We were a little nervous about Passover this year, but not because of the four-and-a-half-but-who’s-counting hour flight with three small children, the three-hour-time-difference-that-the-baby-never-gets-over, or the staying-in-someone-else’s-house-long-after-Ben-Franklin-advises-leaving. Packing took me an entire day because the airlines make baggage regulations without taking into account the So Much Crap that tiny people need, but I plodded along and we made it through security at LAX with 42 seconds to spare before they closed the doors to our airplane. Even though this was the first time I had ever arrived at a plane as late as final boarding, it was not missing our cross-country flight with the posse in tow that was making J and I tense.
No, we were worried about the Four Questions.
Some of you may recall that we ran into some issues when Zachary tried to do the Four Questions last year. He knew them, he wanted to say them, but he was too anxious about the big crowd to do it, and there was a Stage Three Meltdown. Zachary’s social anxiety exploded up against his desire to be the center of attention, which he really enjoys as long as no one is drawing attention to him. If it’s confusing for you, just imagine how it feels for him.
We send our kids to a Jewish preschool precisely so we don’t have to teach them this stuff, and the teachers must have drilled Zach’s class plenty, because he knew the first two questions in Hebrew and all four in English. (Actually, all five in English, because there is a main question and then four sub-questions, although no one has ever thought to rename them the Five Questions.)
Some friggin’ genius at the preschool thought to have the kids add visual aids to a handout which they could use to jump-start their memories when Four Question time came, so even though Zach knew them cold, he also had a cheat-sheet for emergencies. Not unlike many ninth-grade algebra classes.
J and I were worried that our little dude would once again freeze up but be too frustrated with himself to allow the Seder to continue. We practiced several nights at dinner, hoping to recreate the ambiance under which he would have to perform. We instructed his grandparents not to make a big deal of it, because Zachary abhors the Big Deal. And, still, that first night of Passover loomed large.
The boys were informed that they needed to take a siesta before the fiesta. They were dressed in neat button-downs, and they were ready when the rest of the 17 guests arrived. We were careful to seat Zachary far from Benjamin, who is truly gifted at pushing not just some but ALL of his brother’s buttons. Zachary was a little hesitant to enter into play with his adored three-year-old cousin and then became sullen when she played with Benjamin instead, but by the time we got to the dinner table, all was copasetic.
And then we rolled around to the Four Questions. Grandpa announced it was time, everyone let out one of those enthusiastic “Oh, my” cheers in which grown-ups tend to indulge when kids are about to perform, and Grandpa pulled out the video camera.
That was Zachary’s cue to fall apart.
He froze, and everyone started jumping in with the helpful encouragement that just makes him more anxious. After a moment, they stopped, and I asked him if he wanted to do it in Hebrew or English first. He mumbled “English.” We pulled out the cheat-sheet, and I silently tried to will him to just make it through, even if no one could hear him, not because the rest of us desperately wanted to hear this part of the Seder but because I knew he’d be so frustrated when the Seder moved on and he hadn’t done his part. Like last year.
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” he began, with his father and mother hoping that it would indeed be just a little different for him. “Why do we eat matzah?” he said hesitantly. “On all other nights, we eat fruits and vegetables, why on this night do we eat horseradish?” Now he sounded almost, dare I say it, confident. “Why do we dip twice? Why do we lean on pillows?” he ended in a loud voice.
While J and I stared at each other in total disbelief across the dining room, everyone cheered, and I’ll be damned if the child didn’t take the applause as his due.
But it wasn’t over. Grandpa included in the Seder three songs that the boys learned in preschool and have been singing (incessantly) for weeks. Benjamin was far to busy drinking the salt water to join in, but Grandma tried a few bars, and I sang along to give Zach some encouragement.
Which, by the way, he did not need. We were treated to loud solo versions of “Bang, Bang, Bang,” “No, No, No, I Will Not Let Them Go,” and “One Morning When Pharaoh Awoke In His Bed,” complete with hand motions. The child was not just singing; he was performing.
Shit, they may not like me to publicly breastfeed, but they are doing something right at that preschool. Now if they could convince Ben not to suck spilled matzah ball soup off his shirt.