I had hoped for a more civilized family gathering when I first planned the night. It was Passover and I had purchased a new table cloth, flowers, and games for the kids. I studied a specialty cook book to find different recipes to try out for the occasion. I shopped for twenty sushi plates to use as personal seder plates for each of my guests and even found magnetic seder plates with boiled egg and chicken magnets for the kids.
As the seder began, my two year old nephew screamed and wriggled in his father’s arms while his twin sister sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” with gusto across from him.
I watched Joe, the ninety-five year old husband of my grandmother, turn off his hearing aids. My seven-year old nephew pouted and pulled his kippah over his eyes. The other children threw finger puppet plagues (lice, boils, blood, etc.) across the table at one another. My brother-in-law’s non-Jewish grandmother drank her fourth cup of Manischewitz wine.
My father raced through the story of how the jews escaped Egypt and “why we eat bitter herbs on this night and no other,” in order to get on with the seder meal in peace. Alexa, my eldest, gave me disapproving looks from her perch beside my father.
When the meal began, my mother left the table for the living room to change my niece and nephew’s diapers and watch them play as their au pair left for the night. My youngest sister argued with her husband about a feeding mix up with her toddler and then also left the table.
My brother-in-law’s grandmother sat alone quietly sipping her wine. “I’m glad you could make it.” I commented. “Did you enjoy the seder?” She stared at me blankly. “Heidi, is their more matzo ball soup?” my father called from the other end of the table.
There is no getting away from the reality that as families grow, holidays and other times of togetherness become increasingly stressful. No sooner do we learn to cope with our own peculiar family dynamics than we have to add on the in-laws and even family of in-laws to the mix: sisters’ husband’s mother’s rantings; husband’s second cousin’s unending tales, “close-talking spittle” of a great-aunt. We have to tolerate one another’s kids, spouses, odors, eating habits, pets, dandruff, and dry brisket.
My desire to run away from it all and book a trip to Florida rather than subject myself to another holiday celebration is compelling. But, my daughters would not envision a holiday celebration without their aunties, grand-parents and cousins. They value the moments of togetherness despite and perhaps even because of the turmoil. I suppose that even with the inevitable “mishegoss,” that I know my daughters are right.
This week, I have invited my extended family for a traditional holiday Thanksgiving with three hundred other guests at our club. No, it is not a warm, home-cooked meal and environment. However, I have eliminated several precursors to strife: preparation and clean up will be nonexistent. The children will be able to leave the table for the play-room when they become antsy. My sisters can bring their in-laws as there will be plenty of room and food for all who care to come.
In my fantasy holiday dream, the wine will flow, the family will dine, the kids will play while their parents converse, laugh, and toast. In reality, to survive another holiday free of strife is a blessing for which I will be very thankful.