. . . of myself. We attended a Passover Seder last week. A Seder is a dinner and religious service rolled into one, with scripted time to drink and to eat particular foods as commemoration of the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt. Seder rituals vary by household, but they all share a few elements—matzo ball soup, singing, hard-boiled eggs, and a minimum three-hour duration. I’ve attended Seders where the ten plagues were described in gory detail, where the ten plagues were over in ten words, where the necessity of including God was debated, and where I was ridiculed for singing “Go Down Moses” (a spiritual referencing American slaves’ desire for freedom) out of tune. I’ve been served (and have provided) good, bad, and even worse wine. The content and the company change, but the length does not. The length is long.
And so I have always attended Seders with Sam with some trepidation. Will she say something inappropriate? Will she scream, after half an hour, that she is supposed to be enjoying this? Will she leave the table and explore our host’s home without permission? In other words, will she embarrass me?
That is why I’m proud of myself this year. Same brought her knitting (I’m proud of her for anticipating her needs) and moved in and out of the Seder. Sometimes she participated, and sometimes she left to knit. She tried to gain the floor in order to compare Jews’ experience in Egypt to the slave experience on a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. Her voice was too loud and nobody paid much attention, but it was their loss. Her comment was worth exploring. Sam told the guests how my older brother and I revised the words to a traditional song so that it became a cruel taunt directed at our younger brother. The other guests stared at me, mildly aghast, but I did not feel angry at Sam. (Dan, I’m sorry. I don’t think I ever realized how mean we were until no one laughed.) Sam climbed on the hosts’ treadmill without asking. I made her ask, but I was not mortified.
Temple Grandin says that kids need to learn table manners. I agree with her, but eating with utensils is different from remaining seated and engaged for three hours. For someone like Sam, someone who has trouble remaining seated for half and hour, three hours on a piano bench is torture. This year I decided that our companions needed to accommodate her as much as she needed to accommodate them. The truth is, though, that they seemed unfazed by her behavior from the beginning. I was the only one, I think, who required any effort to remain equanimous as Sam came and went. My private victory, though, was how little effort I had to invest.
So much of parenting for me has always been ensuring that the world knows I try. I admonish, soothe, and apologize for my daughter discreetly, but really not so discreetly. I want anyone watching to know her behavior is not due to my dereliction of duty. It’s hard to know if people are as judgmental as I assume they are (no pretending that they are not at all judgmental), but they are not my problem. I am my problem. I'm the one who has chosen to want the validation of acquaintances and even strangers. I’m proud of myself, because this evening I did not spend vindicating my competence.