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A Thematic Purim
Yitti Berkovic
A lot of my friends tell me that when they acted up as kids, their mother blessed them to have daughters exactly like them. My mother never said that to me. (That’s because I never acted up. Right, Ma?)
Maybe that’s why I was blessed with a daughter who is absolutely nothing like me. Where I am dark-haired, she is blonde. Where I am tomboyish, she is the quintessential girl, all frills and flowers. Where I’d rather do a crossword puzzle than attempt an arts ‘n crafts project, she sits in her room for hours with her markers and her well-worn coloring book. But the biggest contrast between us is probably our temperaments: where I am calm and even-keeled (at least I’d like to think so!), my darling daughter lives for the drama. And in the day-to-day experiences of a seven-year-old girl, there is more than enough opportunity to mine for drama, real or imagined.
It is a strange little dance we do, mother and daughter, as we navigate through life’s big and little challenges, looking at the world through two very different perspectives.
Take our recent conversation, just the other day. Coffee in hand, I joined her on the couch to cajole her into doing her homework. She had a completely different topic in mind, far more important than reviewing her math problems or opening her Chumash.
“Ma, what’s our mishloach manos theme this year?” she asked casually, as if that was a totally normal question.
I arched my eyebrows. “Our theme? We need a theme?” Yikes. Her older brothers never ask for a theme. They’re too busy dreaming about all the candy they are going to get.
Stone-faced, she insisted, “Of course we need a theme! That’s what people do on Purim. They have a theme, and they plan everything around that theme.”
There’s nothing like being schooled by a second grader.
I bit my lip to hide my smile. “Okay, can we choose Purim as our theme?”
She huffed exasperatedly. “Purim is not a theme.”
Did I mention that she doesn’t appreciate my brand of comedy?
That’s another point of contrast between us: I have a sense of humor, and she doesn’t think I do.
So, without shifting her world off its axis, how do I break it to her that her very uncreative mother doesn’t do Purim themes? How do I let down those sparkling eyes and that freckly nose and tell her that her very uncreative – but highly practical! – mother makes the same mishloach manos every single year: vegetables and dip in a plastic container. A very themeless vegetables and dip.
It is labor un-intensive! It is cost-effective! And it’s pretty – thanks to Hashem’s highly sophisticated color palette! What more can you ask for?
No cellophane. No ribbons. And no theme.
No one has ever complained. In fact, recipients have always thanked me for giving them something healthy to snack on while they sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic driving from one rebbi to the next.
Looking to appease Lil Miss Freckles without abandoning my time-worn tradition, I offered her a compromise: “Can healthy food be a theme?” I asked earnestly.
She sighed, that deep, disappointed sigh that lets a mother know she has failed her progeny yet again. “Healthy food might be a theme, Ma, but it is not a cool theme. Besides, unless I dress up as a cucumber, I won’t have a costume that fits the theme.”
She had a point. Clearly, I was not going to get away easily here.
I made one last effort. “Give me an example of a cool theme, and I’ll see if we can make it work for our family’s style.”
She didn’t have to pause to think. “My friend Sara’s family is dressing up as thieves, and everything in their mishloach manos will be wrapped in either silver or gold foil, so it’ll look like stolen treasure.”
I swallowed a laugh. Thieves? “That’s not really my style,” I said carefully. “Any other ideas?”
“My friend Leah’s whole family is dressing up as Donald Trump, and everything in their mishloach manos is going to be red, white, or blue. That’s cool,” she insisted emphatically.
I tried not to my roll my eyes. I wondered if she’d l still think it was cool after she saw hundreds of Trump families over Purim, bad wigs, red ties, and Make America Great Again caps and all.
I was quickly coming to realize that if my daughter thought Hilchos Purim requires a theme, then nothing I could say would persuade her to believe otherwise. I had two choices: Do I stick to my guns and insist that as long as I am the one paying for and preparing my mishloach manos, we will be doing things my way? Or, do I fall prey to her puppy-dog eyes and trembling bottom lip and capitulate, digging deep in my non-creative soul to whip out a theme to end all themes?
Something in my gut told me that there had to be a middle ground.
Desperate to keep far away from Michael’s or A.C. Moore (worse than a trip to the dentist!), I offered her a compromise. “’How about we let our family mishloach manos remain themeless, but you can choose a theme for the mishloach manos you will give to your friends?”
I waited with bated breath.
Miraculously, that telltale twinkle returned to her eyes. “Really? I can choose my own theme?”
I nodded benevolently. “Sure.”
Her eyes were dancing now. “Can I be a thief?”
I groaned inwardly. “Sorry, but that one’s taken.”
“True,” she shrugged, already over it.
I could see the wheels in her head turning as she shouted out ideas: Butterflies? Queens? Hearts? Flowers?
I left her lost in her thoughts, dreaming of all things lace and all things pink. Homework didn’t stand a chance in the battle against planning for Purim, so I just gave up. Besides, I needed to get away before she asked me to take her to Michael’s, Heaven forbid.
I walked away, feeling like I dodged a bullet, but also like I had learned something important. It might have been a small incident, but for me, it really encapsulates everything parenting involves – especially while parenting daughters. Raising children is about sticking to what works for us as parents but remembering to be flexible. Raising children is about recognizing that kids are not our clones; they have voices of their own that need to be heard, talents of their own that need to be cultivated, dreams of their own that need room to take flight. Even if those dreams involve tissue paper and glue guns. (Wish me luck!)
See – my mishloach manos this year does have a theme! It is chanoch l’naar al pi darko!
Ha! Waaay better than thieves, right?

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