On Pesach, Parents and Practice

pesach passover toys plaguesBefore pesachzeit even rolled around, before the groggers were even put away for next Purim, my house was in a pesach frenzy. Crumb by crumb, room by room, the house fell to the power of pesach (I recently watched Lord of the Rings, it seemed poetic).

My mother was on a mission. At first, I recall this being a very exciting time. She would fly through the house, corralling the children into a chometz zone – I think there were real fences – and everything magically got cleaned. As I got older, I was let out of the chometz zone and into the whirlwind world of obsessive compulsive pesach disorder (OCPD), scrubbing and cleaning little areas that my mother thought I could take responsibility for. At three, at four, maybe even a bit at five, I thought that this was a special treat, reserved for my sister and I. The little children were just too little. Sometimes I would even get to clean in the area my mother was in, though I now suspect it was because I got in the cleaning lady’s way. One year, my brother took a roll of silver foil out that had been left unusually carelessly on a counter and decided to test the central vaccuum’s power of contact. After rescuing him from the suction of the vaccuum, my mother promptly sent him back to the chometz zone until the next year. I didn’t get in her way. I was the obedient, hard working one.

Then, something just stopped working in my head. I’d be sent to a room to clean the minutiae – jewellery boxes, drawers, a bathroom cupboard – but quickly got distracted. The more I was caught, the more I thought of creative ways to avoid the work. I’d pretend to be “learning”, I’d be silent as a mouse in a corner reading a book I’d just found. I’d sort out a box of trinkets I hadn’t seen in a while and just lay on my bed making up stories with them. I don’t know why I so vehemently opposed cleaning, but I remember thinking about the excuses to tell my mother before she even caught me (and punished me). I got sent back to the chometz zone to look after younger siblings, while my year-younger sister took the obedient mantle to new heights. While she was being crowned “mommy’s pesach helper”, I just gave up.

In retrospect, my sister’s willingness to step in and take over as “mommy’s helper” has been repeated time and time again since that pesach in the mid-eighties. And for a while, it was filled with my father’s tacit approval on seder nacht. I was the smart girl, with limits “C – you must try not to be so outspoken”. But then I wasn’t. I was too old to be precocious, not modest enough in my approach to questioning or even having a conversation.

I watch my youngest now, whose favorite activity is to be the “chef” at dinner time every night. Who gets out bottles and wash rags to help me clean. I wonder when that moment of disinterest will come for my youngest child. I hope it’s replaced with getting engrossed in books, or making stories with treasures recently recovered.

We’ll be doing a small seder this year. Just me and my kid. A bag of toys will get us through the plagues, stickers to get excited about afikoimen. I’ll miss the frenetic nature of my parents’ house, but in my heart feel like I’m teaching my child about the point of pesach. The point of going through hard work and difficulty to get to a better outcome. And I hope my daughter can make lasting, meaningful memories of what our house was like as a child at pesachzeit.

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