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|Family Matters - Family Matters 2|
Thirty minutes later, when we're done with the two-minute seder, I begin serving the soup. There's a choice of sweet potato soup, which I made in honor of my younger son, who couldn't make it home for the holiday, and matzo balls, which, I warn everyone, I've never made before. Miraculously, there are enough matzo balls to go around. I'm serving seconds when Jack, my cousin's 10-year-old son, walks into the kitchen with his soup bowl. He wants another matzo ball. "They're delicious," he tells me.
The compliment catches me completely off guard. Until this moment, I hadn't thought that I showed up on his radar screen at all. "You just made my day," I say to him, and we each put down our ladles and bowls and he allows me to give him a hug. He's wiry, bony, just like my sons used to be.
Back at the table, noting what's being gobbled up, whose plate needs refreshing, which dish needs an extra serving spoon, I'm too distracted to eat. I slowly realize why I take this meal so seriously: what I lack in religious faith I hope to gain in culinary zeal. But in the lull that arises during every successful dinner party, when conversation dwindles because everyone's contentedly chewing, I realize that I'm famished. Excusing myself, I slip into the kitchen to indulge in my secret craving—picking the dark meat off the chicken carcass. I'm sucking at the sweet, fatty bones when my mother walks in, carrying some stacked plates. "You don't have to clear the table," I say, taking them from her.
"I have to do something," she says. "I can't just sit there." I look at her more carefully than I have in years. She's lost inches, she's lost weight, her hair is white. I really study her, trying to find her mother's palimpsest in her face. But I can't see anyone but my mother; she remains stubbornly herself, only older, trying to remain active, useful.
"Thank you," I say.
"Thank you," she says. "It's a wonderful seder." We stand there, in front of the oven, and then move into each other's arms. Formerly a bit stout, she's now as bony as Jack, I realize with a start—probably the same start she's experiencing as she probes my new fleshiness. "I think I'm gaining the weight you're losing," I say, and though we both laugh, the hug suddenly turns into a clutch, or rather, she clutches me; I can almost feel her give way. We can't let go of each other, or of the thought that seizes us: that we're both passing through time much more quickly than we want to. We cling to each other with a ferocity I can't recall, and with an unusual sweetness. The poisonous back and forth, bait and switch, the friction of "don't say this" and "don't think that," the background sniping, the murky tide of envy and jealousy that's crested and ebbed between us all our lives, stops. We aren't struggling against each other; it's no longer a contest.