13-Year-Olds Patrick and Curtis: Not Quite a Bar Mitzvah

Not Quite a Bar Mitzvah

Grandsons Patrick and Curtis, born 7 weeks apart in Chicago, both turned thirteen this fall. If they were Jewish, they would each have observed the bar mitzvah ritual: Bar = son; Mitzvah = law or commandment, able to participate in all areas of Jewish community life. Such a rite of passage usually culminates in a party with gifts.

Neither of our grand-boys wore yarmulkes. Nor did tefellin dangle from their heads or arms. Although these grand-boys have memorized Bible passages, during their birthday celebrations they did not wear religious headgear or black leather boxes (tefellin) on their fore-heads or near their hearts containing sacred scripts from the Old Testament.


What They Did Do:

After they turned thirteen, they read letters their Grandma and Grandpa Beaman had written to them when they were newborns and sent in the mail to their parents’ address with a postmark. These letters have been kept squirreled away until a special day.

At his party, Curtis opened a letter his NaNa had written to him with a December 31, 2003 postmark.



The letter was typewritten, so he breezed through sentences, smiling as he read in his emerging bass voice.

But he struggled to read another letter, which I had dashed off in cursive handwriting, now a dying art, and no longer taught in public schools.


Then he opened his gifts: a wireless mouse for his hand-constructed computer, and The DaVinci Code book.



Then it was Patrick’s turn:

Grandpa Beaman wrote Patrick’s letter with a similar postmark. It was typewritten, so there was no struggle to de-cipher looped letters. Before Patrick read his letter, Grandpa showed him a photo colláge he made for Patrick when he was a few months old.

Patrick and Grandpa, with matching lopsided grins, check out a photo collage
Patrick and Grandpa, with matching lopsided grins, check out a photo collage

An excerpt from Grandpa’s letter revealed his observations of newborn development:

When we feed you, you suck that bottle down pretty quickly. When it come time to burp, we hear it loud and clear! And then there’s often a big milk shoot-out which sometimes lands on my unprotected shirt and a big white splat a few feet down on the rug.


You are also making lots of cooing and other sounds. During the last couple of days when I made sounds, you tried your best to twist your mouth around in odd shapes to mimic some of my sounds. You REALLY want to talk. And someday you will for sure.


Patrick’s reading of the letter ended with these words:

He did not open a wrapped present. His birthday request was a gift certificate to Five Guys, a burger place in Jacksonville. Why such a present? Simple: His love for food is in his DNA – a “gift” from his grandpa.

It remains to be seen whether the boys, later as men, consider these “parchments” sacred, letters written to them as infants.

Bar Mitzvah – or not, we wish them Mazel Tov . . . congratulations and good wishes to both as they continue to develop into manhood!

And finally, our hope for them from The Shamá . . .

Deuteronomy 6:5  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.


Cousins Patrick (3 months) and Curtis (1 month)
Cousins Patrick, 3 months and Curtis, 1 month


What can you add to my description of the Jewish ritual, the Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for daughters)?

What other rituals or traditions does your family observe with children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews?



The Million Dollar Baby: Ian’s Miracle Birth

Since my mother’s death in July, I have written several posts of her home-going including A Grief Observed: Missing Mother and Crossing the Bar.

This time I’m focusing on a birth, our grandson Ian’s miraculous birth seven years ago this week. According to the doctor’s calculations, he was scheduled to arrive on January 9, his Grandpa Beaman’s birthday. Instead he made his appearance on his mother Sarah’s birthday, October 5.

All births are miraculous, really, the tiny embryo maturing into a marvelous baby with millions of synapses making connections within the brain, a sense of rhythm and an ability to breathe and suckle at the same time. One study mentioned that babies can pick out the gender of other babies even when they are cross-dressed, something adults cannot do.

But Ian’s birth at 26 weeks gestation weighing a mere 2 pounds, 5 ounces meant many un-connected synapses and a severely undeveloped breathing apparatus. For weeks it was touch-and-go, and we weren’t certain that we would be bringing him home from the NIC Unit at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Aside from the frightening awareness that Ian had a hole in his heart, we were introduced to a whole new vocabulary of problems: bradycardia, retinopathy, hip dysplasia. Translation: Slow, interrupted heartbeat requiring a nose cannula, undeveloped blood vessels in retina, and an immature hip ball and sock requiring a harness to hold legs in a frog-like fashion. Here is his photo-story:

Ian_02_NIC Unit_112707

Hello, world!
Hello, world!

My journal records that on November 29, 2007 Ian weighs 4 pounds, 3 ounces and is taking three bottles a day. He is also employing the services of a speech therapist and an occupational therapist along with physical therapy.

How would a speech therapist help a premature baby who can’t speak or an occupational therapist assist a child whose main job was trying to survive? Speech therapy facilitated the transition from tube feeding to bottle feeding and the occupational therapy improved the range of motion inhibited by hip dysplasia.

"Did you finally bring me home?" asks Ian.
“Did you finally bring me home?” asks Ian.

After a 14-week stay in the hospital, Ian is brought home. Glory, hallelujah! Though still on a breathing apparatus, he resumes a more normal life with his family, under the watchful eye of his brother.

"Ian, here's my advice," says Dr. Curtis.
“Ian, here’s my advice,” says Dr. Curtis.

Praise God – At age seven, Ian is now at the 98 percentile in height and weight for his age and is taking an advanced course of study in first grade at his school. There are delays in behavioral development though, possibly attributable to his prematurity. But who can be sure whether it’s prematurity or personality.


*  *  *

I wrote a letter to each of my grand-children before their first birthday and sent it to their home address so it would have a post-mark. In Ian’s case, I waited until the one-year mark to write and send his letter. Call it a welcome-to-the-world, a blessing from Grandma/NaNa in writing. Here is a copy of the letter he received:



Ian has not opened this letter yet though he is able to read. In fact, none of the grand-children have opened and read their letters and I’m wondering at what age they should be read. It seems the opening and reading calls for some special occasion. What do you think? I welcome your suggestions!

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful . . . .

Psalm 139: 13, 14   NIRV

Your advice on letter reading welcome. Other comments or suggestions from your own experience. You will always get a reply from me and maybe from other readers. Thank you!

“Every child is a story yet to be told.”   Sesame Street