Sunday, April 6, 2008

Playing the Game of Who, When and Where

As families, we all tend to go through stages. In the beginning of our married lives we still go home to our parents for yom tov and for that occasional Shabbos. Then we hit the stage when going away is more difficult than just staying home. Packing up a large family and traveling what can be long distances becomes a real undertaking. And as our siblings also have large families, all of us descending upon our parents becomes a logistical impossibility--there just isn't room for everyone in Babi and Zaydie's house all at the same time. Babi and Zaydie become the visitors, not the visited.

And then comes another stage. This is the one where you, yourself, have married children. And then the fun begins. Let's say you have 3 children. That also means you have three sets of muchatonim. Much as you might want your children at home for every yom tov you now have to share them with the muchatonim. But let's say that the muchatonim also have 3 children each. Three sets of your muchatonim have 9 sets of their own muchatonim. Now make that 5 children that you have and that your muchatonim also have. That makes 25 sets of muchatonim in the mix. Who goes where and when becomes a logistical exercise worthy of a 5-star general. Logic says that your five married children--that's 10 adults--who also have children--let's say they only have 2 each right now--are going to be 20 people that you need to house and feed. Now add in your parents.

Most people simply do not have the size of house that will accommodate this size of a group. You can't exactly separate the males and females and set your rooms up dormitory style when you are talking about married couples. And there are also the schedules of the muchatonim with their other married children that have to be taken into consideration.

If everyone all lives in the same area, within walking distance of each other, then sleeping is not the issue. Only meals need to be divided up among the various interested parties. But how many of us live this way? I informally polled my friends to see how many had their married children, all of them, in walking distance. The answer was none of them did. Here and there there was a child in the neighborhood, but many were spread out across the city, across the country and across the globe.

Before our children get married we like to dream that everything will always stay the same way it is now, and even marriage won't change things. Our kids, all of them, will always be at our table for yom tov. It's true that yom tov should be about families coming together to celebrate. But how they come together, and when, and where is not always as simple as we dreamed it would be. Perhaps there would be fewer hurt feelings and less resentment if we looked at the mathematics of who spends yom tov by whom. Or maybe we need to look at the physics of yom tov--the principle that one object cannot occupy two different spaces at the same time. Yom tov is sometimes about sharing.


Anonymous said...

You didn't mention the pink elephant in the room---money. The plain facts are that when children live all over the world it costs money to fly home for a yom tov. Not just one yom tov a year but two or more. Now either the parents are going to have to pay for the tickets or the children are going to have to pay. And sometimes one or the other of them cannot afford those tickets. And sometimes neither of them can afford the tickets. And sometimes it's cheaper for the parents to go to the children. And then there is the cost of all those people for yomtov. People assume that if you are older you have a lot of money that younger people don't have, and that is just not true.

We have four married kids and one single one in college who is looking to get married. Those married kids have given us 17 grandchildren so far. They also do not any of them live near the others. One is in the NJ area while we are in NY. One is in Israel. One is on the west coast and one in the midwest. What should I do? Not pay the college tuition for the youngest so that his brothers and sisters can come to us when they want? Should I take from the money we saved up for this last wedding we will need to pay for? Go into a debt I don't know if I could repay or not for air tickets? We fly to see the children when we can afford it. I don't say I like it but my mom used to say that money doesn't grow on trees and she was right.

Anonymous said...

One of our mechutanim wrote a computer program so we could all of us schedule who was coming to who for the holidays. It's worked great for the past few years but this year our daughter is screwing up the schedule for everyone. She is due with a baby this Tuesday and is coming home to us for Pesach. And it wasn't her year to be in our house. You should have seen the rearranging that was needed.

Anonymous said...

It really is hard when your kids start getting married and they don't belong to you exclusively any more. The first few years I got kind of upset about the schedule of when the kids would come to us and when go to the in laws. Now I see how silly I really was. When they get married they become their own family and they have the kind of obligations that we have also. You need to see them as adults, not just your kids.

Anonymous said...

"It really is hard when your kids start getting married and they don't belong to you exclusively any more."

... otherwise known as life ... isn't it great!


Bas~Melech said...

It's kind of sad... I don't think my entire family's been together in one place for at least six years, and now that there are B"H more members all over it's unlikely that we will ever be all together again. I still kind of dream that maybe we'll find some way to have everyone at my wedding... oh well, there's still time to think about that. Hopefully by then we'll all be in Yerushalayim habenuyah.

The previous generation was much easier to coordinate because we all lived in the same city at least. I think in general people used to move around less than they do today. My immediate family alone lives in 4 different cities on two continents (we're not a big family, either)

SaraK said...

Your children don't "belong" to you. What if they choose not to go to parents or in laws at all? What if they choose to do kiruv in Eastern Europe or take Pesach as an opportunity to go on vacation to a kosher hotel in Costa Rica?

Conversely, married children should not de facto expect to go to their parents. What if your parents can't have all the siblings and grandchildren when they all want to come?

I love my Mom's philosophy. Everyone is welcome to come, and if you come, you are welcomed with open arms. If you choose to make Yom Tov in your own home or anything else, no hard feelings.