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Coping with free time after the bar mitzvah

The yawn after a storm

for The Brooklyn Paper

Preparation for a bar or bat mitzvah takes just as much dedication as an athlete training for a marathon. It consumes your life and can even feel like a full-time job. And much like a runner hitting the halfway point during a 26.2-mile race, a parent who’s spent so much time and energy creating a memorable day for her child will experience the “high” of her efforts paying off mid-event. Yet, just the jogger hitting his stride, this euphoric sensation is fleeting — the occasion is just a one-day event. What goes up must come down, and some find themselves asking post-bar mitzvah — now what?

As a parent who recently planned and executed a whirlwind of a bar mitzvah, I’ve got some advice:

Embrace the calm after the storm

It may not feel normal, but trying to just relax after an emotional affair will do wonders for both body and spirit. Every member of the family deserves a little down time after all the hard work. Treat yourself to a spa treatment or grab some coffee with a friend. Even if the house is a mess, it can wait. No out-of-town guests coming over now!

Do a mitzvah with the leftovers

Hopefully the caterer helped you donate extra food to a charity or a local firehouse, but what about the floral arrangements? A nursing home or hospital would definitely appreciate them! If you have signs, have your child choose one or two favorites for his room and then make a photo collage of the rest — it’s a great poster for a kid’s room! Use any extra hand towels or large napkins in your guest bathroom until they are gone — don’t put the box away for “someday,” because most likely, someday will never come.

Reflect on your favorite moments

Was the highlight of your child’s bar or bat mitzvah? A conversation with a favorite aunt? Or was it watching your him celebrate with his friends?

If you kept a planning binder or clip file, consider adding a page or two of notes about these memories. Add copies of the candle lighting and speeches. If you didn’t keep a binder (really??) you can put them in a small memory book. There are even online services that will put these together for you.

Write thank-you notes

If these reflections bring to mind specific individuals, drop them a thank you note, e-mail, or call. That’s right, they aren’t exclusive to the children! If a neighbor put up with cars in front of his house or the cantor put in extra time with your family, acknowledge the effort. Perhaps a small gift would be appropriate. Encourage your child to send out thank-you notes as well, and if you have candid photos of your guests, print and include copies of them in your letters. Online photo services can even create customized stationery with a picture from the bimah or the big bash. If items were collected for a mitzvah project, include a photo of the family delivering the goods to their final destination (or e-mail an update to your guests). If possible, invite a few friends to join you for the day.

Pay it the forward

One of the best ways to retain the spirit of a bar mitzvah is to “pay it forward.” Some synagogues let children mentor other students or volunteer in the nursery program. See if your child wants to set a date to lead a prayer or read from the Torah on a future Shabbat morning. It’s sometimes hard to keep a bar or bat mitzvah child interested in coming to services now that they aren’t required, but maybe now is the time to try out the youth group program. Remember, encouraging good habits leads to lifelong commitment.

Help a parent who’s still planning

Parents can offer to help someone else plan their affair. Share your resources and time. Imagine how grateful you would have been for someone’s help during the planning phase. It’s a much different experience when you aren’t emotionally invested, and you’ll get to taste more cake! If your family had a destination affair, consider displaying photographs in the synagogue lobby or ask if the congregation might want to hear about the experience.

Use your imagination!

Creativity is key in keeping the spirit of a bar mitzvah flowing. A new b’nai tradition is evolving where girls and boys wear their own bar and bat mitzvah finery to the last party in their Hebrew class. You can also play montage DVDs as background during family gatherings and when your photo proofs arrive, make some useable items like mugs and phone cases to use as constant reminders of the day, every day.

For me, the bar mitzvah date arrived sooner than expected. Before you know it, your child will no longer resemble the 13-year-old in his bar mitzvah photos. Planning for his graduation is literally right around the corner, and soon after that, maybe even a wedding!

But if you still feel a longing for something more to do — you could always train for a marathon!

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