I am ashamed. Deeply ashamed.
Full disclosure: I do not pull all-nighters. My knuckles do not bleed. My voice isn’t hoarse from ammonia-inhalation my eyes are not bloodshot and I don’t subsist on black coffee from Shabbos Hagadol through Leil HaSeder.
I’m a strange combination of old-fashioned and 21st century. I’m old-fashioned in my mind but new-age when it’s to my advantage. Old-fashioned in that yes Pesach cleaning includes spring cleaning and organizing closets Cheerios may not cross my threshold after Shushan Purim and not a single bottle of kosher l’Pesach olive oil may enter my domain until my kitchen is fully and completely metallic.
But I’m not as archaic in my preparations as I should or could be. No not a Pesach hotel heaven forfend but I’m actually quite new-age in that I rely on my husband for help. And Carla. Definitely Carla. My own energy would be wasted on a refrigerator when that can be given to Carla. My energy is far better spent dividing the old clothing in the boys’ closet into lawn bags to be given away put away or donated to the Rags-for-Cash tzedakah in my neighborhood. Trust me that’s Pesach cleaning; I find more pretzels and crumbs in those pants pockets than Carla finds in the basement freezer she’s hosing down.
Even my mother who pulled all-nighters whose knuckles bled and who was hoarse from ammonia-inhalation finally allowed herself to be convinced by my father that bleach was the most mehudar chometz-busting tool out there; thus toothpicks Brillo and Dust-busters were not really necessary on the washing machine gasket. A simple wipe-down with a rag and bleach is just great. (Even after two decades of marriage I still hear my father’s voice asking when was the last time we ate a meal behind the dryer.)
It feels strange though like the lazy way out to rely on rags and bleach; to allow kids to do kitchen drawers with me just checking them over afterward; to let the cleaning lady do the big appliances with plenty of bleach (okay and the occasional toothpick). Might I need to check my yichus?
Yes I feel as if I’m letting my great-grandmothers down but what’s a gal to do? Fire the help send the kids for ice cream and scrub it all with boiling water and a toothbrush until my hands are swollen? In all honesty when my kids were too young to help and there was no money for a Carla in my life I really was a one-man show (though I still relied on hubby’s help!).
A particularly embarrassing moment came in recent years while discussing Pesach cleaning with my grandmother. She no longer makes Yom Tov at home but that year she kashered her kitchen so that she could come home on Chol Hamoed. Although he had already retired my grandfather as former chaplain of a medical facility had kashered commercial kitchens for some 50 years and in my innocence I asked Bubby when Zeidy would be kashering.
“Zeidy!” she exclaimed utterly dismayed. “I would never let Zeidy into my kitchen on Erev Pesach! What does a man know from kashering? I’ve been doing my own kitchen for 60 years and I’ll do it this year too.”
I’d never done any kashering — that was solely my husband’s department but admitting that to Bubby was akin to saying my husband wore a snood and apron.
Is there something wrong with me that I have so much help on Erev Pesach? That I actually sit down to (gasp!) a proper lunch? Don’t get me wrong — I clean plenty. I have junk skirts and bleached sweatshirts and all the attire of a proud card-bearing member of the cleaning crew. I crank up the bad music (i.e. whatever makes my teenagers happy) and make my kids sit on the kitchen floor cleaning drawers and lining cabinets.
It looks and sounds and smells just like other Jewish homes but without all-nighters and without me feeling resentment that my husband and kids are just showing up like kings to the Seder after I slaved away cleaning and cooking and shopping and polishing and… and… and. (Unfortunately it comes along with a hefty dose of guilt over the fact that my husband doesn’t show up like a king to the Seder. I wish he did. I repeat my opening statement here…)
Parenthetically I have this same inferiority complex with the way I am mekayeim my special mitzvah of challah. For years I made my challah by hand (which meant that at busier times I slacked off and bought) until one day a friend was selling her mixer and I became the proud new owner. No more slacking off — putting up challah dough took a grand total of six minutes (washing the thing is a different story) but suddenly I felt as if there were accusing glares and pointed fingers from the Heavenly realms where my great-grandmothers sat shaking their heads in disappointment.
My husband asked why I wasn’t ashamed to use my washing machine rather than go down to the river or a food processor if Bubbe Lupke just used a grater but I knew it was different. Challah by hand makes you not only the next link in the Jewish woman chain but a hero! No easy shortcuts those are only for the weak! For the non-genuine woman; you know the one — the one who is wide awake during Maggid! For after all had she done her job properly she’d be calloused and blistered and placing toothpicks in her eyes to keep them open during the Seder.
Weak unheroic women who allow — nay expect — their husbands to kasher their kitchens. Who use mixers for their challah.
Weak like me.
And yet while part of me feels that I’m letting the great mammes down and I’m a poor excuse for a real legit Yiddishe mamme I can’t help but wonder if maybe just maybe my Bubbes Upstairs also see me pumping out challah in my mixer week after week joyfully or see me coming to my Seder excited and enthused singing my way through Hallel. (I admit Nirtzah is a struggle.)
And can it be that they are happy for me? Happy that my family enjoys Pesach preparations and everything that comes along with it?
Perhaps they are.
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