Anyone who's ever tried to put a ritual together for a teenager knows that many just aren't interested: the idea of being the center of a rite of passage is right up there with chaperoned dates. But I live in cohousing - an intentional community that a group of us built and live in together, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Of 84 people, there are 31 kids under the age of 15, and the adults wanted a ritual to being the teenagers into our circle. Having lived in the community since I was 19 (I'm now 24), I've often felt I span the gap between teenagers and adults. So I knew how important it was to invite the older kids into the "adult" side of community living (meetings, work teams, and support councils), as well as to recognize their maturity. We decided the women would come up with a ritual to welcome the girls that were ready to become part of a community of women. The challenge was to create something that would please adults and teens alike. When I first heard the idea, I cringed; I remembered being 13, when the last thing I wanted to do was spend time with adults. I assumed that most of the girls would feel the same way. But almost immediately, I realized how wonderful it was that we could support them through what I remembered as the trials of adolescence. We just needed to get them to participate.
We spent the night around a campfire sharing food, stories, and wisdom and listening to groups like the Back Street Boys and Barenaked Ladies. Each girl was given a handmade book, filled with poetry, stories, and thoughts on being a woman, each page created by a different woman. The ritual seemed to work. Even though they didn't really want to talk about it (they were still teenagers, after all), one girl later said, "It was nice to be able to talk to people other than my parents." But we all got something: I had felt isolated for so long, not knowing my place in either age group; now the distance between the generations seems shorter. I agree with the mother who said, "We intended to give a gift to our young women and found ourselves receiving one. It increased our caring and connection to each other." And perhaps best of all, two of the three girls are already planning next year's ritual.