Purim for the (Im)Perfectionist
Those of you who have been reading my column for a long time know that my family has led a vagabond life.
Well, sort of.
It’s not like we’ve spent the last few years hiking in the Serengeti or living in yurts in Central Asia. Our wandering has been a lot less exotic.
But for a girl who lived in Flatbush from birth until marriage, my adult life has felt more than a little adventurous. My husband and I have lived in Lakewood, Montreal, Miami, and Monsey, and each of our kids has relocated at least once – though most have done so several times.
There are downsides to zig-zagging around the country and across borders. Every few years, we’ve had to adapt to new schools, new jobs, new neighborhoods, and new friends, and it can all be very overwhelming.
But there are also upsides to moving around a lot.
The cool thing about relocating, especially in the way we have, is that nobody knows you when you show up in a new spot.
Sure, that can be lonely at the beginning, but it can also be incredibly liberating.
When I drop down in a new city and start meeting people in the community, I have the chance to create a whole new identity.
You don’t know me.
So I can still fool you.
This was especially true for me early in our Miami stint – and especially around Purim time.
You see, people who have known me since childhood, they know I’m not a crafty creative.
They know that I’d rather write a ten-page research paper than attempt to put together the perfect shalach manos.
But for my first Purim in Miami, I had an exhilarating thought: What if the people who have known me since my childhood have gotten it wrong?
What if I am a secret creative – a secret perfectionist – and in my new city, I could reinvent myself as a Purim preparation whiz?
I once read in a psychology journal (while working on one of those ten-page research papers) that we begin telling ourselves stories about ourselves from when we are very young – stories that shape the way we see ourselves. We might tell ourselves that we are terrible dancers or that we are awful at math or that we do not know how to cook.
These stories are often based on only one negative experience in our childhoods, but they become self-fulfilling prophecies
Because we tell ourselves we are terrible dancers, we remain terrible dancers.
Because we tell ourselves we are awful at math, we remain awful at math.
So, in the faraway land called Miami, I had the opportunity to rewrite my personal narrative – to tell myself a new story.
Maybe if I told myself I wasn’t born with two left hands, I would discover that I wasn’t born with two left hands, and I could pull off an exquisite shalach manos!
And maybe if I pulled off an exquisite shalach manos, I could reinvent my Purim identity – my personal identity – and I could be the neighborhood’s best balabuste!
(Or maybe the sea breeze in Miami was making me delusional. We were about to find out).
That year, I worked really, really hard on my shalach manos – for the first time in my life.
Even though I was working three jobs, even though my husband was in the first year of rigorous schooling and never home, I found myself disappearing deeper and deeper down the rabbit-hole of Purim prep.
I didn’t want to completely abandon my identity, so I figured I’d make a crossword puzzle themed shalach manos.
First, I created a Purim-themed crossword puzzle.
Then, I tracked down special-order newspaper-style printing paper and printed out the crossword puzzles so they looked like they had been pulled straight out of the New York Times.
I placed each crossword puzzle in a blue plastic bag – also ala The New York Times – and wrapped it together with a muffin, a mug, and a single-serve coffee.
Maybe not the most creative idea ever, but it has an air of sophistication, no?
To be honest, while I loved the final product, the prep stressed me out. I tried to wrap my crosswords into scrolls, but I couldn’t get the edges to round into themselves. My muffins were a little sad looking, with the blueberries bleeding into the muffin holder, and I couldn’t find a single-serve coffee that matched the color of the mug.
But, all in all, I felt a weird sense of satisfaction.
I had pulled it off.
I had rewritten my narrative.
My Miami neighbors would never know that this effortless domesticity was totally against my nature.
But my satisfaction faded pretty quickly come Purim morning.
In a quiet moment, while waiting for the first neighbor to stop by, I went to check on the baby, who was having trouble sleeping in her monkey costume.
I left my older two unattended, and in the few seconds they were out of my sight, my kids decided to upend everything.
Naftali, 6 years-old at the time, had been dressed as a fireman and was feeling a little uncomfortable in his rubbery fireman costume.
He has always been a sensory kid (a feature of his autism), and he decided that the masquerade portion of the day was over.
At the same time, Tzvi decided to pour a vase full of jelly beans oton the floor, and on our Miami tiles, those jelly beans ran like a river in every direction.
Of course, that was the moment that the sweetest, chicest, most perfectly-coiffed new neighbor of mine – yes, the one who prepares shalach manos right out of a magazine spread – decided to stop by.
And, of course, even though I’ve taught my kids never to answer the door without me, Naftali opened the door clad only in his undergarments, and Tzvi tripped and fell on the jelly beans that now ricocheted right out the front door.
My secret was out.
No matter how beautiful my shalach manos were, no matter how effortlessly geshikt I I had hoped to come across, I had not fooled anyone.
I handed over my shalach manos, my cheeks aflame and my tight smile hiding my gritted teeth, as I growled for Naftali to go find some clothes and apologized to my neighbor for having accosted her with jelly beans.
Today, I laugh at the memory.
In fact, I’m pretty grateful I made a fool out of myself in front of this neighbor (who later turned out to be a friend).
Stepping out of my own Purim masquerade, I realized something pretty marvelous:
Trying to rewrite my personal narrative was a sign of my own insecurity.
None of us is good at everything – and Purim is no exception. I didn’t have to be a shalach manos maven to be a worthy friend.
The next year in Miami, I came up with the perfect Purim arrangement.
I edited said neighbor’s ten-page research paper, and in exchange, she prepped my shalach manos. It was a sweet deal that highlighted my strengths and highlighted her strengths, while also acknowledging and even laughingly embracing each of our weaker areas.
So now, when some of my friends sweat out their Purim prep, griping about the impossibly high standards those magazine spreads push come Purim season, I just laugh.
You do you.
I’ll do me.
We excel in different areas, and we can fulfill the simcha of the Yom Tov in different – but equally beautiful – ways.
And that’s what makes Purim – and life – so much more interesting.