Last weekend, on the day before Kol Nidre, our oldest son became a bar mitzvah. I have to say, I think it was the happiest day of my life. Yes, I know I should say that the birthdays of both our sons were the happiest days of my life but on our oldest son's bar mitzvah, I was neither drugged nor in pain nor was I forty pounds overweight. Plus, there were 200 people in the room, and I pretty much knew and loved them all, as opposed to our birthing rooms at Mt. Sinai, where I knew our OB and of course knew my husband, but was tended to by nurses who probably didn't love anything about me except the fact that I was so thoroughly sedated, I wasn't screaming for painkillers.
But I digress. Last Saturday was a gorgeous sunny day. I'll admit that the two weeks leading up to the BM (as I came to call it in my various frantic emails to friends) were full of stress, anxiety and worry. Getting my older son to and from Temple for last minute rehearsals with the cantor and d'var Torah discussions with the rabbi, while working part-time, getting dinner on the table, occasionally running with our dog and supervising my younger son's homework, was not easy. I looked for---and found---opportunities to get into the car by myself and listen to Fergie belt out "Outa my Head," from the Black Eyed Peas "The END" album. She may have only been singing about being out of her head but I was really feeling it.
That said, the day of the bar mitzvah was glorious. The rabbi and cantor seemed pleased, our son spoke beautifully on the bima, and he successfully and happily read from the Torah with his friend Tyler. My wonderful friend Carole, who is a rabbi, gave a moving blessing from the bima, and my equally wonderful friend Anna said very nice things and presented Matt and Tyler with their silver-plated kiddush cups.
A word about Tyler. It is nothing short of miraculous that your child shares his or her b'nai mitzvah with a child who you really like. That this other child should be part of a great family is even more of a miracle. Tyler is a great kid (though technically, I should be calling both these kids "men.") He and my older son go to camp together and they are both sweet, funny and irreverent boys, who know how to read and recite Hebrew under pressure. It was delightful to see them up there on the bima giggling, jabbing each other, and waiting for the other to finish speaking. Tyler's mother, Naneen, has an older son so she has been through this whole bar mitzvah business before. She reminded me to tell the bus to come early, find a basket for the red satin yarmulkes (which looked like cardinals' caps, but no matter), and fill a basket with colored socks so the 13-year old girls could take off their high-heeled shoes and have something to dance in. (My sister-in-law's babysitter got the socks at Costco. Thanks, Jasmine!) Naneen also told me to get a frame for the invitation (which I failed to do), bring extra directions cards to the ceremony (ditto), and generally kept me sane. Naneen had the foresight to assign a friend to bring the camp kids' sleeping bags to the party, which I had forgotten to do, so my sister-in-law and brother-in-law helped schlep that stuff from the Temple cloak room to the parking lot at the last minute. Thank you Nancy and Larry!
It was resassuring to hang out with someone who is calmer and more sensible than I am, and it was a total pleasure to share this event with Naneen and her family. Naneen and I are both now mothers of men. Oh, boy!
At the party afterwards, our older son glowed and beamed and danced with his friends. The boys took off their jackets, got sweaty and looked happy. The girls looked beautiful---I hadn't seen some of them in a couple of years, and they, more than the boys, looked as if they were ready to swoop down and embrace adulthood. Some of the kids wore their red hoody sweatshirts before the bar mitzvah was over, which for some reason just tickled me. The oversize sign-in board of Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur managed to look both menacing and cheerful. The table "sculptures" that two artistic women had created out of Matt's old and abandoned hockey equipment looked really good once they had been retrofitted with silver glitter and sparkly "snow." And the life-size chocolate hockey "pucks" these women left on people's plates gave some of us a pleasant and long-lasting sugar high. (If this all sounds hokey, mea culpa. We live in suburban New Jersey and the theme of the party was ice hockey.) My husband read a beautiful toast and so did our younger son. The eight-minute montage that my husband labored over was marvelous, our boys looked handsome in their new blue suits, and I, for the first time since our wedding, was wearing hairspray and lipliner.
If I'm kvelling and bragging, forgive me. It was just one of those days. There are very few occasions in your life when everything goes well and all the people surrounding you seem genuinely happy to be there. This day was one of them. No one got hurt, drunk, sad or pissed off. Almost all of my bridesmaids attended; and so did many friends I've known since grammar school, high school and college. All my husband's groomsmen were there, and it made me so happy to think that we were still in close touch with the people we had been close to when we were married sixteen years ago. We danced and laughed and ate. My friend Terri brought the enormous, many-layered Torah cake, and a week later, we are still licking the frosting off our plates. My in-laws, my mother and stepfather sat with their friends and cousins and seemed very happy to share this simcha with their shared grandson. My much younger half-sister came with a friend, looked beautiful and seemed to have a good time. Our cousins, siblings, friends and extended family members came in from California, Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Our neighbor gave an envelope of cash to the bus driver and got on the bus with the teenagers, ensuring they made it from the Temple to the party in one piece. Thank you all for schlepping!
Only my father was missing, and though he passed away four years ago, and has been gone long enough that I shouldn't still be missing him so acutely, I was. Since I sort of, kind of believe in ghosts and am writing a short story in which the protagonist actively talks to ghosts, I'll just say out loud here that I did kind of, sort of think my father was at the service the night before. I started to cry when I thought about what he was missing and regretted I hadn't invited one of his old friends, who was still alive and a member of the Temple, to the service. Before my Dad died, he bought both our boys tallit (prayer shawls) from the Jewish Museum in Manhattan (we were pretty sure he was dating someone who worked at the Jewish museum because he kept bringing us gifts from the gift shop.) The yarmulke that came with the tallis was too small for Matt's head, and Matt deemed the tallis "too itchy" to wear but at the last minute, changed his mind and wore it. My husband wore his tallis from his bar mitzvah and it was nice to see all the mixing and matching of generations and prayer shawls. (Footnote: The Temple was so cold that morning that some of the girls asked the security guard to open the gift shop so they could borrow some tallit and use them to keep warm.)
Of course, life marches on and two days after the bar mitzvah, it was Yom Kippur. We went back to Temple, prayed, fasted, and repented. At then end of the day, we headed to a good friend's for break fast. Then we went home, ate more Torah cake and collapsed.
The next day, my housekeeper reminded me that the mouse problem I had been ignoring for three weeks could no longer be ignored. Our younger son had been complaining about "russling" in the basement, and our housekeeper had found mouse droppings in his old lunch bag. (She, being the goddess that she is, cleaned it out.) She showed me the jar of chocolate kisses I kept in the pantry, and informed me that some mammal had eaten the chocolates and left the wrappers behind. Your kids didn't do this, she said, and showed me the crinkled silver wrappers as evidence. She was right. My kids would have been savvy enough to hide the wrappers. Sigh. The next day, the exterminator came and lay down traps. That evening, our dog, who is a Lab but really a pig, pulled the rack off the dishwasher as I was loading it. The rack fell to the floor and an old white plate broke. Good luck, I hope.
Our kids went back to school, my husband went back to work, I went back to teaching news reporting to teenagers and twentysomethings, and we spent the week doing a collective jig. My older son's teachers congratulated him, and we received emails and voice mails from people who had celebrated with us. (There is nothing better than receiving an an email from someone who actually has something nice to say about how your child conducted himself in public.) I can't say that this experience made us better Jews, though the bar mitzvah did remind us that ancient rituals don't have to make you cringe and retreat, organized religion isn't always divisive and in fact, can be cause for celebration. The bar mitzvah brought us together as a family, it renewed my faith in public spectacles and loud parties, and made me really friggin' grateful for our blessings: health, happiness, friends, family, gainful employment, and a sweet but greedy dog.
The following Saturday morning, we fell back into our old habits. Our dog woke up early, our younger son played baseball for four hours in the rain and our bar mitzvah boy slept late and spent the day texting his friends and playing Xbox. If you were at the BM and you're reading this now, thank you for sharing! The party's over, but it's still going on in our heads. As the Black Eyed Peas shout (in Hebrew!) in the middle of their song, "I Gotta Feeling," L'chaim.