Years ago, when my newly married older sister attended her husband's family Passover seder, my mother was devastated. "I hate change!" she said to me with considerable emotion. "Ruthie belongs with us."
I thought that was extremely selfish.
Then, I became a mother. And for one long stretch, when our daughters were all in their 20s, change came in a steady, pummeling stream.
They graduated from college. They took the next steps — graduate school, jobs, travel to what we perceived as dangerous places. It seemed that we were always saying goodbye to someone dashing off somewhere.
And then they all got married.
After the high-risk/high-decibel/high-stress of rearing kids, their father and I looked forward to the rewards. Like, spending holidays with these daughters and their husbands. And then, as they followed the biblical injunction, "Be fruitful and multiply," their seven delicious grandchildren. That wish to be together became even more urgent.
We had an antique oak dining room table that stretched for miles, and because I'm a yard-sale freak, we had a huge collection of mismatched chairs that allowed our sons-in-laws' parents — and even their siblings — to be with us. Interspersed were high chairs. It was glorious.
Passover is our favorite holiday, and we loved hosting it. Foolishly, we thought this custom would go on forever. Even when we moved to a smaller space, that behemoth of a table came with us. And so did the hodgepodge of chairs.
But life brings changes. Just ask anyone who is not longer younger than springtime about that.
Eventually, one son-in-law's parents moved, and the trip to our Moorestown home was a bit too much. Then another set fled to the warmth of Florida. So there were significantly fewer guests.
As time inexorably marched on, so did our guest list march off. Share and share alike, we were reminded. Less need to stretch the old oak table to capacity. The assorted old bridge chairs remained in the basement.
Then came the Passover when, for various complicated reasons, all of our daughters and their extended families were missing from our table.
That year, we had some friends with us, but I hid in the kitchen after the holiday meal and cried. How juvenile! How selfish! But there I was — absence was the huge presence in the room.
I know that nothing stays the same in families. How can it? I know that adult children need to seek their own destinies and become parts of other families.
It happens in families all around us at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter. An equal-opportunity phenomenon, this sharing of adult kids.
My sensible husband does better than I do. But sometimes as the population at the Passover table shrinks, I catch a glimpse of him looking a bit wistful and forlorn. Like me, he's wondering where the years went — and wishes that his daughters were just a hug away.
This year, the seder is at daughter Nancy's in Montclair. She has the biggest house and the biggest table now.
And next month, we move into a smaller space. Much smaller. In all likelihood, too small even for our oak table without extra leaves.
Sometimes, when no one is looking, I want to stamp my feet and say, "No fair!" like a first-grader might.
And I'm reminded of the simple honesty of our grandson Jonah, now a college freshman. Once, when I picked him up at the nursery school door, he came out visibly upset.
With hazel eyes blazing, he looked up at me and said: "I HATE to share my crayons. I'd rather keep them all."
Out of the mouths of babes.