Monday, November 29, 2010

Room of Doom

In an act that I can only blame on menopausal hormones, about two years ago I got rid of my cleaning people. Sure, I had my reasons. It was a husband/wife team and the husband used to creepily follow me around while I got ready for my exercise class in the morning. Then I'd get home after they were gone, lift up the ottoman in the family room, and find out that they'd shoved a bunch of junk under there. Was it them or was it hormones?

Either way, they were gone. I was sure I could handle it myself. I have two big strapping children and a  helpful husband, right?

Now, looking back, I want to kick myself with this insane thinking. Husband was once in the mindset that a cleaning crew was necessary our existence. I mean, he had one before I met him! Before I fired them Husband had no idea that wives actually could clean houses. Now? No longer.

So that leads me to this week and the Hannukah party I'm having here on Sunday. And the absolute ruin I live in.

Since I can't really handle all the mess in all the rooms at once, I've worked out a method over these last two years of being the housecleaner. I call it Room by Room, similar to Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird. I only tackle one room at a time. I don't get sidetracked. And one caveat: once I'm done with that particular room,  Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter aren't allowed to walk into it again until the party is over. Even if it's, like, their bathroom and there are three days till the party. Go to the neighbor's house.

Now I know I've got five days still but right now our house is basically a tear down and I need to use my time wisely. So I plan to start with the rooms no one uses at all, like the dining room, my art room (haven't used that in awhile), the den (where I can easily clean around Bar Mitzvahzilla sitting frozen staring at the TV screen with only his thumbs moving on his Xbox controller), and my office (thank goodness for my months-long writer's block!)

The rooms we really live in - the family room and kitchen - I have to treat carefully. I can't completely move the kids out, right? And once they're cleaned I don't want to be chasing the kids around and watching each cookie crumb fall to the floor with a wild-eyed look in my eye. So I'll hold off on that and use the kids wisely. Have them do their own rooms. I'll assign chores to them that will be done badly, all in a mad, crazed dash to get to whatever's been promised them in return for those chores.

Then, in one last herculean effort, I'll unclutter the rest of the house and move every last piece of remaining junk, by putting it all into my bedroom - the Room of Doom. Then I'll blockade the door so no one can get in there.

When I greet my guests on Sunday night, our house will look like a house that actual human beings live in. I'll  demur when the few people who've never seen the house before ask for a tour that includes my bedroom (Sorry! It's kind of messy right now!) and then wait for the inevitable outcome of the Hannukah party: a destroyed house. Wrapping paper everywhere, food sloshed and dropped, ground into the floors, babies running and drooling.

And then I'll clean it again. Maybe in time for next Hannukah.

Do you clean just to let things get messed up again or leave them messy and clean afterwards? Do you have a method for cleaning? Do you have cleaning people or do it yourself? Ever have one "Room of Doom" where everything bad is hidden?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Pilgrim's Potluck

Being one of seven sisters means a lot of things. It means that I grew up in a crowded house and found it downright eerie to be alone. It meant never eating out, wearing hand-me-downs; it meant having relatives look at me and always needing to guess "which sister" I was and always get my name wrong. For ease they reverted to numbering us. I am still known as number six.

It also means this: I've never once made a Thanksgiving meal. I'm not happy about this because I kind of like making a big, nightmarish, complicated meal (see Passover blog entries from last spring), but I don't get to. See, I'm not the sister in charge of Thanksgiving. I'm the sister in charge of Hanukkah, so to speak, and since Hanukkah bounces around the calendar, one year at the end of December and the next at the beginning - like this year - I can't do both.

So for Thanksgiving we drive off from our house in whatever direction the party's at - this time it was at sister number seven's new house. I'm assigned a dish to bring, always something suspiciously simple because there seems to be an impression in our family that I can't cook. One small mistake - a charred, inedible brisket - in all these years and my reputation was ruined forever. So this year I was assigned a very traditional Thanksgiving dish, one everyone fantasizes whenever they think about Thanksgiving, right after they think about turkey, stuffing and pecan pie. I was assigned the veggie tray. 

We have a veggie tray at our party for a couple reasons. First of all, in a family with seven sisters and many grown nieces and nephews, everyone's always dieting so vegetables are welcome. Second of all, there are so many people coming (just add up for a moment seven sisters, husbands, seventeen nieces and nephews,  significant others, and five great-nieces) that we run out of food assignments. Hence, the veggie tray. Maybe it's not just my incompetence or my reputation as a bad cook; maybe it's that: there's nothing left to assign. I take solace in the idea that the pilgrims probably had a lot of vegetables at their first Thanksgiving.

Luckily I didn't screw it up. Maybe I can parlay this success into something more significant next year, like soda pop.

Do you cook Thanksgiving or go somewhere? In your family are you assigned food to bring? Ever get assigned something that didn't quite fit the holiday or something really easy?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Synagogue Shopping Season

I was at my synagogue the other day with Daughter and since Daughter is now five feet one (I think she grew twelve inches in the last two years) one of the older ladies I know there asked me, "Have you booked her Bat Mitzvah date yet?"

I looked chagrined. Every good Jewish mother knows she's supposed to book the date with the synagogue at two years out and I'm at one year and nine months. What's the problem?

Is it that I'm afraid that instead of having a Bar Mitzvahzilla, like my son started morphing into around the time period of his Bar Mitzvah, I'll have quite the Bat Mitzvahzilla on my hands? Am I afraid I'll have to change the name of the blog? Or maybe that I'll have to start a new blog just to keep track of her varying demands (a kids' table shaped like an 'R'? Really? Her name in lights?)

Here's the real problem: I'm not sure my synagogue is going to exist in September of 2012.

There's this strange thing that happens in the Jewish community in Phoenix and, for all I know, in the Jewish communities all over this country: Sometime each summer the Jewish community goes synagogue shopping. Since synagogue dues are traditionally due before the high holidays which tend to fall in September and October, around August a synagogue fair is held to showcase new synagogues, old synagogues, and changed synagogues. 

In a community like Phoenix, where there are now fifty-five synagogues and many people who don't affilitate at all, sometimes it feels like, well, synagogue shopping season. Like there just might be a newer, more exciting place elsewhere, a younger, more exciting Rabbi, or lower dues. And, of course, there are valid reasons to leave a place of worship, like fees, like the Rabbi, like for spiritual fulfillment.

But what happened during this past summer was that a lot of people left the place that we belong to, threatening its existence.

Husband and I are a little dull-witted about this kind of stuff. It's not that we're massively spiritually fulfilled by our congregation, it's just that we have a relationship with them that, after thirteen years, feels right. It feels like home. And when we're there - even if we don't understand a word of the Hebrew - it reminds us of the services we grew up with and the Judaism of our parents.

I still live with this one nightmare from soon after our move to Arizona, when I was fourteen. My dad died suddenly at age 48 of a massive heart attack and we were unconnected to the Jewish community. We had no community to lean on for support nor a Rabbi to help us or to eulogize our father. The rabbi who showed up at his funeral - was he on a rotation list for the unaffiliated? - came and went swiftly, almost forgetting my dad's name in the middle of the service. That will never happen to my children and what happened to my father will never happen to my mother. The child of fourteen is now fifty and has changed all of that.

So I guess I'd better just have a little faith and book the Bat Mitzvah date. And get ready for Bat Mitzvahzilla.

Do you tend to change your house of worship frequently, if you go to one? Do you have any clear motivating reason why you do or don't belong to one? In your religion do you have a choice about where you worship? Ever had a kid grow this quickly?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Crashing Through

I've spent a lot of time at my mother's house over the last two-plus weeks, since she and Stepfather were involved in a car accident. I'm kind of their own personal adjuster since my old job, when I had a real job, was handling bodily injury claims for a really big insurance company for eighteen years.

There are things you discover when you putter around an old person's house with them each day. In the case of my mother I discover that, although she apparently has a inbred aversion to taking any prescription medication at all, instead taking horse-size vitamins impossible for me to sort into a pill container, she still somehow has saved every medication she's ever come across.

I open her medicine cabinet the night of her accident looking for Tylenol since one of the things I found out right away is that when you're eighty-five and eighty-years-old and involved in an accident, it might just be impossible to have someone really listen to you who's not related to you. Not the police officers and not the emergency room staff. No one. They'll take a look at your Medicare card, they'll make sure you're not dying, and then you'll be set on your way, even if you can't remember any one of your seven daughters' phone numbers. So neither of them had gotten a prescription at the emergency room.

In her medicine cabinet, however, were pill bottles dating back at least twenty-five years. There was one with my old name on it, from my ex-marriage, and I got divorced in 1989. It was like a pharmacy museum in there: old time pill bottles, typed up labels before computers were used, various treacherous caps that my mom would never be able to open now.

Then I spent some time with Stepfather. I found him outside a few days after the accident hanging up my mother's laundry on the clothes line with the radio blasting. Because we have a bantering relationship I said, "You guys must be very popular with the neighbors, what with the blasting radio and the makeshift clothesline," just a series of strings he had strung all over the patio from chair to chair. He laughed and explained the problem he was having with my mother overfilling her laundry basket and cracking the handles. He'd devised a fix, however, and took me to the garage to show me it. He'd glued the handles back together on both ends with some epoxy and was holding them in place with vise grips. Like twenty vise grips. I said, "Or you could buy a new laundry basket at the dollar store for a dollar, right?" Again, he laughed.

There have been a lot of frustrations over the last two weeks, a lot of doing something and then doing it again and again because of various problems in the process. But there are also several images that will always stay with me. There's the image of my stepfather sitting down silently next to my mother, in pain on the couch, and holding her hand. The image of them getting out of the car together when I took them to physical therapy, again walking hand in hand. And one I'd like to forget: that of my mother, whose Alzheimer's has worsened because of this, sitting beside me on the couch, but being nowhere near.

What strange things have you discovered in your parents' homes? Any strange collectibles, like prescription bottles? Witnessed any touching moments? Any heartbreaking ones?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Battle Over the Halloween Candy

Halloween should be fun, right? Like since I have a son who is about to age out of Halloween - okay, he really did age out but went out anyway - and a daughter who's still young enough to enjoy it, I should be having fun, right?

But no, at our house there's the Battle of the Halloween Candy. And it starts before Halloween, quiets down to a lull on the day of Halloween (kids out hunting for more candy to fill up our coffers) and then continues after Halloween.

First problem: we buy a gigantic bag of candy from Costco ahead of time that contains only the good stuff - M&Ms (peanut and regular), Kit Kats, Baby Ruths, Reece's Peanut Butter Cups. The good stuff.

Then there's the second problem: the family wants to eat it all. I mean, they don't want to eat it all and end up pretending we're not home on Halloween, they want us to keep buying those bags over and over again for the next nine days.

The third problem: the children are distrustful of my husband, believing he'll devour all the best stuff and my husband is distrustful of the children since he, of course, both wants the best stuff and doesn't want them to eat anything. He might talk sanctimoniously about cavities but really he just doesn't want to share. Or buy another bag for fourteen bucks.

And that's only before Halloween.

Then the kids trick or treat and bring home more candy. And it turns out we don't run out of candy because I - the neurotic mother - did buy an extra bag. And then we pool it all and there's like a mountain of candy. And then they're off and fighting again.

So, each year, I get pulled into the fray. Mainly because I don't eat candy or chocolate or, really, anything fun at all, I'm as neutral as Switzerland, as placid as Lake Geneva. So both sides trust me with the candy. I'm the human form of an Armistice. I'm told to hide the candy - how does one hide a gigantic bowl of candy? -and then I have to parcel it out to each of them at three pieces per day.

Eventually they'll forget it, of course. (Except Husband. He'll remember it no matter what.) And then months will go by; I'll throw it out when it's down to Red Hots, black Licorice and Nerds. And then, suddenly, it will be September again, a little Fall in the air, gigantic bags of candy at Costco and I will buy a bag ahead of time. Again.

Do you save the treats for Halloween or indulge ahead of time? Does anyone special have to be in charge of "hiding" the candy in your house? Do you buy what you like or what you don't like? Any non-celebrators of Halloween out there?