Friday, September 26, 2008

The Bar Mitzvah Party

Okay, now that it's almost two weeks since the event, it's time to finish recanting. And then I guess I'm going to have to decide if this blog has ended, having served its purpose.

After the service, after the food, we came home in our suits. Bar Mitzvahzilla blase about having done this amazing thing that he'd worked so hard towards for so long, just goofing around with his sister. We got to the hotel at 5:30, 15 minutes late, for photographs. There was the dusk, the lake, the green golf course. Slowly family began arriving at mostly the correct intervals: Husband's sisters, my mother and stepfather, then my sisters and their families. The photographers were ready for their seven sister pictures and then the one of us with our Mom and then the one of us with all our kids and my Mom's great-grandchildren. But, three sisters missing, then two, then one. At 6:15 the last one cruises in, the final pictures are taken and at 6:30 the reception starts.

This is what I remember: passed appetizers that fled by too fast to try again, that were offered, alarmingly, to fingers, and for which, each time I took one, I had to take a Lactase pill. The two open bars crowded but efficient. All of our friends showing up and, unable to catch the passed appetizers on their way by, standing in line for the the kids' stuff: pigs in blankets, egg rolls and chips and salsa. My sister's chocolate placecards a big hit with the kids, the little boxes with truffles as placecards for the adults also a big hit. Jewish stars on everything.

At 7:30 the doors to the ballroom open and it's like a world transformed. The lights are low and there's a pulsing beat from the dance floor. The kids all walk there like the DJ is the pied piper, like they're hypnotized. I watch as they throw their arms in the air, start swaying, and immediately start dancing. Not quite the Bar Mitzvahs I went to in 1973 where the grown ups cha-cha'd and the kids were plastered against the wall waiting for it to end.

Daniel did his candle lighting. Big laughs on the Seven Sister candle with "Wild Thing" playing, the Uncle candle with "Macho Man" playing, D's cousins coming up to some rap song, little sister coming up to "She Drives Me Crazy," and Husband and I to "If I were a Rich Man." Then the hora.

The rest of the night like this: dancing, chocolate eating, food eating at certain intervals, meeting and greeting, trying to get to all the tables, watching all of our friends like all of our other friends, all of our family like all the other people in the family, watching girlfriend with cancer come out of her house after a grueling summer looking gorgeous and getting along with stepfather's daughters beautifully.

There's the strobe light, more dancing, the glow necklaces appear and are suddenly on everyone's heads, arms, and necks. Hats appear and suddenly every kids is walking around with a pimp hat, a rastafarian hat with dread locks, or a gangster hat. More chocolate, Viennese sweet table, sorbet, main dish, dancing. People leave here and there, one by one, but not a lot and the part doesn't really shut down till it ends very naturally, at 11 PM when the music stops and the lights come up. We go through the room getting our chocolate Jewish-themed lollipops out of the centerpieces, loading up the other chocolate extras (Husband never leaves chocolate anywhere). A hotel guard brings us all the envelopes that were kept in a safe in the hotel for us during the party. We go to the car, Daniel's Jewish star blinking balloons with us, blinking all the way home, like our car is a police car with flashers on.

Since I don't drink (or eat chocolate or dessert or sorbet, etc. etc.) I was up at 8 AM the next day ready to go exercise with Husband's cousin, exactly when the phone calls started, with people raving about the party. And the calls didn't stop for over a week, people calling and sending cards and thanking us for such a wonderful time and how it was perfect, from start to end. And I'm a little amazing that, after months of disparate actions - from tutoring appointments at the synagogue to food tasting appointments at the hotel, from making a program on my computer, to shopping for suits and dresses for everyone in my family and realizing almost at the last minute that husband was planning to wear black gym shoes on that day - all those disparate actions somehow came together into a perfect event. A Jewish event that blended Daniel's coming of age with a wonderful party bringing together all the people we have ever loved. Amazing.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

One Week Post Bar Mitzvah - Floating to Earth

Okay, no excuse for not posting in the twenty days before the Bar Mitzvah. Except for Kiddush caterer, photographer, DJ, chocolatier, hotel, Rabbi, Cantor, other Rabbi, synagogue, programs, printed kippahs, getting suits hemmed, getting husband's pants let out (cruise food), floor plans, seating arrangments, centerpieces for the luncheon and the evening, and other things that I can't remember. Just that. Really, no excuse.

And this is how it was: perfection. So beautiful and so perfect that I can sit here and cry a week later. That I'm going to sit here and make my keyboard malfunction by splattering it with the maudlin tears of the Bar Mitzvah Mom a week after the event, and cruelly use you like a diary, just to write about it all.

The service. We show up at 9 AM and I find something interesting out. There's actually no one at Har Zion's services at 9 AM - good to know for the future. By 9:30 there is a semblence of a service going on; by 9:50 both Husband and I and the floor manager are in a panic waiting for the family members with aliyot to show up (we told them, "Sure, it's safe to come at 9:50!!!") and we are anxiously scanning the lobby. But at 9 AM there are a couple of old guys leaning on the bimah, chanting half to themselves, half to the empty seats of the sanctuary; there are a couple of cleaning people running around, there are two of my friends from the old job who show up promptly, and there is my little four-person family: Husband, me, Bar Mitzvahzilla, and little sister.

So, I'll just try to ignore how weird it is that one second - okay, in 1995 - I gave birth to a POUND AND A HALF PREEMIE and now, one second later - okay, 13 years - he is standing before me in a black suit, gorgeous, chanting the Torah and haftorah portions so beautifully that my husband is asking me for tissue after tissue. We are decorous; we are sitting alone in a pew, us and little sis and a pile of siddurim and torah books, some programs and Daniel's gun metal gray kippot, and he's up there and knows everything. Sometimes you go to a Bar Mitzvah and the kid stumbles, or their Hebrew is so bad that nearly the entire service is in English. Not this one. Every word a pearl.

He practically runs through the sanctuary with the Torah. I'm behind him shaking hands of all the well-wishers in the congregations and he's miles ahead of me. Husband and I are on the bimah, off the bimah, watching the aliyot, then our aliyot. We say a few words, which, darn, I should have scripted but, guess what, in all the lists and all the things everyone told me to do, I entrusted this to Howard and he didn't do it. He said his own words then left me, the flustered mom, floundering.

The Kiddush, 16 tables all set up with royal blue tablecloths packed with people. My blue and white Israeli-flag-themed centerpieces on each table. The food perfect, the four lines zooming the people through quickly. Howard and I can't get a seat almost and then we pretty much can't get a bite because of all the well-wishers, all the envelopes pressed into our hands, all the congratulations on Daniel's wonderful job done. We stumble home.

I'll leave the party recanting for a separate post.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bar Mitzvahzilla Gets Pneumonia

Last week, four days before this interminably hot summer came to an end, Bar Mitzvahzilla developed a cough that Husband and I were a little torn over. Go to the doctor or not? We have gone to the doctor many times and been sent on our way, with nothing but a bill to show for our efforts and the words, "It's just a virus." But we decided to go anyway because BZ kept running a fever at night and showing up in our bedroom wanting to get in bed with us, and he's like a hundred pounds and 5'3 and barely fits anywhere now, so we'd prefer he stay in his own bedroom.

The doctor says, "There's a funny sound I hear when he breathes in all the way. I think it's pneumonia. I'll start him on an antiobiotic but I want you to take him for an xray tomorrow. If it is, we'll double up the antibiotic." So, yes on the positive xray and yes on the new medicine. Then BZ compounds matters by throwing up the first two doses of the new medicine, managing to miss the toilet, the garbage can, whatever he may have been aiming for ("It's because I close my eyes when I throw up so I won't gross myself out!") so we end up having to fumigate the entire house.

Then, because of some lingering, primeval preemie memory he has of being poked and prodded by doctors and nurses during his first 10 weeks of life in the hospital, he can't swallow pills and can barely swallow liquids. We have to get them flavored and then disguise them in, like, milkshakes, as if he was two. And he's thirteen. Even with all this subterfuge, he dances around the cups, hems and haws, has chasers of Dr. Pepper and water, and anything else he can scrounge up, and basically takes about 6 hours to get a dose in - just in time for the next dose.

So that's been my life for the last 10 days. Now we're keeping him under wraps - no exposure to potentially ill friends or family. We just need to keep him healthy for the next three weeks, till he's standing on the bimah, reciting his Torah portion. I think we might make it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Day in the Life

Just in case anyone cares, just in case anyone is even reading this, or even if this is just for me, I just want to point out that it's 108 degrees here in Phoenix every day. Last week, when we had just returned from the sweaty, rainy Puerto Vallarta, I kind of liked the "dry" heat, but no more.
Today, since somehow my kids' school starts later than every other child's in Arizona, we all got to hang together for errands.

As usual, they were stuck with me for my morning Jazzercise class. Yes, I would leave my now-thirteen-year-old son home alone and certainly he could watch the eight-year-old, but neither will stay home without me. So he skulks along, walking in the babysitting room filled with two-year-old boys who are eager to get to know him. He hides in the corner with a Star Wars book.

Then on to my sister's chocolate store to approve the centerpieces which were, wow, ongepotchke and ongeblozen and onge-everything. They are about 3 feet tall and silver and blue and have Jewish symbols coming out of the bottom made out of chocolate. Then she showed me the candlelighting thing she put together for me. Bar Mitzvazilla's name is in letters about 10 inches high - a little too big for my liking but I guess everyone at the Bar Mitzvah party should know it's DANIEL's Bar Mitzvah, just in case they forgot. Maybe the glitter will remind them. Or the long white tapers. Or the glittery Jewish stars on the sides. Maybe all of that.

Then we went to a party store to find helium and a huge bag of candy. Came away empty handed. Then we went to another store to find a backpack for the daughter. Came away empty handed. Since it was next to a pet store, we had to stop in there an stare mournfully at the cats for adoption and try to catch the eye of another female Beta, just in case another one could ever be as special as our last fish who died six months ago. No chance. Then onto the library where, once again, I had to turn myself into the library authorities to pay fines for my kids' late fees and hand over replacement books for the books my daughter has lost.

Lunch. Grocery store. Cantor tutoring. Hot, hot, hot. Car off, car on. A/C blasting, then hot again as we re-enter the vehicle.

Phone calls to best friend with cancer, my neighbor, my sister. Collapse. But I can't collapse.
It's only 5:45 pm.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Some Perspective

On Wednesday, a day of much tutoring, everywhere that Bar Mitzvahzilla and I went, we ran into a girl he had gone to school with here and there around town who is having her Bat Mitzvah in two weeks. She told me (because my son can't actually speak in the presence of a girl his own age) that her Hebrew's still pretty rough as far as her Haftorah reading goes and that she's just starting to work on her Bat Mitzvah speech right now.

Oh. Hmm. That gave me a little perspective. Me, the Mom in the witches hat, have been riding my son, haranguing him about this speech like it's a dissertation or something, but here's this girl with two weeks left to go, and she's just starting hers. And my son, on the other hand, has his Hebrew nailed down tight, beautifully memorized by heart, all the ups and downs up it, all the trops of it - perfectly.

So he's gone off this weekend to his cousins' house, both of them his two best friends in the world, carrying along all of his PlayStation 2 games and, hopefully, a change of underwear and a toothbrush, and I guarantee they'll try to weasel an extra day out of me tomorrow and then I won't see him until Sunday, his 13th Birthday.

How I came to be the mother of a 13-year-old when it was like a second ago that I moved to Arizona as a 13-year-old myself, this I don't know. How my child, who was born a pound and a half 13 years ago ended up as tall as me "and I haven't even gone through my growth spurt yet, Mom," this I don't know either. But it looks like maybe it's time for a little gratitude and a lot of shutting up so that's what I'll do: I'll be grateful and shut up.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Back from Vacation, plunged into Bar Mitzvah hell

Okay, so now we've found out that we're officially not a cruising family. How did we find this out? By Bar Mitzvahzilla and I spending the first day of our Mexican Cruise vacation at sea nauseous in our beds while the ship rose and fell, rose and fell. Husband and daughter, of course, got their sea legs the instant they got on board. There were other reasons: the lack of freedom to decide what to do each day; the fact that the shipboard activities didn't meet our interests; the kids hanging around all the time when it turned out they hated the Kid's club; the constant nickel and diming of everything the cruiseline could get us to buy, from drinks to photos, to Tanzanite Tanzanite Tanzanite!, to duty free liquor and shore excursions. There was the fact that in both Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, Husband was too cheap to buy shore excursions so we ended up on van rides from hell with drivers who took us like hostages to the jewelry stores which were sponsoring them, there to stand around with the commissioned store clerks looking at overpriced gold and diamonds, sweating in the humid jungle air.

And, although I would never want to incur the wrath of cruising fanatics, I don't quite get the attraction of basically eating at the same restaurant every day for an entire vacation. One of the things I enjoy about vacations is eating interesting new foods, not the same buffet over and over again, or the same stilted, formal dining room meal, with the same rolls, and the same tropical fruit plate, over and over again.

But Cabo San Lucas was unbelievably beautiful. So here's the plan: go to Cabo with husband alone on long weekend getaway for snorkeling and jacuzzi-ing and shopping.

Now that we're back the good news is that the Bar Mitzvah preparation is all moving along at a nice clip. The room arrangement is good. I met with my sister/chocolatier/party planner today and finalized a bunch of stuff, and I received about fifteen more response cards.

The only thing lagging behind is Bar Mitzvahzilla, who cannot write his Bar Mitzvah speech. Tomorrow he spends an hour with his Hebrew Tutor and an hour with the Rabbi. Thursday he spends a half hour with the Cantor; Sunday another hour with the Hebrew Tutor. On Tuesday he spends another half hour with the Cantor, and next Wednesday another hour with the Rabbi. Is this enough support to get this thing written?

I guess what's really disappointing to me is how uninteresting he finds this, the relating of his Torah portion to his life, to his Mitzvah project, to what it means to him to have arrived at this point. Maybe I'm expecting too much, but I'd be really excited to write this. Maybe not if I was thirteen but I like the topic. But this is what I get from him: feet dragging and whining, blank looks and sudden disappearances during which I catch him playing with the light sabers he's dragged out from under his bed and is swishing in the air of his bedroom, or long, suspicious absences in the bathroom reading Star Wars books. No Bar Mitzvah speech.

And I guess what really drives me crazy is that with all that support, all that help, we're still just going to end up with a typical speech where he talks about how archaic the Jewish laws seem instead of saying the unexpected, that they are not archaic, that they apply to his life in a real and practical way, that he just had to look beyond the surface of the words, into the deeper meaning, just as we all have to look beyond the surfaces to the deeper meaning to find how things illuminate our lives.

But unless I write that for him, I'm not going to see it. And if I write it, even if he's never thought those thoughts before, he'll recite those words in front of the congregation, even if he doesn't mean them.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Bar Mitzvah Speech, Act I

One the one hand, the Torah portion for September 13th is the shortest of the year. On the other hand, it has 74 out of the 613 mitzvot, more than any other in the Torah. Bad for me and bad for Bar Mitzvahzilla, but good for the Torah.

I work hard at this raising kid thing and I'm a really good student so I go about helping BZ the way I'd want to be helped if I was the BZ. I sign him up for study sessions with the Cantor, with the Rabbi, with his Hebrew Tutor. I even let him go to his teenaged female tutor, who happens to be Muslim, at his academic tutoring facility and work on his speech there because I figure a speech is a speech and has certain immutable components, right? Wrong.

Bar Mitzvahzilla and the academic tutor come away with the worst draft ever. There's this theme of compassion running through the Torah portion so the tutor has him make up instances in which he's seen compassion displayed in his life. Let's ignore for a moment the idea that he doesn't remember ever seeing me or Husband displaying compassion - that's troubling enough. But let's just imagine the horror of BZ standing up in front of the congregation at his Bar Mitzvah, a full member of the Jewish community now, and LYING. Does this bother him? In response, BZ hems and haws, "Well, yeah. I was thinking about that."

So now I'm on a mission, trying to solve the problem of why he's not inspired enough by his Torah portion to write about it and about what it means to him to be a Bar Mitzvah. I think if I just find the right source, he'll feel the enthusiasm I feel. We go on and listen to Rebbetzin Jungreis' explanation of the portion, which is about 8 hours long. We make it through half an hour before he has to go to bed. We go to and find a mitzvot by mitzvot parsing of the parshah, which I print. Now I have it in for Bar Mitzvahzilla. On the cruise he's going to be studying this and then writing the speech. There. I'll show him the meaning of compassion.

Monday, July 21, 2008

My - oops, I mean his - Mitzvah project is done...

I'd like to say that Bar Mitzvahzilla painstakingly designed his own Mitzvah Project, carefully alligning it with his Torah portion, with his inclinations, and with the causes that are near and dear to him in the world. Right. Weeks and then months went by with Husband and I nagging more and more loudly, "What about your Mitzvah project?" and Bar Mitzvahzilla alternating between two responses: 1) "I don't know, what do you think, Mom?", and 2) "How come the Israeli kids never do Mitzvah projects?" (he based this on a one-friend survey.)

So, to cut to the chase, I just want to say that there's the theory, the image in the mind, and then there's the reality. He finally chose collecting for a homeless shelter that moves families into independent housing. This involved setting up collection boxes at three central locations and figuring out how to get word out that they were standing there waiting for donations. I, it turns out, have a flair for public relations. Bar Mitzvahzilla is now locally famous, with notices appearing in the Phoenix paper, the local Jewish paper, in our synagogue newletter, and emails sent to everyone we know. In 115 degree Phoenix, we've been schlepping a lot of donations.

But there had to be an end date and a haul-it-in-to-the-shelter date. In our safe little world, we had an image of what this looked like, somewhat based on their website. We imagined some Horatio Alger thing, families struggling to right themselves, and us, patronizingly swooping in from above, carrying bags of stuff, like a family of Jewish Santa Clauses. I imagined a photo of Bar Mitzvahzilla with the director as he handed over all this stuff he collected, shaking hands, and maybe a certificate of some type, like those really big checks they make up for photo opportunities.

Here's what happened instead. We drive to a very scary part of town where there are gang members strolling the street. The evening attendant is in an office that has an inner gate and an outer gate to protect her, layers of security. There are kids of every age running wild everywhere, screaming and swearing, and calling each other names that, if anyone else used them, would get them killed. We deliver a truck and SUV-load of stuff. It is unloaded into an empty storage bin, then locked. We drive away.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Can I just write the &@#$ Bar Mitzvah speech?

Since it's summertime, Bar Mitzvahzilla's head has neatly emptied out of all its contents so that it can be filled back up with this stuff: swimming, video games, and TV. We're not even lenient parents but when he's not kept on a schedule, he just oozes down into a blob of primordial ooze, rising now and then from his comic books and Star Wars books (how can there even BE so many Star Wars books?) to eat all the food in the house.

But now we must write the Bar Mitzvah speech and I'm a writer so he thinks I'm going to write it for him. Not that I've ever done that before. And just because complete public humiliation looms before us if he makes one of those shuffling feet, monotone, tedious, "Today I Am a Man" speeches, don't think I'm worried about that.

So we sit down this morning with all his rough material - the stuff from his Torah study with the Rabbi and the stuff the Cantor gave him and the stuff I've previously brainstormed with him. And like most of the Torah, his parsha has a bit of archaic language - something about stoning one's son to death if he is sacriligious, and minutaie along the lines of "thou shall not take the bird's eggs from her nest till she flies away" etc. Luckily it all boils down to laws of compassionate living.

I say, "Give me some examples of compassion you've seen shown in the world around you."

He says, "Uh..."

And this is how our conversation goes because he thinks that if he does this over and over again I'll finally just get aggravated enough to write the speech myself. But it's his surprise. I'll edit the hell out of it, but I won't write it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Envelope Stuffing

The invitations went out on Wednesday. My best friend was willing to sit around for a couple hours and stuff envelopes with me despite being in daily radiation treatment for highly treatable cancer, which I didn't take her up on. I somehow knew that 1) When someone has cancer it's time for them to impose on you, not vice versa, and, 2) it would be a nightmare that would require intimate knowledge of the addressees to accomplish. There were envelopes that had to be pulled aside because people are moving and I need some lag time, envelopes that need the "Kosher food available" insert, and there are envelopes for the people I'm still rebelling against inviting but somehow Husband invited them because they wandered in the carpet store in the last 6 months. No helper possible.

So the invitations are out and now all I have to worry about is whether anyone will come or if it'll be like the old Mary Tyler Moore show where she'd have a party and just Ted Baxter would come and she'd stand around for hour after agonizing hour talking to him. And, assuming people will come, I have to worry about whether any of the kids will dance, whether we'll go bankrupt paying for it, whether it's going to look like some garish American idiocy instead of the Jewish event I want it to look like. I can figure out a lot of things to worry about.

Instead, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to keep bringing food to my best friend since she doesn't feel like eating and it turns out that all the garbage I feed my kids is exactly what she wants right now and what will keep her from wasting away to nothing, and then, somehow in the middle of her second infusion of chemotherapy, I am going to leave on a cruise with my family. Great timing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Taste Testing

Today my husband, I, and Bar Mitzvahzilla went to the hotel to taste test the possible dishes for the party. We sat alone in the somewhat out of date restaurant while I thought a few things:
1) Hey, this place didn't look this run down 6 months ago when I booked it.
2) I could redo this decor with $50,000 bucks (watching too much hgtv)
3) Thank goodness the party is not going to be in the restaurant.

Then we made our decisions. Jicama field green salad, Thyme chicken, asparagus and baby carrots, and new potatoes. Of course, since I'm in a 12-step program for my food I could only eat one bite of each thing. And since I'm lactose intolerant, I had to keep popping lactase pills. And because I haven't eaten dessert in eight years, I had to pass on the dessert decision. And since I haven't drank liquor in eight years too, I don't quite get the open bar but we're doing it anyway. I am just loads of fun to have around.

So, since we want to do something fun for the kids, like hats, I've been trying to put a Jewish spin on that, like a hat shaped like a stovepipe but a shabbat candle. I asked my son what he thought about that and he said, "How about pimp hats?" Well that's pretty Jewish, I guess. I read an article about prostitution in Israel once. Maybe I can tie that in...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Living in Bar Mitzvahland

I know I'm not the first person to plan their son's Bar Mitzvah but I've decided I need an outlet to write about it and, for the first time, I don't want to do that privately. Since my son somehow got his mind wrapped around this idea of a REALLY big Bar Mitzvah (from his cousin's a few years ago - ignoring the fact that my sister has a lot more money than we do) here are the really stupid things I'm giving him:

printed kippahs
calligraphied invitations
being danced around on a chair
all of his friends

What I won't give in on - that stupid candle-lighting ceremoney - is this Jewish? We decided we'd set up a few candles only to remember family members who aren't there to celebrate the joyous event with us and because in Judaism it's always important to temper joy with sorrow (such as smashing the glass at the wedding.) No videographer running around making everyone hold the mike and gush to my son. No "this is your life" photo montage playing endlessly on a monitor in the room.

My son and I agree on no theme for the party that has nothing to do with being Jewish, and the colors of the Israeli flag for the tables.

But it's like holding back a tidal wave. The other day we got a "save the date" for one of his friends and it was a snow globe with the girl's picture in it.

This is not going to be the biggest thing that happens to my son in his life. When he gets to the chuppah, we'll talk.