NOTE: THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BINAH MAGAZINE'S TEEN'S TWIRL
Because you are stuck here listening to me, I am going to tell you all about my niece who was the most absolutely adorable baby you have ever met in your whole entire life (no, I am not interested in your niece because there is no way anyone can ever compare with mine). She was deliciously fat, honey curls on her head, and a button nose perfect for kissing. I shlepped her with me wherever I went and babysat at every opportunity. She loved cheerios, which she picked up piece by piece on her high chair with her little fat fingers, and sang “I love you, you love me,” over and over and over and over....You get the picture.
I only had one married sister, and our family only had one niece (no nephews) for six years. Which is why you may be surprised to hear how I turned into a bratty aunt (I was about thirteen when she was born) whenever my sister moved in to our house for yom tov.
I even loved my sister. She was the greatest sister that ever lived (until my younger sister stopped being a brat and became another favorite—but you heard already about her in our previous columns). So you must be doubly surprised to hear what a brat I was (and now you may be even triply surprised to hear how such a wonderful person like me used to be such a brat, but maybe you are also a wonderful person who acts like a brat sometimes so you totally get how that can happen?) when my sister moved in for yom tov.
So now that you have this whole introduction to my brattiness, and how my brattiness totally did not make sense if you think how crazy I was about my fat niece and my special sister, I will explain why I was a brat.
I seriously hated being the one that had to set the table and clean up after the yom tov meals by myself. My mother didn't help me, my sister didn't help me, my niece did not help me (she made the biggest mess of all).
Now, you may be thinking, “Oh my goodness! That sounds really horrible. Everyone was sooooo mean to you.”
Absolutely. I felt the same way when I was in high school. How the entire world was unfair and I had to clean up after my family while everyone else did NOTHING.
So this is the nothing that my mother did: cooked up a delicious storm for yom tov, bought me everything I needed plus more in clothing, shoes, and accessories, worked full time out of the house, and made sure the house was sparkling clean.
Erev yom tov and Erev Shabbos I usually spent in the pizza shop with friends and then reading all day on the couch. While my mother was doing the stuff I wrote about in the previous paragraph.
My sister did the same stuff, but in her own house.
So by the time yom tov came around, my job was to set the table and clean up after each meal. And pile up the dishes nicely so that my mother could wake up five in the morning and wash the dishes and cook some more so that when I woke up at eleven in the morning, I could set the table with the dishes my mother had just finished washing and drying, to serve the heavenly food that was freshly cooked.
Sounds a little different, now, no?
But it is true that my sister took a little eentsy, weentsy advantage of me during yom tov. That while she slept, I babysat, and that when she woke up, I was sent in to clean up her room. Not that it took longer than ten minutes, but still...just the idea of it made me get all bratty each time.
Yes, my parents seriously were thinking of giving me up for adoption. At least by the time each yom tov was over. Luckily, once I got back to school for eight hours, they forgot their plans. Until the next yom tov rolled around.
Now, even if you are laughing at me, and I am laughing at myself now, when all this was happening thirty years ago, it didn't seem funny to me at all.
There was a lot of miscommunication going on. So much, that if somebody would have known how to communicate, yom tov would have been a lot more relaxing. Less tension. More fun. Less bratty. More loving.
Because my parents loved me (which is why they refused to let anyone else adopt me, not that anyone wanted to) and so did my sister. And I loved them (I still do, as a matter of fact).
So as I write this, knowing that many homes experience tension around yom tov for lots of reasons, and mostly a lack of communication, I wonder how things could have been different for me then (and for you now).
Maybe if I would have found a quiet time and talked to my mother and tried to explain how hard it was to clean up each night by myself, she would have listened. That even though the whole thing didn't take more than a half hour, being left alone to do it while everyone else went to bed or to read on the couch made me sad and lonely. And mad. And then my mother could have explained how things can change; or how they can't but acknowledged how things may not be exactly fair but that's life anyway. Maybe she would have offered me a deal; my cheerful help over yom tov for a day out in Manhattan a week after the house got back to normal.
Maybe if I would have told my sister how I felt she still would have collapsed onto the couch after the meal, but maybe she would have entertained me with her funny company from the couch—or bought me a gift after yom tov to show her appreciation.
Maybe if I felt my mother didn't get me, I could have complained instead to my father. Or my grandmother with whom I was super super close.
It's not like I didn't have options. What I didn't have was clarity. Or communication.
So here's my advice to you. From one bratty teenager (which I was) to another (which you are): when something is making you upset this yom tov, find a good time to talk about it. Respectfully. Clearly. Coherently. Logically. Normally.
And as a therapist, of course I will add as I usually do: if something feels off to you, if you cannot talk to anyone in your family, if something is just not okay in your family, find someone to talk to that can help. If you are feeling scared to talk, too angry to talk, or too sad to talk to someone in your family about stuff that is not okay on yom tov, then reach out. To a teacher, mentor, therapist. Being scared, mad, or sad is really not okay. Especially on yom tov. That's not what Hashem had in mind.
You want to know what happened to my niece?
She is no longer fat. Or has honey colored curls. Because she got married and put on a straight wig. But I still love her. Especially when my kids hang out at her house for yom tov when they are in Eretz Yisroel for seminary or yeshiva, and they get five star hotel service at her wonderful home.
Revenge is sweet.
But I warn them to help clean up!
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