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January 27, 2011

The last Bar Mitzvah

http://www.jewishjournal.com/tribe/article/the_last_bar_mitzvah_20110127

The following is a random sampling from my e-mail inbox:

From synagogue: Did you receive the form for the Oneg Shabbat luncheon, which will follow Jake’s bar mitzvah? We sent the original in May. Please return it with your check as soon as possible.

From invitation guy: The company that is printing your invitations will expedite for a $100 fee. Is this acceptable?

From parents: You never sent the date for the synagogue/Torah pictures for Jake’s bar mitzvah. Please send ASAP!

From hassleme.co.uk: PLAN JAKE’S BAR MITZVAH!!!

The first three e-mails are self-explanatory: irrefutable evidence that the mother of the bar mitzvah boy has been derelict in her bar mitzvah planning duties. The last e-mail is from a United Kingdom Web site called Hassleme, which sends e-mails designed to hassle you about a task that requires attention.

The Web site’s tagline — “Because sometimes in life you just need to be nagged” — is supported by its frequent e-mail reminders of important tasks. The idea, of course, is that these stern, frequent e-mails will spur procrastinators like me into action. Yet, despite having received these reminders for weeks, I still have not ordered invitations, signed a contract for a party venue, hired a D.J., assigned aliyahs or scheduled the requisite grandpa/grandson bar mitzvah suit shopping spree at Rudnick’s in Encino.

My youngest child’s bar mitzvah, my last bar mitzvah, is just two months away and I have done nothing to prepare. What is my problem? I realize that I should see a psychologist to deal with my bar mitzvah procrastination, but frankly I don’t have the time (because I have a bar mitzvah to plan) or the money (because there is a bar mitzvah to pay for). So I did the next best thing … online psychology.

After a comprehensive search — “procrastination and fear of failure,” “procrastination and perfectionism,” “procrastination and Jewish rights of passage,” I stumbled upon an article that spoke to me, on a Web site called “Personal Development for Smart People.”

The author of the article explained: “Sometimes you find yourself with a goal you think you should want to achieve, but you just don’t seem to be taking enough action to reach it. You aren’t really afraid of failure or rejection, the path to the goal seems clear enough and might even be an interesting challenge, and occasionally you’ll make some progress. But most of the time you can’t seem to get into that flow state, and you’re not sure why. This often happens with long-term goals that require intermittent action, like losing weight or transitioning to start a new business and eventually quit your job.” Or planning your youngest child’s bar mitzvah.

A Web site titled “Personal Development for Dumb People” would undoubtedly have left it at that, but since this Web site is specifically for smart people, the author proposed a solution:

“One question I’ve found helpful to ask in these situations is this: What will happen if you succeed? Forget about what you hope will happen or what you fear might happen, but realistically consider what probably will happen. So you achieve your goal. Then what? What else will change?”

So what will happen if I “succeed” and do the planning necessary to ensure that my son does actually become a bar mitzvah? What else will change? And just by asking the right questions, I suddenly understood why for these past many months, I have suffered from an acute case of bar mitzvah planning paralysis. My baby is growing up, and I don’t want him to.

As a mitzvah alumna — my daughter became a bat mitzvah in 2007 — I am no neophyte; I know exactly what this rite of passage really means. Yes, your rabbi and your cantor (and even members of the congregation) will all pretend that this moment is “just” about your son taking his first steps into Jewish adulthood. But the bar mitzvah is also a “mitzvah” or “commandment” to the parent to begin backing off because the kind of parenting that makes sense for a child is no longer relevant for a teen.

For the parent, a child’s bar mitzvah is the giant flashing neon sign that it is time to say goodbye to childhood and hello to teenhood. It is the beginning of the time in life when we hope and pray that the mistakes that will be made by our kid will be mistakes that can be fixed. And for me, it means that I am one day closer to having an empty nest, no matter how much I love having a full one.

One of the great things about hassleme.co.uk is that it is very easy to stop the old e-mail messages and program new ones. My new reminders say, “It is time to let go. This is not an option, but a mitzvah.” 

Wendy Jaffe welcomes comments at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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