Listen, the secret is this:
- Don't be pregnant.
- Don't have a newborn.
- Don't be nursing.
- Don't have a crawling baby.
- Don't have children around who spread Cheerios all over multiple times a day.
- Put your children in school so you have plenty of time to hit multiple stores multiple times in search of out-of-town ingredients like yogurt and butter and parsnips.
- Don't make a bris on Pesach (or right after Pesach).
- Don't make a bar mitzvah on Pesach.
- Have year-round cleaning help.
But the biggest secret is that this year I cannot muster that care or anxiety or drive or whatever it is called that sends me into a frenetic cleaning and panic mode. If it will get done, it will get done. If it won't get done, then it won't. Contrasting to the previous years, I have cried from Pesach stress only once so far (but there is still four more days, so stay tuned, freak-out might be coming). This could care less attitude resulted in me yelling at my teary-eyed daughter who wanted to make meringues with me. Too bad it was way after her bedtime. She refused to go to bed. She stalled. And then she came to tell me how she waited THE WHOLE YEAR to make those meringues. Well, I needed them to be the last thing I made for the night because they need to sit in the oven overnight to dry out. So I callously yelled at her. (The meringues turned out sticky. Midda kneged midda? An opportunity for another batch?)
The truth is, I am suffering from caregiver fatigue. When you spend so much time, so much energy and control yourself so much in order to care for someone, you become callous and snappy to everyone else. Sadly, the nearest and dearest did not notice that I have snapped.
But there were all those years and all those babies. And all those people who expected to be hosted, and doted on. And I did all that, all the while slowly breaking inside.
I have invited company for Yom Tov because I feel like I am the fortunate one, without that baby on the hip this year. I am aware that there are others worse off than I am. But there is also a part of me that does not expect anything great from Pesach anymore. I used to plot and strategize how to engage the kids, what shtick to do, how to make Seder about an educational experience and not about the food or the mumbling of the Hagaddah. This year, it will be same old, same old. Someone will be crying. Someone will be complaining. Someone will be unhappy. The food and the effort will be lost in the less-than-pleasant atmosphere. The fun and the lightness: that will come with Chol Hamoed that my school kids await like the coming of Moshiach. But Pesach proper will grind on.
It would be so much easier if I did not think about all of this. It would be easier if I did not consider all the years of small babies and pregnancies as a cruel joke. I have one March baby and three April babies. Oh, you want more from your Yom Tov experience, do you? Well, what can you expect when the kids are little? But the kids do not stay little forever, and the older kids grow up in the shadow of parents being overwhelmed by the little ones. All they experience is stressed-out Pesach.
My oldest three have taken to skipping out on Shabbos lunch. First I rejoiced: they have peers who invite them out! Then I realized that it is not what they are running to that matters, it is what they are running from. By now, I don't know if I have it within me to stop the tide. I just hope that I have a few more years till the children will skip out on the family Seder.
As for me, I will go back to puttering in the kitchen, moving boxes of dishes, cooking in less-than-ideal conditions and focusing on not crying.