I Took My Preschooler To A Bris… This Is What Happened Next…
“Mom, do boys have a clitoris?”
I admit I was proud of my four-year-old daughter for asking about the clitoris. Also, I was relieved. Because when it’s the bazillionth question your preschooler asks after attending a bris, you welcome a question you can easily answer.
As all parents know, preparation is half the battle. I carefully inventoried the diaper bag before heading to the bris of our friends’ son with our children.
Sun hats? Check.
If only I’d prepared my eldest and myself half as well as the diaper bag.
During the ceremony, my husband put our two-year-old on his shoulders, where she was happy and (mostly) quiet. Our four-year-old sat on the couch, where she paid rapt attention, despite lacking a direct view of the action. After the Rabbi said a prayer, the baby’s grandmother placed him on a plush white, satin pillow. His weight depressed the cushion’s center, obscuring his torso. Then, the mohelet (in this case, a pediatrician, sanctioned and licensed to snip) announced, “As I perform the ritual, I invite you to bless this child.” She continued, “But I do not require you to watch.”
I cringed as the newborn wailed and his mother, my dear friend, cried. My eyes filled with tears, too. Shortly, the mohelet gave him a few ceremonial drops of wine, and everyone’s tears began to dry. I’d have done the same thing, had my children been boys. Still, I couldn’t help feeling grateful I’d never been in my friend’s position. After the ritual, my four-year-old had a question.
“Could I please have food?”
Relieved that she had no further questions, I poured myself a cup of coffee and exhaled. My relief was short-lived, though. I don’t know why I imagined that after witnessing an ancient ritual involving a baby, his penis, wine, and a sharp instrument, my preschooler’s last question would be about a bagel.
At home, the inquiries began. Simple at first, they quickly spun out of control.
What’s a bris?
It’s when a baby boy becomes part of the Jewish community.
Go ahead. Ask me all the questions.
Why was his diaper off?
Because it has to do with his penis.
I said “penis” with a straight face. I am winning parenting.
Did I have a bris?
No, you had a naming, a ceremony to welcome baby girls to the Jewish community.
A softball! YESSSSS.
Why did I have a naming?
Because you’re a girl.
Another softball. OH YEAH.
Did Dad have a bris?
Why are people so uptight about kids’ curiosity?
So Dad had a naming?
You’re so cute!
Why doesn’t Dad have a name?
He does. A naming ceremony is for Jewish baby girls, to announce their Hebrew name.
I admit that is kind of confusing.
What did Dad have, then?
Probably a baptism.
Or a christening. Are they the same? I think they’re the same. Why are there two different names?
What’s a baptism?
It welcomes Christian babies into the world.
I think it’s so the baby avoids the fiery gates of hell whenever he dies, but we won’t discuss that.
Dad is Christian?
Shit, this is getting complicated.
So why did they take off the baby’s diaper?
Because it involves his penis.
Haven’t we been through this?
Why does it involve his penis?
Because he’s a boy.
Can we be done now?
But why does it involve his penis?
Because it’s a Jewish custom.
Are there popsicles in the freezer? Please, don’t ask me what a custom is.
But what do they do with the penis?
They snip a tiny bit of the skin off of it. But they put stuff on it first for the pain.
Can we actually go back to talking about what the word “custom” means?
Like when Dad had surgery?
Just like that.
Yeah, let’s discuss Dad’s appendectomy! Do you have any more questions about the appendectomy? Appendectomy. Appendectomy. Appendectomy.
Why did they have to cut it?
Because it’s what Jewish people have done since the beginning of time.
GAAAH! I am not prepared to discuss a covenant with God with my child today.
Why have they done it since the beginning of time?
So strangers on the internet and well-meaning friends and relatives could begin judging mothers when their sons were just eight days old.
How did time begin?
No one knows for sure.
Where is dad? I know he could answer this.
But do boys have a clitoris?
No, they have a penis.
Thank you for asking me something I know the answer to.
Why did the baby have wine?
Because it’s part of the ceremony.
Pass the Manischevitz. Mom needs a drink.
I prepared my daughter for a bris with the same instructions I gave her during the Finding Dory previews. (Be quiet and sit still.) Which leaves me with the most important question… What was I thinking?
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