That means it’s time to play games in the kitchen. There’s the scavenger hunt, for starters. I troll the pantry for ingredients, matching them in combinations that would never occur to me any other time of the year. In a round of hide and seek, I camouflage the remaining package of protein beneath the last sheets of puffed pastry from the back of the freezer. Sometimes, a mystery sauce – the final spoons from jars of condiments in the refrigerator door – accompanies it.
This entire kitchen charade at first seems silly, but I believe it is a strategic and meaningful step en route to the holiday. On the one hand, it winks at us; on the other, it reaches a level not far removed from ritual observance. The process itself – of searching, of doing more with less, of figuring out what is essential -- gets everyone, knowingly or unknowingly, into the mood.
It means that ice cream served on the last of the sugar cones can pass for dinner. It isn’t my first choice, but it brings the boys in on the game for the moment, making them mind less that they have to empty their closets and backpacks. At the same time, I get to feel, for a short while, that they are still my little boys, not towering teens whose lives intersect with my own less and less with the passing days.
The truth is that I love every moment of getting ready: the cleaning, the shopping, the list making, even the fretting that it may not get done in time. I’d be exaggerating if I claimed to feel the actual approach of our Exodus from Egypt. But I do powerfully sense something huge hanging in the air, as if our physical and spiritual preparations were the commercials stirring expectations in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.
Daydreaming, I imagine that we are there already: the countertops lined, the stove covered with foil like a space ship. A surprisingly pleasing bouquet of Windex and frying onions fills the house. Every surface is as clean as it will ever be, every object in its rightful place. It’s as if my surroundings have taken a hot shower, rendering them refreshingly chometz-free.
In the meantime, though, I’m still assessing what remains and what’s left to be done. I pack the unopened carbs and drop them off at the food pantry. I also make a mental note never to send my husband to Costco on an empty stomach.
As I contrive in the kitchen and sweep through the house, I’m also busy pondering G-d’s Big Plan. Though my relationship with Him generally pivots on awe and gratitude, I find that I’m enormously thankful this time of year for the way He enables me to drag myself out of the mire and move forward in the right direction.
For example, just the other day, I found 7 Devil Dog wrappers (as well as a kippah, basketball shorts, lollipop sticks, a phone charger, orphaned socks, dust bunnies the size of topiaries, and a penny) beneath the basement love seat. The tendency to confront my boys for being slovenly began to brew inside me.
Instead, He let me wander off to the time I happened upon a petrified peanut butter sandwich while cleaning the garage in the weeks before chag. It had been left there on the morning we were leaving for summer vacation and then entirely forgotten. Another year, I discovered pretzels in the towel closet, hidden just in case someone – I won’t say who -- got hungry in the night.
I laughed so hard while remembering that I had to catch my breath. The boys were then so young, and though I was surely frustrated by the discoveries, I found the innocence of their actions delicious; they were, after all, wrought completely without malice.
I also took a moment to laugh at myself – a loud, unbridled guffaw-- redirecting my impatience with my no longer small children who certainly know how to clear up after themselves. Just as I was about to take them to task for the sedimentary build-up beneath the couch, I’m pretty sure I heard Him telling me, in that booming voice I presume He saves for important talks with the likes of me:
Serves you right! You’re the one who chose not to move the couch all year. Don’t get annoyed with the boys for their manners when you should be embarrassed by your housekeeping…Well, touché!
It will all get done. No sense in arguing our way there. How’s that for liberating?