My stomach hurts. I want to cry and scream. But that’s so ungrateful
Chanukah rolls around, my stomach drops. No Chanukah parties for us. Not even one. Do you know what that’s like? How’s sad and painful it is?
The week before Chanukah, everyone’s discussing their plans. Shabbos Chanukah at their parents, Shabbos at their in-laws’ the week before because, even though it’s not Chanukah yet, the other side needs a turn. Grandparents’ party on Sunday, other grandparents’ on Tuesday, this family party Sunday, and one on the last Monday, which technically isn’t even Chanukah.
My parents live overseas. So do my in-laws. And all our siblings. We’re alone. We don’t have any parties to attend or coordinate. Not even one.
I open the magazines to glossy ads about powdered sugar doughnuts and fried delicacies. The jokes in the magazines and the cartoons are filled with the panic of planning and coordinating all the different parties, the chats, the games and activity ideas.
That’s not what Chanukah looks like for us.
I set up my husband’s menorah. The shining silver menorah I polished last week, dreaming of a beautiful Chanukah with sizzling latkes and family parties by the fireplace.
My husband’s chavrusa complains to him, “You don’t get it, they’re all fighting over us. I have to schlep to Monsey after seder tonight, go to Flatbush tomorrow, back in Lakewood the next day, then Shabbos in a house in Monsey with the gantze mishpachah! They’re mamesh fighting over us.”
No one is fighting over us.
We light candles on the first night. My husband, the kids. We sing songs and sit by the flames. I watch the candles and my kids dance in tandem. My eyes fill with tears.
I serve latkes, smile along, turn on the naki radio. Each night I try, we try, to make it nice for our kids. We buy powdered doughnuts, sugar glistening off the top. We sing songs and spin our laser dreidels. But each night, my heart hurts, thinking about the lack of family. The fact I live so far away from my family never hits home as hard as it does on this Yom Tov of family parties.
Within ten minutes of lighting, I’m in my room, reading magazines, living the joy of Chanukah through the characters in the stories. For Shabbos, we book a hotel and fly to Florida. Bad enough there are no Chanukah parties. I couldn’t bear to be the only one in our neighborhood of young couples who is home for Shabbos.
As we light the candles in a room filled with strangers, I notice the other families. There are those who are divorced or widowed, bringing their families to a place where they can enjoy Shabbos Chanukah together without thinking too much about the absent parent. Families with children with special needs, the hotel services a way to help them be under one roof without too much difficulty. There are other families, smiling, laughing together. I don’t know their stories. They may not have any unusual ones, but I know each family has some sort of story. We all do.
I ache for my family, parents, in-laws, siblings, anyone.
I’m thoughtful the whole Shabbos, as I sit at a glorious catered meal, listen to a kumzitz, play checkers with my boys, and sit on the floor and play dollies with my princesses. So many people wish they could be wined and dined like this. And I, I wish I was in my parents’ house, listening to them singing the familiar tunes at the table with the blue tablecloth, eating the latkes, huge, dry, with too much salt.
We pack up Sunday and head home. We’re all exhausted and cranky, and I’m still mourning my missing family.
The last night arrives. I look out my window at all the neighboring houses. The shutters are down, there’s no lights in the windows. They’re all at their parents. I swallow hard as I jam nine candles into each of my boys’ menorahs. The oil in my husband’s glass cups spills a little as my hands shake.
The last night. My husband starts to say the brachah. I sit on the couch with tears in my eyes. Tonight, on Zos Chanukah, I can ask for anything. I should ask for family. For a party. Maybe they’ll show up with doughnuts, surprise us for the last night.
My son’s voice rings out clear and sweet as he sings the brachah for the last time this year. I look around at my beautiful family. I think of those in the hotel. Many would dream of experiencing the scene in front of me right now. But I want more. I want parents. In-laws. Siblings. Parties. Support. Warmth. Love.
I watch the flames and my kids dance in tandem. My stomach hurts. I want to cry and scream. But that’s so ungrateful.
My eyes are wide open. They’re here. I have a family. A husband and sweet children. The kind of family everyone would want. And I can’t see that because I want something else so badly, it covered my whole Chanukah with an oily film.
The tears come faster. Thank You, Hashem, for the family I have. Please help me to appreciate them more.
I stand up, turn up the music, and dance with my boys. I heat up the oil for doughnut making. It’s the last night of Chanukah, and we’re having a family party.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 871)
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