Tuesday, April 24, 2007

:: First Birthday ::

My sister-in-law and her husband adopted twin girls from Korea last September. These girls are so adorable they almost make me forget how happy I am that I am not myself having twins. They have both learned to walk recently, and Meredith has taught them where their tummies and toes are. This past weekend, they even learned the word "mustache": when asked, "Where's Grandpa's mustache?" each girl would point to my father-in-law's hairy upper lip. They aren't talking yet, but it's so exciting to see them learning and communicating.

The girls turned one year old two weeks ago, and this feat was celebrated, Korean-style, with a big celebration. The foster mother in Korea had given Mere and Joe a gift of two elaborate first-birthday outfits for the girls (Cate is pictured in hers in the above picture, Lizzie in the lower one), complete with a polaroid marked with sharpie numbering the garments' items in the order in which they are to be put on the girls. I think there were eight pieces in all, and dressing the babies up in these outfits it something of a ceremony. Meredith was already nervous about it back in March when I visited, worrying because she'd promised to send pictures to the foster mother in Korea and wanted to get everything just right.

Unfortunately, Brian and I were unable to make it to the birthday celebration, but from what I heard about it (and from some research I conducted afterwards), it's really interesting. Historically, death rates of children were really high. Many children died before their first birthdays. After the age of one, however, the survival rate increased dramatically, making the first birthday a milestone worthy of happy celebration. The first birthday celebration, called the Tol, is a time of prayer, thanksgiving, ornamentation, ceremony, and celebration. The hilight of the celebration for my little nieces, other than the outfits, was the Toljabee.

The Toljabee, from what I gather, is a small ceremony involving placing the babies at the head of a table arranged with items like a spool of threat, an apple, a brush, a Korean calligraphy set, money, a book, a pencil, and a bow and arrow (for boys) or needle and scissors (for girls). The birthday child (or children in this case) sit at the table near these items and are allowed to choose items from the table. The first item the child grabs is considered important because it predicts the child's future. Lizzie chose the spool of thread, signaling a long life. Cate chose the apple, signifying that she will have many descendants. Mere and Joe joke that at least Lizzie will be alive long enough to take care of all of Cate's descendants.

I wondered, of course, what the book symbolizes. I asked Brian when he told me all about the girls' birthday party, and his answer was "indecision and instability." The "real" answer is that choosing the book means that the child will become a successful scholar, but I thought Brian's answer was especially appropriate. After all, how many of us who "chose the book," so to speak, have struggled to figured out what to do with our lives, how to be happy and successful, how to pay the rent, whether what we're doing is the right thing?