Spring Cleaning

Once a year we clean out our kitchen — whether it needs it or not. No, seriously, it’s Passover time for us Jews and we take spring cleaning to a whole new level. At my house, we pack away our everyday dishes and replace them with our mismatched melange of well worn Passover tableware. We reclaim our pantry by purging every half-eaten box of Wheat Thins, stale stuck together bags of marshmallows, and near-empty jars of Trader Joe’s peanut butter. e scrub down the fridge, empty the freezer, wash out the silverware drawers. It’s a massive undertaking.

Passover has a lot of rules — what you’re allowed to eat, what you’re not, how you’re supposed to rid your home of “chametz” (the name given to all non-appropriate Passover food), your requirement to tell the Biblical story of Exodus to your children. It’s a heavy responsibility holiday if you try to follow it according to “Halakhah” (Jewish law).

And we do. At least we try. My kids eat special food, off of special plates, prepared in special pots and pans. I end up cooking almost non-stop for the entire weeklong festival, a task I’m not generally accustomed or predisposed to. The Passover story tells how the Jews left Egypt and were freed from decades of slavery. I sometimes wonder if my culinary servitude isn’t God’s way of offering me experiential understanding of my ancestors’ plight.

But in spite of the hard work and requisite effort this holiday demands, I love it. My fondest childhood memories are of Passover. I remember the mini
matzah-meal pancakes my mother used to make, the special Seders that lasted till midnight over which my grandfather, and later my beloved father, presided, the delicious fruit shaped jellies I craved all year long that now define the holiday for my two little boys. There’s something deep that connects me to my family, my community, and my past each spring when Passover arrives.

So I clean my cabinets, pack away my Blender, and get out my grandmother’s old recipes. I cry a lot too, remembering the innocence and wonder of those childhood years. I miss the people who make up my memories, and I feel sad that these joyous times will one day be merely a part of my kids’ recorded histories, like old home movies or a treasured tattered tablecloth.

I’m grateful that they will have the memories to connect them to me, to my husband, to their grandmothers. But the somber realization that time passes extraordinarily quickly these days is one that occupies my thoughts almost obsessively this time of year. It reminds me of an ancient bit of Jewish folklore that tells how King Solomon asked his wisest assemblymen to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad and sad when he is happy. They created the ring with a simple saying etched into the gold: “Gam zeh ya’avor” or “This too shall pass.”

I wish you a meaningful Passover and Easter and wish for you the joy of good times and the melancholy of beautiful memories.

Spring cleaning…in November

My Aunt Phyllis was legendary in child-rearing circles. A tough, smart, no-nonsense kind of woman with a voice like Marlene Dietrich and a will as unshakeable as an iron rod.

This woman was cool. She smoked long brown cigarillos and always looked like she’d just waltzed out the latest issue of “Vanity Fair.”

But I seriously feared for my safety and the security of my belongings whenever my mother spent time with her.

You see her most famous story was the one where she smiled beatifically and offered her cursory goodbye wave as her three children boarded the bus to school one day. Then, as soon as the bus pulled out of eye range, she went back inside and without an ounce of emotion, collected every single piece of clothing, school work, and various personal items that had failed to be put away by her children. She methodically went room to room. If it was on the ground, it went into the heap. It was as simple as that. There were treasured stuffed animals from bygone years, irreplaceable journals, records (back then that’s what we listened to), favorite hats, scarves, shoes. There was no selection process. If it didn’t belong on the floor, she took it.

Then, she carted all the items out of the house and dumped them smack dab in the middle of the street. Some blew into a neighboring park. Others were squashed by oncoming traffic. And some of the nicer items were happily adopted by local city workers, gardeners, and random passerbys.

Upon returning from school, Phyllis’ three children were mortified to find a plethora of personal belongings littering the lane in front of their home. Legend has it there were tears, tantrums and no lacking of hysterics at the scene of the incident. But Phyllis said nothing. In her mind she had already said too much. Too many frustrated reminders to throw dirty clothes into the laundry basket and not just leave them lying prostrate on the floor next to the hamper. Too many threats that something would happen if school work was carelessly left scattered across the carpet instead of neatly lining a safe social studies folder or securely tucked into a nearby back-pack. She was just done.

I get this. It’s taken me years and two children to finally realize what an amazing woman my Aunt was. The story goes that her kids didn’t leave their crap lying around after this jarring episode. Still not sure I entirely believe that. But I’m proud to say that I too have joined the ranks of merciless maternal maidservant.

Last night, while my eldest was at rehearsal for his Christmas show, I grabbed a green garbage bag and went to town. I threw out every random piece of paper, article of clothing, book, towel, foot wear, etc… The list is endless. I will admit that there were a few cords that looked really important that I hid in a cabinet in my husband’s office. But everything else landed in the Hefty. I took it straight out to the curb and left it for the morning garbage pick-up. As much as i wanted to throw it into the street for dramatic effect, the HOA is really up our butts about everything and I just figured it wouldn’t be worth the angst.

When my son came home, he went to his room to dump his stuff. Then he came joyously bounding into my bathroom where I was brushing my teeth. He thanked me profusely and offered warm hugs and kisses. “For what?” I had to finally inquire.

“For cleaning my room. You’re the best!” He smiled broadly.

“Well, you’re welcome honey,” I said, matching his buoyant tone, “But I didn’t really clean up for you. I just got tired of the chaos. So I threw out everything that wasn’t where it belonged. I love you.” Then I walked into my bedroom, climbed into the bed, turned out the light and did not utter a single word more.

Oh, he tried to get me to engage. But I stood my ground. I kept breathing and reminding myself that good old Aunt Phyllis only had to do this once. He finally gave up and went to bed about a half hour later.

I’m not sure if my actions will have any kind of lasting effect. One can only hope. But even if they don’t, at least it’s a jump start on spring clutter cleaning.