Sunday, April 08, 2007

Passover Agressive

On April 7, I was invited to be part of the Uptown Writers Space monthly reading series with the timely theme, “Where’s Your Moses Now? Musings on Faith.

After sending e-mails to alert friends about the essay I would be reading at the event -- “Passover Aggressive” -- a number of people who couldn’t attend, asked to read the piece I’d be performing.

I got laughs, so I decided to post my piece, along with photos and links. Fortunately, we had a full house, likely drawn by an impressive line-up of readers that included Don Gecewicz, Jason Grunebaum, Hugh Musick,Eden Robins, Marc Smith, Megan Stielstra, and me. Here what I read:

“For this evening’s theme of faith, which is especially relevant during this week of Passover, it’s important to honor the many contributions the Jewish people have made to society. Let’s see, there’s the Torah, the 10 Commandments, the idea of equality before the law, respect for the sanctity of life, social responsibility; and a lot of other good stuff.

But for now, I want to focus on one thing my tribe –especially revered Jewish mothers like myself—have been famous for for the past 5,767 years: Guilt.

As illustration, I’ve uncovered an e-mail I actually wrote to my two daughters prior to Passover 2005. First some background: my offspring, Faith and Jill Soloway, live in Boston and Los Angeles respectively, with their children (my grandchildren) and their partners. My daughters, who I labored with for 12 and 6 hours respectively, have been away from their mother since 1990, that’s 17 years, or 6,205 days, whichever number resonates with you.

Of those 6,205 days, I’ve seen my daughters – what half a dozen times? No, I lie, about three times a year, or 51 times. Let’s see, 6,205 vs. 51. You do the math, then you can appreciate where I’m coming from with this story.

Back to Passover 2005: Faith and Jill agreed to come to Chicago for a Seder at my home and to bring with them their families - my grandchildren, and their female and male significant others.

The idea of having my daughters within hugging distance for 3 full days (That’s all they could spare. They’re very busy. I’m not complaining, but…) anyway, the idea was so glorious that I put aside the other part of hosting a Passover Seder: the shopping, cooking, chopping, china and silverware search, table setting, serving, clearing, serving again, cleaning before and after.

The crowning of each piece of gefilte fish with a sliced carrot, the precarious trip from pot to plate with steaming matzo ball soup, the overcooking of the brisket, the interminable wait through the Haggadah reading, etc. Everything I’ve escaped over the years. But I was going to do it! In fact, I got so carried away, that I invited every friend who didn’t have a Passover plan to join us. I think it’s some kind of Jewish law.

Soon enough, the reality of what I had proposed started to hit home, so I suggested to my daughters that we have the whole 40 or so courses catered.

Jill, who is the balabusta (terrific homemaker) in the family, said, “No, Mom, I’ll cook.” Sounds good, right? But all I could think of was carloads of groceries from Whole Foods, a register receipt long enough to paper the bathroom, pots and pans covering every surface of my kitchen counter top, and a clean up job to rival Woodstock. But, it was Passover, and I was going to handle it.

Here’s where the trauma comes in: Instead of staying at my home --which has two spare bedrooms decorated as shrines to my daughters, complete with photographs of them in every age and stage of their careers – Jill and her family booked a hotel for their visit.

Okay, that I swallowed. After all, Jill is a Hollywood writer and she can afford it. And her boyfriend was a really big guy who might have felt squeezed with all of us in one house. And then there’s the dog. Tommy and I own a continuously-shedding, people-knocking-over, golden retriever, and Jill has this thing about dogs. So, I accepted her decision.

But when Faith and her girlfriend said that they, too, were going to stay at a hotel, I lost it. What had I done to deserve such treatment?

Naturally, I couldn’t sleep. So at 2:29 a.m., I got up and wrote the following e-mail to my daughters. It is so sarcastic, venomous, passive-aggressive; but sweet, that I thought it deserved another airing. I have not changed one word:

Subject line: Sorry for being selfish...
Dear Daughters,
Sorry I’ve been selfish and slow to understand that you want to enjoy Chicago, and that you want your partners and children to get to love our wonderful city, too.

I think it’s a good idea for you to stay in hotels -- and near your dad would be great for him. Faithy, I’m sure you can find something close to Jilly that will be more in your price range. I understand your desire for privacy and for having your own schedules. After all, who could be more on schedule than I? A hotel will give you more peace and quiet -- less dog hair -- and put you right in the middle of the action. And it will give the cousins a chance to see more of each other.

Plan your days to take advantage of restaurants and museums, or shopping, and I can come down to meet you wherever and whenever you tell me. And Tommy and I can meet you for dinner wherever you decide. There are so many terrific restaurants here – ethnic and otherwise – you should have a chance to try them out.

As for Passover, Jilly, why give up a Saturday to shop and cook with me when you could be doing more sightseeing, or maybe seeing Grandma Belle? Many restaurants now offer Passover dinners.

We could all go to one conveniently located. I’ll start doing research; and Jilly, the concierge at the Peninsula will likely have ideas, too.
Tommy and I will pick up the tab, as it was my idea to invite you to Chicago. That way, you and your families will make better use of your time here and we’ll all get to enjoy your vacation.

I apologize for dragging this on, and for only seeing my side. I love Chicago and want you to come often. Perhaps this kind of visit will entice more trips.
I love you….

Naturally, Jill responded immediately: “Are you crazy?” Something like that. “You don’t mean a word of it,” she said. Hmmm, you think? Well, you’ll be happy to hear we had many back and forth e-mails, phone calls, tears, etc. and apologies all around. The upshot is that the girls still came to town, Jill and her family did stay at the Peninsula Hotel, Faith and her family stayed with Tommy and me, and we ordered the entire meal for 17 people from The Bagel and What's Cooking restaurants.

Jill and my grandson Isaac wrote a Passover play (he was the baby Moses) and all of the children among our invited guests got to act out roles. A super marvelous time was had by all.

As proof, I’ve brought photos from the event. And to give you greater insight to the three Soloway women: me, Faith, and Jill, I’ve brought products of ours to sell: The Division Street Princess, my memoir; Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants, Jill’s book of essays; and a CD of Jesus Has Two Mommies, Faith’s rock opera.

You don’t have to buy them, but I did bring them all the way down here in a heavy shopping bag, and my talented daughters and I put a lot of ourselves into our work, and you likely throw money away on stuff you don’t need anyway. But don’t feel any pressure."


Rhea said...

That was fun to be involved in the Soloway family seder. What tsuris over the sleeping arrangements!

Neil said...

Maybe the phrase should be changed to "Next Year in Chicago!"

Sandra said...

I read this post with unmitigated glee. My oldest daughter may as well have been gone from the time she got a driver's license (she's 23, that was 7 years ago, or 2,555 days if that resonates with you). My younger daughter has been emotionally absent since she was 14, but that's another bit of tsuris I'll save for another time. At any rate, I was able only to get one daughter home this year, and then only for 24 hours. The other daughter did not feel she could leave school for three days because "those damn professors are so unpredictable" (yeah, uh huh) and also "you know I don't like the seder thing." Oh well, I am happily living with your darling cousin David E, and I get as much lovin' as I can from his three little ones, and travel to see my babies whenever time permits. Thanks for saying everything I feel. Next time I need a letter, I'll just plagiarize yours and change the city to K.C.!

Anonymous said...
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Susan said...

Elaine: this is nothing short of brilliant! I wish my mother was alive to share it with...she was the official tour guide of the guilt trip and would have absolutely rolled on the floor, laughing.

Anonymous said...

I'm still ROARING with laughs through every line of your presentation. So glad you shared it and sorry I missed it.

Thanks for sharing your stories and giving me a great example of what good writing looks like!
love & blessings,

Anonymous said...

Hi Elaine.

Thanks for sending your talk, which is, like you (I assume from
from your blogs) witty and charming. Although it has been years
since these feet crossed the threshhold of a shul, I am a devout
believer in God, and you left Him out of your listed contributions
of Jews to the world. A shondeh!

Anonymous said...

I LOVED that post.
That email was
a classic for the annals of Jewish motherhood--it was so expertly
written that
it would take someone from your own gene pool to recognize the passive
aggression inherent in it! My family could never have been that
subtle, they
would have given themselves away in the first line!

What's that fun-looking Hagaddah in the pictures, something you
guys created
yourselves? I want to read that too!

Chag sameach (oh, except I think Passover ended yesterday, no?)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your Passover visit with your daughters. Happy Holiday. Evelyn

Anonymous said...

Your passover sedar looked like great fun.Guilt aside, the girls and you make quite a dynamic trio.

Anonymous said...


I loved the Passover Blog entry! Thanks for passing it along.


Anonymous said...

Dear Elaine, this piece is delightful and well put together! Thank you for sharing it and congratulations on your book!