Bat mitzvah lets girl find her own way

This fall, we have a bat mitzvah.

The bat mitzvah girl is our middle child, the imaginative dreamer, the one who owns nail polish in 50 colors. If you ask her about her bat mitzvah, she describes the centerpieces of white roses and red poppies, the white dress with a flowing black overskirt. She has a one-track mind, and the track is pretty festive, but she knows the serious stuff is coming.

My husband and I have two tracks running through our minds: religion and logistics. The religious questions are obvious: Which parashah falls on her bat mitzvah date, what charity project can she do that relates to it, and — the biggie — how do we make this meaningful to her?

The logistical questions are obvious, too: Will she speak at the kiddush, can the relatives come in from out of town, and how much will this all cost? The logistics hit me more closely, because I'll be the one coordinating.

I know this from our oldest daughter's bat mitzvah three years ago. You can hire a professional caterer or florist, but the one who puts it together is Mom.

We got off easy on our first bat mitzvah because our shy oldest daughter knew exactly what she wanted:the smallest public profile possible. She gathered food for impoverished Russian immigrants, gave a short d'var Torah at her dinner party, and planned the decor herself. We didn't get off cheap, but the event was beautiful and we all survived.

I can only hope for that level of success this time around, but our sweet middle is an entirely different child. She is not shy; in fact, she can be flamboyant. She is thoughtful but not entirely focused, so to get her to love her Torah portion, we'll have to find something in it that sings to her spirit. And she wants an event that is hers, something different from her sister's bat mitzvah.

As parents, we are trying hard to take the high road here. Part of my brain drifts off to invitation lists, but at core I want my daughter to remember this event not because she learned to write thank-you notes, but because she learned to grow.

Her bat mitzvah should confirm her connection to her heritage, her bridge to adulthood. But for her to discover herself and to express her spirituality independently, my husband and I have to manage to stand back and give her room. That's a lot more difficult than coordinating the catering.