Saturday was one of the happiest days of my life as a parent. Better even than the days my four children were born, because those were days marked more by relief than joy. Saturday we celebrated my son Ber’s bar mitzvah. And I wouldn’t say Ber’s bar mitzvah was more joyful than his older brother’s, because that statement would certainly come back to haunt me. However, I would say that the journey Ber took from the earliest moments preparing for his bar mitzvah to what he accomplished on the day was a longer and more difficult road than his brother’s. And therefore, the pay-off had a different quality to it.
Every kid is different. My older son basks in the spotlight but Ber avoids it. He is a perfectionist who beats himself up after the slightest mistake. When he began studying for his bar mitzvah, Ber was terrified. Terrified of getting up in front of people and chanting his Torah portion. Petrified of speaking in front of hundreds of people. He spent a year dreading the moment when he would make a mistake at his bar mitzvah and become paralyzed with everyone watching. My husband and I spent hours over the last year talking to Ber about how his bar mitzvah wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be wonderful. We reminded him that everyone there would be cheering him on, not judging him. In my work, I spend my days teaching Dynamo Girls that they don’t need to be perfect in order to be successful. Whenever possible, as I do in my classes, I modeled for Ber how I regularly make mistakes and keep going. I showed him how sometimes I fake it and make things up and no one actually notices. But I wasn’t sure if on the biggest day of Ber’s life thus far, I could adequately teach my own son the same ability to overcome perfectionism that I teach my Dynamo Girls. I couldn’t know until I sat watching my son standing alone under the soaring ceilings of our synagogue as he told the story of Abraham’s courageous journey, whether he himself would fare as well as Abraham did. Had I imparted enough wisdom to Ber to support him through the final steps of his own arduous journey?
Over the last 12 months, at every turn, my husband and I have been on a path alongside Ber to keep perfectionism at bay in search of imperfect success. And Ber found that imperfect success in spades on Saturday. I, as his proud mother, soaked up every moment of my son’s accomplishment. I relished his ability to chant Torah beautifully, cough in the middle and just keep rolling. I watched my son deliver the speech of his life, lose his place for a second, and pick up the line again without getting flustered. I think I beamed brightest when he misread a few Hebrew words and then smoothly righted his chanting. Every single one of those moments was more precious to me than the 99% of his performance that was flawless. The strength Ber found in making a mistake and courageously forging ahead told me that he had learned the lesson I so desperately wanted him to learn. As Ber neared the end of singing his final blessings, I could see in his wide smile, in his shining eyes, in his proud posture the knowledge that he’d achieved what a year ago he had deemed impossible. He overcame perfect to find wonderful.