As a theologian your mother is all wet, as a look at this handy guide to Episcopal baptism demonstrates. For starters, the Episcopal Church recognizes proper baptisms performed by other denominations. If someone has been baptized, the church frowns upon freelancers like your mother getting in something extra: “Under absolutely no circumstances can a valid Baptism be repeated.” Then there’s the matter of the church insisting this sacred rite be performed by clergy in front of the congregation. As far as emergency baptisms are concerned, Episcopalians limit this to “impending death clear to all present.” In other words, while you mother may have given her granddaughter a soapless shampoo, she did not perform a baptism. Sure, it’s rude of her to run her grandchild under the faucet with the idea of getting the kid some celestial leg up. But since your mother gets just about everything wrong about baptism, her little ritual doesn’t hold water as a religious act. What your mother did, and I agree probably plans to do with your son, is the equivalent of a personal superstition no one need take seriously. Your son will be Jewish regardless of what your mother does, so it seems unnecessarily mean to have your family act as probation officers to prevent Grandma from getting her grandchild near running water.
My 5-year-old daughter has an adorable best friend, "Molly," who is left-handed. Molly's parents mentioned once that they hoped to convert her to a righty. Molly's mother is from a country where this desire may be more common, but we laughed it off and said that three of the last four presidents were lefties. Since then, we've seen Molly's mother snapping at her for using her left hand. This rubs me the wrong way as a leftie myself, but more importantly, I don't think it's good for the child to forcibly convert them. Should we stay out of it now or should we stick up for Molly?
It’s true that there is a sinister prejudice against lefties in much of the world, but fortunately it is dying out in many places. As the daughter and mother of lefties, I find the practice of forced conversion to right-handedness gauche and appalling. (As I do forced conversion generally.) I hope your daughter and Molly are classmates, because that would give you the opportunity to alert the teacher to what’s going on. I bet the best way to get through to these parents would be if an authority figure explains to them we now understand that left-handedness is just an interesting variation, one that should be supported, not suppressed.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Sins of the Father: I think my dad has a secret love child. Should I confront him?” Posted Nov. 10, 2011.
“The Monotony of Monogamy: I married my first sexual partner, and now I’m itching to cheat.” Posted Nov. 3, 2011.
“Indecent Proposal: My colleagues are framing our boss for harassment. Should I expose their evil plot?” Posted Oct. 27, 2011.
“Bye-Bye Baby: My sister is making a huge mistake by placing her child for adoption.” Posted Oct. 20, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Morbid Memento?: Dear Prudence advises a woman whose fiance is too attached to his dead sister-in-law—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Nov. 14, 2011.
“Sniffing Out Trouble: Dear Prudence advises a woman who caught her fiance's dad in a sleazy act—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Nov. 7, 2011.
“Halloween Hangover: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose buddies hit the bottle too hard on the trick-or-treat trail—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 31, 2011.
“Sleeping With the Frenemy: Dear Prudence offers advice on confessing to an affair with a BFF's husband—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 24, 2011.