Life in General

Six Sanity Tips for Pesach

The countdown is on, Pesach is coming.

When you read that sentence, did it make your heart start palpitating and you started breaking out in a cold sweat?

Or did you feel a thrill of excitement and burst of adrenaline for this incredible, all encompassing Jewish holiday that wraps you up in a world of its own; where regular life ceases to exist and family and meals become front and center of your life.

Yeah, that really is possible – or you can at least get closer to the latter reaction.

Pesach is a lot. It really is. There’s so much to do and so much to buy and so much to prepare.

Now, as I’m preparing to make Pesach in my own home for the 14th year, I’d like to share my top Six Sanity Tips for Pesach, in the hope that they offer some help in some way to some Pesach-makers.

#1- It starts at the roots, it’s the foundation. It’s the most important and fundamental rule that will make all the difference in everything I do: I must love pesach. 

Yes, love it.

If the feeling isn’t natural, I repeat “I love Pesach” over and over again until it becomes a part of me. I repeat it again and again. And then again. Starting the day after Purim, I think it while I work, while I walk, while I drive and just about any other time of day or night.

And it really happens. Try it and see for yourself; you will convince yourself. You will love Pesach. 

Especially considering the fact that it comes back every year, rain or shine, it’s integral to have a healthy relationship with it. 

You must love it. 

And to make sure you really love it, buy something new for yourself every year or do something special for yourself; it doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be something that gives you a positive association with the workload. (Think a new book, chocolate stash, manicure, purse, shoes, costume jewelry or whatever makes you happy and fits your budget.)

#2: As much as it’s important for me to love Pesach, my kids need to love it too; and really, that’s all dependent on what they hear me saying – which goes back to #1. If I become a ranting and raving chometz guard, we will all hate Pesach together. 

Do things that give the kids positive associations with the preparing; be creative with suppers and meals for the days before Pesach – as in, forget the rules and do what works. Can you imagine, nothing says best mother better than allowing cereal and milk for supper!! For three days straight! Double points if it’s Shabbos cereal! It’s just a few nights; everyone will be ok. Their emotional and mental  health is top priority over here. Buy some new games or books that are special just for Pesach.

Whatever it is that works, it has to be in line with making the kids love Pesach and not leaving them wishing it went away and so they can get their normal mother back. 

#3  I believe that my cleaning help is just as certified and qualified to do the Pesach cleaning as I am.

If you don’t have regular help, hire a company, group, someone, anyone. Your sanity costs a lot more money than the cleaning help; and it is alot harder to fix or replace your sanity if you lose or damage any of it. . 

Remember that the mitzvah is to get rid of edible chometz you can see. Food doesn’t fly and crumbs don’t jump. Just clean. And save spring cleaning for a calm day in July. 

#4 Pesach is not the time for me to patchke and fuss with new recipes; I save that for during the year when there’s actual ingredients to use, instead of attempting to use (lousy)  makeshift replacements and substitutes. The first year I made Pesach I made 5 different types of sweet potato/potato combos. Rolled, layered, scooped – you name it. They all had fancy names and they all tasted the same. All the work for nothing.

Unless fussing with elegant and delicate foods is something that gives you joy and it’s really your thing, just make the food you like and the food your family will eat. No one needs to know what your menu is.

#5 Look for shortcuts. My best shortcut is that I don’t empty a single cabinet or drawer or pantry in my kitchen. I have two self-standing plastic storage cabinets from Costco that are in the garage all year long storing all the pesach stuff and then the cabinets get moved into the house and it continues to house all the pesach stuff. My chometz cabinets get spring cleaned on random days in the year when it’s not Yom Tov season and it’s not spring. True, it’s additional clutter to have two cabinets brought into the kitchen; but pick your poison. Go for the one that will give you less work.

#6 Lists. Paper, Google docs, excel or whatever works. But make those lists and plan ahead. 

You can shop around for people’s ideas – but most importantly;  make them your own. 

There are so many different ways to do it; cooking everything before Pesach, kashering after Purim, kashering the day before or kashering on Erev Yom tov. There’s no wrong way. Find the right way that’s right for YOU. Do things because they work for you, not because they work for your friend or sister or mother or grandmother. 

Make Pesach yours. Make it your own.

And I can gaurantee you, you will love Pesach. 

You may come to the Seder tired, but there’s a difference between tired and resembling something that the cat dragged in or tired but full of pride and joy and a sense of accomplishment; that you made it without destroying anyone or anything in the process.

And then you can actually be present at the Seder; you will enjoy the time with your family and your food, and actually feel the depth of this holiday celebrating our freedom. You deserve it.

Life in General

High School?!

My daughter is in high school.

My daughter left to high school.

My only daughter left home and is now in high school.

I am in high school 

I mean, my daughter is in high school.

Yes, I’m having a hard time!

What’s so hard about it?

She left.

She’s in high school.

And that sometimes makes me confused and I think I’m in high school, because I wasn’t in high school that long ago. Because the 90s was only 10 years ago, right?

And to me my daughter is little and she belongs home. If I still remember high school how can she be old enough to go to high school? There’s so much that just doesn’t add up!

Was she ready to leave and go to high school? Yes! Yes yes yes. She was as ready as ever. 

The question is, was I ready.

And as being a mother teaches you, life doesn’t wait until you’re ready.

I am not ready. 

My son left out of state to High School (mesivta) two years ago. So it’s not my first time doing this. Sure, I fell apart then too. 

So then why does it make my insides crumble as if I never did this before?!

Something is different when it’s a daughter. And something is even more different when it’s my only daughter. I love my boys to pieces, but boys are boys and girls are girls.

I know this is best for her. I know the school is a good fit for her. I know her great personality and easy going disposition will do her well while living in a dorm with twenty + girls and in dealing with the pressures of high school too.

But still my mind races.

Because I want my kids in my nest.

I want to know what’s going on every morning and every afternoon and every evening and every night. And what she ate for each meal and snack. And where her seat in each class is. And who the teachers are. And which notebook she uses for which class. And if her uniform is comfortable. And if her blanket is warm enough. And if her mattress is ok. And and and …

And I must accept it that she’s spreading her wings and jumping to the next stage… where I must watch from a distance, guide from afar and allow her to discover things for herself. 

I have so much advice! I remember so much from my years and want to share it. How to study, when to study, how to make a schedule, what subjects are good and on and on.

I had my chance. This one is all hers.

I’m not ready. I’ll never be.

My daughter left home to high school, but what I’m not sure she realized is that deep in her suitcase, there’s a piece of my heart that went along too.

And the hardest part of all is remembering that this is her high school experience, not mine.

Life in General

Pandemic – the board game comes to life (hopefully)

“What’s a pandemic?”

No, the year is not March 2020.

It’s actually March 2018 and one of our guests has introduced the board game Pandemic to my kids. And they are hooked.

All I can see is a game with a gazillion little pieces in all different colors; a game with way more pieces than any game that is allowed into my house, actually.

But they play. All together. So nicely! I try to follow what’s going on, but the rules are way too complicated for my sleep deprived mommy brain.

And it’s deep in middle of one of these intense games that one of them ask me, “What’s a pandemic? And how is it different than an epidemic?”

The 2018 uneducated me isn’t totally sure.

So I google it, and explain the difference.

And then comes another nonchalant question, one that I will never forget.

“Could it happen these days?”

Without thinking, I answer, “Of course not!”

Then I pause and think.

“Well, anything is possible. Anything could happen. But with all the science and medical advancements, it’s probably not very likely.”

And my 2018 naive family continues with the game.

Trying to pretend that I know what’s going on on the board, I ask, “So who is winning?”

My 10 year old looks up at me. “There’s no winner. We either all win or we all lose.”

I like this game! All I hear is – there’s no fights! No sore losers! Because they either all win or all lose.

I often recommend this game to my friends who also have large families, because I love that it’s a teamwork game. It’s not the most competitive, quickest or luckiest that wins, rather it forces them to work together.

I like this Pandemic game, pretty brilliant, even though I don’t think I’ll ever figure out the rules. I’m more of a Rummikub person.

It’s July 2020.

2020 me is sitting at the dining room table watching my kids deeply involved in the Pandemic board game. They ask me to play. I still don’t know the rules and so I just follow their directions.

But one thing I do know.

The 2020 me knows exactly what a Pandemic is. And 2020 me knows that it sure is possible to happen even these days. And I think back to the 2018 conversation with my kids.

I remember those words, explained to me by my 10 year old.

“We either all win or all lose.”

There’s only one team. There’s no competition. Only teamwork. That’s the only way to win. Otherwise, we are all equally losers.

The kids get it! So why can’t the adults figure it out?

Life in General

When they call from camp…

It’s finally Sunday. I keep checking my watch, although I don’t know why since the camp did not give a specific time that my 12 year old would call. He’s been in camp 10 days already; I’ve seen him in only two pictures so far. My daughter and 10 year old son had already called from camp on Friday. Now I awaited the call from my 12 year old; I looked forward to hearing his voice so I could assess how things are going in camp.

It’s kind of like a never ending jigsaw puzzle – trying to piece together from what they look like in the camp photos, together with their tone of voice, the sound of their breathing over the phone, their pauses and the actual words they are saying – all to figure out how they are doing in camp. Of course it’s an impossible puzzle to try, but we mother’s love to do things that are impossible, so we try anyway.

The phone rings. It’s him!

”Hello!” I answer breathlessly. “Tell me all about camp! The flight! Your bunkhouse, your counselor – I’m listening!”

He laughs, and starts launching into details about his flight, the bunkhouse, his counselor, his bunk mates.

My breathing slowly regulates – he sounds good!

“But would you believe it, I got the worst mattress in the whole bunk!”

My heart drops. “You’re serious?! What’s wrong with it?!”

“Well, the other mattresses all have a foam piece on top to make it soft and mine doesn’t.”

Oh no! My mind starts racing. He was nervous to go to camp to begin with. He likes being in his own bed. And now not only is he not in his own bed, he has the worst bed! I’ve got to fix this, should I call the director? Yes, I should definitely call the director as soon as I hang up. Maybe they have an extra piece for his mattress somewhere in camp. Better yet, I’m sure I can find something like the foam mattress topper he’s describing on Amazon and ship it to him in camp. Yes, I must do that. I’m about to swipe open Amazon, but I pause to hear what he’s saying.

“Anyways, I got used to it so it’s really fine. But I should’ve taken two pillows, it’s really uncomfortable with just one. Like it feels so low down.”

My finger is back on Amazon. I must send him another pillow. He needs his sleep, especially in camp.

“Are you able to sleep ok?” I ask, pausing before adding the pillow to cart.

“Well, I had a really good idea. I folded my spare pillow case and put it inside the pillow case with my pillow and now it’s so much better!”

I realize I’m holding my breath and start breathing again. Phew, he doesn’t need the pillow. I close Amazon.

“And you know what else – guess where the bathroom light shines when the door is open?! Right on my bed! Right into my eyes!” Yes, he is a bit dramatic, but I’m panicking once again.

Eye masks! Argh, we happen to have so many all around the house. I must add that to camp packing lists, what a pity he didn’t take any! How’s he supposed to sleep with the light in his eyes every time the door opens! Poor kid!

I’m back on Amazon, searching for eye masks. I see packages of a dozen. I’ll just send him the full pack, he will figure it out.

“So what have you been doing?” I hold my breath, waiting to hear just how terrible it is. I mean, the light shines in his eyes!

I can hear the smile in his voice.

“Another kid in my bunk gave me the best idea! I hung up my extra quilt cover along the side of my bottom bunkbed like a curtain, and now it blocks the light!”

He chatted a bit more and then time was up.

We hung up and I closed Amazon again.

I didn’t need to send him anything.

He sounded good.

I mean, I think so.

Of course you can never be sure just from a 10 minute phone call. I mean, what if there were things he wanted to say but couldn’t say because there were people around?

But he did sound good.

So it must be working out well.

He would have at least hinted to something if there were issues.

I hope.

I know I’m going in circles, but I can’t help it.

I go to see if there are new pictures up; perhaps they were posted in the minutes while I was talking to my son.

There aren’t any.

I sit and think about the conversation.

We mothers mean well. All we want is for our kids to be happy. But it’s so easy for us to get in the way of their success by trying to troubleshoot even the smallest obstacle that comes their way, instead of giving them the space to come up with their own solutions. Oh, the self control it takes to keep quiet when we know we have a good fix for a situation! And I have a feeling this only gets harder and harder as the kids get older and become adults themselves…

I was ready to ship him a new pillow, an eye mask or really just about anything else to make sure he was happy, before even hearing the end of his sentence. I do admit, Amazon is the solution to a lot of life’s challenges … but not to everything.

Kids are so resilient and resourceful…as long as we let them, instead of getting in their way.

Life in General

My cousin, Raizel

My cousin, Raizel.

How to describe someone who was complete goodness and kindness, authentic and real, joyful and grateful – without making it sound cliche?

Her perspective on everything and everyone and everywhere was always through a positive filter. Some people need to work hard to do this; for some people, this is natural.

I think back to my last conversation I had with Raizel, just two weeks ago. Raizel had posted a FB update; she was being admitted to the hospital – for what she hoped would be just a few days – and she was asking friends to say the daily portion of Chitas (the daily selection of the weekly Torah portion, Psalms and the foundational Chassidic text, the Tanya) in merit of her speedy recovery.

I messaged her that I would do it, and stayed up late that night to complete the entire day’s Chitas. When I was done, I let her know that with each word I said, I begged Hashem for her complete recovery.

The next day I got a text response from her – “You’re my hero.”

I quickly wrote back to her “Raizel, you’ve got it all wrong. YOU are MY hero. You manage to continue to be so gracious and positive despite what you’re dealing with, and you treat everyone as a good friend.”

And I keep thinking about the text – because it’s so Raizel. She wasn’t just trying to make me feel good – her natural way of responding to people was so full of gratefulness and genuine love, because that’s really what she felt. No pretenses. No ego.

Raizel inspired so many just by her positive view of life. There was what she said and there was how she said it. Natural and caring, kind and with a full heart.

Over the 18 months that Raizel suffered and fought her illness, she lost more and more control of the things she loved. She wished to bake challah, she wished to spend more time with her kids, she wished to go back to Israel. All these things were out of her control. As her body failed her and the list of what she could control got shorter and shorter – she never let go of one thing that can never be taken away; the kind words that we can shower on others.

Her graciousness never left her.

Even when so sick in the hospital, her response to me was – “You’re my hero.”

She right away made it about me, not about her. She wasn’t trying to shower me with platitudes – she genuinely felt that way because that was who she was.

The sadness, the pain, the tragedy, the empty void she leaves not just for her family but for her endless amount of friends – that won’t ever go away and until Moshiach comes, we can never fix.

But what we can do is adopt Raizel’s way of treating others. Raizel’s way of seeing life. Raizel’s way of having a kind word for everyone. Raizel’s way of treating everyone as her close friend. Raizel’s way of treating people in a way that they felt they matter.

Now during these crazy times, I have been thinking that there are so many things we can’t do. We’ve lost control of how we can celebrate milestones or occasions, we’ve lost control of ways of being able to spend time with the people we love and care about.

But one thing we can never lose control of, one thing that can never be taken away, are the words we use to treat others. The words we use to show people we care.

It takes breaking down the walls of pretense we build around ourselves. It takes vulnerability. But it is the greatest gift we can give to anyone and everyone; the gift of showing people we care.

Raizel did it naturally. But I’m positive that with enough effort, it can become second nature to anyone who tries.

Hashem took Raizel for reasons we will never understand. Why Hashem chose to leave a beautiful family, a father and 8 young children, without their devoted wife/mother, we will never understand. The pain and suffering is beyond comprehension. There’s not enough words in the dictionary to describe how terrible it is.

I know Raizel would still find something positive. And so putting on my “Raizel glasses”, I will work on seeing people the way Raizel did; as a friend. And look for ways to give people the gift that never stops giving, the gift that doesn’t cost a penny yet is priceless, the gift that can never be taken away.

The gift of a kind word.