Bleary eyed and slap happy, once again my husband and I found ourselves fashioning impromptu props from cardboard and aluminum foil round midnight the night before Purim at school.
I cannot sew, hot glue or bedazzle my way out of the cardboard box I’ve repurposed for ninja throwing stars. I own these imperfections. But even those were thrown by the wayside in the morning for the more coolly convincing cutters my husband pedantically prepared.
It was not supposed to be like this. Back in October, I pretended I could beat the system and ordered sale-priced costumes for the three younger kids on Amazon (which packhorse grandpa obligingly smuggled in). And for the three older kids, on an all-too-brief getaway to Italy for my 40th birthday, while looking for Rice Krispies (which strangely can’t be found in Israel) to bring back home for the kids, we purchased a plethora of Halloween accessories.
I showed the wares to the kids and shoved them away for safe-keeping, deep in the bowels of our wardrobe.
Boom! Nailed it!
When the 12-year-old was a baby, a friend laughingly told me that parenting is like playing a computer game: once you master one skill, you’re sent to the next level, where you’re again scrambling.
Purim with six kids is like a whole bonus world of wonder and chaos.
And while traditionally Purim is a one-day minor holiday, in contemporary Israel, it has been turned into a month-long journey into my heart of darkness.
It starts subtly at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Adar, with randomly dispersed pajama days (which could be a nice little break for me, except that my kids sleep in the next day’s clothes). It proceeds to dress-as-a-nation day, wear-all-red days, fancy headdress morning, rash-inducing face painting… repeated ad nauseam.
And then there are the holiday gift bags — with differing requirements for each child. One kindergartner was asked to provide an empty Tasters Choice jar (because every household has those at the ready) and eight different types of wrapped candies. And the first grader had to bring a plate with one plain bread roll, a chocolate pudding (plus spoon), fruit, and chocolate candy.
The kids’ Purim merry-making culminates in a half-day in costume, followed by three vacation days from school. And so a one-day minor holiday that was notable for me as a kid in the Diaspora because the JCC was closed is thus turned into yet another strategic problem for working parents — at least, for the Scrooges among them like me, who try to shore up their losses less than a month before the kids’ weeks of Passover vacation. (For the record, my husband noted that the change to daylight savings time does mean for one hour less of Purim holiday.)
For the kids, Purim contains all the emotional and sugar highs of Halloween, with an added bonus of rowdy existential meaning. They. Love. It.
But as this year’s pre-planned Purim approached, it became clear there was a rebellion in the ranks.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the first-grader was the first to pop my imaginary perfect parenting bubble. For the past three years, she’s been a swashbuckling pirate, a dashing navy captain and a (plastic) sword-wielding knight in shining armor. The cut-price Elsa costume suited her personality as well as OJ Simpson’s infamous glove fit his fist.
This year, she wanted to be a gun-toting policeman.
Her 10-year-old sister didn’t want to be an evil witch, rather a cute soldier. And her twin brother just had to be a ninja, not a vampire.
Impressing all, as usual, the 12-year-old went his own way and, with a little sewing help from Super Savta, created his Aang from an Avatar costume (bald Tibetan monk-looking guy with blue arrows).
Maybe next year they’ll use the stuff from Italy.
To reduce the stress of school fancy dress day, many years ago my Israeli Purim-hating husband wisely instituted a tradition of a costume “dress rehearsal” the previous evening.
Last night, the ecstatically indecisive kindergartner vacillated between her “Frozen” idols Elsa and Anna, trying on each dress in turn.
“Ok, Mommy,” she said finally, “I’ll be Anna. Now I need high heels, black tights, and you have to do my hair like Anna’s at the party.”
Just as I do when I need to figure out how to fix the toilet, I turned to YouTube. Amazed, I found a video called “Frozen Inspired Anna’s Coronation Hairstyle Tutorial,” that is brought to you by Disney Style. As I tried to master the intricate up-do, I noticed that the video’s been viewed 14,360,192 times. Six of those, I must say, were mine.
I soon learned I am not a real woman, since I do not have on hand the prerequisite bobby pins, fake braid headband and “elastics that match her hair tone.” But my 5-year-old task master seemed mollified and informed me that for the synagogue tomorrow, I’ll need to master the Elsa hair-do. Apparently it’s easier, since it only has 13 million views.
And so this morning, school-dress day, I did her fancy do and broke out the make-up I inherited upon my mom’s death for its annual appearance. While the 10-year-old’s throwing stars zoomed over our heads, I hussied-up my fresh-faced girls, smiling at how my mom would have laughed at seeing her tomboyische only daughter play the role of family make-up artist.
At the same time, the soldier helped get the 3-year-old dressed as Olaf from “Frozen.” While incredibly cute, we discovered that the entire costume needs to be taken off for bathroom use. (Not a minute too soon.)
Policeman gun popping, throwing stars whizzing, Olaf’s nose wiped, Anna’s Shabbat shoes located, the soldier’s beret straightened, and Tibetan monk talked into wearing a coat, leaving in a wake of detritus and high expectations, they were blessedly out the door by 7:30.