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Something’s Fishy     

       The good thing about stepping on the underside of a broken toy car is that you can now trash it guilt-free


all the parenting books filled with commiseration, encouragement, tips, and advice, nobody ever mentioned to me the very frequent parenting hazard of stepping on broken toy cars. There’s talk about the pain of child rearing, the difficulties of pregnancy, the endless years of sleep deprivation, but not one word about broken toy cars placed randomly around the house, or the upside-down steering wheel of the Playmobil ice cream truck that your son was searching for in tears all afternoon, and that you were lucky enough to find right after you took off your shoes. They call themselves parenting gurus while willfully neglecting the most painful and unavoidable parts of raising children and running a household? Thus, I now take it upon my rather frail shoulders to enlighten you about those things nobody thought you should know when you set out to raise the next generation of mothers and fathers. You’re welcome.

The good thing about stepping on the underside of a broken toy car is that you can now trash it guilt-free. Did you think you might still find the second half of the toy car? Rest assured that once you have stepped on it hard, barefoot, said toy car has fulfilled its duties in this earthly world and can be disposed of properly. Housekeeping might not be my strongest point, but there’s an organization tip right there.

Here’s another piece of hard-earned advice: Always wake up before your kids do. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this. Having 15 minutes of quiet time before your kids wake up transforms your day. To be honest, this advice is not completely my own. It is the up-to-the-minute advice of every self-respecting parenting expert with four letters following their name. The difference is in the practical actualization of this ideal. I’m a mother, too; I know how difficult this is. I also get stuck at two a.m., trying to decide if the new line of Belati sweaters is worth grabbing. (The decision is made for me when all sizes and colors are sold out before I can even put them in my shopping cart.) But I’m here to tell you that you can make it work.

From experience, everything that can possibly be done in the morning can also be done the night before — down to the farina in the pot. I prepare my children’s clothing, schoolbags, and snacks at night. (Sometimes I even eat their snacks in advance. Not recommended.) I line up their shoes, make sure raincoats have working zippers, and none of their socks have holes. After all that is done, I take the recommended 15 minutes of quiet morning time for myself — at that point it is practically morning anyway. The beauty of doing this at night is that I can easily stretch the 15 minutes into two hours without immediate consequence. The one and only thing left to do in the morning is drink a coffee, and that takes just five minutes, so I can jump out of bed seven minutes before the bus. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

In direct contradiction to this advice, I will warn you — being ahead is not always the way to go. Life is all about balance, after all; it’s important to be careful and pay attention to the tasks you choose to do too far ahead of schedule. Allow me to explain with this totally true, it-didn’t-happen-to-me illustrative anecdote.

If you are of proud Hungarian chassidic stock, you know that Shabbos fish gets cooked on Wednesday, since that gives the classic jelled fish sauce its chance to firm up sufficiently in time for Shabbos.

For years, someone I know fought her overwhelming weekly schedule to cook her fish on Wednesdays, in vain. There are simply not enough days between Shabbos and Wednesday for that to happen.

Until one fateful Wednesday when the fortuitous moment came. Between bouts of flu and other childhood ailments and off-days, everyone was miraculously in school, the house was relatively clean, and the fishmonger delivered the Shabbos fish at the perfect moment. My heart swelled with Hungarian pride as I imagined my illustrious ancestors smiling down at me from Heaven — I was cooking fish on Wedne00000000000sday. I cleaned the skin, washed the scales away, sliced the onions, and lovingly set the fish to cook before attending to my other chores.

The afternoon came faster than expected, as it usually does, and before long the brood was home clamoring for food, fighting over toys, and studying for tests. At some point in the moments of mayhem, the fish pot was put into the fridge, no small miracle there. I went to sleep still smiling over my heretofore unattained accomplishment.

Thursday dawned gray and cold, the only ray of sunshine being Rosa, my lifesaving cleaning help. I welcomed her with my usual humble gratitude and set her up in the kitchen first, the site still being a caution-tape zone from Wednesday’s supper. As is her custom, Rosa peeked into the fridge to check if there were any pots, pans, or containers to be emptied of old contents and washed. She briefly checked with me in broken English regarding some of the specimens and I distractedly told her to wash everything. That Rosa didn’t find it suspicious to see the presumed remains of last week’s Shabbos fish in the pot in the refrigerator on Thursday is not the current topic of conversation.

Rosa did her magic, leaving the kitchen smelling sweet and spotless and giving me free rein to mess it up again as I began my Shabbos preparations. I grated potatoes for the kugel and soaked beans for the cholent, all the while merrily unaware of my fresh fish swimming at the bottom of the garbage can in what was now no longer masterfully jelled fish sauce. I will refrain from describing the ensuing scene of the missing fish discovery on late Friday afternoon; some things are better left to the imagination.

But here’s the piece of priceless advice: Being too advanced in your housework and cooking requires great caution, and learning which method to apply when is a delicate dance. Here’s what I can tell you: Shop early, cook late, eat in the middle (of day or night) because it’s quiet then. And have more cleaning help, always. If she was here more often, Rosa would have known that the fish was fresh, and I would never have stepped on the other half of the toy car.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 896)

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