Our son’s bar mitzvah is coming up and we’ve been getting ready. It’s kind of crazy, though, to consider how different this one is from all our previous b’nei mitzvah.
You know those cartoons about your first child, second child and third child? Babysitters are a great example. With the first kid, you don’t release them into the hands of a babysitter unless they’ve been FBI-approved, CPR-certified and TSA-prechecked. You leave five telephone numbers, several first aid kits and more food than a human can eat. With the third kid, you pop the kid into the hands of the 14-year-old and tell them not to call unless there’s blood.
Well, b’nei mitzvah are a great litmus test, too.
With the first, you start a year or more in advance, picking out invitations like they are your engagement ring (spoiler: they all end up in the trash). You micromanage every piece of the program with the care and precision of a neurological surgeon. Spreadsheets are alphabetized and re-alphabetized.
By the time you get to No. 6, apparently, here’s what happens:
• First off, there are no invitations. We are all about email this time. Who has time for stuffing multiple envelopes (kiddush, Shabbat accommodations, Saturday night)? Who wants to buy all those stamps, including foreign countries like Israel and England? Who cares about the font? No one, not even the kid, will remember or care in ten years. We’re going lean and green this time.
• Two, it doesn’t really matter if the spreadsheet is alphabetized.
You care less about who comes. People have other obligations and responsibilities. Sometimes they will be able to come to your simcha and sometimes they won’t. You just take it more in stride with the long view of history. It doesn’t need to define the sum total of your relationship.
• The menu is not that big of a deal. I don’t care if it’s “fancy.” I just want there to be good food on semi-nice dishes. My bar has fallen dramatically, and I think that’s a good thing.
• The details don’t really matter that much. With our first, I made sure the font on the invitation matched the font on the program matched the font on the prayer books. What was I thinking? I can guarantee that no one aside from me even noticed the consistent font (remember, the invitations were already in the trash).
With the first, you worry more about how things look. What will the kid “do”? It can feel a lot like a performance, reflecting upon you, the “coach,” and defining your “success” as a Jewish parent. To that I have one response: meh.
This time around, the kid is “performing” minimally and that’s beyond fine with me. The important thing is the child – how they feel, that they’ve invested something of themselves in this milestone, that they understand that opting in to Judaism is a long-term goal, that they approach the simcha with joy and anticipation and not stress and anxiety. It’s not about the parents and their friends and their friends’ kids and their friends’ kids’ friends.
I feel so relaxed this time around, so much more confident. I know what matters and what doesn’t. I don’t need my kid to prove something about me or about us. And to that, I say a big, hearty, “mazel tov.”