A bit of background – I got active in Judaism in my 20s without having kids. Active member of multiple congregations, on the board of one of them. Observing Shabbat and Yom Tov, participating in community and learning opportunities, etc. I used to judge people who only got into Judaism, (eg. observing holidays, going to synagogue, caring about Jewish education, etc.) when they had kids. “Don’t you realize your kids are going to see right through you?” I thought to myself. I thought I was totally superior to everyone going through the motions just so their kids would do it.
Then I reached my 30s, and I started to understand it. It wasn’t that my peers-turned-parents never cared before. It’s that there was a certain joy in Judaism with your kids – baking challah or hamentaschen, lighting Chanukah/Shabbat/Havdalah candles – that made it that much better. Even Bestie, who is as secular as you can get, loves lighting Shabbat candles and loved building and decorating her sukkah with her husband and sons. Honestly, pre-kids, I wasn’t sure Bestie knew Sukkot was a holiday.
Anyway, on Rosh Hashanah, Husband floated the idea of going to my parents for Sukkot Days 1+2. I did not like the idea. I disliked the idea (or more accurately, Husband’s confidence/arrogance that this was the best idea ever and total unawareness that anyone could feel differently because his feelings were the most important) so much, that I went from being deliriously happy and horny following the Rosh Hashanah Dance Party (hey, I like dancing 😉 to actually feeling my sexual attraction to Husband plummet. Gentlemen, take heed: The mind-body connection is real and your sexual attractiveness is inversely proportional to the stupidity of the things you say.
In the end, we didn’t have any better options (due to our own incompetence and due to scheduling issues with the Sukkot retreat in Place I Don’t Live), and my parents liked the idea. We cobbled together Yom Tov plans using a combination of the methods from this post. I made and brought dessert (Option #1) and take out (Option #3) to my parents (Option #2). We booked a hotel (Option #3) and ate in my parents’ Sukkah (Option #2). And of course, we lowered expectations (Option #4) – I offered to make real food and ran out of time (also, Mom was not impressed with my repertoire of Real Food I Know How To Cook, lamented that she had failed as a mother, and said she’d rather just buy the food), the dessert was from a box mix, my Dad insisting on following us in the car as we were walking back to the hotel at night and it was driving me nuts so I accepted the ride, etc.
These plans were not optimized by any metric. From a Halacha perspective, we committed numerous halachic violations, from using the key card to get in and out of the hotel room to flat out driving on Shabbat since we were running so late. I’m not even counting stuff like making tea without a k’li sheni, ripping toilet paper, or Zoom services because I’ve become so desensitized to that kind of thing, and also because reading Torah and/or Haftarah on Zoom is now the highlight of Shabbat for me. We did not save my parents, including my Dad who is in aveilut (year of mourning) for my grandmother, any work or any money, and actually, we created more work and expense for them (part of why I hated the idea in the first place). From a budget perspective, we spent a lot of money on a hotel room. I mean, I lied to Husband about the total amount of the bill and he was still all WTF about it. Even dessert was sub-optimal, because the brownies came out bad. I didn’t even think it was possible to screw up Ghirardelli’s brownies from a mix, but lesson learned, it is.
It’s not even clear if staying in the hotel was the best way to minimize coronavirus risk. For reasons I do not understand (My Hometown is extremely boring and not a tourist destination for any type of tourist), the hotel was completely packed with people eating, drinking, chatting in the common area without masks. Honestly, I’m not mad that the hotel staff gave up on enforcing the masks in the common area rule. There have just been too many stories of lunatic customers assaulting employees trying to enforce the mask policies of their business establishments. But I was surprised and now I have what I hope is just a cold, and I am feeling paranoid.
And yet, it was a wonderful Sukkot. Meals and conversation in the sukkah, the kind of conversations that last for hours because everyone is actually engaged in them and wants them to continue. Board games in the sukkah. Books and naps on the deck.
My parents are actually perfect parents. They raised four wildly different children who all turned out pretty good. (I get that this blog is not a ringing endorsement of my greatness, so just take my word for it that in real life, I am a person my parents feel proud of raising and not just a complete mess). When it came to Judaism, their enthusiasm was genuine, and they made it the full experience for the kids, took their Jewish education seriously, lived by example. We had family dinners all the time. Not in a everything was made from scratch, no preservatives for my little darlings and plated for Instagram way, but more of a fish sticks and cut up veggies arranged in a smiley face is a perfectly good dinner because it’s fast, the kids eat the veggies because they are arranged in a smiley face, and we get to spend more time on the conversation.
And yet, I see my parents lose motivation when it is just the two of them. I mean, for them, losing motivation still means going to even weekday services and Shabbat services, even when they don’t need to say Kaddish, tons of chesed and learning (to be fair, my parents are in their part-time retirement jobs and have time for all of this), and ordering lots and lots of pizza. They still build the sukkah, get ready for Passover, but I can see the elements of just going through the motions. I feel bad, even though these days, I’m guilty of the same thing, if I even manage to go through the motions at all.
At one point, Dad and I were in the sukkah. Husband had fallen asleep on one of the deck chairs and Mom was inside getting something.
“You know,” said Dad. “This has been the best Sukkot we’ve had in years.”
That’s gotta count for something. Metrics be damned.