It’s almost Purim!
Purim was my favorite holiday as a kid. I loved dressing up, it was the only time as a kid that I loved going to services, because instead of being admonished constantly to be quiet, to be patient and to sit still, we kids were allowed to make noise, run around the sanctuary while the Megillat Esther was being read. I remember even now how I was barely able to contain my excitement during the reading, just waiting to hear mention of Haman and then just going wild with my grogger and then laughing our heads off and dancing around the sanctuary to the music. Then, on Sunday during Purim our shul held it’s Purim carnival, where the gym of our synagogue was decorated so beautifully with all the things we made in Sunday school and where for pennies, nickles and dimes we could play games, eat the hamentaschen and other delicious things made in the shul’s kitchen by our mothers.
Each Jewish holiday holds special memories for me and there are things I love about each one, but Purim was my very favorite.
Naturally, I imagined that I would create similar memories for my daughter and that she would also love Purim the way I did.
My daughter, a beautiful, sweet 9 year old girl on the autistic spectrum never really heard the reading of the Megillah in shul, she’s never shaken a grogger and never spent Purim at the children’s parade and party that our shul in Amsterdam organizes each year. As a baby we didn’t take her and the first year we took her at age 3, she melted down completely, screaming bloody murder during the reading and we soon left with her.
At that point she was not diagnosed with autism and we didn’t realize that Purim was the perfect storm for her. A year later, we were struggling so much to understand her and her problems we skipped and after she was diagnosed and we realized that loud noise and over stimulation were particularly difficult with her, we decided not to risk participating in Purim.
We’ve not risked the perfect storm ever since and at age 9, she doesn’t embrace Purim at all. It’s just a story book where mommy acts weird, according to her.
Our daughter has social challenges, she doesn’t have a lot of friends, she is an only child and her world is a world which is largely filled with adults. The Jewish community offers her a real opportunity to have a community around her, a community which could hold her, sustain her and be a source of comfort for her throughout her life, particularly when my husband and I are not here anymore to be those things for her.
The irony is that much of the community’s activities are very challenging for her. They are long, chaotic, verbally rather than visually based and she, at age 9 is expected to behave a certain way most of the time. We’ve received looks and even some scornful comments by other people in shul sometimes about her demeanor and behavior and she doesn’t fit in with the other kids her age.
Purim is like the Mt. Everest of holidays for a child like my daughter.
So, Purim after Purim, we have stayed home, we’ve baked hamentaschen together and I have read her a kids version of the Book of Esther.
It is a nice tradition.
But, it’s not really Purim.
At least it’s not the Purim I want her to have. I want her to have the opportunity to love Purim, to take part in its fun, its joy. I do love our little quiet tradition but as a parent I want her to have the same chances as other kids.
Mostly I just want to share what I love about Purim with her.
So, this year, after talking about it a lot, we have decided to go to the mountain.
Next Sunday morning at shul they are having a kids service to read the Megillah, followed by the traditional parade and carnival and we’re going. Our daughter has really grown over the last year, and although the noise is going to be challenging for her, we’ve prepared her for it, she knows it will be noisy. We picked up groggers and we are going to practice reading her Megillah story book and instead of whispering when Hamen is mentioned, like we usually do, we’re going to try with groggers. I’ve promised her that we can take her headphones with us, and if the noise is too much, she can put them on if she wants to, to make it more tolerable for her. We’ve told her that if it is too much for her or if she is not having a good time, she can tell us and we will leave that very second. On Friday we picked out a bumble bee costume for her and even though it is noisy and she’s had some unpleasant experiences at shul before, she says she wants to try. I will put my blinders on and ignore any looks we might get and chalk it all up to other people’s problems, not ours.
And if it doesn’t go well, if we only make it to base camp 1, who cares?
We’ll come home, read the story and eat our own hamentaschen.
Wish us luck!