Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Passport

In the Unitarian Universalist (UU) denomination, we have a ritual known as a Child Welcoming or Dedication ceremony for babies or children who are new to the congregation. This year, we devoted part of our Christmas Eve service to welcoming "Sophie" into our congregation, who was born a year ago (on Christmas Eve).

A traditional part of this ritual includes the parents expressing hopes for the child and a call for members to participate fully in supporting the child grow. This doesn't mean babysitting, fortunately, but rather encouraging the child as it grows and searches for truth and meaning. I have attended a few Child Welcoming ceremonies before, and have found them to be truly meaningful events for everyone in the room.

This Christmas Eve Child Welcoming ritual, however, touched me more deeply than normal. The parents expressed their hopes for the child with three gifts. The first: a necklace with a UU-chalice charm to remember the community that supports her. The second: a passport so that she will go out and explore the world. The third: little pink work gloves in hopes that, although she may travel, she will return and work to make the local community a better place.

A passport! Her parents gave her a real passport to go out into the world! That gift made me gasp and it was a while before I realized that I was still holding my breath. Ah, to be encouraged to go out and experience different worlds, foods, languages, cultures takes courage and trust. This child will not be over-protected from life.

When I was a teenager, I had such a yearning to travel; I desperately wanted to see the ocean. I wanted to go to France. I wanted to meet people from other places. I had an opportunity to go to Montana with the Girl Scouts for a month, but did not get parental permission due to allergy and asthma, or so they claimed. But I know it was really the picture of the rattle snake that was shown during the briefing that sunk the deal. LOL!

When I graduated high school, I joined the Air Force and was sent for training in California, but found that I was ill prepared to deal with life. I had never had spicy food and almost passed out when I went to my first Mexican restaurant. I learned the hard way that you shouldn't put milk AND lemon in hot tea. I didn't realize that you shouldn't take a purse on a big roller coaster. I learned the hard way to check the front of a bus for the number before you board it, even if the driver is honking for you to get on. I learned the hard way how to manage a checkbook and the importance of sunscreen. I had never been kissed, never drove a car with a manual transmission, and couldn't understand a southern drawl.

These are the things that kids should experience in high school, and are things that kids will experience when given the chance to go out into the world. I'm not saying that my parents were wrong, but rather that I have had a hard climb to overcome my naivete about every day life, which I'm still doing.

Now that I am not able to travel any distance, I travel through books and shows on TV and by begging everyone to tell me about their trips. Travelogues are my favorite shows on PBS.

To all new parents, don't be afraid to give your child a passport. They may surprise you by doing good things in the big world. But only if they know how to ride a bus!



  1. I STILL want to join the Peace Corps, Joan. Or go on a foreign (or even a domestic) missionary trip. Could definitely still happen (for both of us :)

  2. Joan, your article was so very interesting! You write with such interest. I, too, led a sheltered life and my only vacation before I graduated from high school was to take Grandpa to Detroit to stay with my dad's brother.

    Jen, I also had hopes of joining the Peace Corp after high school, and since grade school had thoughts of becoming a missionary. Seems the three of us have some more things in common besides MS. :o)

  3. Joan and I were in the Air Force together. We went to Paris together and pledge to return 10 years later...

    I never had a desire to travel. I joined the Air Force because my pay check bounced and my aunt was ready for me to move one.

    I did see both the Atlantic and Pacific. Learned how to live in a foreign country, but Joan had to teach me how to ride the bus.

  4. OMG, Joan, we are from the same family! I never drove a stick until my last year of college(*), and I didn't try spicy food until grad school! For me, though, it was Thai in Chicago (there for a conference) and my advisor and fellow students couldn't stop laughing. But hey, we both lived and learned and are still learning!

    On the other hand, Josh and I did get the kids passports early, and I grow peppers, so they're "spicy-food enabled." They're on their own for what to do with tea, though! I've always thought milk in tea was a little icky, but I know I'm weird that way. :) (Please don't make me think about when they'll be old enough for driving!)

    Life is so different for them than for us!

    (*) I needed a car for a PT internship in Erie. Did it occur to me that learning to drive a stick shift in a few days, in the winter!, and then driving it to Erie of all snowy places was nuts? Noooo... but it should have!

  5. mamallama - I don't know your real name (but have a suspicion) and think it might be time to return to Paris. It's been over 20 years. It'll give me an excuse to brush on my French.

  6. What a wonderful church tradion! I love it! A passport, how great is that? I always wanted to go to Ireland and Paris.