| Musings |

The Last Marble

When my oldest was born, it took several months for me to realize that I was quite a few marbles short of a full bag


ike everyone else, I started out with a nice big bag of marbles. Brightly colored, beautiful shiny marbles. Every one of those marbles was precious; they held nuggets of important information such as the appropriate location for the cordless phone — the base, not in the fridge — and the destination for the Yom Tov butcher order list — not the pediatrician’s voicemail.

But then those marbles started getting lost. They were slippery and round and they rolled under sofas and wall ovens and got stuck between slats of A/C vents. I tried holding on to them, but it was an exercise in futility.

When my oldest was born, it took several months for me to realize that I was quite a few marbles short of a full bag. I walked aimlessly around rooms I had no recollection of entering and found myself rocking the shopping cart at the supermarket, my baby’s cries always ringing in my brain. I gave up my job before they took it away from me.

As the years marched along, the bag of marbles got progressively lighter. Major life-cycle events such as potty training and sleep deficiency contributed significantly to my overall cognitive decline, though it wasn’t that apparent since the greater majority of the company I kept was equally compromised.

I am now down to the very last marble. It’s a shiny purple orb, rather larger than the average marble. It contains within it my last vestiges of self-respect, remaining adult language skills, several recipes handed down for generations, and a few notes of Beethoven’s Für Elise. And I guard this marble with my very life.

I will do anything to make sure it stays in the bag. I can do things like yell very loudly into the emptiness of the house on Monday morning, or go for long solitary walks on a short Friday afternoon. Swiping the credit card to pay for new clothing will always keep the marble from slipping over the edge, as will eating out at a fancy restaurant with old school friends. In moments of desperation, just eating will do.

My kids are on an all-out mission to get their grubby little fingers on that last shiny marble. They will vomit after a bath, purposely wear mismatched clothing, and insist on leaving the house without breakfast. They will leave bags of their own marbles on the dark basement steps and unattended shoeboxes of salamanders in the bungalow bathroom. Yet they underestimate the power of the desperate woman holding on to the very last bit of her sanity, white fingertips on the verge of losing sensation.

I have reason to believe I am not alone in this struggle to stay sane. Coming from proud Hungarian stock, many of us don’t know how to just let go, to cut corners, to take it easy. And while having homemade everything in your freezer, and floors your baby can lick without fear of contamination are lofty goals indeed, if holding on to that last marble is important to you, take some tips here, free of charge.

  1. The key to survival in today’s world is to bring down the standards. It doesn’t matter that your friend cooks six-course nutritious meals; a sandwich will do nicely, as long as it’s protein and starch in any format. Personally, I find that I’ve set the bar so low in my life that I literally have to bend down to crawl under it sometimes. I consider that my very own exercise hack.

For instance, yesterday I found myself with an empty hour in which I could have baked something, but since I guard my mental health above all, I banished all homey images of freshly baked homemade cakes and replaced them with pictures of chocolate-batter splattered counters and burnt oatmeal cookies.

This is real life we’re talking about. We can make do with store-bought. Squash the urge to prove yourself, for the sake of your sanity. Anyway, since when are you allowed to eat cake ?

  1. Chinuch is a biggie. I cannot in good faith recommend that you ignore your son’s attempt to show his brother how Eisav bit Yaakov’s neck. Of course, it is absolutely necessary to parent occasionally, and to then push the marble back in with a quick piece of chocolate. But don’t waste precious energy trying to fix every last one of your children’s annoying behaviors. Studies have proven that all forms of parenting produce decidedly average adults. Live and let live.

Even mortality should not scare us so. For example, my four-year-old has a morbid fascination with death. It horrifies me. And yet in the name of preserving what is precious to me, I have allowed him to somberly announce his own levayah. He staged a funeral that would be the envy of every great man. He also occasionally reminds me that I have promised to let him go to the yahrtzeit seudah of many young people that he knows, when their time comes. My frantic explanations that these acquaintances of ours are alive and well go right over his little head. “That’s okay,” he explains. “When they die.” His macabre interests scare the living daylights out of me, but am I going to waste a precious marble explaining this to him? Nope.

  1. Pediatric dental work deserves its own paragraph right here. It’s like this. On February 4 of 2022, I booked an appointment for all my kids for Monday November 7, 2022. When the big day arrived, my husband canceled his morning chavrusa to daven at an earlier minyan. All kids were woken at dawn to eat breakfast and brush their teeth in order to be ready for the early morning visit. By 9:00 sharp we are waiting outside the dentist’s locked door, trying to peek into the darkened windows of his office. Of course, no one is answering the phone. At 9:23 the secretary makes her grand appearance, giving us early morning attitude for daring to show up on time. Alas, we are at the wrong office location.

I will spare you the rest of the details. But here’s the secret tip: Baby teeth fall out eventually. By the time your kids have their adult teeth in, you will have been able to secure a follow-up appointment. No need to fret about this when your own mental state is already so fragile.

  1. Respect your cleaning lady. She is the only member of your family who takes concrete steps toward preserving what is so precious to you. Make her meals fit for a visiting dignitary, offer coffee and cake at hourly intervals, and don’t dare ask her to put away her phone while cleaning. Tip generously, inquire about her family in Guanajuato and stay updated on the border crisis. Learn Spanish if you must.

This list is by far not all-inclusive, but you get the point. The bottom line: Relax — just let go and let live. It’s wonderful to wake up to a spotless kitchen, but with the right kind of training, pushing aside everything on the table to make space for your coffee and magazine is wonderful in a different way. Pesach is only a few months away, PTA is next week. You’re stressed, you’re overwhelmed, you’re planning an upsheren and your shvigger’s making a chasunah. And you certainly don’t have enough money. Just take it easy. Remember, nothing matters as much as keeping that last marble in the bag.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 825)

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