NEW YORK — If a tradition doesn't exist, maybe it's time to invent it. That's what happened with my son's bautizo, or baptism.
Here's how it started. When I was a young woman I remember telling my mother that when I turned 35 I would have my first child. He would be a boy and I would name him Jeremiah.
Twenty five years later, it happened. The first time I held Jeremiah we locked eyes and bonded instantly. I prayed and hoped I would be a good mother to him. I then started to think, when he’s 35, I will be 70. Then like any parent I started to think, what if I'm not around?
Reality hit me and the thought of it saddened me. I realized how small of a family we are. His father does not have any sisters and his younger brother has no children yet. I don’t have any sisters either and neither of my two brothers have children yet. As of now, Jeremiah does not have any cousins!
I guess I could say that all of my sorority sister’s children are his sorority cousins, but that's not the same. Then it dawned on me. I could baptize him and he could have godparents and godsiblings, others he can count on to help guide him in life.
Growing up as a Dominican woman and a Catholic, I knew the rules: Two godparents of water (padrinos de agua) and an official church baptism, with either the same padrinos or another set of two.
However, I had a dilemma. I had seven people in mind and couldn’t choose one over the other. I searched for churches, no matter the religion, to see if I can have all seven present and baptize my son. They all said traditionally you can only have two.
But I wasn't looking to just observe tradition, for me it was about creating an extended family for Jeremiah, one that would help guide him spiritually and also bond him in family.
Though I'm no longer Catholic and don't formally belong to any religion, I consider myself to be spiritual.
I want my son to choose his own path, whatever it may be. After searching and searching, I found one church (Baptist) that said they would accept all of the godparents, however, only two could stand in the ceremony and the rest would be seated and sign as witnesses. This was not what I was hoping for.
Then, one day, I introduced one of the godparents-to-be (Alex) to a friend (Tommie) and said that this was one of my compadres (godparents). I explained to her that I had not baptized my son — who was over one years old — because I was searching for a church that would accept more than two godparents and have them all be part of the ceremony.
“Why don’t you just create your own,” my friend said. Another godparent-to-be, Kimberly, said, “Yes, create your own. Why not? Who says you can’t create your own family? We have ordained ministers who can marry folks beyond the church; we can do the same in Baptism.”
And so I did.
In September, Jeremiah was baptized by six godparents and one guardian Angel. You could say they're all his "madrinas" and "padrinos."
It was the most beautiful ceremony I could ever imagine. The ceremony was conducted by an ordained minister, Tío Louie.
To start, each of the godparents lined up and walked into the room holding a candle while a dedication song “He Gave Me You”, played. They each lined up next to the Minister. I followed behind them and walked in holding Jeremiah and stood next to the Minister.
At first Jeremiah looked all around and knew something special was happening as he was focused on the Minister. But like any other two year old, we couldn’t have his attention for the whole ceremony. We gave him toys while the ceremony continued.
The Minister welcomed everyone and said a few words, mostly words of wisdom for Jeremiah on how to live life with love. He then recited an appropriate passage from the Bible, from the book of Jeremiah.
Afterwards, he introduced me so I could speak to the godparents. I couldn’t hold it together and cried during my speech. After all, this was a beautiful moment for me and I was speaking to the 7 people who would be helping me guide my son.
I couldn't choose which "padrino" or "madrina" my son should have out of 7 important people in his life. So we created our own special thing.
First I spoke to Monique, my lifelong best friend who I’ve known since kindergarten. She and her godsiblings were there from the moment Jeremiah was born. They even call me Titi Betty. I thanked her for being in my life and always being there when I needed her most.
I then spoke to Tony. Tony is my brother’s best friend. I’ve known him since my early teens. We bonded over authentic conversations, always telling each other like it is. This is one trait I’d like for Tony to pass on to my son — the importance of being authentic.
I then spoke to Jayla. Jayla and I first met in college. We then became sorority sisters and were inseparable since. Jayla has always been there to lend an ear and is actually the double-godparent. She baptized him as the Madrina de agua when he was three months old.
I then spoke to Yonnel. Yonnel, in my opinion, is one of the best fathers in the world. The way he is dedicated to his children is admirable; they're so lucky to have him as a dad. Yonnel and I met in college and were part of a dance troupe together. He was a leader then and is a leader now. I couldn’t be more proud to have him serve as Jeremiah’s godfather.
I then spoke to Alex. I met Alex through Yonnel and he and I bonded since day one. Alex is a caring, genuine, loving and kind person. He is also a go-getter. These are some of the traits I hope he can pass on to Jeremiah. Jeremiah shares his middle name with him and of course, it was meant to be!!
Last but not least I spoke to Kimberly. Kimberly and I met at a leadership forum and instantly became “two peas in a pod”. Not only is she my birthday twin, but she is a loving and caring friend. I have no doubt these folks will care for Jeremiah as if he were their own.
Another addition is the Guardian Angel. I named Rachel the Guardian Angel because she is like his second mother; she is his caretaker. When he first met her they instantly bonded. I am so lucky to have someone like Rachel who loves and cares for my son so much and he loves her right back. There are days that he tells me “bye mommy” and wants to stay with Rachel. It’s sweet and good to know he’s in good hands.
After the ceremony, each godparent blessed Jeremiah by dabbing holy water on his forehead. My parents and big brother then blessed my son afterwards. My eyes were filled with tears of love and happiness to have my parents witness this special day, which meant the world to us.
I was also happy to have his paternal grandmother be a part of this day as we facetimed her all the way from Florida. At one point, Jeremiah told his paternal grandmother, “Look this is my party”.
On a September day, my son's family doubled in size, with 6 godparents, 8 godsiblings and 1 guardian angel.
I will never forget this day, and I know he's blessed.