We think of childhood rites of passage as the big things, the things that are widely celebrated and photographed. Such rites include the first day of school, riding a bike without training wheels, and confirmation or bar or bat mitzvahs. These biggies help the child and families (and community) accept the child’s changing role.
However, we all know that maturation takes place on a continuum. As wonderful as the celebrations and acknowledgements are, they’re not the only moments that matter. If we think about it, we all had moments that marked an achievement for us that weren’t celebrated—or even acknowledged. Often we couldn’t even articulate or share them.
Little Rites of Passage
These little rites of passage might include being able to pronounce a name or word, outgrowing an obsession (See Dawg Days), or finally being tall enough to go on a ride.
One that stands out for me was seeing over the counter at Miller’s, our local gift shop. An outing to Miller’s was a special treat. Going there indicated some sort of party or visit in our immediate future; thus our need for a gift. Though it was largely a “look, don’t touch” place, I loved it there. Mom and my sister and I would consider and confer, finding the best gift for the person in question within our budget.
Checking out inevitably involved the clerk carefully wrapping Mom’s purchases behind a high counter top. Not being able to see the process drenched it in intrigue. I’d stretch on my tiptoes and hop, hoping for a glimpse of the clerk’s nimble fingers folding the papers.
Eventually, with stretching and straining, I was able to see over the counter-top. As I took in the shiny pens and sales pads, I instinctively kept this rite of passage to myself. If Momma knew I could see, she might stop lifting me up.
All of us had these childhood mini-rites of passage. Some of them struck us as momentous while others failed to register completely. What were yours?
Perhaps it was the ability to get a glass of milk without assistance. Taking something apart and actually being able to put it back together. The freedom to explore surroundings. Trust to carry the fine china to the table.
Adolescent Rites of Passage
Many of us never shared our adolescent rites of passage because we were …well, adolescents. Awkward was not only an understatement, but a mantra haunting our thoughts. These aren’t limited to girls shaving their legs and boys wearing (I hope!) deodorant. We stared critically at our metamorphosing bodies. Some of these don’t need to be shared—particularly in polite company. However, some of those un-acclaimed rites of passage make great stories. How excited were you to go to the store on your own? Did you yearn to wear make-up? Stay home alone? How badly did the first kiss go?
Rites of Passage that Turned Out To be Overrated Moments
Some of the moments we longed for as children turned out to be overrated. The burden of responsibility quickly outweighed the promised independence. Mowing the lawn. Making our own breakfast. Wearing panty hose (or maybe that’s just me.) Think about it; I’m sure you have a list of your own.
Surreal Rites of Passage
I remember my son and his friends talking about starting to high school soccer. They had moments when the high school stadium felt completely natural. But during games, when they heard their names announced, it felt surreal. They didn’t feel any different, but the surroundings certainly did.
When were you overwhelmed by your altered role?
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Think back and brainstorm. When did you feel particularly grown-up? Write about it!