A little over two years ago I came across an article written by a writer I follow. She humorously described making her first Bar Mitzvah in our old neighborhood in Israel. I laughed about her notebook of ideas, and her internal struggle of acculturating to Israeli society versus her old American standards. I empathized and related because I was going through parallel conflicts but on a different continent. She posited that making a Bar/Bat Mitzvah was really a coming of age for the mom. Or maybe that was just the message I heard because I realized I had a lot of coming into myself to do.
Allow me to explain…I had three kids by the time I was 23. I was so young and naive that I honestly didn’t fully grasp what I had gotten myself into. When child No. 1 was about 3-years-old, he bit someone at Gan (pre-kindergarten). The teacher let me know. Suddenly it struck me. I was the mother of the biting child. I didn’t just have to birth these babies. I had to do my best to ensure that they turned out okay and as upstanding members of society. The enormity of the responsibility hit me. I promptly called my mom and shared this epiphany with her. Now do you see the kind of growing up I had to do? You could say I’ve spent the last decade growing up with my children. Well time flies when you’re having fun and chasing four kids around, so let’s fast forward to the B’nei Mitzvot.
Lesson #1: It’s Not About You
This is not about you; this is about your kid.
I was quite anxious and stressed out before the first Bar Mitzvah. We were on a tight budget, we had a lot going on personally and professionally (our organization’s annual benefit was one week after our Bar Mitzvah), my husband had decided to teach my son his whole reading single-handedly, and to save money, I was self-catering the whole thing. Know this about me: When I’m sleeping, I might look like I’m out cold, but I am very active in my sleep. As I am an active dreamer. The Friday night one week before the Bar Mitzvah I had a nightmare. I dreamt I was late to synagogue on Shabbat morning. I arrived in a frenzy, realized I had missed the Torah reading and I was looking behind me to see which of my friends had come but they had all left already because I was so late.
I woke up in a cold sweat but with better perspective for the last week of preparations. This wasn’t about my social standing, this wasn’t my party, this was my child’s special moment. I had lost focus but thankfully it wasn’t too late.
Lesson #2: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Everyone has issues. If you think you know someone who doesn’t, you just don’t know that person well enough. My sister is a party planner in Los Angeles. My sister’s issues are sometimes things like this: The florist couldn’t get the gargantuan arrangement she ordered for a party through the door of the venue. So my sister was directing me on my nonprofit budget from afar. We needed just the right napkin to bring together the linens and the runners she borrowed from her (paying) clients for me and schlepped them from L.A. The wild goose chase began. The place in Detroit that shipped our specialty napkins didn’t have enough of the design we chose. Nothing in the Twin Cities seemed good enough for this holy occasion.
Now, I try, I really try, not to ask my parents to bring me creature comforts from my native East Coast. When I really need a fix, I pick up and head East for a few days. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so the Zeidy of the Bar Mitzvah boy found himself shopping for napkins while Facetiming his party-planner daughter on the opposite coast for the Midwestern celebration. The perfect napkins were on the way. Fast forward: A day later I was in Byerly’s and – lo and behold – I saw the same print at Byerly’s. The print I’d been searching far and wide was right here! I started praying on the spot that my dad wouldn’t notice them while stopping for kosher sushi. Maybe the lesson wasn’t don’t sweat the small stuff; maybe lesson #2 was what you’re looking for is right there at your door.
Lesson #3 Blood Is Thicker Than Water
In our 16 years of marriage, we have never lived near family. We started out in Silver Spring, Md., while my husband was getting his Master’s degree. We then pursued our dream of living in Israel for seven years. Our first job in community building was in Seattle, and we are now happily settled in the Twin Cities. People would always ask me if I missed my family and I jokingly would answer, “family is so overrated.” Well, almost none of those awesome friends from previous cities showed up for our kids’ B’nei Mitzvot. Who came? Who cared? Who braved Minnesota in January, not just once, but twice?! Our family. I guess family isn’t so overrated after all. I have also stopped whining about packing and traveling for their celebrations. Life is too short not to celebrate with your loved ones.
The three older kids, thank G-d, all did a stellar job at their respective shin-digs. My sister and I are still talking. I’m feeling good about how we’re all progressing and growing up. Best of all, I think I’ve successfully convinced child number four that if the Messiah hasn’t come and we aren’t all back in the Holy Land, we will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah in Israel, staying at a hotel and eating in tasty kosher restaurants.
Gotta sign off now. No. 1 just turned 15 and its time to take him to the DMV for his permit test.