“Please don’t stand in the bucket!”
“Careful! Don’t spray Windex in her eyes!”
“Are you kidding? Put that down! How did a sponge become a dangerous weapon?!”
Just stay calm.
Keep your composure.
I hear a voice shrieking.
Is that my voice?
“That’s bleach!! I thought I hid that! Please – back away from that bottle!”
There’s no way I can keep my composure.
My composure has left the building.
Good going, Yitti.
Great idea of yours.
Cleaning as a team. Encouraging the whole family to pitch in for the Pesach prep. A wonderful opportunity for family bonding and lifelong memories while getting the job done.
What on earth were you thinking?
“You are really no help at all!” I erupt, losing my tenuous grip on my self-control. I chase the kids away and, yes, they are more than happy to flee.
Now it’s just me and my broom to tackle my to-do list, and I’m feeling a little resentful.
Cleaning for Pesach should not be a solo project with growing kids in the house, right? This is a chinuch opportunity, a time when my kids, who are not so little anymore, step up to the plate to fulfill an important mitzvah (and to preserve their mother’s sanity).
I’m not asking too much!
All I need from them is a little elbow grease. A few hours of consideration and cooperation.
I mean, my son will be bar mitzvah next year. How can he be an ‘adult’ if he doesn’t know where we keep the vacuum cleaner?
And, come on! My wannabe-teenage daughter sits in on (and comments on!) all my conversations like she is already a lady who lunches. With all her womanly wisdom, shouldn’t she know how to wash a dish?
I know what some of you are thinking.
You’re thinking it might be easier to tackle the cleaning myself.
But we all know that Pesach cleaning – while working fulltime jobs and balancing deadlines – isn’t easy. Especially when my cleaning woman – whom I adore – told me when I hired her that she doesn’t do windows and she doesn’t do Pesach.
My husband is knee-deep in work too, so if I am going to have any support staff, I have no choice but to recruit my children.
But it is not going well.
As I survey my fleeing children’s halfhearted handiwork, I realize my kids might be genetically predisposed to slack off on their cleaning-for-Pesach jobs.
Back in the day, when I was around my kids’ ages, my siblings and I didn’t clean. We schemed.
(Children, if you’re reading this, don’t try this at home).
When we were asked to vacuum, we waited for my mother to leave the house or become distracted with another job. Then, we never even bothered to put the vacuum’s plug into the outlet (that was waaay too much work.)
Instead, we would take the detached hose attachment and schlep it back and forth across the carpet, so that there would be vacuum lines etched into the weft.
It didn’t bother us that not a single mite of dust or a single crumb was being sucked into the disconnected hose. It didn’t dawn on us that the goal of vacuuming was to clean.
As long as my mother thought we had vacuumed, we had done our job.
With that kind of yichus, how do I expect my children to do the right thing?
But it still frustrates me that they are hiding in their rooms, taking cover from their mother who has clearly lost her mind, instead of trying to help said mother at a time she needs them most.
While grappling with whether I should insist – again – that they roll up their sleeves and help, I hear a ping from my phone, charging in another room.
Maybe Hashem is sending me a miracle!
Maybe it’s a text from 20 helpful cleaning women just desperate to come scour my house with me!
I sprint toward my phone, holding on to hope, but realize with dismay that the text is not from 20 saviors with sponges.
Instead, it’s an inspirational quote, sent from a well-meaning friend who I know is also drowning in Erev Pesach disarray.
I scowl at the screen. Doesn’t my friend know Erev Pesach is no time for inspiration?
But it’s a good excuse to sit, so I take my phone, collapse on my bed, and read.
The inspirational quote is from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zichrono l’vracha, and as I let the words sink in, I realize the timing could not be more perfect.
The Rebbe said, “Today’s children do not need to be overly criticized or lectured about their shortcomings. They are their own biggest critics. Instead, they need to hear more about their strengths and incredible potential.”
I lie still on my bed, and not just because I don’t want to get up and resume cleaning.
The words penetrate.
And they burn.
If I am being honest with myself, today’s clean-up effort has been one long criticism-fest. In my frustration with my kids’ pace, with their lack of focus, with their lack of enthusiasm, I have nit-picked and found fault with nearly everything they’ve done.
It’s no wonder my kids don’t want to help.
It’s no wonder they don’t want to be anywhere near me.
Happy, helpful kids aren’t born. Their willingness (or unwillingness) to be helpful has nothing to do with their yichus.
It has everything to do with way we choose to build them up – or the way we choose to tear them down.
I think back to the exchange I just had with my son, who had taken it upon himself to spray our sliding glass doors with an entire bottle of Windex, leaving behind a river of suds.
Before I had read the Rebbe’s quote, my first thought had been to say, a little too cuttingly, “Were you trying to take a bath in Windex?”
Now, shamefacedly, I think about the Rebbe’s words. Don’t criticize their shortcomings. They need to hear more about their strengths.
What should I have said? “Nice, work, kiddo! No one makes my glass doors as streaky as you do”?
Just kidding. (The cleaning fumes are getting to my head).
No, I should have said, “Thanks for being so thoughtful and trying to clean the glass doors. Next time, three spritzes will be enough to get the job done.”
Had I said that, he might still be helping, instead of ducking for cover under his bed.
But I had been stressed.
I’d looked with a critical eye instead of a positive eye. I tore him down when I should’ve been building him up.
But the Rebbe reminds me that our kids need to be built not just when they’re making us proud, but also when they’re making a mess.
If I want my kids to believe that their contributions are valuable – that they themselves are valuable – they need to hear that from me, even when I am stressed.
Especially when I am stressed.
Thanks for the inspiration.
My composure is back in the building.
Let’s try this all over again – the right way this time.