The Bad Balabusta

The Bad Balabusta

“Are you buying those potatoes for tomorrow’s lunch or for tomorrow’s dinner?” my friend Leah innocently inquired last night at the vegetable stand in the market.

I hesitated for a nanosecond, and then chose to swallow my pride and confess: “I’m actually buying these for the soup that we will be eating for the whole week…”

Leah’s eyes narrowed, her head turned ever-so-slightly, and her jaw dropped exactly as though she had just sighted a rare species that she had read about, but never actually encountered before. An albino turtle. A 3-humped camel. A sub-standard balabusta.

Her kids, Leah went on to tell me, expect home-made meals for lunch and then something entirely different for dinner every single day. If she ever serves leftovers, she explained, she has to whip up a whole new dish based on the leftovers so that her kids don’t throw a fit that she is serving the same meal twice. She was in shock to hear that my children gobble down leftovers the whole week. In fact, my kids are so used to this reality that they don’t even REALIZE that what they are eating would be considered leftovers by their better-fed classmates.

I decided not to tell Leah what my family USED to eat before I started making our gigantic weekly pot of something accompanied by a weekly monster-quantity of a grain of some sort. Until about a year ago, the Weisberg weekly menu consisted of Monday: french fries, Tuesday:scrambled eggs, Wednesday: oatmeal, Thursday: spaghetti.* Which explains why our current two huge pot solution is a major step up for the Weisbergs and their domestically-challenged Eema.

Of course, during this conversation with Leah I felt badly about myself, as I usually do on those rare occasions when I actually open up about my domestic dyslexia with other moms, especially baalabusta moms. You know the type. The kind of moms who not only bake challah for Shabbat, but who actually look forward to baking challah for Shabbat. The kind of moms who actually fold laundry a la The Gap instead of just balling it up and stuffing it into a child’s drawer. The kind of moms, like Leah, who are frying onions and garlic with thyme and taking fresh-baked spelt rolls out of the oven when you stop by their house at 1 PM.

What was funny about our conversation was that when I told Leah how much I admire Balabusta moms, like her, she didn’t really get why. And, in fact, what surprised me was that she actually seemed to admire me, and how I was handling the whole hyper-simplified cooking-for-the-family aspect of my JewishMOM life…

And then Leah said something really obvious and wise that I have been thinking about ever since. She said, “I am a very goal-focused person. My goal is children who will grow up to be good, curious, passionate, amazing, Torah-loving Jews. The rest of the stuff, the food, the spotless house, the externals, it truly does not matter so much. Every mom needs to find an arrangement that works for her and that works for her kids. That’s all. There are SO many different ways to be a good mom.”

After she stated her JewishMOM manifesto, it seemed as clear as a crisp, cloudless, starry Jerusalem night. A mother’s ultimate, central goal needs to be raising her children as best she can. The elaborate menu plans, the blinding bathtub faucet, and the homemade cookies vs. Entenmanns are the rainbow sprinkles on top of the icecream cone.

These external niceties are a great added touch, but not the point—-AT ALL.

Some mothers are more domestically inclined than others, and some are less domestically inclined. And that’s perfectly OK and not something for me to get all worked up and feeling inferior about every time the subject comes up. In fact, after this conversation with Leah, this point seems so incredibly obvious that I’m surprised that a short 18 hours ago I was foolish enough as to have feared otherwise.

*In self defense, I want to explain that this seemingly unhealthy menu plan was prompted by an appointment with a dietician who told me that in order to ensure that my kids have a balanced diet, they should eat three food groups at every meal. So even at my lowest culinary points, I would always make sure to do that. For example, I would serve oatmeal with a fruit, so that that meal contained three food groups: grain, dairy, and fruit. Lame, but not unhealthy.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user Garry Knight

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21 comments

  1. Fold? Laundry?

  2. i know that officially, pesach-cleaning shouldn’t be mentioned before purim, but this post reminded me of a pre-pesach discussion many years ago.

    once a woman came before the lubavitcher rebbe and cried about how hard it was to clean for pesach with the children undoing all her hard work.
    the rebbe’s response (not exact quote) was:
    dirt is not chometz and children should not be the Korban Pesach.

    ever since i heard this, my daily balabusta failings have been successfully put into perspective. my job, as your friend said, is to raise mentschlach children, and the clean house/freshly made organic/gourmet meals are not essential for fulfilling that goal…

  3. Maybe Leah will share her menu plan with us?

    Why should anyone who doesn’t look forward to baking challah make herself do it? There are enough things we all need to learn to do well even if we don’t want to, I don’t see why challah baking needs to be one of them.

    • Thank you for this comment! There seems to be a competition going on about making challah for Shabbos. It’s great to inspire women to bake it themselves, (there are a lot of shiruim on that topic), but I agree that a woman can choose not to.

  4. Mrs Belogski

    i love Leah’s goal – should be on a fridge magnet.

    Personally, my bottom line is a set of clean clothes for everyone in the morning and one hot meal per day ( although i do usually make something more fancy than Chana Jenny’s original plan and we generally only have leftovers after Shabbos) This is a base line for times such as new baby etc. Sometimes I’m the one pulling trays of fresh rolls out of the oven! Here in chutz la’aretz where Sunday is not a real day, lately I’ve been baking or even making soup on Sundays and stocking the fridge and freezer for later in the week.

  5. You’re so sweet, Chana Jenny! Not being a gourmet chef doesn’t instantly make you a bad balabusta! Eating leftovers is an important skill in my book. 🙂

    I love how Leah put it: “There are SO many different ways to be a good mom.” It’s so true!

    And not only are you being a good mom, you’re helping all of us be good moms and feel good about ourselves, too, which is great!

    I recently came to terms with the fact that I am not able to clean my house as much or as thoroughly as I would like. With two kids under two, I’m really pretty busy all day (don’t let the blogging fool you!), and while I feel like I *should* be able to keep up with the cleaning better, I have accepted that it would just be better to get a little cleaning help.

    It’s also helpful that many of my friends also get cleaning help, so I don’t feel as discouraged about not being able to keep up with it myself (we never had cleaning help growing up, so it’s a foreign concept for me).

  6. Your 2 pot solution is absolutely brilliant! And the fact that your kids gobble it up without a fuss means it’s working for your family. You must have some good soup and stew recipes, which I’d love to hear! I learn so much from you, thank you.

  7. Not to sound cynical, but it’s all very nice of Leah to patronizingly tell you there are SO many ways to be a good mom, when she simultaneously gives you a look of horror at serving your kids leftovers. Of, course, while there are SOOO many ways to be a good mom, SHE would never, heaven forbid, serve her children leftovers. Puh-leeze. Anyway, my children wouldn’t touch fried onions seasoned with thyme with a ten-foot pole. Noodles and ketchup are about as gourmet as we get, and that’s reality.

  8. Every family must do whats good for them . In 15 yrs. g-d willing your kids will look back and you will all have a good laugh thinking about the pot of soup that lasted the whole week and which they loved and enjoyed so much! As long as the kids can taste the love in the soup (food) , and we try our best, that’s the main point.

  9. I always love to hear and read confessions like these. I, too, have the Bad Housewife Complex, which I have been working on since before I got married. The truth is that I’m a perfectly competent housewife. We all have clean clothes to wear, the apartment is reasonably clean and I’m actually a pretty good cook who gets diverse and healthy dinners on the table almost every day… but I have trouble letting go of this need to compare myself to my sponga-twice-a-day, five-gazillion-salads-on-Shabbat, glistening-stovetop counterparts. I am always hesitant about guests for Shabbat for this ridiculous reason. Isn’t that crazy?! Why should I feel embarrassed about my style of keeping the house or cooking?! It works for me, it works for my family and it’s an objectively decent standard! I think it’s really about an underlying insecurity: I am afraid of other people thinking I am lazy, which means that deep down, *I* think I am lazy. But I’m not, and I’m working on talking myself out of it!

    Have you heard of FlyLady? You should really check out her site and post about it: http://www.flylady.net. Even if you don’t follow her routines, she will make you smile with her loving enthusiasm and give you a whole different perspective on housework and why we never seem to be able to get things done.

  10. I found I had to start cooking real meals once my kids hit the pre-teen stage. Before that my menu was similar to Chana’s pre-soup menu.

  11. does Leah WORK? ( i mean OUTside the house!!)

  12. One of my goals is to have my children look well and presentable when they leave the house. Is that bad? I’m very observant and hear a lot and notice what ppl think or say about families that have a lot of children and most of them leave the house looking like a shlump. I want to make a kiddush Hashem and show that a house full of kids can look presentable (not the house, that doesn’t say anything!) and taken care of. I therefore iron my children’s clothes, make sure everything matches and make their hair every day. I know it sounds neurotic, but it means a lot to me. Plus, as much as ppl say children shouldn’t judge, they do. I grew up with not many friends because I think I looked like a shlump, and was pretty shy too. The popular kids always seemed to look nice. I just want my kids to have a fair chance at making friends without being judged by their looks first.

  13. BTW how do you follow the comments on this site? I can’t find it anywhere! (re: getting emails with comments on a certain blog)

  14. I do the same thing- Sara- its in our name -I heared that once in a shiur by Yemima Mizrachi, thats Saras have to see their schildren looking presentable, matching and organized. I make sure they match and look neat, and when they leave the house for school -I tidy their rooms and they LOVE seeing it neat when they come home..They learn to appreciate neatness and organization– my oldest who just turned 6 will ask me to help them organize and set up the room nicely- and I think its an important tool that will help them lead organized lifestyles-

  15. I’d like to share a poignant illustration: recently, a young mother in our community passed away very suddenly. She was superlative in the love and care she poured onto her children and husband. And you know, not one hesped (formal or informal) has said ‘she was a fantastic cook’ or ‘her house was really spotless’ or ‘she never bought her challahs’. Which is not to say that any of those were not true, but that they were meaningless beside the real loss, which was of her love and her care. Since then, i have thought that women have our own version of ‘you can;t take the millions with you’ and ‘no one ever says on their deathbed that they wish they’d spent more time at work’: our version is ‘you can;t take your spotless bathtub with you’ and ‘no one ever says on their deathbed that they should have cooked gourmet’. What matters is the love we give our children, and as long as their basic needs are met, the rest is trivia.

  16. Thank you Thank you Thank you!!! This article really made me so happy! I have exactly the same problem and feel so much better now. After ages of struggling, I finally gave in and let my husband cook- he loves cooking anyway and has no problem cooking for himself AND me since we both like different things. So it’s really true, everyone has to do what works best for THEM, not what’s expected of you. Kol ha kavod for this honest article and thank you again!

  17. We never have leftovers. We have ” food from Shabbat” which everyone loves. I cook much more than I will need for Shabbat( chicken, which I put an extra pan of in the oven on Thursdays when I bake the Shabbat chicken, fish, rice, veggies, etc). and everyone is happy to eat it. This is the way my husband was raised, and our kids . I do alternate it with other food I cook during the week, but nobody seems to mind the Shabbat food. Friday lunch is always pasta, so I cook a potful which serves as a starch for lunches during the week, (our main meal) or a quick dinner topped with melted cheese, and sauce or ketchup.
    And yes, I fold my wash and bake challahs.
    It’s all in the planning, and the way we present it. Our family has to get the distaste for “leftovers”, and other attitudes from somewhere.

  18. This article is from several years ago, but I loved reading it! Chana Jenny,you must be doing something right if your kids are eating your suppers. I am NOT domestically savvy AT ALL! I sometimes bake challah because of the miracle of my bread machine with a dough setting! And cereal and oatmeal are definitely sometimes supper choices, along with almonds & instant rice noodles with some olive oil & salt added…
    Are you telling me that there are people who DON’T eat leftovers?! I’m suprised, & I love the comment frol someone saying they call it “food from Shabbos”
    I try to slowly imprive,but I can relate to the domestic “dylexia” – it’s very hard.
    But at least I can try the best I can to full my home with love in different ways.Hashem recreates us every moment with everything we need.

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