Purim was never my favorite holiday for many of the same reasons that I never liked Halloween. I was embarrassed to dress up. I worried that other kids would laugh at me. I never liked my home-made costumes. And having to do this twice a year instead of just on Halloween made it all the more painful. My husband felt exactly the same way growing up in Israel, though he was spared the extra torture of Halloween.
And I can tell that my kids share some of that Purim apprehension. Especially now that we’re living in Israel and it’s not just one evening when you put on your costume and go to shul. It’s a week of Black & White Day and Face Paint Day and Wear an Accessory Day (I’m sorry, huh?) and Polka Dot Day and Pajama Day. And finally, Wear Your Costume to School Day. That’s right. Six days of chaotic mornings deciding whether or not to participate in the Purim revelry du jour. It’s too much for this mama. Although at this point my oldest, who is 8, knows his tolerance for teasing and what he’s willing to endure in the name of self expression. He learned that lesson two Purims ago while we were still living in the States.
Knowing that we would soon be moving to Israel I wanted him to speak more Hebrew and spend more time with Israeli kids so on a whim and perhaps against my better judgement, I signed him up to go to a Purim workshop at an Israeli woman’s house in a nearby town where they would hear the story of Purim, make hamantaschen, and mishloach manot, play games, sing songs, all while parading around in costume. When I told him after school that he and his friend were going to this party and that he could dress up, he was nervous. What if the other kids laugh at me? You see, he was having second thoughts about his costume, one he’d been planning since Halloween. He wanted to dress up as Miss Viola Swamp from the book Miss Nelson is Missing.
Miss Viola Swamp is the alter ego of Miss Nelson, a school teacher who can’t command the respect of her students. One day she comes to school dressed as her own substitute, Miss Viola Swamp, an ugly, mean witch who is so terrifying that the kids will do anything, even behave, to get Miss Nelson back. Excellent book. The costume is a big black wig and a giant nose and black fingernails and striped tights and a black dress. Yesterday we bought all of those things, except for the dress. Instead we belted one of my husband’s black tee-shirts. My son was delighted with his costume but he was concerned (his word) about how other kids would react. He asked me what I would do if I were him.
This is where I lied. Because if I were him I would have just worn the lion costume from Halloween. But my childhood fears and insecurities don’t have to be his. So instead I told him straight up that I would be Miss Viola Swamp if that’s who I really wanted to be and as long as I was happy with that decision, then no one else would care. And that’s what he did. Amidst a sea of pirates, Iron Men, Bat Men, Skeletors and Buzz Light Years was my son, Miss Viola Swamp, dressed in yellow and black striped tights and a belted black t-shirt. And either no one said a word or they teased him in Hebrew and he was oblivious or he was too darn happy to notice.
Whatever the case and despite a genetic predisposition for disliking costume holidays, we might just have a kid who loves Purim. And himself.