Last month our baby boys turned ten! It felt like quite a parenting milestone for us, but we also felt it was important to really acknowledge that turning ten is a big deal. They aren’t little kids anymore. They are only a few years away from going to high school and learning to drive! And they are chomping at the bit to do more grown up things, and have more responsibility.
It was amazing timing that I recently found myself listening to the Dumbo Feather podcast series with Dr Arne Rubinstein about the lost art of Rites of Passage. Here’s the first one in the series. Previously I could have had a bash as explaining what a Rite of Passage is, but after listening to the series it’s so much more significant than I knew. The way Arne and Berry worked through the various stages of a Rite of Passage, explaining it as they went, and tying it into what we’re all experiencing during Covid-19 was mind blowing and emotional.
I re-listened to the whole series with Jared and we converted what we were learning into a Rite of Passage for our boys’ tenth birthday, to help them to transition from being little kids, to becoming wonderful young men (or pre-teens, at least).
What is a Rite of Passage?
For thousands of years, Indigenous and traditional communities recognised the importance of supporting individuals to transition safely from one stage of life to another through Rites of Passage. Marking these transitions were seen as fundamental in the growth, connectedness and health of an individual and community. In modern society, the need for programs that help equip young people with the confidence and tools to tackle the adventure and challenges that lie ahead are more critical than ever.https://ritesofpassageinstitute.org/about/
There are three stages to a Rite of Passage according to Dr Rubinstein, a separation, a transition and an integration. We distilled these stages down into a day of fun that we knew our boys would love.
It’s important for those going through a Rite of Passage to separate from their normal everyday life. So we decided that an appropriate interpretation of that would be to break with our daily routine and cook our breakfast over our backyard fire and watch the sun rise. We made hot drinks for everyone, and cooked porridge topped with homemade yogurt and bottled cherries that we preserved in the summer.
We also made a point of not allowing the typical festival-of-presents to happen first thing in the morning. After listening to the podcast, it became apparent to us that we (as a culture) seem to have traded out some really important rituals of marking time, and replaced them with the giving of stuff. We were keen to break from that. The boys were very mature about it, and were thrilled to start the day outside around the fire.
Later on we give them a present each, just one. (Later in the year we’ll be contributing to new bikes for them as well, but they understand they have to wait for those.) We gave them each an Australian made leather wide-brim hat, and they were STOKED!
The transition stage has 4 elements. Story telling, a challenge, creating a vision for the future and a recognition of the person transitioning. There’s so much to know about each of these, and I highly recommend listening to the Dumbo Feather Rites of Passage podcast series and delving further into it at The Rites of Passage Institute.
For our boys’ big day, we planned for them to head off with their dad, Jared, for a day of exploring a wild part of our farm that we’ve barely visited. It was an important part of the separation that they spend this time with their dad, because they’ve spent every waking moment with me during the Covid-19 lockdown while Jared has headed into the office as usual.
Part of their challenge was to pack everything they needed for the day themselves, then walk across the farm before deciding on a place to build a fire, then light it themselves. And as it turned out, it had rained that morning, so it was extra challenging for them to light the wet sticks, but they got there in the end. They made tea, and cooked sausages and toast with sticks they whittled while the waited for some coals to burn down.
During lunch Jared chatted with them about turning ten. They told stories about the past, and Jared asked them to close their eyes and imagine waking up on a day in the future when they are 13 and then again with they are 20. They thought about their vision for the future, what they might be doing and what sort of people they want to be. They talked about all sorts of things apparently, wide ranging from hopes and dreams, to the types of personality traits they think they’ll need.
During the day we made a point of gushing over them about how they are turning into amazing humans. We told them different positive attributes that they each have, making sure they don’t feel like they are grouped into one person because they are twins. I wrote an acrostic poem in their birthday cards, noting the things they are great at, which tickled their fancy.
Dr Rubinstein talked about the importance of making a point to recognise and acknowledge the gifts, the genius and the spirit of the person going through the rite of passage. We love that. It easier to brush these moments off instead of stopping to acknowledge the people around us.
The final and quite vital step in a Rite of Passage is integration back into the community after the time in separation. When the community and/or the family acknowledges that the person has been through a transition and is now in a new phase of life, the Rite of Passage has been done well.
It’s important that we treat the boys differently, so they feel more grown up. This step for us manifested in a birthday dinner with my family. As of the Monday before the boys’ birthday, the Covid-19 rules were relaxed in Tasmania, and that meant that we were allowed to have 5 visitors at home, so we made the most of it.
We had a pretty typical family dinner with an added moment of story telling. I asked everyone to take turns to tell the boys what it was like when they turned ten. So we regaled them in tales of growing up in the 1960’s and the 1990’s, in the country, in the suburbs and in an old Queenslander at a sugarcane farm. When the milk was delivered to the door, and an old neighbour still rode a horse and cart into town. There were memories of new bikes, roller skates and spud guns. It’s was such a lovely moment.
Berry and Arne discuss in the podcast why storytelling is so important, especially intergenerational storytelling. It’s about passing on a feeling of being part of something bigger and being an important part of the community. And it’s also about passing on knowledge as a way of gently sharing life lessons without *telling* them the dos and don’ts of life.
At the end of their big day the boys said EVERYTHING was their favourite part of the day, but pressed for details, they both said their time with Jared in the bush cooking sausages was their highlight. We thoroughly enjoyed their day too, especially being able to have family visit again and listening to everyone’s tales of being ten.
I’m completely fascinated by the ancient wisdom of rituals and Rites of Passage. Why did these things become so important? Especially as similar traditions often occurred in cultures that evolved in parallel to one another. There’s something very telling in that. And it feels like our modern culture is missing these simple but significant acts. I’ll endeavour to continue to think and read about it some more.
Yours in growth and wisdom,
PS. For further reading on the Rites of Passage theme, I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into The Comfort of Water by Maya Ward. It’s a true story of a Rite of Passage and a pilgrimage along the “…Wurundjeri Songline, this ancient, ever-renewing river, she discovers rich possibilities of belonging, and shares how a river can nourish the passion and resilience required to transform our world.” [Source]