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Oct 24 2013

The Bar Mitzvah Diary: How I Prepared for My Son’s Big Day

By at 9:43 am

sharon clark bar mitzvah diary

We recently held my older son’s bar mitzvah. I had heard many stories about all the pitfalls of these events–which are really supposed to be focused on the meaningfulness for the young people involved– but assumed I would get around them and plan an event that would be successful and well-organized, without much of the tsuris that other families seem to have to deal with. I am an executive in the government, after all, accustomed to dealing with a wide range of stakeholders, conflicting priorities, and tight timelines.

Boy, was I wrong. Events conspired to bring me to a near state of panic, and my only way of coping was to start keeping this blog. In the end, humor saved the day. So enjoy.

November 2012: T-9 months

– Established bar mitzvah budget. Figured we should have no problem staying on budget. I’m an auditor, after all.

– Called local Museum to book room for Saturday night party. Museum tells me for my budget, I can order pizza from their cafeteria. Called Delta Hotel.

December 2012: T-8 months

– Delta tells me (more politely than the Museum) that they can’t do it for my budget.

January 2013: T-7 months

– Booked party room at City Hall. Room is good price and we can bring in our own caterer and buy our own booze.

February 2013: T-6 months

– Met with contact at City Hall. Noticed on his schedule that Gay Pride Festival is booked for the same weekend. Figured how crazy could it be; this is Ottawa.

March 2013: T-5 months

– Booked block of rooms at hotel near City Hall.

April 2013: T-4 months

– After reading an article saying that the food is the most important part of the party, hired expensive caterer.

May 2013: T-3 months

– After reading an article that said the DJ is the most important part of the party, hired expensive DJ.

June 2013: T-2 months

– Accepted the reality that I was going to go over budget. Should have ordered pizza.

August 9, 2013: T-15 days

– Tried to save money by doing my own centerpieces. Looked on internet for ideas. Came up with brilliant idea, consisting of glass vases, jelly beans and Montreal Canadiens mini-hockey sticks.

– Asked my mother to buy the vases (minimum six-inch diameter) and asked her boyfriend to get the jelly beans.

– Asked my mother-in-law in Montreal to do up place cards for dinner.

– Heard from Adam’s tutor that things aren’t going well.

– Told husband to ensure house cleaner came, since brunch the day after the bar mitzvah will be at our house.

– Did headcount: 104 for lunch; 102 for dinner.

August 10, 2013: T-14 days

– Mother informs me she found the perfect vases, but they are five inches. She has them on hold.

– Tried to find Montreal Canadiens mini-sticks in Ottawa. No luck.

– Sister-in-law calls from Toronto and asks what the dress code is. Told her “civil service chic.” Silence at the other end of the line.

– Husband says house cleaner quit; she graduated from college and got a better job.

– Sent mother-in-law names for place cards.

– Did headcount: 102 for lunch; 100 for dinner.

August 11, 2013: T-13 days

– Mother informs me that her boyfriend found the perfect vases at the dollar store, but they are three inches. He bought them already.

– Sent mother-in-law correct spelling of the names for place cards.

– Father-in-law finds Montreal Canadiens mini-sticks in Montreal. Who knew.

– Told husband to find new house cleaner.

– Did headcount: 100 for lunch; 98 for dinner. They’re dropping like flies. Invited more friends. Will need more place cards.

August 12, 2013: T-12 days

– Picked up 14 tiny vases at my mother’s house.

– Husband spends an hour trying to find a new house cleaner.

– Came up with new brilliant idea for centerpieces: put the small vases into larger containers and surround them with feather boas at the bottom to increase square footage. Can put jelly beans in small vases; will save money by not having to buy as many jelly beans.

August 13, 2013: T-11 days

– Husband spends two more hours trying to find new house cleaner.

– Mother-in-law says she ran out of place cards. (Should I feel guilty?)

– Bought seven boas that I can cut in half to go around the 13 ice buckets (7 x 2 = 14; will have one half boa extra. Can get ideas from 50 Shades of Gray for what to do with the extra half boa.)

August 14, 2013: T-10 days

– Mother’s boyfriend drops off 17 pounds of Jelly Bellies, which cost considerably more than jelly beans. He foots the bill. (Mother feels guilty and pays him back later.)

– Left message with Molly Maid to see if they can send a house cleaner.

– Asked my brother in England to go over what husband wrote for Adam’s speech since it’s too middle-of-the-road.

August 15, 2013: T-9 days

– Came up with brilliant idea to number the tables, based on years in which the Montreal Canadians won the Stanley Cup.

– Molly Maid calls back: too expensive.

August 16, 2013: T-8 days

– Printed out table number cards.

– Took out my brother’s changes to Adam’s speech. Too leftist.

August 17, 2013: T-7 days

– Came up with seating arrangement for dinner, based on highly complex optimization exercise given a series of constraints worthy of an MBA in operations management.

August 18, 2013: T-6 days

– Reviewed seating arrangement with husband, made some changes, re-optimized. Thought about doing seating arrangement for lunch. Asked caterer; she tells me since we’re inviting the whole congregation, the best we can do is put “reserved” signs at some tables.

– Husband briefly considers cleaning the house himself; resumes search for new house cleaner.

August 19, 2013: T-5 days

– Sent caterer final headcount.

– DJ calls and tells me we need to feed her and her four colleagues.

– Called caterer and changed headcount.

– Tried to decide whether it’s worth it to rent chair covers. Left message with chair cover lady.

– Realized I forgot one relative in synagogue honors and got my father’s Hebrew name wrong. Sent in corrections to synagogue.

– Went by City Hall and realized the impact of having an event inside the building while the Pride Festival rages outside. City Hall staff say this is their biggest event of the year. Spoke to contact and tried to figure out what door people would be able to enter through.

– Wrote Jared’s speech about how great a brother Adam is.

– Mother-in-law asks for changes to the seating arrangement. Made the changes.

– Helped Adam practice parsha, haftarah, ve’ahavta, additional prayers. Told him he was so good he could teach it to other kids.

August 20, 2013: T-4 days

– Found new house cleaner. Hope she’s not allergic to boa feathers.

– Heard back from chair cover lady and decided to rent chair covers for $2 each. She guarantees they will fit over folding chairs.

– Informed caterer and City Hall re: chair covers. Caterer informs me they charge for time to put them on. Regretted decision to get chair covers.

– Received word from Adam’s tutor that he is almost ready (phew). But his voice is hoarse.

– Still don’t know if guests will make it past the Pride Festival to get into City Hall.

– Started this blog to manage my stress, filled it in retroactively.

August 21, 2013: T-3 days

– Went to the rehearsal at the synagogue. So far so good.

– Mother-in-law says 10 people are missing from the seating arrangement.

– Husband buys nice boxes of chocolate to put in guests’ hotel rooms. Hotel says there’s a charge to put chocolates in the hotel rooms.

– Cleaned pieces of boa out of the ice buckets and put the jelly bellies in–some in the small vases, some in the ice buckets outside the small vases. Ran out of jelly bellies.

– Caterer says she doesn’t have room in the van to bring the chair covers.

August 22, 2013: T-2 days

– Husband calls and says we need the more expensive chair covers because the $2 ones won’t fit the folding chairs. *&?%$#!!

– DJ calls and says she doesn’t think the caterer will have enough dessert.

– Sent husband to buy all the booze and soft drinks, late birthday gifts for people coming to the bar mitzvah, and to the airport twice to pick people up.

– Wrote everyone else’s speeches. What they don’t know ahead of time won’t hurt them.

– Adam says he can’t remember how one of the prayers goes. Mumbles incoherently for the rest of the evening trying to remember it.

August 23, 2013: T-1 day

– New house cleaner says she can’t get to the cleaning supplies because the chair covers are in the way. Also she has allergies to dust and needs a face mask.

– Husband puts containers with chair covers in the filthy garage. Told him to avoid the puddle of leaking steering fluid. Husband promises to buy kitty litter to soak up the steering fluid so it won’t get on the chair covers.

– Told husband to mow lawn, buy more jelly bellies, cupcakes, and kitty litter and bring the candy and table numbers to the caterer. Husband thinks about threatening divorce (I’m guessing).

– Held dinner for out-of-towners at nice restaurant. Brother from Toronto says, “There’s no seating arrangement? This is a disaster.”

August 24, 2013: T-0

– Woke up at 5:30 a.m. to do seating arrangement for lunch. The hell with synagogue protocol.

– Drove to synagogue. Made sure bar mitzvah boy was in the car.

– Met with rabbi before the service. Left my speech (to be given during the ceremony) in his office. Ran out to get it. Office door was locked. Got caretaker to unlock it. Returned to my seat. Thank God for good deodorant.

– Adam does a spectacular job chanting. Raises the bar, so to speak.

– While we’re on the pulpit, husband asks to look at our speech. I give it to him.

– When it’s time for our speech, husband can’t find it. I get ready to wing it. Awkward pause while he leafs through his prayer book and eventually finds it.

– At lunch, people don’t sit where they’re supposed to. My last-minute table numbers are too small and no one can see them. Mother’s friends scowl at me.

– Relatives staying at hotel say “Chocolates–what chocolates? I didn’t get any chocolates.”

– After lunch, went to City Hall to get ready. The room looks great. Glad I got the chair covers. No sign of steering fluid stains.

– All the guests get into the building somehow. A few stragglers from the Pride Festival walk by, but no one crashes the party.

– Danced the night away with all the kids and our family and friends. Felt bad for ignoring people not dancing.

– Decided to skip the rest of the speeches; dancing is more important.

August 25, 2013: T+1 day

– Got up at 6:30 a.m. to defrost lox for brunch.

– Swept patio, arranged chairs, made flower arrangement, put out tablecloths, plates, cutlery, platters, leftover jelly bellies. Dusted front door. Checked toilet paper.

– Husband wakes up at 9:00 a.m. and yells at me for defrosting too much lox. “It’s expensive, you know.”

– Mother-in-law picks up chocolates at hotel reception and brings them back to our house.

– Hosted 40 people for brunch; 13 for dinner. Very little leftover lox. (Ha!)

– Husband returns unused booze to liquor store. Non-Jewish friend can’t believe how little 105 people drank at an open bar.

– Start to wilt. Husband’s aunt asks me in a nasal voice, “Are you getting a cold? You sound very nasal.”

– Went to bed at 8:30 p.m. Said goodbye to everyone. Husband’s aunt says, “Don’t kiss me if you have a cold.”

August 26, 2013: T+2 days

– Almost out of toilet paper.

– Started thinking about school supplies, hockey equipment; planning the next bar mitzvah.

August 31, 2013: T+7 days

– Got Adam to start writing thank you cards. He asks (I kid you not), “How do you spell bar mitzvah?”

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