One year, I was living in a village where one of the other family's had their son murdered in the Rosh Chodesh Adar massacre at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. Another Purim, there was a rainstorm of biblical proportions on the day itself, which took out both my ovens (before I'd cooked the Purim Seuda…) and completely flooded my upstairs landing.
Last year, I broke my toe on Rosh Chodesh Adar, and bizarrely spent the whole of Purim feeling the most miserable and broken I'd probably ever felt in my life.
This Rosh Chodesh Adar rolled around - and practically the minute night fell, I started to feel inexplicably weak, sick and very despairing and miserable.
I took to my bed trying not to panic that I'd been struck by the Bubonic Plague, or something, and then I remembered it was Rosh Chodesh Adar. Ah! That explains everything…
It took me a few days to recover and not feel so inexplicably shakey and fragile - just in time to go shopping for my daughters' Purim outfits. One daughter was being all flippant and 'teenage' about the whole dressing up thing, and went straight for all the most horrible, gaudy lipsticks she could find.
"What are you dressing up as? A drag queen?"
That's what I wanted to ask her, but instead, I bit my lip and smiled my fake smile, as yet another packet of tiger-striped false fingernails made it into my basket. Thank G-d she only dresses like that once a year.
The other daughter had a nervous breakdown trying to decide between being an Egyptian, a Greek Sylph, or Pocahontas (great, at least one of them wasn't directly connected to idol worship and a culture that revelled in killing the Jews…)
I can't tell you how high our collective stress level rose. Finally, we went to a different shop, and she settled on the Flamenco dancer outfit (after long negotiations about HAVING to wear a long top and skirt underneath it all times.)
But the Purim revelry wasn't over yet: next on the list of super-stressful, expensive and pretty pointless things was mishloach manot.
For the whole class. Twice over. Even though it wasn't even actually Purim yet. Even though technically, packets of bamba, gummy worms and chocolate bars don't even really count as a proper mishloach manot.
Yet again, stress levels rose throughout the Levy household, as my kids agonised over the contents, over the packaging, over whether their mishloach manot were 'shavey' enough (Hebrew for 'worth even getting').
All this left me pondering Purim, and the true meaning of the festival. It's that time when everything can flip around; when we can truly see G-d's hand in our life; where we can achieve the most amazing miracles with our prayers.
And it all seemed to have got lost, again, under wrappings of cellophane, cheap, tarty costumes and a sense of enormous motherly-overwhelm.
G-d, is this really how You want Purim to be, or has it got co-opted by the Evil Inclination?
I don't know, but in the meantime, this is what I'm doing on the actual day itself (G-d willing): I'm putting on my (very simple) cat mask; I'm eating a (very simple) baked salmon, with just my family; I'm drinking just enough wine until I have no idea what's good, or what's bad anymore (and believe me, I'm pretty much there even without the alcohol) - and I'm asking G-d to shine His light into the madness of this world, as sometimes I feel I just can't take it any more.
I know, it's not very 'festive', is it? What can I tell you. For all the PR and all the hype, I find Purim to be one of the most serious, introspective and challenging holidays of the whole year. And maybe I've got that backwards, but that's also the spirit of the day, and each year, I find myself asking the question again: "G-d, is this really how You want my Purim to be?" And I suspect I'm not alone.