My older son just received an invitation in the mail to attend a friend's Mitzvah celebration. So far, this is Derek's third such summons. The first one caught us completely off guard, in a "you'll have to pardon us Christians, we know nothing about this" kind of way. The letter itself arrived in a thick, sophisticated-looking envelope of weighty, high-quality paper stock...you know, sort of how you expect a wedding invitation to appear. Inside the similarities continued, as we uncovered piece after piece of formal documentation....the details of the ceremony on one page, the description of the after-event on another, and finally the response card with its pre-addressed, stamped return envelope. As if I weren't already reeling from trying to assimilate this flood of new information, I inadvertently confused myself even more by reading the items out-of-order. On the response card there were the usual spaces to indicate how many people would attend either the religious service in the morning, the party portion in the evening, or both. But at the bottom, there was an additional line...for shoe size. I spent a thoroughly flummoxed moment wondering what the heck footwear had to do with Jewish coming-of-age rites...until I flipped back through the material and realized that they would be going bowling afterwards. Ohhhh!
Still, for the uninitiated, this "starter Mitzvah" was potentially fraught with peril. For one thing, this particular friend was a newer one, that Derek had become close to in Middle School. I didn't know him, nor his parents (thus didn't exactly feel comfortable calling them up and quizzing them for some free religious education). Secondly, the temple where the ceremony would be held was 20 minutes away and totally unfamiliar to us. Finally, there weren't any FAQs for us clueless newbies, regarding such basic-yet-critical topics as: "what to expect at the service", "who attends? just family? or kids too?", and even "what to wear". (Don't laugh, for my preteen who owns ONLY sweatpants and-t shirts, this represented a possibly expensive shopping trip which would no doubt be executed only under the staunchest of protests...) So I did what any parent would do, when trying their best to steer their child through these growth experiences: I consulted an expert. Specifically, a colleague at work who, Jewish herself, had been there, done that with all three of her own children. Bless her heart, she took my inquiries so seriously--even doing her own research to try and provide reliable answers. In the end, though, I decided to take the easy path on this one.(Okay fine, I admit I chickened out, are you happy?) I sent Derek bowling and opted out of the mysterious religious ceremony since we just weren't sure enough of what we were doing.
The second invitation also originated from a boy Derek knows at school, BUT they've played on the same soccer team, and been over to each other's houses repeatedly for playdates and sleepovers. For all these reasons, his parents are also acquaintances of Husband's and mine. Adding to the ease of this upcoming affair, the service will be located at the synagogue practically across the street from where we live. Afterwards, the family is hosting a luncheon at their home. Easy peasy! And just to make things fully, 100% smooth, the mother attached a printed page of helpful protocol. Yay! We've got this one! (Ooh, except I just had a disturbing thought--maybe she only sent the "Instruction Manual for How to Dress and Act in Church" to my son...because she assumes he's some kind of poorly-raised...heathen...or something. Well, to be fair, she has personally witnessed him demonstrating his best--or worst--12-year old boy behavior on more than one occasion...which is why I'm tagging along, to ensure he's showing off his most "angelic church-going persona" instead...hmmm, do you think I can purchase one of those up in the same sure-to-be-thrilling retail extravaganza in which I drag Derek out to buy a dress shirt, jacket, and tie? Sigh...)
Then yesterday yet another letter addressed to Derek showed up in the mailbox. By now, the fancy envelopes are a dead giveaway, the only suspense coming in the form of "whose turn is it this time"? Although I was sorely tempted, I resisted ripping into it. No, I waited until Derek walked in the door after school, then assaulted him by waving the square under his nose and badgering him to OPEN it, already. When he did, we both got a little shock: this one came from a girrrrllllll. (I know, very mature of me. But my child was so completely unfazed by the entire situation, I felt the need to squeal for him, just a little bit.) Reading further, we discovered that this service also will be held at the local synagogue, with a luncheon to follow. So far, so good. But wait, there's more: later that night, there's "Dinner, Dancing, and Fun"! Oh. My. Goodness. It's like an All-Day Gala for the adolescent set, I tell ya! While Derek might take a somewhat dim view of the "girls" and "dancing" aspects, you have to focus on the most salient fact: he will get fed not once, but TWICE for his participation. Such a deal!
So that's the budding social life of my not-quite-teenage son. And I must say, I have a whole heartful of emotions surrounding this complex subject. On the one hand, I'm both surprised and pleased by the evidence that Derek seems to be something of a Mr. Popular. (Didn't see that coming...or was choosing to remain cocooned in my happy place called Abject Denial...whatever...) On the other hand: parties...with the opposite sex! Aargh! But let's not overlook the most unsettling tidbit of all: it's quite possible that my Middle Schooler juggles a busier calendar than I do! Now if you'll please excuse me, I've got to go set up some Moms' Coffee Dates...and Ladies' Lunches...and Girls' Nights...and maybe even some Dinner, Dancing, and Fun!