Monday, May 18, 2015

Teenagers are the worst: A Bat Mitzvah Review

Cousin Em was Bat Mitzvah'd this weekend in Chapel Hill. I've been looking forward to this for over a year now. Em and I have always been close; when the husband and I first moved back to NC and weren't working, we'd stay at her house for weeks at a time and babysit. I've been making jokes for awhile that I'll probably cry at some point because "Sunrise, Sunset" in Fiddler on the Roof:

I was *shocked* to find that Miss I-turned-13-last-week is suddenly a TEENAGER. And not just any teenager, but a teenage girl. And even worse, a spoiled teenage girl. She was a nightmare! Simpering one minute, playing hilarious "pranks" the next. Noodles in my hair. Wet paper towels thrown over the bathroom door. Sassiness out the hoohah. After dinner Friday, I was ready to skip the whole thing and just go home. I'd spent so much to make this weekend special and she didn't appreciate it or really seem to care I was there.

Her party was fancier and larger than my wedding. Her parents rented out an entire museum for the occasion and had the party full catered (including, awesomely, dinner from local food trucks). There were hundreds of people in attendance. Em was dolled up (the old lady in me wanted to scold her for the blue eye shadow) and outfitted in a fancy dress.

As I watched her interact with her friends, I begin to think about my own eventual children and how this is not what I want for them. I know that 13 year old girls are probably rarely delightful, but think about how much worse it is when you give them EVERYTHING THEY WANT plus some. Of course the family is proud of Em becoming a bat mitzvah, and of course there should be a celebration. But renting out a museum and inviting hundreds of people? It's a bit extreme.

I don't know if my children will even be bar or bat mitzvah'd... but I do know that if they are, we won't be using Em's weekend as a template. Except for a hour we spent at the synagogue Saturday morning, there was no meaning attached to anything except gimme, gimme, gimme for Em. Even her mitzvah project, helping coach her little brother's sports team, didn't seem significant. Was Em ever taught to give back in a meaningful way during this experience? Did she understand just how lucky she is to belong to a community that loves and supports her, and a family that shows their love in such a public and expensive way?

I imagine a low key bat mitzvah experience. I see a celebration, but not one that costs the same as my graduate degree. A small dinner with family and close friends, a mitzvah project that will have a lasting impact on the child, and a limit on gifts. Perhaps the child could pick a nonprofit and donations could be made instead of the kid getting another piece of jewelry that she won't be allowed to wear until she's older.

Cynical is my middle name and all, but I'm feeling morose that I was left with such a bad taste in my mouth after a family event. Em has a wonderful family and I adore her mother. I know that she felt very special all weekend and that she'll never forget this experience. I just want more than that for my kids, if they choose to participate in Judaism.

Plus, a party that size on a social worker's salary? Never happening, sweet child of mine.

Further reading:
"But I am a little concerned about the big picture. What’s the point of having a bat mitzvah—a symbolic ceremony marking the time when a girl becomes a Jewish adult, fully responsible for her own actions and choices—if she’s going to focus more on the clothes and the party than the ritual? Why choose to do exactly what everyone else does, with the only individualization being the theme colors, the degree of showiness, and the amount of pupik shown by both the bat mitzvah girl and her mother? The ungapatchka same-sameness seems particularly sad when you consider how hard individual girls and women worked to win the right to celebrate this milestone at all."
From Tablet Mag

Million Dollar Bar Mitzvah Parties

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