It’s not that I don’t like Jewish food. I just tend to associate it with people who don’t know how to cook. They’re the types who put mini marshmallows on their Thanksgiving sweet potatoes and who eat cottage cheese mixed with macaroni. I can’t help but think of dining room wallpaper, phlegm cleared into a handkerchief, sun-spotted hands, and a crystal dish with mounds of chopped liver. Moth balls, gold-rimmed stemware, and a bathroom with a built-in, painted-closed, laundry bin.
Now that I’m a mother with a son who breaks into tears when he thinks someone else has asked his fourth question, Passover is becoming ours—something old that we can push into a new shape. It’s a world of suffering and tradition, of tights and temple—studded with matzo balls, ball jokes, and four glasses of wine.
Phil wanted to sprint through the Seder. No, wait, that’s totally unfair. What he wanted was no Seder at all. Whereas I wanted to leaf through the Haggadah page by page, prayer by prayer, in song, in English, and in Hebrew. Not the five-hour version, but the 45-minute adaptation. But each and every time I began to read a new section of our modern (think iPad), abbreviated, simplified, Haggadah, Phil would interrupt with a, “Yada, yada, yada. Okay, wonderful. Let’s move it along.”
And, man was I pissed. Like, plague pissed. Could you be any more disrespectful?
Had I said as much, he would’ve countered with his all-time favorite adjective: selfish. “Stop being so selfish and think of what other people want,” he’d say. And, there would be no winning. Nothing I could say. I’ve learned this much. I’ve also unfortunately learned to fight it out with myself, playing both sides of our conversations, anticipating his retorts. I can have heated arguments, complete with eye-rolls (another form of disrespect of which I’m dead-guilty), and he doesn’t even need to be here. It’s “Intuitive Knowing,” when you believe you know what the other person will say, without their uttering a syllable. Only it can extend beyond words and sentences into anticipated behaviors.
He bullied his way through the Seder, motioning with his hands for me to hurry up and get on with it. I had wanted to talk to the kids about the significance of Elijah, to learn things myself. I’d printed coloring pages of the plagues, and I had the crayons at the ready. But. But I didn’t even go there. I couldn’t get to the next page without a remark, so I wasn’t about to hand out sheets for coloring. And that’s my fault for letting him take over and bulldoze everything. Because what I should do is ignore him. Just because he’s aggressive doesn’t mean I simply throw up my hands. Throwing up your hands is absolutely 100% easier than putting up the fight for what you want. The “easier out” can also become all-out toxic.
Soon you’re left feeling like there’s no room for you in the marriage, that as much as he wants to please you, as much as he genuinely wants to make you happy, he has one fcuked up way of showing it. His way.
The problem is, on the surface, it’s a lovely Seder. People stay for dessert, we laugh and record video clips, repeating the cute things our children said earlier in the night. But when the company is gone and the table is cleared, I walk away feeling defeated and resentful. He’s utilitarian, wants things done efficiently, whereas I want to make memories, to find pleasure in the extra details (Yes, I delight in room-temperature butter for the spreading). He bulldozes through everything on his time, without patience, becoming short-tempered. And it ruins things for me. Because it becomes don’t do it if I can do it faster and better, but damn you for not offering to do it, or trying to do it, better or faster.
Still, I’d rather deal with the arguments and opinions and not getting my way than nothing at all, which surprises me. Why? Because I want my children to share in the Seder, to be a part of tradition. I felt like Lucas was closer to my Grandfather Sam. No longer with us, Grandpa, too, would have gone page by page through Seder and song. And there was Lucas, hanging on my every word. Looking at me from across the table, he was hungry for the stories and wanted to hear them. No one was going hungry. They were already eating matzoh.
“Everyone just wants to eat,” he said, as if I, too, weren’t hungry.
Did I tell Phil that I thought he was being disrespectful, then and there at the table? No. He’d only deny it and further prove my point. No one needs to witness that.
Yes, there were children wiggling in their seats. Tough, I thought. So, go ahead and wiggle. No one gets a lick of matzoh until we get to that blessing. You’ll wait, just as I did when I was your age. And, there it was: the showing of my age. “When I was your age,” is the kiss of the death, or at least the fast approach to it. Because when you go there, it means you’re getting old (at heart). Truly though, I don’t care. That’s the role I’m playing right now, teaching my children about their pasts, and sadly showing them a less-than-ideal future. Something else has to change, and it can’t just be me.
Yes, every single relationship is co-created and it takes two people. And yes, if one person changes, s/he can, in fact, change the dynamic, but eventually you’re beyond exhausted. It is then when you question everything, especially yourself.
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