Passover starts in less than two weeks. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am completely unprepared.
We have plans for a first seder with my in-laws and a kid-friendly second-seder at our house, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. (And by plans, I mean we have a date and a time. That’s it.) There is not a single box of matzah in our kitchen, and our cupboards are filled with enough macaroni to cover every meal between now and the start of Pesach (my daughters’ idea of heaven, but not so helpful to me). Also, cleaning? Sha. Right. And monkeys might fly out of my… never mind.
I’m in a similar place this year as I was last year; too much to do, and not enough time. Once again, Passover is an inconvenient truth, but let’s be honest—when is it ever convenient to clean the entire house and give up carbs for over a week? This year will be challenging in a different way, though. We’re in the mealtime trenches with my 3-year-old, who would happily survive on noodles, crackers, and fruit. She won’t touch my husband’s melt-in-your-mouth brisket, and his matzah brei won’t cross her lips. (Even Bubbe’s matzah ball soup, which should be a picky pre-schooler’s dream, gets the polite but emphatic “NOTHANKYOU!”.)
Once again, I find myself needing to recommit to Passover, and everything that goes along with it. As I’m not a halachic Jew, the commandment to ditch the bagels and toast for a week doesn’t carry the weight of God behind it. It’s awfully tempting to feed the girls pasta and just not worry about it. They’re too young to remember, it’s not worth the tantrums, and they don’t really get what’s it all about anyway, right?
They do get it. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for; they love rituals, and they appreciate when things are special. One day last December (after we’d been talking about Hanukkah for weeks), I picked up my daughters from daycare (not Jewish), and my big girl immediately launched into this long story about how we were going to get a Christmas tree and put it in a big box and bring it home. I was worried about how she would react when I told her that we weren’t getting a Christmas tree, but she simply said, “Oh, right. Because we’re Hanukkah people.” She got it.
Just like she understood Hanukkah, my 3-year-old will understand Passover and matzah. Even if she doesn’t get the deeper meaning of every part of it, she’ll know that this is something unique, something important that we do because we’re Jewish, and because connecting to rituals and holidays that our families have observed for centuries brings meaning and structure to our lives. (My littler girl—who is still at the age when she’ll eat anything—will go along with her sister and the rest of the family because that’s what she does.) We’ll make it fun for them with crafts, books, and music, and we’ll talk up the joy of eating “fancy crackers” at every meal. As they get older, the girls will experience the benefits of discipline and willpower, and hopefully they’ll choose to acknowledge and participate in this holiday that somehow manages to come at the most inconvenient time of the year for me, perhaps just when our family needs it most.
Maybe my daughter will surprise me—perhaps she’ll eat the matzah pizza and turkey meatballs and whatever else I can scrape up. Or maybe she won’t, maybe she’ll spend the week whining and refusing and giving me a hard time. Either way, both of my girls will grow up knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and that some of the most important things in life—connection, ritual, and meaning—require preparation, work, and sacrifice, including their beloved noodles.