The Breens are free by Kayli. Just look at how bright and colorful we are!

Minnesota Mamaleh: Free is NOT Shtoopy

Holidays are filled to the brim with lessons and teachable moments. Passover, with its rules, regulations and traditions is no exception.

The Breens are free by Kayli. Just look at how bright and colorful we are!


Sometimes however, we get so bogged down with what to clean. What to eat. What not to eat. Which way to lean. Where to sit. Which haggadah to use.  And so on and so on. That it becomes difficult to find a moment to step back, reflect, learn and to find the gem of a lesson embedded within the rituals. Besides the noise. And the fun. And the memories. And the food.
Holidays give us an excellent opportunity to gift a trait, a lesson, a must-pass-down-something to our kids. All wrapped up in a neat and tidy holiday that they love, respond to and want to explore and learn more about.
As Jason and I thought about the Passover story, certain words, traits, lessons kept bouncing around in our brains. Bravery: Standing up to Pharaoh doesn’t sound like a small feat. Determination: Ten plagues. Ten! Faith: Following Moses out of Egypt after years of slavery, heart-and-soul-believing that there’s more to this world and that it will be GOOD. Amazing! Freedom: Exercising control over one’s actions, decisions and choices, what the Israelites were striving for. And what so many have strived for since.

The concept of freedom. Of choices. And of using those choices wisely really resonated with us this year. Kayli has entered grade school. Her everyday school schedule allows her more autonomy and independent decision making than ever before.  Chloe, too, is finding freedom as a new preschooler several times a week. Without me leading, guiding, nudging. And Brody, while still with me for most of the day (and night), at eighteen months is definitely exploring being his own separate little guy– walking, talking, throwing, unloading, climbing, running. Sigh.

And, we're *not* free by Chloe. See those tears? Brody is the tiny spotted part on the left. And the blue? That would be our desks because that's what "had to work" meant to Chloe.


Religious stories, much like family tales, are told year after year to increase the connectivity we feel to those stories. We become embedded in context and in history and therefore more deeply feel and learn the lessons and messages embedded within. In feeling at-one with our ancestors we become more appreciative of their plight and stand together shoulder to shoulder to ensure our own (in this case) freedom. We don’t take it lightly and that’s the message that we wanted to send to the kids.
One night over dinner we brought the word freedom to the table. After retelling the Passover story, we talked about how hard the Israelites worked for their freedom. How we honor their story, our story, during Passover. How lucky we are to be free.
And then we asked, “How are you free? What kind of choices do you have?” What to wear. What to eat. Who to play with. What to draw. Simple. Basic. Appropriate. We somewhat shallowly commented how lucky we are to have those choices and that freedom and proceeded to wrap up our little lesson.
I asked the girls, apparently all Pharaoh-like, to bring up their dishes. And Chloe responded, “Actually, mommy, we’re free. And we don’t have to listen to you.”
Believe it or not, I really do love her. Sometimes in spite of, but in this case because of moments like these. But I won’t lie to you. It’s really hard to know what to say to your kids when they look you in the eye and say something like that. After-the-fact I came up with so many responses. Funny! Pithy! Meaningful! In the moment, not so much. We looked at each other eye-to-eye for a moment in a total stare-down. Does anyone else do this with their kids? Until Kayli, who is sometimes my favorite for being just so very smart (KIDDING!) casually said, “Free is not shtoopy.” And a new family favorite phrase was created. Just. Like. That.
Shtoopy has been a word in our family for a long, long time. When he was little, one of my girlfriend’s little boys couldn’t say the “s” sound correctly.” When he tried to say the not-so-nice word “stupid” it came out “shtoopy” and we’ve all been saying it ever since. It’s cute. And silly. And kind of fun to say. You just gave it a try, didn’t you? It really does just roll right off the tongue, doesn’t it?
Shtoopy is easy to explain, model and create the example and non-example for. The word “free” however is not. But since we know shtoopy so well, we thought Kayli’s observation was absolutely brilliant.
Because, indeed, just because you are free to do something, it doesn’t mean that you should do that something. Like…you’re free to run into the street. But you shouldn’t. You’re free to quit your job. But you shouldn’t. You’re free to talk back to your mother. But really, you shouldn’t.
Our people didn’t endure slavery. And deserts. And matzoh. Just so we can waste away our freedom on bold shtoopy decisions.
Our kids need to know that the world is their oyster. That they have choices from here, to the stars, to the moon and back. But they also need to know how to make wise, worthwhile decisions. Decisions that benefit the whole. That are rich in learning, love, compassion and growth.

And my absolute favorite passover quote ala Noshin, "And what do free people do? They eat dessert first!" My kids are totally rocking *that* freedom!


Today freedom is a right. It is also a responsibility. And a privilege to be used wisely.
And that has been the conversation piece at our house this week. It has been amazing to hear my kids use everyday language to show an understanding of Passover. Even if it does mean that I’ve heard the word shtoopy a lot this week. Like brings-tears-to-my-eyes amazing. But I’m sappy like that.
As my kids become more free and more independent they’ll learn, explore, grow and make mistakes. In order for them to authentically learn and appreciate what freedom and wise decision making looks and feels like, we need to set them up for success, give them choices and let them know when something is shtoopy.
Because, indeed, free is NOT shtoopy.