What's that, you say? Barak's first Purim? Isn't he... almost three?
True, true. But this is the first Purim that he has experienced not as a baby, but as a kid. This was, as my friend put it this morning while we watched his realization dawn, his "welcome to Purim, kid."
For the record, Barak was a fireman. Iyyar had a turtle costume, but I never put it on him--he's got a cold and is not feeling well, so I wasn't going to inflict a turtle costume on him just so I could enjoy watching him be cuter than usual for the five seconds before it would have made him cry. Barak's costume consisted of a fireman coat, a fireman hat, and a Hatzalah vest, because he saw it in the costume bag and it was sooo silver and shiny. I'm so sure there are Hatzalah guys who are also firemen. Stands to reason, right?
First, a little background. I grew up in an environment of very regimented food. I was never allowed to take anything without asking, and unauthorized removal of any food item from its storage place was regarded as theft. Candy, especially, was strictly rationed. There was, however, one day a year on which we were allowed to eat all the candy we wanted. That day was Halloween. Whatever we had left over after Halloween went into the candy jar and we got a piece a day until it was gone; but on the day itself, we could eat ourselves sick. It was more or less the highlight of the year. All the candy you could eat. Olam haba, right here on planet Earth.
We don't do Halloween, but I still think that there is merit in the idea of relaxing the rules like that one day a year. That's what the adults do on Purim (it is the one day of the year when it is considered acceptable to drink), and the kids should get to do it too (enjoy themselves, not get drunk!) So I had already decided that within limits (he's still two, after all) I was going to let Barak have a blast.
For those who don't know, Purim is a lot like Halloween in that the kids dress up and there is candy everywhere; however, instead of knocking on people's doors demanding candy, we knock on people's doors distributing it. Not candy, necessarily, but little packages of goodies, referred to as shaloch manos or, if you are tzioni, mishloach manot. A good system, no? Most of the time you also get something when you drop something off, unless the recipients are not home, in which case you slide your package behind the storm door, comforted by the knowledge that when you go back to your own home, there will be a line of little packages sitting there waiting. People do different things for shaloch manos; because the mitzvah is supposed to be sending cooked food, not candy, I always send brown paper bags packed with lunch. This year I did peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a juice box, a cheese stick, two homemade chocolate chip cookies, and a box of raisins.
When Barak woke up this morning, he could already tell that something was up; instead of his usual breakfast options of plain yogurt with granola or cheerios and milk, Abba gave him a Shabbos yogurt (one of the little flavored Stonyfield yogurts, sweet, way too expensive for every day and therefore a Shabbos treat). Hmmm.
"Barak, is today Purim?"
"Yeah." But Barak still didn't quite get what Purim was.
I went off to hear megilla and when I came back, after putting the baby down for a nap, I started packing the things in the shaloch manos that I hadn't wanted to leave out overnight. I started by taking the 36 string cheese sticks out of the fridge and asking Barak to separate the perforations. What toddler doesn't love tearing things that are perforated?
"C'I have it? I wanna eat it!"
Cheese sticks, like the little yogurts, are a rationed (expensive) item--chalav yisroel cheese ain't cheap, and those little sticks are never less than fifty cents each. Ordinarily he gets one a day in his lunch. At home, he gets cheese, but not the little wrapped string cheese sticks.
The eyebrows went up. I opened his cheese stick and he ate it. He looked at his empty wrapper. He considered. It never hurts to ask, right?
"C'I have other one please?" Sweet, winning, and hopeful, but fully expecting to be shot down.
"Sure. Today's Purim. You can have another one." I handed him another one. Better to start him out with a stomach full of cheese, right?
Barak looked at me thoughtfully. This was, indeed, very odd.
"No, today's not Shabbos. Yesterday was Shabbos. Today's Purim."
"Oh." I don't know what that is, he seemed to be thinking, but I'm pretty sure I like it.
While I was making the sandwiches--it takes time to make 36 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches--Barak decided he was done with his (third) cheese stick and got down from his chair. And then the doorbell rang. It was the family of one of my husband's former students, who live down the street from us.
I handed Barak a bag and told him to be my shaliach. He gave it to our friends, and took the proffered bag. Yellow, shiny, with tissue paper and ribbons and containing... oh-ho. What's this?
"C'I hold it?"
"Sure, you can hold it."
Pause while Barak stares at me thoughtfully and contemplates just how far he is going to push his luck.
"C'I open it?"
"Yeah, you can open it."
Barak sits down and opens bag. Oh my. There are cookies. There are raisins. There is fruit leather. There are Hershey's kisses. There are gumdrops...
"C'I eat it?''
"Yeah, you can eat it."
Barak's jaw literally dropped. You could just about see him thinking, Who is this person, and where is my Imma? and then, Oh, well, I won't worry about her. Whoever this person is, I like her better.
The morning went by, and more shaloch manos was exchanged. Barak got used to the idea that when the doorbell rang, he grabbed a bag off the kitchen table and went running for the door, then sat down on the kitchen floor to investigate the contents of what had just arrived. He got a granola bar. He got a fruit roll. He got a juice box. He got a cupcake. He got two Sunkist gems. Two!
We went to friends' for the Purim seuda, dropping off and getting more shaloch manos along the way. "I wanna hold it please." "Okay." He ate a cookie on the way, and just held the other one lovingly, a sort of beatific look of toddler heaven settled on his face. It was freezing cold and windy, and I closed the stroller cover. (Iyyar, as I may have mentioned, has a cold.) Two minutes before we got there, they both fell asleep. When they woke up, maybe forty minutes later--how did they sleep through all of it, in the double stroller parkedW in the living room in the middle of a Purim seuhda? When they woke up, they both just sat and stared. Adults, dressed up rather strangely. Kids, dressed up even more strangely, running around with all. that. candy. All that food. All those goodies. Everybody singing. Loudly. Men in dark suits... and funny hats...
Barak came out, and got in my lap, and watched the proceedings for a while, interested but overwhelmed. After a while, he remembered the precedent of the morning.
"C'I have a treat please?" he asked, hesitatantly, because ordinarily treats do not just fall out of the sky. "Sure," I said. "It's Purim. Should we look in the stroller and see what's there?"
He got another fruit roll, and a Twizzler. "Want another one. Want another one red stick please." "I don't think we have another one of those. Should we go look?" "Yeah! Go look please." We went outside to check out what was in the stroller basket, and I picked out what wasn't milchig. And gave it to him.
Over the course of the meal, he got a candy necklace, and a chocolate cupcake, and I got schnitzel, and there were grammen sung, some of them about us. It was a kollel seuda, and everyone there was calling me rebbetzin, and I had little boys on and off my lap, and despite all the chaos and the sugar and the--did I mention the chaos--nobody cried at all, at least neither of my kids. They just sat there and listened to everyone singing and singing. In the middle of the meal, I leaned over to the woman sitting next to me--a ba'alas tshuva and a friend, and said, "Do you ever look around you and think, I wonder what my non-Jewish friends would think of me if they could see me now?" She grinned. "I work with a lot of very hip black women. I think they'd be having a blast."
Chazal say that there are three things that show you what someone is really like--what they're like when they drink, how they deal with money, and what they're like when they're angry. These Israeli kollel guys, when they were drunk, they sang songs to G-d. That's what is inside of them. They sang songs about G-d, and Israel, and Torah. They're all Tzioni, all of them have been in the army. People like that are the ones who make me feel, what are we doing here, and why aren't we making aliyah already?
Anyway. Back to Purim. After a few hours of singing and sugar, I decided it was time to come back to earth. Barak, "I not gonna go home now." But a bit of persuading, and the option of holding a particularly lovely shaloch manos package, and he was in the stroller, tucked in next to his brother. Back in our own kitchen, with the sun heading downward, we talked about Purim. "Is today Purim?"
"What did we do today?"
"And what else did we do today?"
"Eat cake! Eat Bamba! Eatta star cupcake!"
"Why did you get to eat candy?"
"'Cause iss Purim!"
"Okay, Barak, one day a year it's Purim. And when it gets dark, Purim's going to be all done. It's going to be dark very soon, so you can have one more thing. And then we're going to sing goodbye Purim, see you next year. Okay?"
"'Kay. C'I havea Bamba please?"
I let him have his Bamba.
"Gotta poop potty."
I put him on the potty, and sat down with Iyyar in the bedroom. And listened to those wonderful toddler monologues, in which Barak holds forth on whatever has happened to him that day. "Iss Purim. Weara fireman hat. Imma say, yeah can eat it! Eatta chocolate! Eatta Bamba, 'kay? 'Kay. I eatta Bamba, eatta cake. Iss Purim! Iss all done Purim. I gonna poop now. [Sound effects redacted.] I pooped! I gonna flush it now!"
And so forth.
Iyyar's asleep now, and Barak is back on the potty, a bit too hyped up on sugar (really? yeah, it surprises me too...) to actually sleep. But he had a wonderful day, and has not cried, flipped out, or thrown up once.
Good-bye Purim, see you next year, aye nye nye...