Warning. This is a rant. And a whinge.
Before I go on, I have say this. I really do love my mother-in-law. She's brilliant and funny and immensely kind and generous, with a rich family history. She's been on the forefront of grass-roots efforts to feed and clothe the poor in NYC and I'm very proud of her for that. I learned Hebrew at 26. She learned it at 46. She's a truly amazing lady.
But we do clash on some things, and spending a holiday with them is going to bring these things out. Please bear in mind that I'm not going to be completely fair here, and that she is a wonderful person.
Having unpacked on Sunday, I repacked on Monday, in a much bigger suitcase. Also, this time we wouldn't need food. jonbaker lugged it downstairs before going to his therapist. I followed a couple hours later to get a car service to Manhattan, where my inlaws live in a gorgeous prewar co-op, now all clean for Passover. Jonathan was already there when I arrived. We lugged the bag into his old room and I got started making fruit salad while Jonathan worked on our taxes on his mother's computer. I also taped the refrigerator light so we could open the door without it going on. I didn't realize I had to do the same for the freezer. She wasn't thrilled, but we needed to do that. We also hit a snag when it came to figuring sales tax, which meant we had to look up our Amazon and eBay expenditures (fortunately, we could do eBay by using Pay Pal's records.) We spend a huge amount on Amazon and eBay.
And then it turned out we could claim a flat rate based on income. *Sigh*. The printer ran out of paper just as I was shutting the computer down, and I couldn't do anything about that. My own mother had already arrived, bearing gifts (clear plastic matzah boxes for both Wendy (mother-in-law) and me. As it turned out, these are rather useful, so thank you, Mom.) My brother arrived soon after, once he got the car parked. I ducked into the bedroom to change for dinner.
Jonathan's family does the full, traditional haggadah, leaving nothing out. They prefer to use the red and yellow booklets the kids used in yeshiva, although the translation leaves a lot to be desired. In our own house, we use the ArtScroll. The Hebrew text is the same, of course, but the translation is better. We do like everyone having the same haggadah, just for page number convenience. Jonathan, though, usually has two or three more for commentaries and the like.
His family does that because that's the way they grew up. We use the full text because we're Orthopractic.
Pesach has more family customs than any other holiday. So. In our family, we use cucumber for the karpas, the green herb, instead of parsley or onions or boiled potatoes. And we use chunks of horseradish for the bitter herb.
The first fight of the evening occured then, when Jonathan noticed that the salt water had a bare sprinkling of salt because his mother chooses to eliminate that in all things. Given the amount that would cling to the slice of cucumber after it is dipped, or the hard boiled egg later, Jonathan wondered why she bothered - and if it was a problem she should just use vinegar (also sanctioned) instead.
She got very angry and left the table, telling us to go on. Of course, we didn't. We waited for her to return.
Then we went on with the telling of the story, everyone taking a page or so as we went around the table, with people asking questions or giving over little points of the haggadah. "People" in the one case means my brother; in the other means Jonathan or his mother. And when Jonathan spoke, and he did go on at length, Wendy got impatient. And I got tired of feeling lumplike - especially given that when it came to a reasonable place for me to start reading, she kept on. And would have kept on further had we not stopped her.
I know it sounds childish, but I was starting to feel invisible. And tense. And then when I finally had something to say, and it was in a part I was reading, and I stopped to gather my thoughts, there she was about to speak. And I just blew. I had my very *own* tantrum. Which set Wendy off and we both fled the table.
Yeah, I know. Very adult of me. I came back feeling awful and we waited for Wendy. And then I said the tiny little thing I wanted to say - not worth the kerfuffle, but it was mine. And we went on with the rest of the maggid and the first half of the hallel, and then on to the ritual foods. Finally, we could get started eating the dinner. She made a lovely vegetable soup (chicken soup without the chicken. My brother-in-law, who was coming the second day, doesn't eat meat.), with light as air matzah balls. Perfect. And then we had roast turkey and farfel dressing and baked carrots. Everything was lovely, if slightly too gingery. Which eventually faded to background noise, it was so ubiquitous. We finished with the fruit salad. We were also going to have a store-bought seven layer cake, but it got moldy. :(
Then we finished the haggadah - the grace after meals, the rest of hallel, and the traditional songs. And after helping to clear and saying goodbye to Mom and brother, I disappeared into the bedroom to cool off and relax, and read a bit. Jonathan and his father took care of the dishes. It was about 10:30PM at that point. We began right after candlelighting at 6:15.
And that was a problem. Wendy was in a big hurry to begin so she didn't think to call me in. I don't need to light - I'm happy to rely on her lighting since she thinks that only one person per house should light and it keeps the peace - but I have to *be* there when it happens. I went to our bedroom and said the bracha over the light on a timer. It was really my only choice. And, yes, I resented it. How could she not call me in?
And then I realized I'd left my Zyrtec at home. Zyrtec keeps my hives under control. Stress makes them worse. And did I mention cramps? :)
Wendy was in pain throughout much of this time, as her arm and sciatica were bothering her. And she deserves a break for that. But. She did things she could have let other people do - and that other people had offered to do - and she did things that didn't need to be done. She made a big point of how she carried the sixteen pound turkey home, but to my ears, it was stupid. Four-five dollars would have gotten it delivered to her apartment door. I'd think that would be worth it. She doesn't have to watch money the way she did when she was raising three kids, and sending two of them to private school and doing it all on only Dad's high school teacher's salary. They're actually wealthy right now, and that's not through savings, either. It's from Sydney's pension and money they got from their parents and good investments.
We would be happy if they spent all their money making their lives easier now.
I wasn't sure if I was going to shul this holiday, but I made sure I had the clothes in which to do it. And as I got up in time on Tuesday morning, I went. It was lovely. Lincoln Square Synagogue not only employs a professional cantor, but he's one of the very best. He actually prays as well as performs and it shows - and he has a strong voice that leads while still encouraging others to sing with him. He doesn't do a lot of fancy vocal tricks - just clear, strong Hebrew. And Jonathan learned from him. Sherwood Goffin is also a folksinger of some renown, but to Jonathan and everyone else at LSS, he's the Hazz.
On Pesach, we begin to pray for dew instead of rain (we want the seasons to go on properly in the Land of Israel, which means the world because everything is connected to everything else). This is introduced by a song. The Hazz was brilliant.
I threw another minor tantrum when I wanted to go home, but Jonathan, surrounded by people he knew, wanted to shmooze. I went down to get my coat and back up again, and he was still on the men's side, talking. And there was no one I knew. It probably wasn't nearly as long as I thought it was, but I had no keys and if I disappeared, he'd panic.
We got back, I changed into a simple velour dress I use as a sort of robe and we had lunch - leftover turkey and salad and matzah. Then the other problems started.
See, halacha says that one does not do anything on day one for day two (or day two for nonholiday.) *Anything*. That means setting the table, soaking the quinoa for the salad, adding the dill to the soup, marinating the salmon. Anything. And Wendy considers that a custom (it's *not*) and chooses to ignore it. Her concessions, and I can see where they were huge ones, were to not shut off the oven (although she quite inconsitently turn on and off her burners), to allow us to tape the fridge light and to begin no earlier on the second day than when Rabbi Mintz told her to - which was very, very lenient. To whit - 7:40 when he told everyone else no earlier than 8:07.
So she set the table and started all those other things and added fruit to the fruit salad. And Jonathan's brother volunteered to help with that, but Jonathan wanted me to do it (if I ate a piece of the fruit, that woul make it okay). But. I couldn't. Yes, she made tremendous "concessions", and they even kept their tv watching to their bedroom and that made me feel guilty, but I was going to eat these things made early or not eat at all, and sit at that table. And that's taking the easy way out - if I were to stand by my principles, I'd not eat anything.
And oh, what a tantrum that would produce! So I don't know at all what to do. But it pretty much tore me up, and the hives were coming thick and fast. And I was clearly in the wrong, and that didn't help. I do *not* have the right to impose my religious sensibilities on them. It's their home. And I know it. And Jonathan likes going there for holidays, and I *don't*. I like our seders. They have fewer tantrums.
But I get dressed properly and I help out a little to show good will, even putting the ritual foods out way ahead of time (I'm a coward, I am.)
And then Mitchell's girlfriend shows up with flowers and I hide again so I don't see them being dealt with.
What do people do when non-religious guests bring flowers on yom tov? Or are they not muktza on Yom Tov, just Shabbat? And what do people do if they're brought flowers on Shabbat? I mean, it was lovely that she brought them - it does show a great deal, and I've brought flowers for Thanksgivings and such. But I don't know how I'd deal with them if I couldn't touch them.
Her family is Reconstructionist, and she doesn't quite grasp that we don't travel on holidays either, since Mitch does. It's a weird thing, and I didn't get it when I was first learning, either.
Our seder was very different than hers - no clear leader, no Miriam's Cup, no retelling of the Passover story and a traditional haggadah instead of one made up of a number of different sources. And, of course, we did the afterdinner portions, too. It was, however, in English for the most part. Thank goodness or I'd never follow it.
This time I was there when Wendy lit the candles. And she used a new flame from a match, and I couldn't handle it anymore and ran to the bedroom and said my bracha over that same light as last night. No one noticed, thank goodness.
Because Mitch doesn't eat meat or farmed fish, Wendy made broiled wild salmon instead. It was very delicious. She served it with the quinoa and the famous microwaved asparagus. *Sigh* We had a green salad as well, and the augmented fruit salad. Which I served. And that delicious soup.
And there were no tantrums, but that was because I kept a lot in. I mean, it was noticiable that I was not paying attention and I was rubbing my hands, which I do when I'm very upset - but the one time I said something, Wendy's response was, "I don't buy that.".
I didn't say anything else.
And I disappeared after the seder was over. Again. I'm a bad daughter-in-law.
I woke up with a bad headache the next morning, but after suitable treatment with advil, aspirin and a cup of coffee, I was fine. No shul, though. Lunch was matzo meal pancakes, salad and borsht. I like borsht, but I passed. (It does strike me as odd that she'd put no salt in the traditional salt water and yet eat very salty borsht.). The pancakes were very yummy.
Jonathan, as he'd done the day before, had gone to shul for the daf yomi (where he'd gotten a lecture on haggadah instead) and when he returned, we had dinner - leftover turkey and microwaved gravy and leftover stuffing and quinoa. Quite nice if... well, microwaved. Still yom tov, you understand.
When dinner was over, so was yom tov. I put the high riser back together and then Jonathan and his father did a half hour set on their recorders and we packed to go.
I was covered in hives.
After forgetting things and running back to to pack them and collecting stuff from the bathroom and so on, we were ready go by 9PM. We made our goodbyes and caught a cab for home.
My bed never looked so good.
Despite the way it seemed, it was mostly very good. I read a lot, I talked in a civilized fashion to everyone, we discussed news and clothing and so on. And I'm sure a part of that was my own exhaustion, and that of my mother-in-law - she'd been cooking for days and I'd just come back from a convention.
I should have behaved better. I can't control anyone else. I can control *me*.