I cut the baby's hair yesterday. It wasn't the first time, but it was the most significant. Previously, I had simply trimmed, shortened his baby curls in a formation that allowed for at least cursory containment. But now, I have done the irreversible. His baby curls are gone, likely to never return, and with this unique action, with the use of a simple machine to trim and cut and shape, he has irrevocably left the baby world for the world of an older sort. He has become, with no reservations, a toddler.
In the conservative Jewish tradition, a boy's hair is not cut until he is three year's old. Once he has arrived at this ripe old age, there is a ceremony called an upshernish, an event in which members of the religious community ceremoniously cut the child's hair, a symbolic cutting away of infancy as the small human enters into childhood and the beginning of his formal education. It is at this point that the boy begins to wear the traditional symbols of male Judaism, the yamaka, or kippa, and the tzitzis, a highly symbolic and specially knotted ritual fringe. To the uninitiated, these symbols seem strange and foreign at the very least, objects that set a group apart. But, just maybe, these symbols serve a purpose that is missing from the lives of the American gentile masses.
In the Korean tradition, a child's first birthday is celebrated with great pomp and circumstance. As part of the fête, there are prayers, and later the child is given a choice of several items, each symbolic of a different life-path or occupation. For example, a coin could symbolize wealth, a book a life of scholarship, or a long thread a long life.
In traditional American culture, a child's first birthday seems to be an opportunity for conspicuous consumption, complete with goody-bags painstakingly crafted from Pintrest and several dozen three-dollar cupcakes, at least for the first child. Second and third children? Well, they are still alive, right?
But the point, I think, is that these traditions, these rituals, even the ones involving an inflatable castle, give shape and meaning to the existential nightmare of middle-class parenting, where, as a story I heard yesterday put it, children are "economically worthless and emotionally priceless," the capstones of a "successful" adult life. For after the years of school, the toil of work and career, and the struggles of even the best and most loving partnerships, it is our children who will serve as our references in the world once we have passed; the ultimate measures of our own successes and failures.
So, now, Boy Two, with your new hair cut and handsome look, you have transformed me from the mother of a baby into the mother of boys. My my failures be few and my successes beyond measure. And my you, and that brother of yours, find your places in the world more easily than I found mine.