This weekend I went to a friend’s daughter’s bat mitzvah ceremony. I’ve never been to one before, so I went into it not really knowing what to expect, other than the fact that the daughter would be giving a speech during the ceremony that her mother was nervous about…not because the daughter was nervous, but because this particular 13 year old was determined to use her time to talk about how all organized religion was based on misogyny and oppression. My friend was both proud and concerned that this particular speech might kill her mother-in-law. She was going to insist on a re-write.
The final version contained the phrase “smash the patriarchy” at least twice, but no grandmothers were scandalized, so that part seemed to go well. The rest of the service seemed to go along smoothly, or at least smoothly enough that if there were issues, they were obvious to a first timer like me.
As I watched the service, I found myself dealing with surprise tears at one point. In the moment, I don’t think I could have explained why I was crying. I just felt a chest tightening sense of… something. At first I thought maybe I was having some sort of weird emotional response to being in a house of worship after five plus years of being a church avoider following a life time of going to church three times a week. But the rhythm and content of the service was very different than what I was used to, so I don’t think that was it.
I’m not the most quick to tears person, though weddings usually get me, so maybe it was just being part of a milestone moment in someone’s life. But maybe it was because I couldn’t stop thinking about how, at 13, the very last thing I would have wanted to do was stand in front of a crowd of people to sing and read in another language. At 13, I mostly wanted to disappear and avoid doing anything that could possibly result in any tiny amount of embarrassment.
Of course, there is no such thing as tiny embarrassment when you were the particular breed of 13 year old I was. All embarrassment was life threatening. Maybe my tears were just from sheer gratitude for the simple fact that I’m not 13 anymore and never will be again.
I also kept thinking about how my friend must be feeling. To be watching your 13 year old, who was probably just a baby YESTERDAY, do this major life thing — I don’t know how she wasn’t dangerously dehydrated from crying all the tears. My daughter is only five and I’m already regularly shocked to remember that she’s not a toddler any more. The fact that she’ll be 13 someday seems like an inevitable impossibility. Will I do a good enough job as a parent to raise her to be bold enough to tell a room full of friends and family to smash the patriarchy, even if it offends grandma? Why does it feel like the stakes of raising a girl are higher than the stakes of raising a boy? Would I have cried at a bar mitzvah? I’m not sure.
I really don’t want to screw this up.