Sunday, April 20, 2008

Happy Developmentally-Appropriate Passover

This weekend was the beginning of Passover, with the first Seder on Saturday night and the second tonight. I love Passover because it requires you to tell the story of The Exodus and to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. The purpose is to celebrate freedom while remembering the bitterness of slavery. And, in the way my observance goes, with the obvious religious exhortation to work to eradicate slavery and oppression today wherever they exist. This whole holiday, to me, is about putting oneself in the position of "other," of obeying the biblical order to remember that we were once strangers in a strange land...and hopefully integrating that into the daily practice of how I treat others and wish others to be treated on a global scale.

Much is made of the role of kids in the Passover Seder, how to keep it fun, how the youngest asks The Four Questions (four variations on "How is this night different from all other nights?") as a means of helping them understand the purpose of the holiday. (In our case, one answer to that question was, "Because Mama is wearing a skirt." You know it's a special day when Mama's knees are visible...) The kids also search for the Afikoman, which is a piece of matzoh hidden by a grown up and then "ransomed" back to them by the kids who find it. This was Bambina's favorite part of the whole thing, especially since we hid it outside in the mailbox, so the search involved going outside around bed time (which never happens) while Mama filmed the whole thing.

It helps that Bambina attends religious preschool, so she came to the Seder with a ton of knowledge. So much that I made a mental note to write her teachers a note and tell them that they rock. But the one unplanned part came when Bambina completely refused to hear the story of Passover. Wanted to leave the room, and just wouldn't even let the story start. We asked her why and she said, "Because it a scary story!" Mental note to call the teachers and ask them what the hell they're teaching up there... But then as we talked to her we realized that--hellooo!--it IS a scary story for a little kid. And if as an adult you're not touched by it and moved by it, you are not paying attention and not fulfilling the commandment.

Think about it: Baby Moses put in a basket in the Nile by his mother, found and adopted by Princess Batya, Pharaoh's daughter. Lots of loaded stuff there for a family before we even get to the meat of the story. Then the Pharaoh making people work as slaves. Then the plagues, including the killing of the firstborn. Then the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians. If it were a Disney movie I wouldn't let her see it till she was eleven. And here we are having her sit through it over dinner at the age of three! Obviously, we tell the story in a more age-appropriate way than "and then God killed all the first born children!", but you can't really just skip the plagues, right? Can't skip the parting of the sea, right? So we pretty much didn't tell the story last night, the commandment to do so be damned, on account of not wanting to give our kid nightmares.

I'm sure plenty of people will say that's a shame, but as I thought about Bambina's reaction to the story, I realized that she had exactly the RIGHT reaction. Why would someone have slaves? Why would someone oppress other people? "Isn't that mean?" "Why did the mean Pharaoh not let the people just go?" Why would someone need ten plagues to give up on his desire for slaves? Why would ten plagues even be sent? Isn't THAT mean? Yep. A sense precisely what I want my kid to feel when faced with these questions. I want her (although a little older than 3.11 would have been nice...) to approach these questions, these holiday stories, these universal questions of good and evil with a healthy dose of dismay and disgust. And then I want her to connect those uncomfortable feelings with the here and now, with the way we treat each other, the way we allow our foreign policy to be conducted, the way we resolutely and unfailingly refuse to see ourselves as "other" in our daily interactions. I want her to feel the joy of freedom, to know how blessed and lucky we all are. And I want her to feel and understand and integrate the knowledge that so many people are not.

But, like I said, a few more years would have been nice before that connection was made. Although, mental note again, to contact the teachers and thank them for their role in helping my sweet Bambina in her development of empathy. It's one of the key developmental milestones for preschoolers, and this Seder, if nothing else, showed just how much she's grown in the past year. Which is not to say she's not still enough of a kid developmentally to sell you out for a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. But just that seeing her take all these threads of the story and weave them into a self-designed narrative of "Why Are Some People So Mean" was really rather cool. And the conversations that came of it were so fantastic, including insight into the mean kid at her school and the creation of a new Family Rule (we have five that we previously wrote together):
1. Nobody hits anybody in this family ever for any reason ever and we really mean ever.
2. Always tell the truth even if you don't want to.
3. A little candy makes your tummy happy; a lot of candy makes your tummy say "that was not very yummy for me."
4. No secrets ever. No one keeps secrets ever and we really mean ever. Tell Mama and BBDD about any grown ups who ask kids to keep secrets.
5. Team "Haggis" Forever and Ever! And we mean ever!

And now Six: NO Mean People Allowed In Our House Ever!

And we do mean ever. :)


Utah Savage said...

What a lovely story, and what a sweet bambina, so lucky to have such smart parents. Your rules are wonderful. I so wish my family had such a set of rules when I was a child. I might have chosen to have children myself. Happy Passover, if happy is the right wish. When is happiness not the right wish?

JulieG said...

Nice rules. However, I have to say that my tummy has never said that a lot of candy is not yummy :)