Coming of Age in Seattle

Chatted with an old friend last night (what did I ever do without Facebook?).  We grew up in the same town and share similar religious backgrounds, but he turned out way Jewisher than I did.  When I told him that my eldest child is hovering on the brink of 13, he asked if she would have a bat mitzvah ceremony. 


My friend waited patiently until I’d finished laughing.  Then he suggested that a coming-of-age ceremony of some sort was important, but didn’t have to be religious. 


I’ve contemplated this before, but have never reached a conclusion.  Is it important to mark the coming of age?  And if so, is 13 the appropriate time to do so?  (Actually, in some Jewish circles, it’s 13 for boys, 12 for girls.)  Current American culture does not seem to allow for any increase in status or responsibility at 13, so what’s to mark?  Shouldn’t the ceremony happen at 18?


It seems to me that girls have a built-in ritual in the form of menstruation.  Nothing says “you’re not a little kid anymore” like the news that you are now capable of producing a child of your own.  (Oh how I wish we only had to endure that ritual blood-letting once.)  Managing the ongoing monthly pain and annoyance serves as a constant reminder of one’s new reality.


Since boys lack a similarly dramatic event to herald the end of childhood as they know it, perhaps a ceremony is more important for them.  Many coming-of-age rituals for boys around the world involve blood and pain (in imitation of the onset of menses?).  Consider this one, courtesy of


To become men in Amazon’s Satere Mawé tribe, boys as young as twelve have to first wear ceremonial gloves filled with stinging bullet ants. They’re called not bullet ants without a very good reason: being stung by these suckers feels very much like getting shot. Each ant packs neurotoxins that cause pain 30 times more agonizing than the sting of a common wasp.

And if you think that’s bad enough, wearing the gloves once just doesn’t cut it – you have to wear it for 10 minutes 20 times to become a man …

Ouch. suggests a do-it-yourself approach to rituals:


Designing your own coming-of-age ritual


The Rites of Passage Institute notes that the educational system rarely provides a significant passage ritual. Many families are now creating their own. The Institute suggests that it incorporate a number of elements:

·        Contact with the natural environment: One or more days spent in nature, experiencing isolation, beauty and grandeur.

·        Ordeal: A test of strength, self-discipline, and endurance: a fast, an all night vigil, a difficult task.

·        Solitude: A complete physical withdrawal from the pressures of life.

·        Public recognition: An “…announcement, ceremony or gathering with family and friends…” to acknowledge the person’s new status.

·        Symbolic representations: Some object that symbolizes the person’s new status: a totem, ring, etc.


Ok, let’s see.  Tig will be going away to camp this summer for contact with the natural environment.  I’m sure she’ll stay up all night at some sleepover or other.  She frequently withdraws into her room.  She announces pretty much everything (maybe Facebook isn’t so great after all).  And last weekend she got a buzz cut.  How’s that for a symbolic representation?  Great.  I think we’re covered.






9 thoughts on “Coming of Age in Seattle

  1. I love this. Yes, I think we’re covered. And now I feel a little better about Child the Youngest, who has been enacting her own coming of age rituals as well. Try to pierce your lip without telling your parents, anyone? Oy vey. And what about the Sweet 16 thing? Doesn’t that count? In Child the Eldest’s case, that will just mean she can drive. Maybe. Or it might mean we add extra bars to her window. Not sure yet. . .

  2. It seems to me that there is no arbitrary age at which a coming of age ceremony is important.  However, I do think some kids (and their parents) would benefit from a sort of coming of age ceremony occurring at that unique moment in time when the child’s development, the family’s circumstances and fate conspire to create one.  I certainly wouldn’t plan one, but I might just stay alert for the one that chance might drop in my lap. 

  3. Interestingly, Podville has a thriving Jewish population, which has led to a new, local 13-year-old coming of age tradition.  The reason:  the Jewish population has been ramping up the fanciness of the bar and bat mitzvahs for some time now…hotel conference rooms…DJs…expensive clothing…300+ guest lists…and the Christian kids were getting jealous.  So now all the Christian kids have big-ass 13 year-old “dances” on their birthdays.

  4. When my boys were of similar age, I installed added chores and a regular allowance. Youngest has relatively recently stated that he would like more money. I replied that he has now [16] come of age to seek employment outside the home. He didn’t much care for that reply, but that’s how it goes…

  5. I’ve heard of hippie types down here in my area having “blessing” ceremonies for girls to celebrate first menses… I can’t think if *anything* more embarassing!   But try tossing that idea out to your oldest šŸ˜‰ 

  6. A friend just asked me a day or two ago…like, yesterday…if I was going to have a bat mitzvah; I pointed out that I don’t speak Hebrew, know nothing about the tradition behind the ceremony or much about Judaism at all…I have a friend who’s having a bat mitzvah in June, though. (:

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