Son, mom share the spotlight over Mother’s Day weekend

Ellen Futterman

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Son, mom share the spotlight over Mother’s Day weekend

When we picked “The Date” more than two years ago, I had no idea it was on Mother’s Day weekend. All I knew is that my mother, who lives in New Jersey, asked us to choose a time when the weather was likely to be good because she and other family members would be traveling to my son’s bar mitzvah. “OK,” I said, and Saturday, May 7, 2011 became IT.

While I’m not the biggest fan of personal bar or bat mitzvah columns (overused, indulgent, etc) with Mother’s Day coinciding with bar mitzvah preparations, something kind of Zen and spiritual and, well, Jewish, recently washed over me. Let me explain.

Anyone who has ever planned a bar or bat mitzvah – and I know there are thousands of you out there – knows that the event itself might as well be called Murphy’s Law Magnet. In addition, no matter how hard you try not to make yourself meshugah, you can’t help it. The thing is – especially with mothers in particular – you want everything to be perfect for your son or daughter because in your mind (emphasis on your), this occasion, to date, is the most important day in their lives.

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My son Jackson told me he would like to celebrate his bar mitzvah with friends and family. He wanted a DJ and dancing. And it would be nice, he added, if there were some decent food (read: toasted ravioli, pizza, chicken strips) and candy on the tables.

I heard this and began planning a big honking party.

I knew I was in trouble moments after the printer delivered my oh-so-clever invitations. I had spent hours choosing the design and the colors and poring over the verbiage. But that seemed to make no difference. As soon as I pulled one of the invites out of the box to admire it, I noticed the big honking misspelling. To make matters worse, it was a misspelling that would deeply embarrass any self-respecting editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light. No I won’t tell you, except to say it rhymes with Yiddish.

Almost as soon as I shelled out another $300 to have the invitations reprinted, my son came home with the news that a good friend in his circle at school was celebrating her bat mitzvah on the same day. Bear in mind when we picked the date my son didn’t even know this girl. Yet somehow in the past two years they had become good friends.

“Oh no!” I exclaimed as if he had told me the roof blew off our house. “That probably means we’ll lose some of ‘our girls’ to her.”

Jackson shrugged. I fretted. Then I started to badger my son about whether he was upset that some girls weren’t coming. Finally, after weeks of me pestering him, he had had enough. “Stop it right now, mom,” Jackson said. “This isn’t a competition. I’m going to enjoy myself no matter what and I suggest you do the same.”

Who is this child? I thought.

I knew as the bar mitzvah party approached, I would have to make more and more decisions ranging from what to feed the adults to who to seat them with to what, if anything, to put in the center of their tables. “What’s your theme?” asked a friend who had been through this several times. I had no idea. Is candy a theme?

For an Olympic-caliber second-guesser like myself, having to make all of these decisions meant weeks of sleepless nights. I told myself in the scheme of what matters these decisions were minor. People in my community had lost their homes and all of their possessions to recent tornados. Friends were out of work. War was raging all over the Middle East and in Africa.

But in the darkness at 3 a.m., all I could think about was whether the stuffed chicken breast we were serving would be dried out.

Then my husband and I accompanied Jackson to temple for his bar mitzvah rehearsal. And that’s when I had a religious experience.

Maybe it was seeing him on the bimah and hearing him chant his Torah and Haftarah portions or deliver his speech about striving for justice in the world. Maybe it was realizing that the party was just window dressing and what really mattered was taking place within the four walls of the sanctuary. Maybe it was being forced, finally, to shut up and listen to the voice of reason in the recesses of my brain.

More than two years ago when I picked the date, I didn’t know it was Mother’s Day weekend. But the reality was that come this Mother’s Day weekend, my mother – my son’s only living grandparent – will present her grandson with his tallit at his bar mitzvah. My mother, with whom I rarely get to spend Mother’s Day weekend because we live far apart, will be seated at my side.

As I sat during the rehearsal reveling in my epiphany, Jackson’s bar mitzvah theme became clear. I went home and dug out pictures of him with family and friends -playing sports, on vacations, at various celebrations – and blew them up. They would become the table decorations, the centerpiece of the occasion.

I then stopped obsessing about the girls who wouldn’t be at the party and started focusing on the women who would. Some are mothers, some are not, but all have played roles in nurturing Jackson. When you don’t have any family living close by, which is the case for us, the kindness of friends, especially during unforeseen crises, becomes critical. I feel so fortunate that mine have never let me down.

For a bunch of reasons, or maybe for no reason at all, my 13-year-old son has given me the best Mother’s Day gift possible. Through planning his bar mitzvah, I embraced the notion that he already is hip to – some things are out of our hands, but enjoying with friends and family who do show up for our b’nai mitzvahs and living “in the moment” are certainly within our control.

And who knows? Maybe, just maybe Murphy will cut us a break and the chicken won’t be dried out.