Passover insomnia

April 2019
Phyllis Shragge

My eyes pop open.  I see nothing.  Not a shadow, not a sliver of light.  My blackout curtains have done their job.

I reach for my bedside clock and flip it around so I can see the time.  It’s 3:30 a.m. and I’m wide awake. Insomnia has reared its ugly head once more, but this isn’t the usual insomnia that I can challenge by imagining myself on a sandy beach in sunny Mexico. And this isn’t the typical insomnia that I can beat by counting to prevent thinking. Thinking about what I have to do the next day.  Thinking about what I should have done yesterday.  Thinking about what I regret.  Thinking about what I should regret.

No, this is the dreaded Passover insomnia that’s almost impossible to defy.  Passover is just days away and the logistics are overwhelming.  Why am I stressed every year?  It’s not my first time on this rollercoaster.

I turn on my side and realign my pillow.  I paid $149.99 plus tax for this pillow which is designed to help muscle tightness in the neck.  It doesn’t.  Now I have excessive muscle tightness when I realize how much I spent on a pillow.

My mind races.  I am obsessed with the four questions:

Why are this year’s seders different from all other seders? (They aren’t. I worry about them every year.)

On all other seders, I make gefilte fish from scratch.  The procedure is time-consuming and the kitchen smells of fish for days.  Dare I buy pre-made gefilte fish this year?  Will anyone care?

On all other seders, I cook most of the meal, supplementing my creations with some prepared dishes courtesy of our local kosher butcher shop.  For many years, I pass off the butcher’s fabulous sweet potato kugel as my own.  I get rave reviews.  Should I buy the chicken soup as well, or make it myself?

On all other seders, I either buy desserts or bake them.  The store-bought desserts taste like sawdust, so I guess the answer to this question is clear.

On all other seders, I manage to squeeze the family into the dining room by adding an extra table, but it’s a tight fit and there is little room to walk.  Is there another configuration that would be better?

My thoughts turn to shopping. (Did I buy enough matzah?  How about eggs? ) I worry about doing dishes until the wee hours of the morning.  I’m too old for this.

“Enough!” I mutter.  I need to turn my thoughts to something else.

I decide to force my mind away from Passover and drift into the past, into the less stressful time of years gone by.  I will think about myself as a young girl, when my only responsibilities were school work and keeping my room clean. I remember my 10-year-old self, with long, brown hair pulled into a ponytail.  I have braces on my teeth and I’m tall and skinny.  Not exactly a knockout.

I remember my days in elementary school.  Suddenly, I recall that once a year, each fifth-grade student had to read a portion of the Bible at the weekly assembly in the auditorium.  This assignment is a daunting task for any 10-year-old, but for shy me, it is terrifying.  Weeks before my turn, I can think of nothing else. I’m sure that I will stumble over the words.

As the day approaches, I am determined to do something to give myself more confidence. I decide that since this is my last year of elementary school, I will get rid of the ponytail.

The day before it’s my turn to read the Bible at the school assembly, I go to the hair salon feeling optimistic that a new look will transform not only my appearance, but my shy demeanour as well.

The hairdresser asks how I want my hair cut.  “Short,” I say.

“Would you like a perm?”

My answer is yes.  Big mistake.  Huge mistake.

I leave the salon with short, tightly-curled hair.  I am a 10-year-old girl with the hair of an 85-year-old woman.  I look terrible.

The next day I stand in front of the entire school and read a jumble of words that aren’t nearly as relevant to me as my disaster of a hairdo.  I want to be invisible, or as an alternative, I consider throwing myself off the nearest cliff.

I need to stop thinking about the past. It’s now 4 a.m. My mind flashes forward to my worries about Passover.  I realize that no concerns about cooking, shopping or seating can compare to the stress of being 10 years old with an awful perm.

I promptly fall asleep.

Phyllis Shragge is a writer, mother of five, grandmother of four and a long-time Hamiltonian.