The other day I made a birthday cake for a fictional character.
Well, it was an important one! The heroine of my novel was turning 21. On the 21st. Her Golden Birthday.
Only as I was mixing the batter did I realize I had very nearly made my character into my son’s twin. His 21st birthday was the day before. The age was NOT intentional; my character began her life a couple of years younger. I only aged her, using my
godlike powers critical judgement, after realizing the plot worked better that way.
The DAY of her birth, however, was no accident. I chose Summer Solstice on purpose for its symbolic value to the story.
And that got me thinking. Because here on the island where I live, a small part of the community offers teenagers–16, 17, 18–the chance to have a real coming-of-age ceremony on the Summer Solstice. I don’t know much about it yet, since I moved here after my kids left for college, but from what I’ve heard, it’s serious stuff. The kids choose a mentor for themselves, a sort of sponsor, who spends time throughout the year having conversations about what it means to be a man or a woman. Then the teen writes his or her own part of the ceremony, and shares it with a group of 100 community members on the longest night of the year. (The number is strictly limited to 100.) The whole ceremony takes place on a smaller, remote island over the course of a few days, and involves community cooking, music-making, and soaking-up of nature.
To me that sounds WONDERFUL. More than that, it sounds like what so many kids in our society need.
If you’re Jewish, you can have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. If you’re Catholic, you can be Confirmed. If you’re a girl of Mexican heritage, there’s the Quinceanera. Most Native American tribes and bands have important rites, and I’m pretty sure Amish kids have something. But these ceremonies are limited by faith and/or ethnic membership–we can’t all participate. And we all know the faith-based ones are often (sorry, God) less meaningful to the kid than the community would hope. PLUS…they can be pretty darn EXPENSIVE.
What coming-of-age ceremony is there for that American kid who wasn’t raised in a religious or ethnic tradition, or doesn’t find that tradition meaningful?
Here’s what that kid is left with: Getting a drivers license. And…getting legally drunk.
When my husband called my son to wish him a Happy 21st Birthday, he jokingly said into the phone, “How many fingers am I holding up?” Of COURSE you go out drinking when you turn 21 in America, right? What other benchmarks of adulthood do we have?
So am I missing something? Graduation? First hunting trip? What do you think of when you think of Coming of Age in America? Do you think our society suffers as a result of not moving kids more deliberately into adulthood? What kind of ceremony might we adopt?
I love hearing from y’all!