People seem to think my family must consume enormous volumes of food. And that we must need a mini-bus to transport ourselves places. And buy diapers by the pallet.
I, however, have resisted joining even Costco till last year. I hate driving a mini-van. I will not buy things that are designed for dorms, even if they work well for us.
We are a family, not an institution. Specifically:
I do my basic grocery shopping at Marc’s, our local budget-friendly grocery that never actually has everything you need (actually my teenage daughter usually does it), augmented by quick fill-ups at Heinen’s – our standard garden-variety supermarket. Costco usually happens every couple of weeks. I can’t buy produce there regularly since we can’t finish it all before it goes bad. It’s good for non-perishables like diapers, paper towels and the like, but sometimes I get lazy and just go to Target, which is so much more fun anyhow. I keep track of what we need via an app on my phone. Once or twice a week we hit the kosher butcher for dinner and Shabbos supplies, and to supply other “Jewish” food items. The kosher grocery is a job my husband handles, since he’s in the ‘hood every day, and I’m not. Usually only need that trip once a week or so.
We have a disgustingly boring Toyota Sienna mini-van. It’s gold. I hate gold cars. My husband thought it was my favorite car color, so he surprised me. It seats 8. Yes. I have 9 people in my family, including a car seat and booster, but when do we ever all go somewhere simultaneously? My son is away at school, so if anything it would be the 8 of us, but when he’s home we take both cars – a similarly boring Toyota Camry. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the status of the car I drive, but the mini-van genre to me is so fuddy-duddy middle aged…. *sigh*. Shockingly, this still bothers me every time I drive it. I am fanatical about keeping it clean, as though to keep the demons at bay (“She’s let herself go…just look at the car…”). Thank you, Alpaul Auto Wash.
No, it’s not mess hall. We have a regular dining room and a regular table. When we have company for Shabbos, we usually bring in an extra table and have the kids sit there, who usually spend a grand total of 2.4 seconds at the table before heading outside to the trampoline. I have dishes for 16 – a wedding gift from my awesome grandparents. Beyond that we are using disposables. And often well before. If we have more than two families at a time, this is deemed in my mind an “event” and I hire help.
My kids do laundry. OK, pick your jaw up off the floor. If a 16-year-old can operate a motor vehicle, can she not operate a washing machine? Each child over bar or bat mitzvah is responsible to wash, dry, fold, put away, sort and otherwise manage her own laundry. When my son comes home from yeshiva, I do it for him as a special treat. I have cleaning help that folds the rest of the household laundry and irons.
I’ve hopefully taught my kids one of the golden rules of Jewish shopping: Be Allergic to Retail. My grandmother taught me this well (traveling from Queens to Manhattan on a regular basis to pursue this goal) and my father-in-law reinforced it. We also have a pretty decent hand-me-down system going. If I feel my kids need less than they think, they have the option to buy with their own babysitting money. I used to feel very strained by the errands involved in this until my daughter got her license. I now feel like a got a “get out of jail free” pass – yay! My husband and I are super-low-maintenance when it comes to clothing. We all splurge on the baby – girls are just too much fun.
Growing up Orthodox, I never realized that there were parents whose discretionary time was nearly entirely consumed by their kids’ after-school activities. Parents sat through play rehearsals? Soccer was a full-time job? This was completely foreign to me. Sure, as a kid I played piano, acted, wrote, and did public speaking, but none of these activities involved my parents aside from paying for it and transporting me there. There were siblings and jobs and dinner, and I had absolutely no expectation that my mother would sit through a play rehearsal. Now, why should she want to do that? She would see the real thing. It would be a surprise. So when I found people asking me how I managed my kids’ activities, at first I wasn’t quite sure what the question was. Now I do, and here’s the answer. Extra-curricular activities in large Orthodox families look like this: one kids takes drum lessons. Mom drops off and picks up. One kid is in the school play. Stays after and carpools home. Involves 2-3 months a year. Sports are usually casual and take place in the driveway or backyard. Kids occasionally get a gym or lawn to play something slightly more formal. Again, we carpool. With budgets and time constraints, no family schedule is working around any one kid’s activity. Should I feel guilty about this? Well, I don’t, so I hope that’s OK.
EXTENDED FAMILY MEMBERS
I have two categories of extended family: those that are wired, and those that are not. By “wired” I mean Facebook, texting, email. I keep up with my wired family members, and only speak on the phone occasionally to my non-wired family members. I mean, it’s not like there are awkward silences or anything – it’s like riding a bike – but I have very little phone time. We forgive each other and laugh about it and catch up when we catch up. Again, should I feel guilty about this? Well, I don’t, because it works for me and my family and we all know we love each other and would drop anything for one another in a pinch.
And that’s how I run my family like a family… and not an institution!
But somehow, I just can’t shake that Costco membership.