Keeping Up With The Jonesbergs

Of course I’m a man. Would a boy get to wear a sweet lid like this one?

It’s Bar Mitzvah season for The Boy. On at least one day every weekend, I have to tie his tie (at what age should he know how to tie his own damned tie?) and drive him to a reception at one catering hall, hotel, or party spot after another. There’s a break in the action for the summer but it’ll pick up again soon, with a party scheduled for Labor Day weekend. The Boy had his own reception not too long ago and planning that required a swan dive back into my pool of childhood insecurities.

My bar mitzvah reception was held a million years ago at the famous Huntington Town House. Don’t bother looking for it—it’s probably an Audi dealership now. I don’t know what happened to it. It may have been a victim of one bad economy or another. Perhaps the soaring taxes did it in. Or maybe the place just sucked. It was a huge place that could host 3 giant parties at the same time without any guests from one party knowing there was another party going on. My reception was pretty fancy—one of the fancier ones of all the receptions I attended—but not opulent or over the top. This is before the “theme” receptions that turned bar mitzvah receptions into ostentatious baccanals that had the barest nod to the religious significance of the day.

I’d heard stories of receptions costing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and I stressed out about the possibility of having to throw one of those one day (yeah, I worried about things like that in my teens). This kind of meshugas was going on as recently as 2 years ago, Out loud, I swore I’d never cave to that kind of nonsense but I knew I’d have to face the social pressure of having to host one at least as big and memorable as the smallest one my imaginary kids would be attending. It didn’t help that I ended up in New Jersey, where The Kids’ Mother and her friends regaled me with tales of wild parties with great themes, huge bands…no, orchestras…and piles of money thrown at every extravagance available.

When it came time to plan a party for The Boy, I sank back into my shell and as his Mother worried about locations and menus, I worried about “important” things like appearances. Would it be like all the others he’d be attending? Would it be nicer? Will his friends have a great time and will it make The Boy more popular? And what would my friends say about it (behind my back, no doubt)?

But something happened in the decades between my reception and today. Maybe it was the economy or maybe society had changed and what was socially acceptable for these pseudo-religious ceremonies was more down to earth. I stopped hearing stories of the wallet-draining bashes. People I talked to were planning smaller parties or if the parties were big, they were much more tasteful. But maybe it was a trap. Maybe I was being lulled into a state of false confidence. Yeah…that’s what they want me to think!

In the end, everything turned out fine. The Boy had a great time. His friends had a great time. Good food, plenty of it. I botched the toast but no one was paying attention anyway. I survived relatively unscathed and can look back on the night and realize that I’d been stressing out for nothing. Yay for me.


The Boy’s mother told me that come January, we’ll be filling out the paperwork for The Girl’s bat mitzvah. In 2016. Is it getting hot in here?

Maybe his price will come down in the next few years.


Your Kid’s a Genius! Whoop-de-damn-do!

Isn’t there some third, in between choice?

As a parent, there’s no greater sense of pride than when your kid brings home a report card full of A’s and you can tell everyone else about it.

Or so I’ve heard.

There are scores of smart, talented kids out there. It goes without saying that some of them are bound to be smarter and more talented than my kids. I’m friends with many people who have kids gifted in one way or another. That’s great for them. I’m happy and/or amazed and some of the things they’ve accomplished. It’s just hard for me to hear about these kids without wondering about mine. I don’t have concerns about The Girl yet. She aces just about everything put in front of her with little effort and she gets glowing reports from every teacher she comes across. Then again, The Boy started out that way. He didn’t get stupid or anything. He’s actually a really bright kid. He just doesn’t know it.

The standard parenting lament since the dawn of time is that a kid “can do so much better” or “isn’t performing to the best of his abilities,” etc etc. I used to hear it all the time when I was a kid and I barely even understood what it meant (or I stopped listening–I forget which one). Now that I’m the parent, I totally get it.

The Boy hates school. But that’s not so strange. What kid actually likes school? The kids who liked school were the dorks, the losers, the “neo maxie zoom dweebies” (an argument can be made that John Bender hated school). So maybe The Boy is just trying to be cool by underperforming. I’ve seen his friends. A lot of them are idiots. But he has one friend who’s parents make him take academic classes over the summer. Unfortunately, it’s not wearing off on The Boy.

Am I alone in this feeling? Do other parents obsess over things like middle school grades and extracurricular activities? It’s about keeping up with the Jones’s kids, isn’t it?. Every quarter, the local paper prints a list of students who have made honor roll or high honor roll. And I skim through it not to find The Boy’s name, but to see the names of the other kids who made the list. There are lots of smart kids on that list. There are kids who work hard to get good grades. And there are dozens of morons. How are these knuckle-draggers making the list when The Boy isn’t?

The answer is “who cares!” He’ll be fine, right? We’ll try harder this fall. And when I hear about someone who’s 4-year old daughter speaks fluent Mandarin, I’ll pretend to be thrilled.


Epilogue: I was working on this post while riding the bus out of Manhattan when The Boy sent me a text. He had just pitched a perfect game in MLB 2K12 on the Wii. Ha! Take that, cousin who’s 4th grade daughter just spent a semester overseas in Switzerland!

…and he did it with the Marlins!