Last week it was as if every surface in Milo’s school was too hot to touch. I got a call almost every day and I had to pick him up early more than once. Milo feeling like school is a hostile place isn’t unusual. But last week’s frequency and intensity of feeling was. I tried to calm him each time before I asked what was going on. He was thick tongued about it, offering up his litany of blanket misery — everyone hates me, everything makes me mad, the teachers are stupid, school is pointless, you don’t love me.
It wasn’t until Monday of this week that he said to me, “You know Mommy, I was feeling very stressed. I was worried about B’s bat mitzvah, she had such a big part, and there were so many people in town and around all the time, and I was worried too about my part, even though it was small.”
“That makes sense Buddy. I’m sorry for all of that stress. Now that it’s over, let’s see if we can just take a deep breath and let it all go.”
And Milo took a deep breath. Who knows if he ever lets anything go.
The Bat Mitzvah was stressful, for all four of us. But it was also exhilarating. Our friends and family came from all over the country to celebrate with us. I was particularly gratified to have my best friend, now technically cancer free, there, as well as many other beloved girlfriends who came without their husbands and kids in order to lend me their unmitigated love and support.
The event happened at a gorgeous renovated textile mill on a river surrounded by industrial ruins and trees. (A magical place that is the vision of particularly imaginative and gifted friends.) My husband and several hugely talented friends provided the music, I led the service and many family and friends participated. B’s torah portion was Genesis I. It starts with “Let there be Light” and goes through the story of Noah. B read in Hebrew from the serpent’s temptation through the expulsion. Her commentary was about following the rules and obeying authority. Unless you’re wired differently, then you have different rules and different consequences. It was a plea for compassion for her brother. It was subtle and shocking and perfect.
Milo managed to wear his grown up shirt and shoes and his Bruno Mars inspired fedora, but I couldn’t get him in his chinos and belt. Oh well. He also managed to sit through the majority of the service, taking the occasional balance beam walk on the ampitheater’s outer wall. There was a moment, after he read his part about what makes a hero a hero, when it looked like he was going to hug his sister. Instead he reached down and collected some of the candy that had been thrown at her when she finished reading from the Torah in Hebrew. It was a moment of brilliant comic timing and the crowd laughed greedily. Except for those people tuned into B, who saw the disappointment on her face. The disappointment that animates much of her life — thinking that Milo might do the “normal” thing, and then realizing he always does his own thing. Later, when I asked her about this moment she said, “I’m used to it.”
The service was followed by a party complete with a DJ playing whatever it is 13 year olds like to dance to, a photo-booth, a henna tattoo artist, an ice cream truck and one buffet for kids and another for adults. There were hula hoops and disco lights, speeches, Havanagelia with people being raised up in chairs, balloons and lollipops. The sun set in a wash of gold and pink and B hugged everyone in sight. Milo didn’t like the pizza or the ice cream, yelled at his best friend and ran away from his babysitter. It didn’t take that long to find him.
Milo, you can stay at the party or go home with K.
If I stay here I’ll die. But I can’t go home with K.
Well, those are your choices. Daddy and I aren’t leaving the party. K is here to take you home.
I’ll only go home with her if she sits on the porch.
No. She goes into the house.
Then I’ll stay here and die.
Milo, what will it take to get you to go home with K?
A million dollars.
I don’t have that much money.
A thousand dollars.
I don’t have that much either.
A hundred dollars.
Still too high.
Thirty dollars and we stop somewhere to eat. I choose where.
And off he went. We got home after 11, with a pumped up B and two of my husband’s best friends who were in from out of town. The babysitter was gracious. Milo had insisted on waiting up. I helped him upstairs and he fell into bed in his clothes. I lay down next to him. He said, “I want a bat mitzvah too.” Then he rolled over and was out cold.
I never paid him the $30, and he never asked for it. Deep breath.