I am quite literally, a stay-at-home mom. Although I do teach part-time, and once in a while my husband and I go out for a quick bite, or a special occasion, most of the time you will find me at home padding about the house in a denim skirt, t-shirt and my “birks”. This makes it quite an event when I need to go somewhere. It does not go unnoticed that Mommy is going out which isn’t a problem most of the time. “Where ya’ going to Ema?” A quick response like “Out for a quick cup of coffee with Sarah” or “I need to get some markers for a project. Be back in 20 minutes” suffices. But when I need to slip out quietly for my requisite trip to the Mikvah, my children turn into vicious prosecuting attorneys.
My husband and I have become artful white liars. We often use the “divide and divert” method where he takes the kids somewhere, and I supposedly stay home to mark papers. Sometimes I claim another cup of coffee with Sarah, and I have even left the house with an empty tin of “food” for a friend who supposedly isn’t feeling well. Most of the time, our kids appear to buy these stories.
One particular winter evening, Avery and I knew our acting skills would be tested. The season had been quite brutal already, and the weather forecasters had been talking for days about the mother of all snowstorms that was about to descend. Along with all the other things my kids knew about me, they knew that I hate to drive in the snow and ice. On other snowy, icy days, they had heard Avery and I have loud discussions about how important an event was and whether we really needed to go when the driving conditions were so bad.
The snow had begun to fall, and in spite of the fact that there was only an inch or two on the ground, school had already been canceled for the next day. We all knew that meant that this was a serious storm coming, and Avery and I knew that the driving this night would be easier than over the next few when we would be clearing out from two feet of snow. There was no doubt in our minds that I would make a full court press to get to the mikvah.
Dinner had been cleared and the mood was relaxed since homework could be put off. The children were playing some game on the floor in the kitchen. My eight year old daughter sensed my departure as I put on my heavy snow boots, bulky purple jacket and matching driving gloves. Hadar walked into the living room and asked;
“Where are you going, Ema?”
“I think we need some more milk. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“But I remember! You picked up milk on the way home from school.”
“Oh. Did I say milk? I meant orange juice and toilet paper. Be back soon.” I said cheerily.
“Ema, I won’t drink orange juice, and we will use tissues. Please don’t go! It’s snowing out there.”
While I tried one white lie after the other, she worked her way into hysteria. She was terrified, convinced that my trip would be treacherous. Avery and I looked at each other and had a long conversation in one glance. Our non-conversation went like this.
“Should we tell her?”
“I think we should.”
“You’re right. She is terrified and needs some reassurance.”
“Worse comes to worst, she will always remember how important this mitzvah is.”
I leaned over and hugged her shaking shoulders. “Hadar, Ema is going to the mikvah.”
She looked puzzled. As far as she knew only men went to the mikvah on Erev Rosh Hashana and Erev Yom Kippur. She had been quite jealous of her brother who had been privileged to go with Aba, and she seemed intrigued.
I continued: “This is a very important mitzvah that Emas do. I will drive very carefully, and if there is a problem, I will come right home.”
She sensed that pleading would not help, and hugged and kissed me hard. In reality, I was pretty scared myself. The blizzard was gaining strength, and the carpet of flakes was growing thicker by the hour. The snow was both hard and soft at the same time. As it fell it looked like big pieces of goose down from a billowy feathery quilt. As it silently hit the ground, it sparkled like crushed glass. I needed to brush the snow off the car, even though Avery had done so moments before. While backing out of my driveway, a clunky, orange snow plow noisily came down the street. I silently thanked the driver who seemed to be on his way to the mikvah too. The plow was taking the same route and cleared a swath for me with each right and left turn.
My town is not too noisy on a winter night, but the snow muffled the normal city sounds even further. I parked my car and actually enjoyed the few short steps in the snow. Cool, fluffy flakes brushed my cheeks, while each footstep came with a crunch. I felt adventurous and daring for being out on a night like this, the quiet and solitude of the streets enabling to me to have a few minutes of peaceful reflection. I had never met my grandmother, but had heard stories of her arduous treks to the mikvah, in the cold and danger of wartime Eastern Europe, and now I felt the connection to her as I too felt compelled to visit the mikvah on this miserable night.
As I opened the door to the mikvah, I stood surprised for a moment. Usually our outside world is noisy and a quieter environment greets us as we enter a building. But tonight that transition was reversed. Outside there was no one, and the quiet was almost deafening. Stepping inside I was greeted by so many noises. One could hear water running, hair dryers whirring, and women chatting. While I may have expected fewer women than usual, the mikvah was abuzz with activity, as busy as usual. The mood was happy and light, all of us sharing the triumph of affirming our commitment to G-d, Torah, mitzvot and our husbands while feeling like naughty school girls, out when we should have been at home.
Normally, conversation at the mikvah is kept to a minimum, but on this night the refrain was: “And how did you get out on a night like this?” Many of us had told little white lies knowing that years from now our children, as adults, would smile as they unraveled the tales and fibs. How many of us shook our heads knowingly as we realized that some of the “meetings” our mothers attended were just ruses. In many ways, this was just part of the mikvah going tradition. The immediate secret is shared between husband and wife, while the long range secret between mother and daughter is revealed after many years. As the daughter herself takes on the sacred ritual, she smiles as she realizes why her mother had so many gosh darned meetings, or why there were surprisingly few groceries from the nighttime trips to the supermarket.
As I settled into my room at the mikvah I thought to myself “Mi k’amcha Yisrael?” Who is like Your (G-d’s) nation Israel? Our love of G-d and our spouses and children kept us as committed to the mikvah as mailmen to their routes. To paraphrase Herodotus: “Neither snow nor rain, nor seder night, neither parent-teacher conferences nor shul dinners will stay these women from the completion of their visits to non-descript buildings or the natural waters called mikvaot.”
Bluma Roth is a pen name for a Teaneck based writer who has been honing her skills at workshops run by Ruchama Feuerman.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.