A Hero to Me

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Nobody ever said it would be easy to raise a child. The exhausting infant and toddler years, the hectic school age years, sibling rivalry, work-life balance. Enter adolescence: the stormy hormonal swings, the autonomy issues, the escalating social and academic pressures. My oldest son is now thirteen. His plate is full with health conditions including diabetes, celiac disease, asthma, food allergies; he simply lacks room for anymore. It is so easy for me to become sad and angry after he screams at all of us and retreats to the cave in his room. I know that all teenagers do this (including him) , but right now he feels awful because his blood sugar is 400 and he is leaving in less than an hour for a Bar Mitzvah party, where there will probably not be any food he can eat. He is so tired of the power bars I send with him. After his bedroom door slams and shakes the foundation of the house, I stand downstairs, wringing my hands. I like to think about the super kid that we and the outside world often see in him: the bright, witty student, the competitive soccer player, the responsible older brother. Sometimes it helps me, but these images are fleeting because there is not much I can do to change the current situation.

On his Bar Mitzvah morning a few months ago, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts about him, to publicly recognize his strengths and celebrate the young man he is becoming. Since that special day, I have read it many times, and this does help me. It allows me recapture the atmosphere of that moment, and to recognize in my heart,  that for all of the times I see his sadness and anger surface, he is much more than that. He is the person I spoke of that morning.

“Before you were born, we didn’t know if we were having a boy or girl. We did know it would be during the Hanukkah season, and so we referred to you as Maccabi, after the brave family of brothers who fought the Syrian Greeks and re-dedicated the Temple.

From a young age you have demonstrated strength and integrity.  Your determination and inner drive is impressive, relentless and at times- exasperating. But it has served you well. In school, you are engaged and inquisitive. You always enhance the classroom experience.  You bring to your relationships a unique mix of compassion and humor:  you are a devoted and caring brother and cousin, and a loyal friend.

Becoming Bar Mitzvah is a transition to Jewish adulthood and a time to accept responsibility. You have not had it so easy up until this time in your life. We know that. We know that you face challenges that people decades older than you do not face. This has impacted you, and has often interfered with your life. But you have NEVER let it stop you. You tackle everything with passion: you may crash sometimes, but you land on your feet. That drive ..YOUR INNER DRIVE  pushes you forward.

So like the Maccabis, who scored a victory although they were far outnumbered, and Joseph in your Torah portion, who faced several obstacles  but managed to achieve so much. You  are a HERO to me. You are certainly an inspiration to many of us here today.

Mazel Tov, and may you continue to go from strength to strength. We love you.”


Coming of Age

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We are in final planning stages of Sam’s Bar Mitzvah. This milestone which represents the rite of passage to Jewish adulthood occurs when a boy turns thirteen years old. Traditionally, the Bar Mitzvah boy is called up in synagogue to read from the Torah.  It is a time when we are surrounded by our loved ones who have often travelled a long distance to share this special time. The celebration afterwards ranges from a simple luncheon to an over-the-top gala event and everything in between. People have been quite creative lately: a boat ride on the Hudson (also called the “Yacht Mitzvah”), a trip to a water park , rock-climbing, and car-racing. Regardless of which you choose, all are flooded with stress of guest lists, invites, favors, decorations and food. Ours will be a luncheon followed by a kids party with DJ and games. We are excited and anxious.

As with all milestone events, we are often struck by the juxtaposition of past events and how they affect  us as the time approaches.  I think back to my own Bat Mitzvah, how hard I worked, how excited I was, and how devastated I was when my grandmother passed away that very morning.  Thirty years later, I can still remember how I first heard the news: standing in the hallway behind my mother, who did not realize I was awake,  as she broke the news softly to someone over the phone. I was shocked and frozen with grief. As she slowly turned around I stared at her: my mother who had just lost her own mother and yet was with me, rather than at the hospital bed in Florida. My Grandma Jeannie had only been ill for a few months, but her long years of treatment for rheumatoid arthtitis had taken a toll on her heart and she deteriorated rapidly. Even so, nobody thought she would pass so quickly. Her final wish was that Grandpa Max would fly to New York for my Bat Mitzvah. He didn’t know he would never see her again.

Because my Bat Mitzvah was a Friday night service and Shabbat dinner we went ahead with our plans, and we rescheduled  the kid’s party a few months later. During the funeral that Sunday, we stood in the torrential rain, keenly aware how the skies opened up and cried for the loss of my dear grandmother .Thankfully, we were surrounded by our friends and family when we needed them the most, supporting us throughout that unforgettable weekend. To this day, I will never know how my mother and grandfather got through it, beside me the whole time. Reflecting back now, I see how my Bat Mitzvah was truly a “coming of age” experience. Although I could not process it then, this was the first time I learned that life made you take the good with the bad, the bitter with the sweet. It was the first time I needed to take a deep breath, summon all my strength, and move forward.

My Sam has had enough unpleasantness in his life, so much so that I really want him to enjoy his Bar Mitzvah. I know the important thing is that he feel prepared, confident, and proud that morning. When people have spoken to me over the years about how frazzled they become with Bar Mitzvah planning, I would think to myself “I know how bad things can get, I won’t get hung up on all the details.”  Hah. As my husband  says..the devil is in the details. I have never enjoyed entertaining or planning parties,  that is not my forte.  With Bar Mitzvah planning there are so many moving parts: the service itself, the preceding Friday night dinner, the kippot, the photos, the programs, the wardrobes, the menu, the out-of-town guests.  It is easy to become overwhelmed. Yet, I remember my promise to myself: enjoy the excitement, enjoy planning a celebration, focus on the significance of this day in Sam’s life. It’s all good.

Once again, I take a deep breath, feeling lucky that everyone is healthy , or at least status quo. That is huge. My biggest concerns are : how will Sam’s BG’s will be that morning. I don’t care so much about the number, but more about how he feels. Sometimes he feels fine when his BG’s are high, sometimes he feels so awful he wants to just crawl into bed (like last night). I am hoping that the adrenaline will boost his energy level regardless of his numbers. Also, how will their GF bagels taste since they are inedible at room temperature, will they be re-heated properly in the oven? Which leads me to the next, less important but still important..How will the centerpieces look?  Will people be happy with their seating arrangements? Will there be an early Noreaster? Will I like my hair? Let’s face it, on some level it all feels important.

15 days to go….   I’ll keep you posted…