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 underreported malady, yet shockingly, the government has yet to allocate a single dollar to research. If this doesn't change soon, I'm going to launch an awareness campaign, complete with blue-and-white ribbons, pins and car decals.
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 actually hear him chewing antacids while you speak; zipping around so frantically from errand to errand that you have no time to eat anything other than large brownies in the car (perversely, this still causes weight gain), and bursting into tears with no warning because your little boy is no longer a little boy but a newly minted teen who has the audacity to catapult into puberty before your very eyes.
You don't need to be Jewish to understand PBMSD. After all, symptoms are identical to those that flare up after other life-cycle events, the kind that often demand throwing large parties for people, some of whom are not on speaking terms but who will be forced into close proximity with one another for several hours, while having to smile much of that time.
My symptoms became acute as the weeks counted down to The Big Day. The following diary entries explain why:
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 and fail. Like a powerful Hollywood party hostess, 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 90 m.p.h. Is it too late to hire a speaking coach?
Three weeks to go: Response cards coming in each day, many including checks. Son discovers that happiness is a positive cash flow. An alarming 90 percent of invitees have accepted. Cannot decide about B-list. Send to all anyway.
Two weeks left: Son has grown another inch and still afraid to buy suit. In meeting with caterer, son insists on a dinner menu of corn dogs and pasta. Fortunately, few 13-year-old boys are on the South Beach Diet. Musician calls me repeatedly, urging me to hire his entire orchestra. I repeatedly refuse, citing budget concerns. This is not a presidential inauguration, I tell him. It's just a bar mitzvah. Musician sounds dirgical. I remain firm.
One week and a half away: I help son polish his speech, restraining myself from overediting. We simply add a few transitions and a laugh line or two when appropriate. Son's delivery speed still faster than a major league pitch. Consider speech printouts on each seat?
Seven days: Musician, magician and caterer all need deposits. Consider asking son for loan.
Six days: Should I get a new dress? Daughter and many female friends are asking what I plan to wear. I had planned to lose 10 pounds for the occasion, but failed to take necessary actions. Too late now. Decide to wear ivory-colored spring suit, which still fits. Musician calls again, countering with an offer of just one additional musician. I agree, just to get rid of him. The fraud detection department of my credit card company calls to warn me of an unusual amount of activity on my account.
Five days: Must get son's suit now. Even if he grows another two inches this week, it will still fit. Son insists all formal shirts in the store are too scratchy. I snag a hand-me-down shirt from the closet, worn at an older brother's bar mitzvah. Finally, I save money.
Four days: Try to prearrange seating for family dinner. No configuration seems likely to prevent Uncle Harold from starting up with Cousin Norman about ... what was that fight about, anyway? Pray that Aunt Shirley takes her meds before arrival. Stock up on my supply of migraine pills just in case.
Three days: Call everyone who hasn't sent in response card. Some remind me testily that they did send them in, and I must have lost them. Of course they are coming. Several of son's friends call to ask me if I can arrange their rides to and from the party. I lose my house keys.
Two days: Caterer calls and says he can't get the special petit fours I had ordered, and a trucking strike on the East Coast may mean we can't get the sorbet, either. Default to bakery cookies. Photographer calls. An emergency has arisen, and she'll send her trainee instead. Will that be OK?
Day before: I supervise floral delivery to synagogue. Florist with heavy Italian accent assures me they will be "stupendous" but doesn't warn me they're nearly as big as Mount Sinai and will hardly fit through the door. At home, the phone won't stop ringing. Everyone apologizes for calling, since I must be so busy, but what time is the party called for? Can they bring a niece who unexpectedly flew into town? Two invitations sent to close friends are returned as "address unknown." My keys have not shown up yet, and I lose my spare set as well. Next move: climbing through the window to get into the 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 seven minutes. He leaps up to greet me, festooning my ivory suit with muddy paw prints. I've got to leave for synagogue in three minutes or I'll miss son's big moment, but 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 attention to the unnecessary fact to my friends.
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 gives his speech slow enough for most people to hear, and waits as I had instructed him for audience to laugh at appropriate moments. Sometimes, nagging pays 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 dress is too tight.
Four days later: The party goes smoothly. 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 15 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, and love him more than any words can say. I am also nearly wildly happy that my keys finally turned up -- in the backyard. My symptoms of PBMSD are dissipating at last. Mazal tov!