So your kid is becoming a bar or bat mitzvah. Here are a few hints I hope you will find helpful in successfully getting through this very special simcha, based on my own very recent experience.
THE WEEK BEFORE
1. Put out all the clothing for all of your children on some non-floor surface, ideally in your room. “All” includes belts, socks, tights, underwear, and shoes. Have children try on said items so that you don’t have a situation the day of, which you will be completely unprepared to handle like a rational human. If you have children under 5 years old, have a backup outfit/tights for each of them. I really wish I were kidding about this last part.
2. Listen to the bar or bat mitzvah kid practice every night. Do not listen while ordering stuff on Amazon on your phone or playing Candy Crush. Listen. Be kind. Use this as your Moment of Zen.
3. Make a list of everything. Just everything. Get a brief sense of satisfaction when you cross something out.
THE DAY BEFORE
1. Go to the synagogue to bring all the stuff you need to bring: water bottle for the kid to hide under bimah (if OK with temple), handouts, and kippot if you’re doing that. Also books/diapers/wipes/snacks for little siblings, etc.
2. If you must sob or cry or yell, please try to do so in your car alone. Definitely do not do so in front of bar or bat mitzvah child, as you will freak them out even more than they are already freaked out. (If your menstrual cycle is sadly exactly in sync with the blessed event, make sure you are “covered.”)
THE NIGHT BEFORE
1. Do not throw things. Your children will find it unnerving if you embark on a string of profanities or not-so-gently place a plate in the sink so that maybe it breaks a little in half. Just like your heart will when you hear your 17-month-old almost perfectly repeat said string of profanities.
2. Take a Tylenol PM (nothing stronger please) to go to sleep. Otherwise you will spend the night singing “Sunrise, Sunset” to yourself on endless repeat, crying quietly and wondering how you got to the point of having a teenage child when only seconds ago, you had feathered bangs, braces, and were chanting your own haftorah.
THE MORNING OF
1. Do not forget your children at the house. Do not forget The Folder or whatever its analog is of the bar or bat mitzvah child’s materials. Do not forget to breathe. Do not forget to make sure all your children are wearing shoes before they leave the house. Two shoes per child.
2. Go to the bathroom as soon as you get to the synagogue because YOU ARE NOT GOING TO WANT TO MISS A SINGLE SECOND OF THIS. If you have a small bladder, Lord help you.
1. Don’t even blink. Watch the whole thing with awe and wonder. Try not to cry if you are in an eye makeup situation. Cry with abandon if you are not. Don’t worry about your cheeks hurting from smiling.
2. If your view is blocked at any point, get up and move so that you can see everything. See above.
3. Hug and kiss your child and make sure you tell them how much you love them and are proud of them. Do this 50 billion times. It is not enough.
IF YOU ARE HOSTING A KIDDUSH LUNCHEON SITUATION
1. Talking to your guests is more important than eating…but maybe ask a friend to make a plate of food for you at the very beginning and get you a glass of wine just so that you can eat some of the best things before they vanish!
2. Don’t bother to leave to fix your lipstick, your pantyhose, whatever. Who cares? Enjoy yourself.
3. Bring a pair of flats. Or, alternatively, bunny slippers. You can get away with anything. Trust me.
THE DAYS AFTER
You all did it! Now it’s time to:
1. Eat the leftovers and rejoice. You will find that the “real world,” with its annoying problems like bills, work, and parenting demands, will soon be pounding on your virtual and actual doors, demanding your attention and stress. While you can’t stop that permanently, here are ways to hold it off for a while:
2. Write thank you notes. Obviously, the bar or bat mitzvah kid needs to write thank you notes, whether for presents or presence (I know many people who don’t make their kids write thank you notes. Agree to disagree). Use a spreadsheet of addresses from invitations, with a satisfying box the kid can check after they have written the note and sealed the envelope. I have set a minimum requirement of five to eight notes per day in order to earn iPad use post-homework (I know, brutal! Aren’t you glad I’m not YOUR mom?). Not only that, but I have other arguably unreasonable requirements of said thank you notes: Namely, they need to be real. No pro forma “thank you so much for your generous gift. I’m so glad you came to my BM (kids really write this. Someone needs to tell them what a ‘BM’ is.).” They don’t need to be long—three or four sentences are OK—but they need to mention specifics, like how you appreciate how far the Canadians traveled to be with you on the special day, or how you love the books they gave because they really appeal to your interest in whatever. A thank you note should feel, from both sides, like a hug.
3. YOU write thank you notes. Wait…what? No, seriously. The day after, I did nothing whatsoever. But on the Monday after, when all these children went off to school, I started writing. I wrote notes to the cantor who had worked so hard with my son for months. I wrote to the caterer. I wrote to the rabbi. I wrote to the synagogue administrator, etc. etc. The act of writing these thank yous—rather than just calling—isn’t just nice because the person on the other end will be very happy you took the time to write them. It’s also nice for you, because it allows you to savor the sweet taste of the joy of the occasion for just a little bit longer. Everyone’s a winner. Write a note to your bar or bat mitzvah kid. This is the best.
4. Make a scrapbook. Personally, I put everything—from his practice book to some loose photos to particularly-thoughtful cards and emails—into a huge teetering pile on the corner of my desk. That is a very good and positive first step toward the larger scrapbook goal.
5. Be realistic. My next son becomes a bar mitzvah in 2018. It is my deepest, deepest hope that the pile has found a more permanent home by then, before it is joined by a second pile.