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I would have written sooner, but I am packing. I'm not going anywhere for at least a month, but a legion of suitcases lines my living room. I wouldn't mind if I could do everything myself, but my mother insists on helping. I am used to her visage in my mirror, silently suggesting that I add a touch of lipstick to my pale countenance, but she has never before supervised a family event from the other side. "Everyone needs new underwear," she remonstrates. Your young son can't travel with those socks; he'll need at least a dozen pairs of sport hose." Powerless to defy, I have already bought more underwear than the six people in our family could wear on a trip around the world. I just don't know how to exorcise my mother; the dead always seem to have the last word.

My oldest son is flying home from Colorado to travel with us as we celebrate his younger brother's Bar Mitzvah. He has acquiesced to all but one of our sartorial demands, and will probably look dashing as soon as he perfects that Windsor knot. He refuses, however, to cut his long black hair, which cascades down his back in glossy waves. Actually, he'll be quite comfortable around his next brother, a fashion reprobate who wears his lank brown locks like Willie Nelson on Minoxidil. He, too, inquired about appropriate dress, the first such request we have heard from him since he discovered denim and flannel. But just to keep us on our toes, he has agreed to meet us at our destination instead of being imprisoned for fifteen hours on a flying fortress. Son number three idolizes his older siblings, and has grown a lengthy thatch of hair in competition. Traveling together, they look like the "after" brochure of the Hair Club for Men. Our daughter, on the other hand, has an inner charge; mine, of course. She has combined passion with plastic at a number of credit-happy establishments in our local mall. "Mom," she whines, "I just can't go without a pea coat from J. Crew!" I think of the early pilgrims who made their way across arid desert to Jerusalem. They didn't even have peas!

Our youngest son, the celebrant, suffers from serious store-ophobia. Unaware of the relationship between cause and effect, he pretends to be ignorant of the fact that you have to go shopping in order to buy something. Since he grew about six inches just last week, I waited until the last minute to take him shopping for getaway garb. It's time. The tickets are non-refundable, the invitations have been sent, and synagogues, even in Israel, still require pants and shirts at most functions. Bar Mitzvah means "a son of the commandments." At 13, a Jewish child is considered mature enough to accept adult regulations governing all facets of life. When we talk about increased responsibility, his response is cannily representative. "Whatever," he mumbles. I suppose I should thank him, though. His recalcitrance has enriched my awareness of God's identity. I am certain now that God is not a woman. I also believe that He has never taken a teenage boy to be measured for a suit.

Then, of course, there are the relatives. In the registry of our family, there are countless relations who materialize magically when dinner is served. Although my husband would prefer to expand the kinship caper, I have limited our largesse to include only immediate family and second cousins, once removed. Although relationship can't be diagnosed at the door, I am sure that most of our guests (after all, they are on his side) will brandish the peculiar mix of neuroses, disorders, characters and characteristics that define our family. We have babies and bubbies, drinkers and devils, scholars and saints. We fill the bell curve of human characteristics from one extreme to another, and I've even noticed a few who are several standard deviations beyond the norm.

At the risk of sounding like Sister Sledge, we are family. When it's time to celebrate a milestone, we gather to wish well, exclaim how the little ones have grown, learn what the older kids are doing, and gaze with relief as we see who has lived to celebrate another simcha (joyous event). I see the aunts and uncles gossiping about the new crow's feet or love handles that have blossomed in our maturing circle. Even those no longer with us gather in our pleasure. "Remember, dear, your lingerie should always be as immaculate as your reputation." Thanks for sharing, Mom, and thanks for being here with us.

Congratulations, my son. You are now a man.


Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
November 28, 1998

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