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A Parent’s Guide to Bar/Bat Mitzvah Planning

Let’s face it—the overwhelming task of planning a bar or bat mitzvah ranks right up there with hosting a wedding. No wonder parents need a honeymoon after the whirlwind weekend celebration is over. After all, a bar or bat mitzvah is a sacred rite of passage for moms and dads who witness before their very eyes how their teen in a tallit makes the symbolic transition into adulthood.

If there’s one thing I learned from my son Jack’s bar mitzvah 15 months ago, besides never wear new shoes without breaking them in first, is try not to stress over the small stuff because when it’s over all that’s left is wonderful memories and a box full of satin monogrammed kippots.
Actually, a parent’s job pales in comparison to the enormous responsibilities of Jewish adolescents studying for a bar or bat mitzvah. These pubescent souls are required to learn Hebrew, memorize prayers, interpret lessons of the sages, stand before the congregation and lead the service, master the art of public speaking, and repair the world doing bnei mitzvah projects while they keep up with schoolwork, extra curricular activities, and orthodontic appointments. On top of that, they are expected to crank out legible and poetic thank you notes faster than a stenographer.
During this incredibly busy time, parents must remember what really matters, and that is for their teen to work hard, have fun, and be proud of their accomplishments. Hopefully, the following tips will help you make your child’s bar or bat mitzvah a joyful experience.

Step One: Plan as much as you can in advance. Synagogues assign bar and bat mitzvah dates several years ahead so there’s no excuse to wait until the last minute. By the time your child graduates from preschool you’re ready to book the location where the service and party will be held, such as at a temple, hotel, recreation center, or Western Wall in Jerusalem. If you have more than one child, hopefully their ages are spaced enough apart so that you can recoup your finances.
Traditionally, a bar or bat mitzvah should be scheduled close to the child’s birthday; however, if your son or daughter has a winter birthday, consider bumping the date ahead to springtime or move it behind to autumn when the weather is nicer. Then again, you can’t control the weather, and it can pour buckets any time of year. Besides, rain on a Jewish simcha brings good luck.

Step Two: Set a budget for the celebration and be prepared to blow it on hidden costs of helium balloons, monogrammed party favors, tablecloth rentals, customized postage stamps, bus transportation to and from the party, motivational dancers, glow-in-the-dark necklaces, personalized programs, and, of course, a deluxe chocolate fountain.

Step Three: At least one year in advance, nab the photographer, videographer, and DJ before the mother of your child’s best friend does. Also, make hotel accommodations for out of town guests, and inquire about discounts to reserve a block of rooms. Many people like to mail save-the-date notices to important family and friends, especially those who travel from another state. To thank them for spending thousands of dollars on this occasion in honor of your son or daughter, the least you can do is welcome them with a goody bag that might include a variety of snacks, souvenirs, a weekend itinerary, driving directions, important contact numbers, and maps to St. Louis landmarks, such as the Arch and abandoned Chrysler plant.

Step Four: Stay organized at all times. Use a database to keep track of everything, including an updated list of RSVPs, menu, prices, seating chart, vendors, mailing labels, and a description of the gifts received from your guests so that you know how much to spend on them when their event rolls around.

Step Five: Involve your child in some of the decision making, such as the theme of the party and design of the invitations. Then do what you want anyway because, after all, you’re paying the bills. Keep in mind that adolescents constantly change their minds, and their friends come and go like pimples.

Step Six: Ask a friend who owes you a favor to coordinate the baking of cookies and sweets for your dessert table. And go easy on the kamish bread. Kids still like brownies the best. Most importantly, ration out the homemade strudel so that you have plenty for yourself to savor when you get home.

Step Seven: Stock up on Best Buy gift cards now—the same way you hoard tubs of Cool Whip when they go on sale. If your son or daughter is invited to more than one party on the same day, good luck. It takes experienced coordination and precise timing, not to mention a full tank of gas, to get your teen across town for services, oneg receptions, luncheons, dinners, dancing, and lazer tag, but it can be done.

Step Eight: If you want to entertain your crowd with a musical slide show, get your photos organized as soon as possible. When digging out those baby snapshots don’t forget to include poses of your child with every single member of the immediate family so that no one’s feelings are hurt. Try to keep the production under 12 minutes. As sentimental as the photo montage is to you, your fidgety guests are there to eat cake and shuffle the electric slide. Nobody else really cares about pictures of your spaghetti-stained toddler wearing diapers.

Step Nine: Keep your speeches short, and try not to sob uncontrollably. Your son or daughter is embarrassed enough as it is.

Step Ten: Think twice before ordering a poster size canvas portrait of your pimply faced adolescent wearing braces and hugging the Torah because he or she will look totally different by the time you mount the frame on the wall.

Step Eleven: Finally, enjoy this exciting time that you’ve worked so hard to put together and choreograph from start to finish. Let yourself go, but don’t do anything stupid at the party because your mug might end up on Facebook the next day.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. She wishes everyone a mazel tov on their upcoming bar and bat mitzvah. Visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.