Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Rites of Passage

Christening gown
Today, Kai-Kai and I leave for Kauai to spend 4 days together for her 13th birthday celebration.  This is my Chinese-American-Christian version of the Jewish bar/bat-mitzvah.

In graduate school, I learned about rites of passage and how important they are for helping individuals mark a change in identity.  These rites often involve funny clothes, family and food (think christenings, graduations, weddings, even funerals).  

In the past I haven't considered some rites of passage very important.  I didn't go to my M.A. graduation (mostly because I didn't want to mark an ending before I finished the Ph.D.), and didn't go to my Ph.D. graduation (mostly because Ling's due date fell within 2 weeks of graduation and I didn't know if I'd have just dropped a baby).

I've missed a couple important weddings because of no money, no time, or feeling too busy with other commitments.  Scott tried to pressure me to go to the weddings saying I'd regret it forever if I didn't, but I was stubborn.

He was right.  I do regret missing those weddings, regret missing being there when close friends or family changed identities from single to married.

And even though I don't think I could have made my Ph.D. graduation, I always feel a little sad watching newly hooded doctoral students wander the streets with their parents during graduation weeks in Boston.  I feel really happy and proud for them, but a little sad for me, because without that rite, a visceral part of me doesn't feel like I actually accomplished that degree.

I keep thinking we seriously lack some important rites of passage for our kids today.    I wish we did bar or bat mitzvahs--ushering our children from childhood into adulthood.

Before I married or had kids, I read this cool book about a father who took each of his daughters on a 13th birthday camping trip.  During this trip, he talked with them about the "facts of life," not just sex, but everything and anything that came up.

I always thought that sounded like a great idea, so planned a 13th birthday mother-daughter weekend in NYC with Ling 2 years ago.  She wasn't interested in talking about any facts of life, so finally, on the last night I said, "You know, part of the goal of this trip was to talk about growing up--is there anything you want to talk about?  Sex?  Boys?  Body changes????"

She rolled her eyes.  "Not really."

"Well how about if I give you my greatest hits just to say we did?"

She rolled her eyes again, and gritted her teeth for the next 15 minutes as I blurted out a bunch of things I thought I should say, concluding with "Any questions?"

The new bat-mitzvah ceremony!
"Nope."

Sigh.  But at least we saw 2 Broadway shows!

A year later, Ling went with Scott to DC for the father/daughter version of the bat-mitzvah, and today we begin again with child #2.

Kai and I won't be wearing funny clothes or doing any ceremonies.  Her top goals are to get a mani-pedi and go shopping.  We're also going to kayak and even go to a luau!

Maybe in the midst of it all, we'll even talk about some facts of life.

1 comment:

athanasius said...

Great tradition and great story.