Post-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder

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Illustration by Rebecca Shapiro

Our youngest son has just celebrated his bar mitzvah, and I am recovering from a case of Post-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder. This is a seriously under-reported malady, and I may to start an awareness campaign, complete with blue and white ribbons shaped like a Magen David.

Post-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder (PBMSD) usually follows a case of Pre-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder. This is characterized by speed-dialing your caterer several times daily until you hear him chewing antacids while you speak; frantically zipping around town on errands, leaving you no time to eat anything other than brownies; and spontaneously bursting into tears because your little boy is no longer little, but a newly minted teen who is catapulting into puberty before your very eyes.

Here is my diary of the events leading up to PBMSD:

Five weeks before the bar mitzvah: The invitations arrive, but the envelopes won’t seal shut. Wrestling the envelope flaps down with a hot glue gun for six hours eventually does the trick. I struggle to pare down guest list. Epic fail. I withhold a batch of B-list invitees, pending the acceptance rates of other guests.

Four weeks and counting: Son is still growing too fast to buy the suit. He practices his Torah chanting each night, perfecting the reading. I worry about his speech, since the boy talks ninety miles an hour. Is it too late to hire a speaking coach?

Three weeks to go: Response cards pouring in—many include checks. Son discovers that happiness is a positive cash flow. Oh no! Ninety percent of invitees have accepted! Sorry, B-listers. Maybe at another simcha.

Two weeks left: Son has grown another inch, and now insists that the dinner menu for his friends features corn dogs and pasta. Fortunately, few thirteen-year-old boys are doing the Paleo diet thing.

Twelve days away! I help son polish his speech, restraining myself from over-editing. This is so hard for a writer. Son’s delivery speed still faster than a major league pitch. Consider speech printouts on each seat?

Seven days away! Musician, magician, and caterer all need deposits. Consider asking son for loan. I had planned to lose ten pounds for the occasion, but the brownies sabotaged me. Will wear ivory-colored spring suit. After paying last deposit, the fraud detection department of my credit card company calls to warn me of an unusual amount of activity on my account.

Five days: We go to buy the suit. Son insists all formal shirts in the store are too scratchy, so I find a hand-me-down shirt from one of his older brothers. Finally, I save money!

Three days: Call the non-responders, most of whom insist they did mail in the cards. Of course they are coming! I pray that Cousin Alex takes his meds before arriving, and that Uncle Bob will not start up again with Cousin Susie. What was that fight about, anyway? I lose my house keys.

Twenty-four hours: I arrive at shul to supervise floral delivery. The florist promised they would be “stupendous”, but they’re as big as Mount Sinai, and barely fit through the door after we pick off a few petals here and there. I am texted beyond endurance by people who apologize for texting, but what time is the party again? My keys have not shown up yet, and I’m afraid I’ll also lose the spare set as well. Can I fit through a window if I have to break into my own house?

The Big Day: Get up early enough to put in contact lenses and dress with care. On goes the ivory suit. While drinking a quick cup of coffee in the kitchen, a crisis erupts. The dog rushes in from the yard, ecstatic at seeing me after an absence of four-and-a-half minutes. He leaps up to greet me, festooning my ivory suit with muddy paw prints. I’ve got to leave for shul in three minutes or I’ll miss son’s big moment, but I have no Plan B for another outfit. I race to my room and throw on a dark blue suit whose jacket won’t button all the way. No one seems to notice, so like a dope, I call my friends’ attention to this unnecessary fact.

Son chants his portion from the Torah beautifully. He looks both adorable and handsome in his suit, straddling that brief, shining moment between boyhood and manhood. Miraculously, he delivers his speech slowly enough for most people to hear and waits as I had instructed him for the congregation to laugh at the appropriate moments. Ah, the sweet satisfaction of seeing that, sometimes, nagging really does pay off! In his speech, he thanks his father for taking him to Dodger games; me for correcting his grammar. He is in his glory, and I am in mine, even if my clothes are too tight. I feel a button about to pop off.

The next day: The party goes smoothly, though some computer glitches make the music intermittent, and the silences are hard to explain. Several people wander into the hall, fill plates with food, and leave. I have never seen these people before in my life. The desserts are a big hit, especially the brownies. I could have told them that. Keys still MIA.

Five days later: My son’s fifteen minutes of fame are over, and he is returning to life as a mere mortal. He announces his first major purchase with his bar mitzvah money will be a chameleon and a six-month supply of meal worms. He also announces plans to grow his hair very long. And each day, he continues his deployment into manhood, standing a little taller, his face and body becoming ever thinner. The next time I see his chubby cheeks, they’ll be on my grandchildren. I am wildly happy that he is not embarrassed to say, “I love you, Mom.”

His dad and I are immensely proud of him. We love him more than any words can say. I am also nearly wildly happy that my keys have finally turned up—in the backyard. My symptoms of Post-Bar Mitzvah Stress Disorder are dissipating at last.

Only twenty-one months till my daughter’s bat mitzvah…