| Musings |

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

                  My mirror-self’s lips twitch, and then the woman looking back at me is laughing

“I’M an organized person.”

That’s me, talking to myself in the mirror.

“There’s an extra month of Adar this year, and instead of beginning to think about Pesach after Purim, I’m going to get a head start.” I glare at my reflection, daring myself to snicker. My mirror-self’s lips twitch, and then the woman looking back at me is laughing. Have I no faith in me?!

I decide to start with the unimportant things. The things that I don’t really believe need cleaning at all — like… the curtains? No, I decide. If I wash the curtains now, I’ll have to rewash them before Pesach. And to everyone sneering at me, I’ve just done a check and there are ancient, squashed Cheerios in the curtain lining.

I move away from the curtains. Books? Nah, too early. They’ll just get full of crumbs again.

My linen shelves, then. I head into the guest room, where I keep my folded towels. They’ve been on the top shelves for years, where I can’t comfortably reach them. Instead, I alternate between the same five towels, washed weekly, that move from the machine to the laundry line to the bathroom racks. In fact, if I take down my perfectly folded unused towels for dusting, they’ll probably pick up chometz from whichever surface I lay them on, because, hello, Cheerios.

Forget it. I’m not cleaning something that doesn’t need cleaning. And the stuff that really needs cleaning is always in use — I can’t clean that until Erev Pesach, post-kids’ bedtime. That includes pretty much everything.

“Wow,” says mirror-self. “Success! You proved it! You are sooo organized!”

I can’t stand that smug smirk of hers — she thinks I’m about to give up and leave everything till the last minute, as usual. I think of making lists, because that’s what organized people apparently do, but can’t muster up the willpower for it. I’ll make my lists… never. Pesach comes either way, and kids are starving whether there’s food or not, and I’m so organized that I can’t find a pen.

I don’t want to give up, though. The kids are already in bed. This is an Organizing Opportunity. I sit down in the kitchen and frown at the cabinets. Yes! The kitchen cabinets! I sell them, but they need cleaning occasionally (so I have heard), so I may as well start with those.

I kneel down under the milchig sink; the under-sink cabinets are a balabuste’s terror, as everyone knows. I keep a big plastic box of cookbooks and recipe files in there. They’re stowed out of sight because it turns out you don’t need fancy shanah rishonah cookbooks to make macaroni and cheese. But who knows; maybe a Cheerio got in there?

I kneel on the floor and open the box.

First, I take out the biggest, most pristine, untouched cookbook. I love it; I’d forgotten I had it. It’s full of useful tips for the frum mother, like, “Marinate the tuna steaks as you walk in the door for dinner later, after you’ve relaxed with a bath and a glass of wine.” Hmm, I see why I never use this one.

I turn to the recipe rip-out files. I feel so organized; do I really save magazine recipes in files? Yes, I do. I peruse the pink shanah rishonah file; it’s funny, and useless. Next to a cholent-for-the-clueless recipe I find my comments: “Y ate, but slowly. He SAID he liked it, but I watched him, and he ate slowly. He said it was because it was hot. I think he doesn’t really like it.” And next to a potato kugel recipe: “Y ate, but he didn’t seem EXCITED to eat it. Not sure he really likes it.” Omigosh, these days I make a recipe-less kugel at the drop of a hat. And did I really once watch my poor husband eat?

I see lots of other papers, which don’t all seem to be culinary related. It turns out that in a show of my great organizational expertise, I thought these files were the perfect place to file any random paper I wanted to preserve (not bills: Bills have their own special file. Somewhere).

The file is interspersed with Kichels pages — I clearly thought the Kichels were far more interesting than cooking — and I find myself sitting on the floor laughing my head off.

Most surprisingly, I come across some much older pieces — those dating from my teenage years. There’s a long, impassioned letter addressed politely to my principal, something along the lines of: “Please don’t expel me, it was totally a mistake that I went off unannounced on holiday to France for two weeks during semester. And I promise never to wear long earrings again.”

There’s a questionnaire that was sent round in class: “What type of kappel will your ideal husband wear? A) Black, rimmed. B) Knitted — y’know, small enough not to mess up his tshup. C) Smaller than that.”

What were we thinking? Was someone doing a poll? I have no idea.

And in between recipes for Navarin of Lamb and Trout with Orange-Mustard Glaze lies a forlorn slip of ripped notepaper, with the faint imprint of a muddy shoe on it. On the back, I’ve written: “Picked up off kitchen floor Wed, Jan. 6, 2010. Mom must’ve written a poem about Aunty Rosemary’s death.” On the front, I see my mother’s scrawl:

The last white roses are gleaming on the rose stems

Like tattered white lace. My New York brother answers shortly

Waiting to get into the shower, he remembers how they had all become fragile

On his last visit, our aunt was the healthiest.


And I travel the train threading between neediness.

Today I walk in the break in the day

Through the park. A leaf falls

From the tree and hits my hand.

A caress?

If I walk faster I can feel my heart pump, faster

Faster, tick, tick.

When I call my mother, she has absolutely no recollection of the poem, like I have no recollection of saving it. I hang up and look at the mess of papers around me. Well, that was a productive head start on Pesach cleaning. If I keep this up, I’ll need a year of Adars. But if I were more organized, that poem would have disappeared forever, too. And so would the evidence of my embarrassing teenage shenanigans, although maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

I re-box the cookbooks, picking a Cheerio out as I do so. One down, 50 billion to go. I don’t think I’ll open the box again until I can actually do some real haute cuisine cooking, probably only when my kids are grown-up.

I don’t face my mirror-self for the rest of the night. There are only so many things a woman can bear per leap-year cycle. I think of the Cheerios sniggering in every nook of the house and sigh. I’ll meet them Erev Pesach, postmidnight.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 889)

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