Ever since my daughter turned 11, I knew I wanted to do something big for her 13th birthday, but I wasn't sure what that would be. So, with the big day coming up this year, and me still having no idea, I did what I always do when I'm unclear about anything kid-related: I went to my favorite place — you guessed it — the library, and found books on various cultural rituals that mark a girl's transition to womanhood.
I was so excited to get these books, all of nine of them, and share them with my daughter. I really wanted to this to be a joint effort, a grand celebration of the woman that she is becoming.
"Imani, look at all of these books. Let's check them out, see what we like, and use the ideas to develop your rites of passage program."
"What? Rites of passage?" Her perplexed look got me even more excited.
"Yes, we should celebrate you growing into a woman. Most people have a Sweet 16 (like that crazy show on MTV), but I think it should be earlier so that you can get started now building stronger ties with your elders, growing in self-confidence, and sharing your gifts and talents with your loved ones."
"I thought you were just going to give me a big party and invite all of our family."
Don't you love when your children rain on your parade?
I took a deep breath, gathered up my books and headed to my thinking chair.
Yeah, a thinking chair.
A rite of passage program is about a process, not just about the party at the end; it is about learning what you need to know to be a strong, whole, healthy woman emotionally, physically, spiritually.
So, I've already lined up mentors to help her learn more about things she’s interested in like photography, creative writing, music, and pediatrics. I've gotten my sister-in-law to research different books at the bookstore where she works, so that we could have mother-daughter devotionals and stuff.
Does this sound cool or what?
What do I do if Imani doesn't like my idea?
What did I want when I was 13? Hmmm... this could be tricky. See, for my 13th birthday, I was allowed to have my first co-ed party. Now, that's not such a big deal except for the fact I was already in high school, and I was the youngest person in my class, so I had to "prove" myself by having the best party ever. My wise father had set a guest list size limit. He had professional invitations printed saying, "No admittance without the original invitation."
Clearly he wasn't serious. He didn't really expect me to give every single person an invitation! Didn't he know we traveled in groups? This was high school, you know.
Needless to say, I created my own additional invitations, and stood at the door to collect them so my father wouldn't get a handle on my scheme. As the party got well underway, my father began to count heads, and then he nicely asked me to give him all of the invitations that I had collected. I couldn't give him the fake invitations, so I only gave him the printed ones.
He made an announcement, "If your invitation did not look like this, then you have to leave. NOW."
Ugh. I can still feel the shame and embarrassment. Of course, he asked me to hand over the fake invitations too. To this day, this story is among the chosen that he shares with my children over family holiday meals.
"Daddy, why do you have to tell Imani this story every year?" I asked him once.
My father laughed, "Because she needs to know that no matter how slick you thought you were, I was always slicker."
Imani interrupts me while I'm reminiscing in my thinking chair.
"Mommy, I like the idea of the big party with our family, but do I have to work at this for a whole six months? It sounds like a school project."
Okay, obsessive, overachieving Mom… back away from the stack of books.
I take a deep breath.
"What of these activities are you willing to do?"
"Well, I do want to hang out with more girls and I do like the community service stuff and I agree that it would look good on my college applications if I had more leadership experience, so…"
Trying to refrain from jumping up and down, I just smile a little bit.
"I will join the junior sorority that you've been talking about for two years now. How's that?"
I want to hug her, but she still looks a little concerned.
"Honey, I had great memories of doing something like this when I was your age. I really think you'll like it."
With much attitude, she says, "I hope so."
For five weeks, she worked with the "Tauettes," a group of women her age learning etiquette, poetry, Maryland history, and teamwork.
I am so proud of her, and in the end, she did seem to enjoy it.
My father called to wish her congratulations. I overheard her say, "Thanks, Poppy.... No, I'm not going to make my own invitations."