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This Is What I Realized When My Daughter Had Her Bat Mitzvah

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The date had been circled in red ink on our calendar for almost three years: August 22, 2015. Three years of driving carpool to Hebrew school on Wednesday afternoons. Three years of helping my daughter carve out time for Hebrew practice in between studying for tests, viola lessons, dance class, tennis, and sewing camp.

Then came the planning—ordering invitations, booking hotel rooms, selecting the menu, finding a photographer. Would we have a green screen or photo booth? What were the merits of an afternoon luncheon versus an evening party? Before we knew it, our daughter’s bat mitzvah was just a few months away. The day she was to “become a woman” was finally here!

I remember my own bat mitzvah as being one of the best days of my life. I remember feeling beautiful as I dressed in my purple silk dress with big ‘80s shoulder pads and polka dots, my hair in a permed halo around my face. I remember being surrounded by family that had come in from out-of-town despite the unexpected April snowstorm to see me stand at the bimah. I remember the day before, at school, feeling both flattered and embarrassed that my friends had hired a singing telegram to come perform for me in the cafeteria. I felt special. I felt mature. I had opened the door and stepped over the threshold. One minute I was a girl, the next I was a woman.

Nearly 30 years later, I was driving my own daughter to a meeting with our rabbis. She sat beside me talking about the test she had taken that day in school and the plans she and her friends had made to see the next “Hunger Games” movie. We did our best “catching up” in the car, and I looked forward to the rides to and from our synagogue.

It struck me as I listened to her that she was indeed growing into a young woman with her own hopes and dreams for the future, her own driving ambitions, her own interests and dislikes. She wanted to become the next “Project Runway” star and attend design school when she graduated. Her favorite thing to do was shop at the mall with her friends. She spent forever styling her hair in front of her mirror and picking out the perfect outfit. She had even confessed to her first boy crush that year.

But there were still the moments that she’d let me cuddle her like I did when she was a toddler. Some mornings when she came downstairs, sleep still in her eyes, I’d see a reflection of the little girl that used to sit and watch me make scrambled eggs while we sang to the radio. When she laughed, it was with the contagious giggle of a child—not a mature adult. She still enjoyed playing kitchen or with her American Girl doll with her younger sister. She still enjoyed hopscotch and hula hoops. There were still traces of that younger self that, though fleeting, emerged like a rare bloom in winter.

The day of her bat mitzvah finally arrived, and I don’t know who was more nervous, her or me? When she stepped up to the bimah, I was caught off-guard by a swell of emotion. Despite the nerves she’d felt that morning, she was suddenly composed and smiled out to the crowd of nearly two-hundred friends and family. Despite being so soft-spoken, when she opened her mouth, her voice carried the chanted melody in a sweet, rhythmic rise and fall. Sunlight from the high stained glass windows glinted off the crystal charm she wore around her neck and I was captivated. I was proud.

This moment was one of those special moments when I caught a glimpse of the future woman my daughter was to become. What she accomplished that day, accepting her role in the Jewish faith and reading from the Torah, was no small feat. I knew she still had years to go before truly becoming an adult, but she was definitely on her way to womanhood.

Gone were the days when she wanted to hold my hand in the grocery store. Gone was the innocent little girl that cried when she realized her fairy wings couldn’t really make her fly. But later, when she was lifted high in the chair during the Hora, she giggled with the abandon and delight of a child.

Watching her, I realized there was no magic threshold that determines when childhood is over and adulthood begins. It happens in small steps. And I was determined to enjoy and appreciate every minute of that miraculous transition.


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