By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
I might be taking a shot in the dark here, but on the chance that there are other mothers out there who feel like they’re being sucked into a vortex of helicopter mothering they can’t extricate themselves from, it may be worth being real about how crazy it is to have 10 WhatsApp chats dedicated to my five school-age children.
And every time I’m invited or added to another chat, I feel my blood pressure spike.
When I see numbers in front of each chat escalate exponentially, indicating how many pertinent conversations I’m missing, I’ll then ask another kind mother the CliffsNotes version of what was discussed.
I’ve never been a strong multitasker, but I get the feeling that with this age of social media and advanced technology came the not-so-great expectation of knowing what everyone’s doing at all times, wanting your child to be a part of what they’re doing, and guilting yourself into doing whatever it takes to get it done.
It feels crazy that we need to keep track of and possibly clone ourselves to make it to the meeting spots for five shalach manos exchanges on Purim day that are all taking place within 15 minutes of one another.
It feels crazy that for the last three weeks, mothers have been discussing, reasoning, and agonizing over the best place to arrange for the meetups, and deciding on which candy each parent will buy their kid to distribute because G-d forbid someone doubles up on pretzels.
I keep seeing mothers pipe up about their son bringing some candy that’s 90% sugar and food coloring and I now realize why so many different products are created.
It’s for the moms who organize the shalach manos exchange.
I’ve been noticing these tendencies for a while, this new-age need to over-parent children who really might just want to be children, minus all the bells and whistles we’ve become accustomed to providing for our kids.
I’m guilty of the same behavior, so please don’t think for a second that I’m absolving myself from this new normal we’ve collectively created. But I don’t think any of this is normal. Or if it has become normal, it shouldn’t be.
This afternoon, I met my brother and sister-in-law on Central Avenue and as one of us made the “I can’t believe it’s Purim this week” comment, I thought sadly how a holiday that had always been so enjoyable to us has become a race against time that we will lose year after year.
My brother reminded us that this is certainly not what was intended and that the halachah dictates that one gives two foods to one person and matanot l’evyonim for at least two people.
We, as a community, have somehow taken that to mean that we need to prepare intricately designed packages adorned with poetry to explain the themed shalach manos, brought over by the family who are all in coordinated themed costumes, of course.
There are mirrored trays, baskets, monogrammed water bottles, and cutting boards that hold a plethora of delicacies, meats, and exotic foods.
There are companies that sell laser-printed candies with names on them, because writing it out on a Happy Purim sticker is apparently passé.
We’ve no longer got someone hastily writing their last name on a last-minute repackaged shalach manos sticker going to the person who showed up at your door unexpectedly, but we’ve got printouts of stickers with the theme emblazoned in the background. Sometimes the stuff in these parcels isn’t even food, but household accoutrements to complement said themes.
What happened to us?
Why do we keep feeling the need to outdo ourselves?
I would love for each person to feel free to just do what they’re able to do without feeling pressure from this creativity contest.
Sure, maybe I speak from my own insecurity. Sometimes I wish I could get my family to agree on a fun Purim theme and walk around together in character.
I look at the families who make that happen and have a twinge of envy. I think about the time and energy that goes into such an undertaking, but then I go back to what I was doing and appreciate the fact that this year, two of my children decided a day before Purim to change their costumes and Rosie’s still undecided between Spider-Man or a princess.
When I purchased our shalach manos boxes, I was under the assumption that my boys would put on hockey jerseys, and I bought NHL stickers in an attempt at cohesiveness.
Now, when you see my 8-year-old dressed up as an inflatable dinosaur, don’t be confused when he hands you a box that has his favorite hockey team on it.
There’s liberation in letting it all go. Of deciding that it might not look the way you wanted it to, but maybe it’s not about that. We’ve made it about something it’s truly not. I’ve actually had people say to me: “I’d love to invite you for a meal, but I haven’t because I’m embarrassed.” I assume because I’m a food blogger, and they feel like they’d need to serve us fancy food. Little do they know that my kids’ tastes tend toward the frozen foods section. But also: I don’t want that. I don’t want to be intimidating or intimidated. I don’t want our meals and shalach manos packages to feel like performances to be judged. I want to host and eat out and share food because of the people and the feelings and holiness of community and friendship.
The holiday’s message might sometimes get buried under the pile of stuff we get. Maybe at this point, some of us get distracted from the inner meaning of the day, and we associate that table full of stuff with a feeling of being well-liked and popular. (And maybe in part it is.)
Every year, I’m determined to change things and then end up caving to the peer pressure that I feel around this holiday.
Every year, I want to be an example, to be different and stand up to what I believe to be true, but I’m never quite courageous enough to make the big change. Maybe it’s hard for me because I’m ambivalent. I’m a food blogger and a creative, and there’s a part of me that would also love to find that balance—the moderation of using the joy of this day as an outlet to share that fun and artsy-ness but not as a performance, not for the accolades, and not to make anyone else feel pressured to do the same.
But I’m making small changes for now—my baby steps. We’ll be here in our mismatched costumes with no apparent (or maybe too many) theme(s) to count. Maybe our theme will be just being good enough in our messy imperfection. Letting the kids be kids, change their minds, pick at the treats, and enjoy the moment.
We’ll miss some shalach manos meetups and forget to get to some friends in the frenzy of the day, regardless of the amount of WhatsApp messages received about all details needed to make it there.
I wonder if one day when the chaos abates as the kids grow older, I’ll miss the fun crazy energy this day brings, along with the not-so-fun parts of it. Maybe I won’t.
But for now, I can at least think and write about what I didn’t yet have the courage to fully initiate: Making Purim Good-Enough Again.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.