So for those who are unfamiliar with the concept, a bar mitzvah isn't just a fancy thirteenth birthday party. In fact, Son #1's bar mitzvah was nearly two months after his actual birthday. It is a coming of age ritual, where a boy becomes responsible for following the commandments; in practice, this meant Son #1 spent many years in religious school learning Hebrew, and the last year learning prayers, his torah portion, and a haftarah portion so that he could lead the service. (For a girl, it's called a bat mitzvah, and at our temple, which is Reform, it is exactly the same as a boy's service.)
Thankfully, Son #1 took his responsibility to study very seriously, and stayed on top of what he had been assigned to learn each week. This meant that all I needed to gnaw my fingernails over was planning the celebration afterward. My husband's family all lives in town (or within an hour or two's drive), so we anticipated a cast of thousands. We needed a venue that could accommodate them all and feed them well. We needed a DJ who could keep a large roomful of people from toddlers to octogenarians entertained. And I needed to find a dress with a neckline high enough and hemline low enough to be tasteful in temple, and yet did not make me look as ancient as I felt (hanging out with a thirteen-year-old who rolls his eyes at every third thing you say can do that to you). It already seemed like an impossible quest.
Did I mention I got to put three boys in suits? They enjoyed it this much.
And of course, then I made the process even more fun by deciding that I was going to do a bunch of things myself. Why hire someone to make centerpieces or party favors when you can do it yourself? Why hire someone to make a slideshow of cute pictures of Son #1 through the years when you can do it yourself? Why get a photographer to make a sign-in board when you can design one yourself and get it printed at the local printer's much more inexpensively?
I'm a little surprised that D-I-Yism hasn't made it into the DSM as a diagnosable mental disorder yet, but my husband can tell you that I definitely made myself crazy over the months leading up to the bar mitzvah. I had to scale back my design for the centerpieces when I realized that my original plan would require roughly sixty hours I didn't have, and by the time I got done with folding and stuffing 180 favor boxes, I practically cheered when I found square labels at Staples that I could print out instead of then making 180 tags to adorn said boxes. I spent hours considering and rejecting songs to accompany the slide show, not to mention paring down the thousands of cute photos we have of Son #1 through the years to a streamlined selection that would not make our guests nod off in their chairs. (And no, I did not embarrass him with any nude baby pictures. I'm saving those for when he starts dating.)
And then in the midst of all of this, as we were chasing down the last RSVPs less than three weeks before the bar mitzvah, my husband got bad news. His company had decided to phase out his job, and after a few more months, he would be unemployed and our family would be without an income. I'd like to say that I handled this with calm and grace, but in truth I handled it with lots of swearing and some hysteria. If I hadn't been eyeball-deep in finishing up the aforementioned DIY projects, I probably would have been trolling Pinterest for voodoo-doll designs to use on my husband's soon-to-be former employers. I was bitterly sure that my enjoyment of my son's hard work would be overshadowed by the anxiety I now felt about my family's future. I felt like an idiot for essentially opting out of the workforce for thirteen years, knowing that no effort of mine could replace my husband's income.
Sometimes, though, the universe throws you a bone. That same week, when I was barely keeping it together, keeping my tunnel vision on the bar mitzvah to keep myself from freaking out about everything else, I got an email that my former employer had recommended me to one of their clients who was looking for a freelance proofreader. And then a regular proofreading client of mine asked if I would be interested in doing some editing for them. My freelance income isn't much; in a good year it covers things like summer day camp for the boys, and in a bad year, it provides an excuse for having something other than "housewife" on my resume. But knowing that I'd be able to bring in something at that moment was enough to take me a healthy step back from the edge of the ledge.
And ironically, having the minor crises of bar-mitzvah planning to fret over helped to keep my mind off of the larger crisis of my husband's impending joblessness. I probably vented more than a proportional amount of steam over the flakes who contacted us at the last minute--oh, I know I said we were coming, but we can't make it for reasons we absolutely could have foreseen when we sent our response card in--but I was able to keep my anxiety over his job hunt to a few dozen daily reminders to email everyone he knew to let them know he's looking. (Hey, for me, that's good.)
The day of the bar mitzvah came. Son #1 did a beautiful job, if I do say so myself, and I was able to shrug off my worries and enjoy the day with our family. (Seriously, though, the people who RSVP'd "yes" and then didn't show the day of with no warning--I'm keeping a list, man.) Watching Son #1 calmly lead the service, and then enjoy himself at his party, reminded me that there are bigger things in the world than making a paycheck--like learning that hard work pays off, and experiencing the joy of knowing your family and friends are there to cheer you on. The glow of happiness on his face made all the months of anxiety and hours of crafting worth it.
But if any of you know of a twelve-step program for DIYers...Son #2's bar mitzvah will be in about two years. I'm not sure I'll survive another 180 favor boxes...