My son’s bar mitzvah happened about two weeks ago. Obviously, being the proud Jewish mama that I am, I have to say the kid nailed it.
But I am not here to write The Ultimate Kvell. Rather, I’d like to share with you the lessons I learned from this blessed event, in hopes they can prevent some headaches when you, too, are fortunate enough to witness your own son or daughter becoming a bar or bat mitzvah. So here goes:
1. Chill Out. On the way to synagogue on the morning of The Big Day, I asked my son if he was nervous. “No, Mom,” he said. “I got this. Besides, you’re taking care of that whole being nervous thing for both of us.”
Well, that’s what I do, kid. (And, clearly I’m raising you to be an astute observer like your mama!)
Still, just how did he know I was nervous? Well, I am not particularly reticent about my emotions in the first place, so perhaps he gathered it from all the times I said I was nervous. Or maybe it was the way I was scurrying around the house that morning like a rat who’d been given Red Bull.
And, really: What was I nervous about? The kid had worked hard. He had prepared well. He had summers of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires under his belt and was comfortable with the service, the prayers, and his Torah and Haftorah readings.
Still, I was emanating tension, which reverberated off basically every surface at home that morning — as well as in the car on the way to synagogue, and in the synagogue itself. I think that many of us equate “anxiety” with “love” when it comes to our kids — but that’s not really true. Instead, my palpable tension made things more stressful for everyone, not least of all the bar mitzvah boy. Had I done some deep breathing, would I have loved him less? Absolutely not, and I probably would have set a better example of “adulting” to all my kids.
2. Other People Rock. As I was vibrating with nerves in my seat, clearly the impression of me as a grenade about to blow was circulating around the congregation. The rabbi’s wife, across the room, met my eyes, smiled a big smile, and shot me two thumbs up: “He’s gonna be GREAT!” she mouthed with enthusiasm. Another congregant caught my eye and mimed deep breathing, with a calm smile.
These two gestures were small, and the people who made them probably don’t even remember they did. But they made all the difference to me. They reminded me that this is not a confrontational situation; rather, every single person in that room is rooting for your kid to succeed. They reminded me that the congregation is a support system, not just additional numbers to factor into your Kiddush food order. And they reminded me that everything was going to be OK.
The people in the room are a source of positive energy and kindness, whether they are your invitees or random congregants you haven’t ever met. Tap into that energy when you need it!
3. Some Things Just Don’t Matter. I’m about to reveal something particularly scandalous for the New York metropolitan area in which I live, so buckle up. Here goes: I DIDN’T GET A MANICURE FOR MY SON’S BAR MITZVAH. I know, I know. It’s shocking. But the thing is, with six kids and work and everything else, I did not have a second to spare to sit down and paint my own nails, much less find the time to have someone else do it. And you know something? Not one person stopped the service to say, “I’m really sorry, but this simcha cannot continue because THE MOTHER DID NOT GET A MANICURE!” No one even commented at the party!
But hold tight, because I’m about to shock you again: I FORGOT TO BRING THE SOCKS FOR THE GIRLS TO WEAR WHILE DANCING AT THE KIDS PARTY. For those who don’t know, it’s custom around here that when there’s a party, the girls are wearing uncomfortable shoes, and you are supposed to supply them with socks so they can dance the night away unencumbered by their own footwear.
I remembered that “rule” the day before the event, and called my parents in the midst of their Costco run to pick up 50 pairs of socks. They did. I cut off all the tags and put them in a bin to bring to kids’ party — and then I left the bin in my garage. But, A Great Miracle Happened Here: The girls danced anyway!
In short, this stuff really, really, really doesn’t matter. If you don’t check off an item — or seven — on your list, I can now personally guarantee that it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Also: not one kid came up to me at the end of the party saying, “I had a great time at the party — but not as great as I was have if you had had favors. Or socks. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
4. Look For Beauty. My son’s kid party was, as the kids say, “lit.” But my family members and I were initially somewhat taken aback by the outfits on the girls, many of whom had interpreted the “casual chic” attire suggestion as something wildly outside my fashion lexicon. There were the heels that made the 13-year-old girls look like freshly-born fawns, the “booty shorts,” the cantilevered push-up bras, the lipstick, and so on.
And you know something? I could have dwelled on those outfits, and ruminated over how their parents ever let them out of the house. But I decided to focus on more important things. These girls were on the dance floor dancing with my youngest girls, who could not have been more thrilled if they had been dancing with Beyoncé herself. These girls gave speeches about how much they liked my son; they helped my young daughters play foosball, get plates of food, and take pictures at the photo booth. They smiled, and laughed, and were terrific guests who participated in all the activities. And each one came up to me and, with terrific manners, thanked me for hosting a fun party. In the words of One Direction, “That’s what makes you beautiful.”
Which brings me to the wise saying of another important philosopher of our time: Pete The Cat. As he would say, “It’s All Good.” In other words, enjoy every second of your child’s bar or bat mitzvah — because it’s over way too soon.