Flipside: A crumby holiday

"Watch the crumbs, for heaven's sake," she scolds, her voice trailing behind her as she goes to fetch the broom.

'If I eat one more matza," Roni says, tipping his chair back and unbuckling his belt, "they'll be able to use my stomach lining to complete the security fence." The others laugh. All but Liat, that is, who has told her husband time and time again that if he wants to rock back and forth on the furniture, he should do so in the garden swing, which is built - and was purchased - for that purpose. "Watch the crumbs, for heaven's sake," she scolds, her voice trailing behind her as she goes to fetch the broom. Since the arrival of Roni's parents this morning for a post-seder brunch of leftovers, Liat has been repeating this ritual as though it were an integral part of the Haggada. In some respects it is. The part that follows a long-standing tradition of obsessive compulsion euphemistically referred to as the celebration of the Jewish People's freedom from bondage. In other words, a blessing that comes with a curse. The curse attached to a house that's been scrubbed from top to bottom for days on end (with everything from a steam-machine to a bleach-soaked toothbrush). A curse which sends the mistress of the house into a tailspin at the appearance of even the slightest speck spoiling the spotlessness. Which is why Liat bemoans the approach of Pessah week as much as she waits anxiously for it to end. Nothing in her normally tumultuous life - whether at work or at home - ever makes her feel as enslaved as the sight of a sparkling kitchen whose gleam is doomed to succumb to grime. Then there's the endless meal-preparation which family visits and school vacation make necessary. "WHY DON'T we take our dessert and coffee outside?" Roni's father suggests, the result of years of training to know when he's not wanted in the vicinity of a table being set or cleared. "Better the birds pick up after us than the chicks," he adds, winking. If Liat lets this slide, it is not really because she attributes such statements to her father-in-law's being a member of the Palmah generation. It is more due to the fact that, though an avowed feminist, she secretly prefers for the men to keep out of her hair when she's straightening up - a chore which takes her far less time when she is left to her own devices. Roni is all too familiar with this ambivalence of his wife's, as it always places him smack in the middle of a no-win situation. When he doesn't perform household duties, it's no good; when he does perform them, it's even worse. Today's dilemma, however, is a no-brainer, thanks to a complaint Liat had lodged at him early this morning, before the arrival of her in-laws. "They're your parents," she had reminded him. "The least you can do is make sure they're tended to properly." Joining his father on the patio, then, is not only a relief, but constitutes keeping in line with a request from Liat. Lifting his cup and saucer as he stands up, Roni answers his father's "bird-chick" quip with customary one-upmanship - another firmly-rooted familial and tribal tradition. "Don't the birds have enough trouble fighting the flu these days without having to worry about constipation on top of it?" he asks. "Dad, that's gross," Roni's daughter groans. "I'm trying to eat!" In fact, the teenager is delighted for an excuse to push away the plate of food she has been eyeing with disgust throughout the meal and make a dramatic exit to the bathroom to get ready for her date - a mere six hours hence. "How about trying to talk to your grandparents a little bit," Roni says, "who drove all this way to see you." "Oh, leave the child alone," Roni's mother says, embarrassed at being dragged unwittingly into an argument. Though, had it been her own cooking the girl was rejecting, she would have been deeply offended. Not that such a thing could possibly happen, she assures herself, due to her indisputable prowess of the pot and pan. Everyone has always told her that she should have become a gourmet chef. A caterer at the very least. As for her daughter-in-law, well, that's another story entirely. Liat never put much emphasis on the hearth. Or the heart, as far as she can tell. Being a career-woman and all. Having left things like housekeeping and child-rearing to hired help. Let's face it, she thinks somewhat sadly, Liat is not the woman she would have chosen for her son. Or pictured him choosing for himself, for that matter. Still, she concedes, they do have a beautiful, immaculate home. And two well-groomed children, Sabra manners notwithstanding. And Roni isn't exactly Prince Charles, after all, or Albert Einstein. "COULD YOU pleeeease zip your fly?" Liat says to Roni through a forced smile, her sing-song pitch belying her attempt to control her temper in front of present company. "Oh, yeah," Roni chuckles, looking down and remembering that he'd had to make room for a few more chocolate-covered macaroons - a treat he has fondly named "gut grout," much to his father's and son's amusement and to his wife's, daughter's and mother's dismay. "Maybe it would be better if I changed into sweat pants." "What's the matter?" his mother says suddenly. "You don't like the trousers I bought you?" "Of course I like them," he says, seeking out eye-contact with his father for moral support. "But I ate too much." "And whose fault is that?" Liat asks accusingly, exchanging conspiratorial glances with her mother-in-law. "The holiday's," Roni says, resting his cup and saucer on the table, rebuckling his belt as loosely as possible, and holding up a piece of matza as though it were evidence in a courtroom. "Watch the crumbs, for heaven's sake," Liat says, exasperated. "I'll get the broom," Roni's mother says, compassion for what Liat has to put up with replacing criticism. Liat bends down to hold the dust-pan while her mother-in-law sweeps. "There now," Liat says, satisfied. "Isn't it nice to get together for the holidays?" ruthie@jpost.com