12. It’s a lot more fun to plan a party to celebrate such a milestone when the honoree is excited and interested in the details. My daughter and we had a great time choosing everything from the invitations to the decorations to the food to the music. She created her own video and wrote her own poems honoring her family and friends. We dared not make a decision without consulting her – and we agreed on just about everything.
When our oldest son had his bar mitzvah, he wanted to go to Israel to celebrate, which was a lot of fun and a wonderful family trip, but it didn’t have the same appeal (for me) as thinking about what color glow sticks would go with which tablecloth.
11. Judaism is a very smart religion. You spend most of your child’s formative years helping them learn how to do everything – brush their teeth, tie their shoes, walk to school, do homework, play soccer, be polite, memorize their telephone number, not talk to strangers, bake a cake. The list can go on forever. All of this is done with support and a lot of hands-on assistance from parents.
But when a bat mitzvah girl walks up to the bimah to read from the Torah and deliver her teaching, it is almost as if she has been given her first wings to fly on her own. She has accomplished something remarkable, through study, hard work and a lot of dedication. And she is going it by herself. Anticipating that a 13-year-old can take this step and officially join the adult community is an example of Judaism’s appreciation of the life cycle and its wisdom around human nature.
10. Life is about showing up. And those family members and friends who traveled far to be with us, taking time out of their busy lives, spending time, energy and money to travel, really showed up. There were many who couldn’t for many reasons, and we understand that too (especially the Brooklyn friend who had to prepare for President Obama’s arrival at her school!) But we are deeply grateful for the presence of those who we love who were able to come, even if we couldn’t spend as much time with each of you as we would have liked.
9. It's very hard to shake off the shackles of everyday life and sit back and enjoy the moment. If you happen to plan events for a living, then it's quite possible that you will be jonesing to orchestrate every minute of what should be a party you are enjoying. You might be tempted to create a minute-by-minute program for the caterer, the DJ and the friends who are creating special moments for the evening. You might even feel that you should sit back and watch from behind the scenes to make sure nothing goes wrong. This should all be avoided if possible.
8. Watching the children of your neighbors and friends grow up is a privilege and a joy. The same little girls and boys who used to splash around in our blow up swimming pool in the backyard are now taller than I am and were dancing up a storm with my own kids. I love sharing their lives with them and I will feel a little piece of me fly away when they each reach the moment when it’s time to move up and out of the ‘hood.
7. Assume your own children will surprise you, especially the ones who spent their childhoods somewhat introverted and shy. They will surprise you with their love and respect for their siblings and their cousins, their willingness to be polite and loving with their grandparents and other family members, and with their ability to stand up on a chair and lead an entire dance floor in “Party in the USA.”
6. Never buy a cake with the same number of servings as guests. And never assume that the adults at your party would rather have fruit salad than ice cream with toppings.
5. Remember to honor those who you have loved and lost. They are there with you in spirit, always.
4. Being a part of a spiritual community is giving my children a safe place in which to explore their own feelings of belonging – to their religion, as well as to the world at large. They can choose other ways of being when they grow up, they can push against it, but I feel proud in having chosen to give them this grounded, warm, loving, intellectually challenging and socially accepting place in which they can ask questions, have important relationships with adults other than their parents, work, play, sing, learn, and know that they will always have a home and a safe place to land.
3. It is possible to deliver a blessing to your child in front of a congregation of 250 people without crying. You just to have practice it for hours in front of a mirror beforehand and take deep breaths. But it is not possible to sit through an entire service, led by a spiritual leader of grace and depth and empathy and gentle intelligence, without breaking down, either when she invites the entire graduating senior class up for a blessing as they move out into the world, or when she blesses your own child and offers up a memory that will make anyone who knows you cry.
2. Speaking of crying, there are so many sad moments in life, so much opportunity for grief and difficutly to take over your spirit. But there are also some extraordinary reasons to celebrate. This was one of those moments. I look at my kids' bar and bat mitzvahs as an opportunity to throw a great party and celebrate not only my childrens' achievements, but the amazing friends and family who helped us all get here. This one's for you.
1. And finally ... the number one thing I learned from my daughter’s bat mitzvah? My family is the love of my life.
Photo by atrphoto via Flickr