Updated: Mar 31
How I planned the bat mitzvah weekend of my oldest daughter’s dreams, while accommodating the needs of her siblings.
Three years ago I picked the date for my eldest’s bat mitzvah. In the Jewish tradition when a girl is 12 or 13 and a boy is 13, they study to read from the Torah (the five books of Moses) in front of family and friends and mark the beginning of their Jewish adulthood. It is a year of very hard work, learning the special notes to chant the Torah, practicing reading in Hebrew, writing and delivering a speech in front of 100-300 guests! Quite a lot for a pre-teen to take on! In the grand American Tradition -- of go big or go home -- it is typically followed by a big celebration.
We started discussing the plans with Ruby three years ago. Ruby always being wise beyond her years, decided that while a big, fancy shmancy party sounded amazing, she liked the idea of a long trip to Israel where she could walk on the ancient streets and see the history she’s been studying for 12 years come alive and a casual roller skating brunch to celebrate with her nearest and dearest.
Sometimes being the oldest is hard. I say this as the oldest of my brood of unruly smelly brothers, three of them! I remember growing up and whenever my mom needed help, I was sent into the kitchen. Whenever the opportunity to be goofy and misbehave arrived, I was told to set an example. We always had to worry more about the younger kids, “Wait, did we lose Zach again?” As selfish as it sounded coming from my 12-year-old, eye-rolling daughter, I understood the need to have a weekend about her. She is a pretty amazing kid, and I was happy to accommodate that.
Now the question was how do you pull that off with a 7-year-old, who doesn’t really appreciate the art of sitting still and a 10-year-old who prefers anything to the loud echoing sounds of a service and wearing uncomfortable clothes? The answer is a ton of planning, thinking, overthinking, changing, adapting, being flexible and letting things go. What I learned:
A couple of months ago I had my youngest in a toy store and while he was involved in some display I found a few small toys of interest for Gabi and Avi to open up before the weekend started. I shared this with Ruby, who thought that was a great idea and asked if she could give them to them. Kind of a bribe, I mean motivator, for making it through two hours of pictures and sitting still more than they’d like and to show her appreciation to them. These came in handy before we got ready for pics and one of my children had a major meltdown about the outfit she was supposed to wear.
The dress that had been pre-approved by my middle daughter just didn’t feel right when it came to wearing it. Here is where “let it go” comes in. I loved the original dress, it was so cute, I had got it for a great deal so I loved it even more. She found a plain, clean black one that still matched her accessories, I had to move past my desire to control and disappointment and “let it go.”
We worked with the photographer a year ago to spread out the pictures. We took the bulk of the pics including the siblings the night before. Yes, we had to get dressed up twice. However, let me tell you the mood of those two jokers after two hours of posing would not have been ideal going into a bat mitzvah service.
Guess what? Surprisingly, the tie my Avi picked out annoyed the fiddlesticks out of him and he insisted on wearing it too low and crooked. And guess what, time to “let it go” again, plus I think it adds to his goofy charm.
Expectations -- one thing I tell parents all the time is to make sure their expectations are realistic for the age, development and needs of your children. Easier said then done, right?
On the way home from pictures, I was thinking "Wow I planned years for this" (literally) and that the pictures were kind of a disaster. How can I blog about this now? How can I call myself an expert on behavior, children, parenting? I’m a fraud and I’ll never be successful! So you know super rational stuff going on in my brain. Jeff looks at me (as if reading my mind) and said, “Wow, you did a great job organizing everything and planning the pictures for tonight.” I thought about it again. Yes, Avi whined about his tie the first twenty minutes so we had to retake a few of the beginning pics, and yes, Gabi was not wearing the original dress. Yes, there was some complaining (maybe a lot of complaining), but he was right. We took two hours of pictures with siblings, grandparents and cousins. When we look at them in 30 years, maybe we’ll forget the whining!!
The morning of the bat mitzvah, I knew we’d need at least a half hour of pictures with the clergy and last minute time to get ready. I had our most favorite babysitter in the world come to our house early, give the sibs lots of attention and drive them to the service just on time so they weren’t already annoyed when we got started. Remember how this weekend was all about Ruby? Well she was REALLY nervous on the way to the temple so having the undivided attention of both Jeff and me was really awesome for her. She even gave me some pity laughs as I suggested we make a run for the border (Canadian) if she decided she really couldn’t go through with the bat mitzvah.
The other decision Jeff and I made very consciously was to focus on our family of five first and then think of all of our other family and guests. This is why we decided not to do a family dinner Friday night or a lunch after Saturday morning services. Some families love to go go go, honestly it doesn’t bother me so much. However, my kids need down time to veg in between events where they are expected to behave. Ruby, the star of the weekend, needs the most home time of all so she was thrilled to go up in her room and chill after the pressure of the service was off of her!
I asked our babysitter, who is truly a member of our family at this point, to sit with Gabi and Avi during the services. This made my middle, anxious kiddo really secure that she knew who to go to if she needed something. She was able to give them quiet little toys and fidgets and help them stay quiet through out the service. This was the best decision we made.
The kids were all truly amazing the morning of. So Gabi somehow had a rubix cube in her hand on the bimah (the stage where the action happens at a Jewish temple), and I’d like to think that God and my Dad had a good chuckle about that one! Watching Avi and Gabi hug and squeeze Ruby and the pride on their faces made all the planning totally worth it!
Explaining expectations: I spent a ton of time the last few months, weeks and days, explaining everything to the kids. My decisions, why and when things were happening. What I expected of each of them in each moment. I also praised them at each step along the way, to reinforce everything they did well and ignored all the negative. This was not easy! I wanted to address the meltdowns that happened over nothing, I wanted to yell and lecture, but I took a deep breath and celebrated the fact that they ended and we were able to move on.
Sunday morning, I decided to have Jeff bring Gabi and Avi in a separate car to the roller skating party. Yes, this meant less cute Instagram perfection photo ops of us in our coordinated donut decal retro outfits, but it also meant more rested sibs who were eager with anticipation when they arrived instead of dreading hours of pics! Our amazing babysitter came early to make sure Gabi and Avi were happy and taken care of and she made sure they took a break from roller skating and ate! This again was extremely helpful and allowed me to truly enjoy the party.
At the end of the weekend Ruby thanked us so genuinely that for a minute she was my sweet six-year-old again and I forgot that she was a champion eye roller and 12-year-old! The weekend was perfect in all its imperfections and I can’t wait to do it all over again in two years with Gabi!
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