I wasn’t raised religious, and part of the fun of taking on observance as an adult (referred to as being a “Baalat Teshuvah“ or “Owner of the Return”) is you can pick fun customs that appeal to you even if it’s not in your family’s traditions to celebrate them.
Case in point: the upsherin, the ceremonial waiting for a full three years to cut a child’s hair. The upsherin is typically practiced among Jews who also wear black hats and kippahs all the time, and start their children in cheder (religious school) at 3. We are not black hat Jews, my husband does not wear a kippah, and we homeschool and have no cheder in our community.
However, the custom of waiting three years to cut hair evokes the Biblical proscription of waiting three years after a tree is planted before we take its fruit. Our children are like little trees, growing and developing, and needing time to just be before we start molding them and harvesting them, as it were.
At Fred’s upsherin, we hosted a few of his friends, a few family friends with kids our older son’s age, and our parents and my uncle. We also included a few family friends who don’t have kids but consider Fred one of the neatest and sweetest small people around.
The menu was vegan pizza, blueberries, raisins, and carrots and celery with pesto and guacamole dips– Fred’s favorite foods. We then sat Fred down in a tiny chair and his older brother Miles led us all in singing the Hebrew alphabet, a nod to the start of Fred’s Jewish learning.
I took Fred’s golden hair in my hand and snipped a small piece of hair off. We lifted him up in his tiny chair and sang “Siman Tov Mazel Tov.” As the joyous song ended, Fred’s lower lip started to tremble and he erupted in peals of overwhelmed crying. Fred is supremely sensitive to too much attention, and this clearly was exactly that.
I wasn’t sure if he would make another appearance at his party after his hysterics, but he recovered quickly in my arms. Moments later, he blew out candles on his cupcake, ate half (God love him, he doesn’t really have a sweet tooth) and he handed out party favors to his friends (sets of beautiful marbles complete with shooters) and whispered “done done done” in my ear over and over until everyone left.
Fred and I then went to the local kids’ barbershop with big brother Miles escorting us. Fred patiently sat in the ridiculous police car-shaped chair and the hair stylist said to me, “What do you want?” I pointed to Miles and said, “Just like this. 1950’s boy. Think Ricky Nelson.” Realizing how young she was, I said, “Think James Dean.” Realizing yet again how young she was, I was about to say, “Think Luke Perry,” but she stopped me with her gasp.
She said, “Why would you do that to her?”
She thought Fred was a girl and I was asking for a boy haircut for “her.” Oy. Welcome to my life for the past several years.
Fred now looks like his big brother and he loves it. His cheeks look 800 times chubbier now, his eyes 7,000 times bluer. And we didn’t think it was possible to find him cuter with short hair than we did with long, but it is indeed possible.
That night of Fred’s birthday, as he nursed in the darkness of slumber (we are in the process of child-led weaning and he likes to lead slowly), his chunky fingers reached out for the tips of his hair which used to cascade down the pillow. In his sleepy consciousness, I watched him reel his hand towards his head until his fingertips caressed the spiky inch long blond that now is Fred’s hair.
And now we will mold him. We will teach him his alef-beys, and he will learn the Shema, and he will learn about the myriad commandments, rituals, and customs which we are passing down to him. We will mold him gently but also consistently, and we will never lose sight of the fact that for his first three years, he was a wild and free growing tree.
And now that tree will bear its fruit.