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Pesach with a Fairy Tale Ending 

Yitti Berkovic

I should have waited until my husband finished eating before I dropped the bombshell on him: “So, Yoss, I’m thinking about inviting three of your siblings and their families for Pesach. What do you think?”

Or maybe it was a good idea to let him digest the news as he slowly chewed his food; this way, he couldn’t blurt out what I knew he was thinking. “Um, are you sure that’s a good idea?”

I was ready with my answer: It was a good idea – at least in theory.

My kids hadn’t spent a lot of time with their cousins this year, and I knew they would have a blast all Yom Tov long, playing board games for hours, schmoozing at the meals and then again well into the night, making memories as they absorbed the family mesorah.  They would love every second of it and remember it for the rest of their lives. 

As for myself, I love the company too. When my kids run around the backyard, overtired from late-night meals and high on sugar from all the Pesach cake, it helps to have fellow overwhelmed mothers alongside me, breaking up fights and counting down to bedtime. My husband also enjoys being with his family, and he loves Pesach with a crowd – as long as he gets to stay home and sleep in his own bed. For him, this was a win-win. 

So, if Yossi had reservations, they had nothing to do with his own Pesach preferences. He had reservations because he knows me better than anyone, and he knows that even my best ideas don’t always turn out the way I plan them.

When I was growing up, my mother had a magnet on her fridge that read, “Stress is when my heart says ‘No,’ but my mouth says, ‘Sure I’d be glad to.’”

It was supposed to be a funny magnet – it was right next to the one that read “Love your Shvigger” – but I feel like these days, a lot of people wouldn’t be laughing at the message. 

Nowadays, we hear a lot about self-care. We’re reminded about boundaries and about the risks of stretching ourselves too thin, about never taking on stress we can’t totally handle.

Ooops. That’s a lesson I haven’t yet learned.

Hence my husband’s panicked expression: He knows I’m the queen of biting off more than I can chew, and that these Pesach plans were destined to completely overwhelm me. 

In my dreams about Pesach, I am that balabusta who truly finds it all effortless, who can prep and host and then put her house back together without ever losing her smile.

When I picture it, my guests will arrive at my house and I’ll be cool as a cucumber, calm and unruffled, the very picture of a perfect hostess. I’ll have hot kugel waiting for them on the counter, their rooms waiting with fresh flowers and the perfect diffuser scent, and I’ll be ready to bentsch licht with hours and hours to spare.

A perfect fantasy, right?

But my husband has lived through this fairy tale a time or two already, and he knows that the princess doesn’t ride off into the sunset. In our version, the princess very quickly starts to feel like Cinderella, and she can get a little (read: a lot) kvetchy as Yom Tov marches on.

He knows me well enough to be thinking this: You’ll tell me that you’re super excited and that it really isn’t too much for you, and you’ll insist the same to all our guests. And then, when the going gets tough, you’re going to be stressed.

You’re going to get snippy.

You’re going to have moments when you’ll groan to me, “Why on earth did I decide to do this?” and “Is it too late to check us all into a hotel?” and “When is everyone going home?”

He doesn’t say any of this to me (he also knows me well enough to anticipate how quickly I will become defensive), but I can’t say he wouldn’t be right.

I have a tendency to start off with a rush of adrenaline, fueled by my delusion that I have everything under control and my desire to give my guests the perfect experience. I insist that they leave the shopping to me because I am the hostess, and I urge them to go to bed and let me handle the cleanup because it’s easier without the extra hands in my kitchen. I even tell them I’m totally fine with their kids jumping on my couch with their shoes on and with their husbands leaving their hats and jackets strewn across the Shabbos table. (Reality check: I am not fine with it).

So, when all the guests retire to their rooms or go outside for a walk, guess who gets to see me in all my exhausted and overwhelmed glory? Guess who gets a front row seat to me coming apart at the seams?

You got it! My poor beleaguered husband who predicted it all from the start.  

He’s kind enough not to say “I told you so,” but I’d deserve it if he did. Because while the rest of my guests get to see me as the fairy godmother, he gets stuck with the evil stepmother and the storm cloud that hangs over her head.

So, this year, I’m putting it out there as a challenge to myself: This Pesach, I need to figure out how to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone – without making the people around me (read: my husband and children) feel uncomfortable. 

I’m not ready to sign up for the “don’t stretch yourself at all” bandwagon. Instead, I want my kids to see that I am willing to work hard to give them and to give others a beautiful Yom Tov, but I need to come up with a plan to do so without becoming stressed, without feeling resentful, without taking it out on them.

I know it can be done, and that there are strategies to make this easier on myself (Is that the reason we drink four cups of wine at the Seder?).

In all seriousness, the four ingredients don’t need to include alcohol. They require good planning (what can I do early and ahead of time so I won’t be standing at the stove – feet burning – while my guests are here?); setting realistic expectations (it’s going to be a mess. Messes are unavoidable with crowds this large, but messes can be cleaned up when Yom Tov is over); delegating to my guests (“Can you handle the desserts? That would be great!”) and finding ways to stay calm even when my nerves feel fried (Rosemarie white chocolate can do wonders for my mental health.)

The bottom line is: in this fantasy, there are no potions or magical shortcuts. If I want the fairy tale Pesach, for my guests and for my family, I need to do the work. 

Wish me luck!

And, in the zechus of all the nashim tzidkanios who stretch themselves without ever losing their smiles, may this year’s Pesach bring the real fairy tale ending: the geulah shelaima!

Chag kasher v’sameach to you all!  

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