I just finished reciting Hallel, and if I may say so myself, I cannot remember the last time that I said it with so much kavanah, not to mention singing the tunes joyfully out loud. It would be gratifying to say that my passion was motivated solely by the fact that today is the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, and I am already beginning to internalize the holiness and awesomeness of these forty days of teshuva. It would also, unfortunately, be at least partially untrue.
Truth be told, I confess that my robust (albeit undeniably off-key) singing may have been precipitated by far less lofty thoughts. Approximately one hour before I commenced my five-star rendition of Hallel, my daughter, her husband, and their five beautiful, intelligent, and very active children left for a two-night stay in Tzfat. After arriving in the Holy Land from New York and spending the past two-and-a-half weeks in our home.
Suffice it to say that this morning is the first on record since their arrival that I was even able to daven downstairs in the living room, instead of sequestered in my bedroom upstairs, behind closed doors. Perhaps you are beginning to likewise suspect that my celebratory Hallel was not entirely in honor of Rosh Chodesh after all.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love my wonderful children and grandchildren. They are everything a mother and savta dreams of and more. At times possibly too much more. AKA too much of a good thing to be properly appreciated 24/7 for four glorious weeks.
For all you readers rolling your eyes by now and feeling justifiably horrified at my seeming lack of gratitude for the abundance of brachos and nachas that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has bestowed upon us, please allow me a few words in my defense.
First of all, aside from the seven aforementioned beloved family members, we just bid a bittersweet l’hitraot to our fourth daughter and her lovely husband and two delectable boys, whose visit overlapped with our oldest daughter’s for just shy of two weeks. Having eleven additional people of various ages and stages sharing our severely limited living space has admittedly been a challenge as well as a joy.
Add to that the fact that our downstairs neighbor chose this precise time to do extensive renovations directly beneath our apartment, generally commencing at 7:40 a.m. and lasting throughout most of our waking hours, and our conflicting emotions can perhaps be better understood. Ear-splitting drilling and hammering have replaced the alarm clock wakeup call, and our youngest grandchild predictably wakes up on the wrong side of the crib each and every morning, adding shrill screeching and crying to the mix. Within minutes some of her siblings inevitably join the daily choir, resulting in my daughter spending those deafening long hours wearing earplugs, and me (as previously noted) escaping to the relative quiet of my bedroom (aka ir miklat) to daven in peace twice a day.
And while I’m already in full-blown kvetchy mode, now may be as good a time as any to mention the mess!
I have no cleaning help whatsoever, except for my amazing husband who vacuums and washes the floors every erev Shabbos. And although I am far from OCD (or CDO, alphabetized) like at least one of my siblings (you know who you are!), I devote considerable time and effort into maintaining a clean, neat, and reasonably orderly home.
When my houseguests first arrived, I made the ridiculous mistake of cleaning up and washing the floor in the kitchen and the livingroom/diningroom just before heading upstairs to bed each night, usually some time after midnight. Unfortunately, by the time I ventured downstairs in the morning, every last vestige of my hard work was already totally obliterated. Instead the once shiny faux marble off-white tiles were decorated with countless shoe prints (largely courtesy of our neighbor’s renovations), toys, and scattered breakfast cereal, among other things. The dining room table and couch were invariaby piled high with art supplies, books, and sundry other items, depending on the day and hour.
After that recurring scenario, my husband and I took turns or worked together straightening up and washing the floors whenever our kids were out for a few hours, knowing full well that it was the ultimate exercise in futility, but seeking some semblance of order, regardless of how fleeting.
Which at least partially explains why, after I finished Hallel and Musaf and ate a quick breakfast this morning, I spent hours on end moving furniture, scrubbing, polishing, vacuuming, washing, Windexing, and dusting virtually every conceivable surface of the main floor. And then I spent a few proud minutes taking a series of “before” photos, before sitting down at the computer to record my mixed emotions for posterity.
I felt slightly guilty spending Rosh Chodesh preocuppied with so much feverish slave-labor, seemingly in discordance with the spirit of the day. (With the obvious exception of Rosh Chodesh Nissan!) However, with only two days until havoc would reign supreme once more, I pushed myself to the limit and beyond.
Every so often I caught myself involuntarily smiling a wry, slightly demented smile as I recalled a similar scenario that took place several years ago with yet another daughter and her family. On that occasion, they were staying with us for six weeks, and had rented a tzimmer for four days. After their temporary departure, I wasted no time in beginning to tackle the federal disaster area that had previously been my home sweet home. However, in an unforeseen ironic twist, my anticipated four days of spic-and-span R&R dwindled down to just over four hours. An electrical issue at their rental made their stay untenable, so they turned around and returned home practically before the freshly washed floors were even dry!
I hope my currently visiting children enjoy the magnificent vistas and incredible historical and holy sites during their two-plus day trip up north. (And I likewise pray that their A/C and power function, preferably at optimum comfort levels!) The change of scenery and opportunity for family bonding will no doubt do them a world of good and create lifelong memories (and photo ops!) to treasure.
As for me, I admit to relishing some peace and quiet, a sparkling home, and much-needed headspace to restore some degree of sanity and equilibrium, at least temporarily. I may even find an hour here and there to catch up on my long-neglected crossword and sudoku puzzles, and conceivably manage to resurrect a few of my rapidly dwindling supply of brain cells!
When the kids leave back to the U.S. in another week-and-a-half, the cleaning and laundry/linen/towels marathon will be exponentially more intense and time-consuming, and by far more melancholy.
By contrast, the emotions I’m feeling today are definitely bittersweet, merely a pause to regroup and refresh before the leibidike gang returns to envelop us with nachas – and inevitable mess – once again.