struggled to find the motivation to reconcile expenses. Who could care about all that, when her glass shower doors would go un-scrubbed for yet another week? She slowly opened the next file, then the realization struck. If she couldn’t have a cleaning lady, at the very least she should get a new wig, no? After all, she had just saved on a whole day of cleaning help, and with the rates the ladies started charging in Lakewood, why the wig would be practically free. Cheering up, Leah dashed off a quick text to her sheitelmacher, booking an appointment for her lunch break.

But when Leah got into her car and turned the key in the ignition, instead of the comforting sounds of an engine turning over, she heard what sounded like a piano’s music notes echoing through 37 years of time.

I met my “good” friend, Mrs. Katz, yesterday,
She looked at me weird, and she started to say,
Things can’t be so bad. Why’re you looking so sad?
Your wig needs a revamp right away.
I’d be just as happy as I was before,
If only I had shown Mrs Katz the front door.
But I took her advice; now I’m paying the price,
I made an appointment at Wigs Galore!
I’ll tell you what happened, don’t tell me a thing,
You know, ’cuz you had your appointment last spring.
When I got to the store and walked through the door,
All of the salesladies started to sing!
You want flat but with some height,
You want root with a lowlight.
Blunt cut is so trendy now,
But get bangs, ’cuz they still wow.
Like I said to you before: never go to Wigs Galore
All you’re gonna feel is: I look like a boor!
Oh, I really want that pretty wig with shiny golden hair,
I’m sorry, eishes chayil, am I a millionaire?
You already have two wigs, I think you look just great!
But husband, it’s such a bargain, only ten thousand eighty-eight.
I was crying, I was shouting,
Why, I’ll bet I even screamed.
Said my husband: Please be quiet,
You’re making quite a scene.
So we got me what I wanted,
More than we can afford,
And an hour after I got home, I thought…
I still look like a boor!

Leah shook her head, then slowly slid the key out of the ignition. There wasn’t really enough time to buy a wig on her half-hour break, anyway. She returned to her desk, firmly thinking only about that night’s supper (how many nights were too many for macaroni?).


eah had nearly finished her final file of the day when the phone rang. Miss Perler!

Leah frowned. Miss Perler was sweet, yes, but she was a first-year teacher, and did she really understand how gifted Mendy was? Gifted, yet the sensitive soul of an artist. Like, a really sensitive artist, not a regular artist. Harpist-level sensitivity, probably. It was vital that his teachers not be too hard on him.

“Mrs. Schwartz? This is Miss Perler, Mendy’s teacher.”

“How are you?” Leah interrupted. “Mendy’s great, isn’t he? He was telling me all about the Purim shtick the kids played on you — mice really are cute, when you think about it — and how he masterminded and took care of the whole thing. He has so much potential, doesn’t he?”

“Well, yes, Mrs. Schwartz. That’s actually why I’m calling. Mendy does have a lot of potential, and if he’d just apply it to his learning—”

“You should hear about the things he really wanted to do! At first, he thought of turning the classroom into an actual petting zoo, but of course, that wasn’t practical. He’s such a bright kid, Mendy, he has ideas, but he knows what to prioritize and when to scale back.”

“Yes, his priorities. I’m so glad you’re bringing that up. Did you know there was a math test scheduled for today?”

“Mendy did say something this morning, now that you mention it. I’m sure he did well, he’s such a brilliant kid. Did I ever tell you about that time in fifth grade when the teacher started teaching a math concept and Mendy was able to explain to the whole class how she got it backward?”

Suddenly Leah’s phone started vibrating. That was weird; was something wrong with it? She pulled it away from her ear as music started coming out of the speaker.

Hey there, Mommy Show-Off, you think your kid is great,
Now listen, Mommy Show-Off, you’re making a mistake.
Hey there, Mommy Gaivah, you think your kid is hot,
Now listen, Mommy Gaivah, I’m sorry but he’s not.
He never does his homework, he never comes on time,
His books are not in order, all day he plays with slime.
Not one good word have I heard yet from above,
Your husband knows that Hashem has given you no dove.
Hey there, Mrs. Mommy, standing there so proud,
Don’t brag because your kid is bright, he’s annoying and he’s loud,
Cuz there’s another boy here who’s brighter than the rest,
And what’s more; when it comes to math, he’s never failed a test.
I’d advise you to be humble about the things they say and do,
If they’re strong or smart or beautiful, it’s not because of you.
All the good things that we have come from above,
Good mothers know Hashem has given them these gifts with love.
A-a-a-ah, a-a-ah…
A-a-a-ah, a-a-ah…
Hey there, Mommy Show-Off, you think your kid is great,
Now listen, Mommy Show-Off, you’re making a mistake,
You’re making a mistake,
You’re making a mistake,
You’re making a mistake….


eah slammed the phone down, only to hear Miss Perler’s voice, sounding tinny but still firm. “And so, Mrs. Schwartz, I really need you to come in to—” Leah pressed the end button with as much force as she could, longingly remembering the days when you could actually hang up the phone on someone.

“Everything okay?” Reva Davison, her coworker in the next cubicle, raised a brow.

“Sure, sure, fine.” Leah forced a smile. “Any good supper recipes for me? I’m trying to figure out, uh, which brand ketchup to give my kids tonight.”

“Ketchup?” Reva’s forehead creased. “Oh, right, you must be so stressed today… you know, it’s so nice you told Shaindy that she could have the cleaning lady today. I know her in-laws are coming for Shabbos and she’s mega-overwhelmed, but really, not everyone could make such a sacrifice.”

The cleaning lady… Leah’s eyes narrowed. So that was why Sandra had canceled? How much could Shaindy be paying her already? Well, she’d offer her double for the whole of Nissan, let’s see how Shaindy liked that—

Leah had just started texting Sandra, when another strange melody started piping out of its speaker.

Lo, lo, lo, lo, lo sikom,

Don’t pay back a bad deed with a bad deed of your own.

Though you think it’s fair to—

“What’s that?” Reva looked confused. “Did you just—?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing.” Leah hastily powered her phone off and flashed a smile. “My kids must have been playing with the ringer again. Hate when they do that.”


eah sank down onto her chair, then rested her head in her arms for a minute. “I had such a day, you wouldn’t believe it,” she told Shloimy.

“Hmm?” Shloimy looked up from his sandwich — Leah had had mercy on him and rustled up some leftover deli from Shabbos — and nodded. “What happened?”

“I’m honestly not even sure,” Leah admitted. “But the house is a mess, work was so boring, Sandra didn’t come, my sheitel is nerd city, Mendy’s teacher is on the warpath… and I have a splitting headache, I don’t know why.”

“Oy.” Shoimy looked as sympathetic as a husband could while wiping mustard off his cheek.

“And the kids! They’re totally impossible.” Leah wiped a crumb from the table. “Honestly, I don’t know where they get it from.”

“Can you pass the ketchup?” Shloimy reached out. “Hey… is the Heinz… singing?

Like a shoe without a heel,
Or a potato with its peel,
Like a babe without a Doona,
Or a picnic without tuna.
Like Shabbos without its nap,
Or a stretchie without snaps,
A mom without good middos—
Is simply incomplete.
Middos are the way we act, and how we think and feel,
And mommies gotta show us what to do.
So if you wanna raise your kids to love to do what’s right,
Well, Mommy needs to have good middos, too.
Like a diet but with bread,
Or a snood without a head,
Like candy that’s not sweet,
Or a meat board without meat.
Like kids without some Clics,
Or a baby with no tricks,
A mom who has bad middos,
She simply cannot teach.

“All right, all right, I get it.” Leah banged the ketchup bottle down on the table. “It’s not the kids, it’s me, I GET IT.”

“Get what?” Shloimy looked up, confused. “Oh, the ketchup, thanks. Did you want me to pick up some more on the way back from shul tomorrow? Davison started saying something, ich veis, that we were out of Heinz ketchup and you were going to start buying other brands?”

Leah stood up briskly. “Nah, I think we have enough, I just bought three new bottles of ketchup. We’re running low on chocolate-covered pickles, though. And maybe you can get some maple syrup? I was thinking of surprising the kids and making waffles.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 886)

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