Thirteen years ago, a boy besieged my heart and taught me how to love.
Saturday morning at our local synagogue, my son stands tall on the bimah and sings aloud his bar mitzvah piece. Friends and family have travelled from as far as Australia, the States, the Caribbean, Ireland, Sweden and France to be here, at this place, at this time, to witness and celebrate this rite of passage.
We have been preparing for this occasion since his birth. Since I called my father from London's Royal Free Hospital and told him he was a grandfather to a grandson. My father's voice was strained and he sighed, "A boy, a son."
My parents were heart broken by the news of my first pregnancy. This was not in the script they had prepared for me. I should have been married, to a nice Jewish boy, from a good yiddisher family. I failed on all levels. There was no nice Jewish boy, no ring on my finger, no in-laws - I wasn't even in a conventional relationship. Such disregard for tradition. This was wrong, all wrong. How could a daughter be so selfish? So contrary? Why hadn't I listened?
A couple of days later my father flew from Dublin to see this grandson of his. He plummeted in love upon first sight of the child.
Over the past 13 months under guidance of the synagogue's opera loving Chazan, my son learnt first Hebrew and then his Torah portion, (a section from the holy scrolls). Come 5.30 every Thursday afternoon the doorbell would ring and I would drag a reluctant boy away from his X-box. As his lesson began I would prepare to teach my own creative writing class at Morley College. Pondering tenses, points of view, theme and plot, snippets of conversation would waft up the hallway from the kitchen. There was talk of god, religion, life and faith. Big questions were chewed upon, mighty answers mulled over, why this is so, why that is not. My kitchen became a hub of ideas, music, stories and learning.
Thirteen weeks before the event invitations were sent out. Lists of names were drawn of those we had to invite and those we wanted to invite, of relatives we never saw, rarely saw and the ones we'd rather not. Plans were plotted, venues sought, themes contemplated and caterers considered. There was much to kvetch and platz about. Kosher or not kosher, to be or not to be.
Notes on hand holding. From the initial instinctive grasp - a baby's tiny five digits are clamped about an adult's index. On the daily tread, my son slips his hand into mine; first there is an upward reach - over time this shifts at a 9--degree angle in step with his growth. His habit of yanking a winter glove from off my hand and exposing my fingers to the fierce cold has continued unchanged for thirteen winters. It irritates me no end.
Thirteen days ago my son stood before me in a suit bought by his devoted grandfather. Here was the boy whose nappy I changed, whose cries I soothed, knees I bandaged, whom I tickled, cuddled, chased, chastised. Parenting is not a perfect art; I have failed a million times, fallen short a million more. Mum you're not listening to me, a daily refrain and in truth many times I ....
Best part of the day - bedtime: Every evening I would read aloud to him, sometimes till he fell asleep. Along the way I discovered Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer; E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World, and other gems such as Horrid Henry and Thomas the Tank Engine.
Thirteen Hours Ago
My mother called lamenting the passing of time.
"Where has it gone?"
For so long so far away and now the moment was upon us.
"Are you ready?"
"I can't fit into my dress,' she wails, 'What'll I do?'
Breathe in, breath out. We are a flush with excitement and nerves. All the overseas visitors have been invited to celebrate Friday night at my parents. Boy Wonder and I drove to their apartment.
We have been on a journey for 13 summers. Just the two of us travelling to infinity and beyond, adventure after adventure, hiding out in makeshift dens, hopping on island cushions, gladiators on sheepskin carpets, scaling furniture, bouncing on beds, sofa snuggling, conquering long rainy days.
We were parked outside my parent's apartment. The date was Friday the 13th of July.
On the Sabbath morning I arrived at the synagogue with my son's father. This was his second time inside a shul, the first being when he attended the rehearsal a couple of days back. My son came on foot accompanied by his friend and grandfather. The Shabbos service is long, the pews fill slowly, men to one side, women the other, the choir sings from above and then the time is upon us. My son is invited to recite his portion. He wears a tallis (prayer shawl) draped over his suit, and pats his head making sure his yarmulke has stayed in place. And so he begins.
My son sings with confidence and holds the attention of the congregation. He takes his time and enjoys the moments. He makes it look easy.
The rabbi gave a short speech of about 13 minutes. An analogy drawn between a hair grip used to fix a yarmulke to young man's head so that it doesn't fall off and the tenuous nature of one's relationship with religion.
Thirteen seconds since I looked across to Boy Wonder's Dad and acknowledged the love we created. This is our boy, our blessing, this young man before us.
Towards the end of the service the torah was carried high around the shul. A small procession formed headed by a family of sorts, a mother with a swollen pregnant belly, an ever present absent father and a man in the making, the newly bar mitzvah-ed boy.