April 8, 2009

The 11th Plague

I was feeling exceptionally sorry for myself this morning.  Sad and dreary.  Low and teary.   I cancelled our Passover seder because Max has been sick.

Max came home Monday afternoon saying he “felt like shit.”  Pale face.  Glassy eyes.  Wickedly sore throat, he reported.  A quick date with the thermometer revealed a fever of 101.6.   Sixteen year olds don’t generally run those kinds of fevers.  And Max hasn’t had more than an occasional cold all year.  He tucked himself into bed and slept, on and off, until morning.

When I woke Max yesterday, he still had the high fever and sore throat.  He’d had his tonsils out when he was 7, but I knew he could still have strep throat.  And given that we were preparing to host a modestly sized seder at which we’d have two guests at opposite ends of the life spectrum, I figured I ought to have him tested.  The receptionist at our pediatrician’s office took pity on me and squeezed in Max so that I could still get to work, albeit a little late.  The pediatrician confirmed the fever, ogled the scarlet throat, and did a quick strep test. It was negative, so she sent out for a long test.  For now, the verdict is that the bug is viral.

With a heavy heart, I called all of my seder guests and warned them off.  Could not in good faith expose a 3 1/2-week-old baby or an 88-year-old woman to a high fever.  I knew other guests would be visiting elderly relatives over the weekend, and so I alerted them, as well.

I look forward to seder with absolutely no ambivalence.  The message of Passover, of freedom, always resonates.  We celebrate spring.  The haggadah offers a chance to retell one of the great stories of the Western world.   We eat the soul of soul food.  And we gather with friends whom I adore.   Since Mark isn’t Jewish, it’s mattered to me to celebrate with others of the tribe who have deep connections to the rituals that make up the chord of my own life.

So, to cancel seder brought me a sense of loneliness and loss that I can’t quantify.  I woke early this morning and felt disconnected, dejected.  Mark had tried cheering me last night.  “We’ll have seder just the five of us.  It’s still a seder.”  I couldn’t get there.  The work of getting ready seemed unsatisfying, even insurmountable.

I sat down to work for a few hours this morning but couldn’t settle. My  mind wandered to mundane tasks.  I sent a text message to Max’s cell phone to remind him to register for orchestra auditions.  At about 10 my cell phone buzzed.  Max had texted back: “ok.  are you at home.”

I replied: “Yes.  Are you awake?”

“no im asleep but still texting you.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“do you want to go to zaftigs.  i dont have a fever.”

“Come down and make eye contact, please.”

Down he came, still pale, but not looking like death.  If he wanted to go out to eat,  would he agree to change over the kitchen for pesach?  Nope.  We sparred for a bit.  Max said he’d help bag all the forbidden foods if I’d do it with him.  We agreed that we would work in tandem after our meal, but that Max would have to come along on a few errands, as well.

Max has mostly been snarling at me of late.  He and I, we haven’t been able to make it to our regularly scheduled Tuesday morning breakfasts at Zaftig’s, a favorite local deli, for almost a month.  So we started our late breakfast in the restaurant this morning not sure what to say to each other.  Where was the thread of our conversation?  After a few false steps, we settled in. Sports, video games, my teaching, stories of one of the guys in a documentary I worked on last fall, politics and military actions in Africa, and so on.  What a gift to exchange information without emotional charge.  Just to be sitting at the same table, breathing the same air, and not fighting….

Max came with me as I returned library books.  He strode along, he more than half a foot taller than I, as we stopped by the liquor store for a bottle of Manischewitz.  And when we came home, he pulled out plastic bags and the vacuum cleaner so that we could make quick work of the cupboards.  Without complaint, he walked garbage bags filled with pasta and flour into the basement and brought up grocery bags filled with matzoh, potato chips, toasty coconut marshmallows, and fruit slices.  We finished the job together with nary a cross word.

I hate to type this, but the glands in my neck are tender, and I’m trying to decide if I have a scratchy throat.  This virus — a plague not on the list afflicting the Egyptians — may be a blessing in disguise.  I can’t say what it will feel like tonight as we sit down with haggadahs.  I’m grateful to have had a few hours with Max today, who, had he been healthy, would have spent his day at school.

And I have an idea for the Afikomen tonight.  I’m going to make the kids hide it this year for Mark and me to find.  And everybody — all five of us — will get a prize.