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|Family Matters - Family Matters 1|
To my mother, who inherited the holiday after my grandmother's death, producing the seder was nothing short of a colossal chore—a feeling she'd communicate with every pot she slammed on the stove. Meanwhile, my father, who discovered religion in what should have been the middle of his life, doggedly read through the Haggadah, the book recounting the Exodus, word by tedious word, with the single-mindedness of a recent convert, too self-conscious to lose himself in song. Those nights that my sister and I suffered through felt at least as long as the 40 years the Israelites had wandered in the desert.
As much as the holiday vexed her, my mother never once ordered food in. And if she didn't do it, well then, tempting as it was, neither could I.
"It's not the cooking that I mind," I started to say, because I knew that would annoy her, when I noticed two tiny screws on the floor. I hung up, pried open the oven, and screwed the two parts of the door back together. The cake looked suspiciously darker than usual and smelled slightly overdone. I contemplated tossing it and whipping up a new one, but in the end, I didn't have the heart—or the time.
A day later, 15 of us are gathered around a cobbled-together, multilevel table, which extends from the dining room into the living room. On everyone's plate is a copy of Michael Rubiner's The Two-Minute Seder, the perfect Haggadah for our loquacious but attention-challenged family.
I seat my son Ben, 26, across from me because I delight in how he reacts to the seder—questioning everything, pointing out contradictions. My mother is seated next to me so I don't have to see the vexation, frustration, and disappointment on her face. She hates my seders: they're too irreverent and freewheeling. Though I always try to bring us back to the text, everyone talks at once, the conversation skitters out of control, and the narrative thread is lost repeatedly.
She's annoyed at me because I took her aside before we began and told her that the one thing she couldn't say to me tonight was, "When are you going to sit down?" I reminded her that when she hosted dinners, she never sat; that hosting means serving others; that she can think what she pleases, but she can't say it aloud. She's resolved to say nothing.