At my third and youngest son’s bar mitzvah, I joked that I wanted some form of a mezinke, the Ashkenazi broom dance that parents do when their final child is finally married off.
Three brises, one pidyon haben, more bar mitzvahs than kids (there was an added zoomitzvah in there, thanks to Covid-19), I felt my job as a Jewish mother was officially done.
Five days after the bar mitzvah, I emerged from the shower and lay down for a rest. It had been a whirlwind week. My husband, still in bed, rolled to face me. He was looking at my chest, where the towel had slipped a little.
He opened his mouth, and I smiled, expecting an amorous comment. Instead, he said: “What’s that lump on your chest?”
We both looked down. I was quick to reassure him. “It’s nothing,” I replied.
“Remember I mentioned it? I think I pulled a muscle in my circuits training class.”
But as soon I said the words, I knew something was wrong. When had I first noticed the lump and thought it the result of bad form at the gym? A month before? Two? Six? More?
An hour later I was in my doctor’s office getting booked in for a mammogram. As I counted down the 18 days it took for my “urgent” hospital appointment, I confided in a couple of friends. “Oh, that happened to my sister,” one said.
“It was a cyst.” “Oh, my mum had a scare like that,” said another. “Don’t worry — it was just a cyst.” At the hospital, the doctor who saw me before my mammogram drew a circle in marker around the lump on my chest. “I think it will might just be a cyst,” he said.
It wasn’t a cyst.
“I’m going to take a biopsy,” said the second doctor after determining that the mass was not a cyst. “You’ll get the results in a couple of weeks.”
As I waited (calling the hospital frantically every day as two weeks became three), I began to worry about my kids. Why would I think my job as a Jewish mother was finished?
My oldest son is in the middle of his A-levels. He has got into university, and most days, I think he’ll be fine. But last weekend he was supposed to take his theory test so he could start learning to drive, and only the night before the test, he realised he’d lost his provisional driving licence.
I spent hours searching with him before giving up and going to bed. At 3.30am he texted me: “Can you cancel the test?” Not two days later, he broke his glasses—both pairs.
Is he really ready to go off into adulthood?
The middle one, well, he’s the most independent of the bunch, using his bus pass to meet up with friends here, there, and everywhere; making his own meals; and buffing up at the gym. But he’s finishing his GCSEs and for the life of him can’t make up his mind about what subjects to study next.
He’s signed up for physics, maths, and chemistry A-levels, but he keeps oscillating. Should he take economics? Law? French? “Mama, if you help me get 9s in my English GCSEs, I’ll take an English A-level.” Be still my Phd-in-English heart! Of course I’m there to help!
And the little one is just so little. I don’t care what Judaism has to say about it, 13 is not a man.
A man doesn’t spend his free time kicking a football around the kitchen, endangering my two remaining wine glasses, or playing hours of Minecraft and Fifa (one hopes). A man doesn’t get his dad help knotting his tie before school. A man doesn’t have a plastic mohawk coming out of his bike helmet.
So, when I got my breast cancer diagnosis I was glad I hadn’t danced the mezinke at my youngest son’s bar mitzvah.
Because now I need to think about survival. And there’s no shortage of reasons, but in case I do need another thing to live for, it’s this: whether they like it or not, those boys are going to get married, and I’m going to dance the mezinke at their weddings.