Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Last Day

So tomorrow’s the big day: the day the oldest kid moves out and finishes “The Story of My Childhood.” Every morning this week, on my way downstairs, I’ve listened in the dark by his door so that I can hear him breathing, something I haven’t done since he was a baby. I’m checking to make sure he’s still there. This all feels so surreal.

And I wake up worrying: did I do everything right? Everything I was supposed to do? Of course I didn’t. But I really hope he leaves with mostly good memories and doesn’t become a member of “I hate my parent’s because______” club. Will he grow up to blame his dad and me when things go wrong or will he take responsibility and try to shape his own life? Like every mom and dad, I tried my best. I hope he forgives me my faults (even if I did just give him one final beating–in chess, that is).

It goes fast. Really fast. The time with our kids. And when our part is done, our children will have a handful of salient memories that will stick in their minds like chewing gum in their hair. We have no control over which ones stick and which ones melt away, and we have no idea when we are in the midst of making an important moment. But these memories will help define who they are and how we did as parents. Which injuries did we not see? Did we cause any of their big hurts? Will they remember few the times we lost our tempers or all the times we sat down and read stories to them or helped them build Lego creations or chased them around the yard? Will they remember their childhood as happy and peaceful or as sad and tumultuous?

And there’s another thing that you and I have to worry about, having raised our kids without religion. They may feel intensely alone when they move away. While their roommates will be able to crawl under their sheets at night and pray for solace and guidance, our kids will be without that sort of security blanket. They’ll live among peers who think that things happen because it was meant to be or because it was fate or because it was God’s will while our kids will live with the realization that life is one long series of accidents, coincidences and serendipity.

They’ll live with those who think that their religion makes them better than those who have none. For my kid, I just hope that he will remember being godless is good enough. It’s the state he was born into, his natural state. His goal isn’t to prove that others are wrong or that he’s right about god, only to prove that religion makes no difference in how successful or how kind or how happy he is.

Our kids don’t have to be traveling in the same vehicle as their peers, or even on the same road, to arrive at the same destination: honor, integrity, love, happiness, peace, wisdom. These are goals and attributes we all seek, regardless of belief.

To those parents who have a kid or two (like Theresa) who left for college recently, I’m sending a hug your way. And to those moms and dads who are still writing the story of childhood with their kids, I hope you create many beautiful memories.

PS I wanted to share this essay that CNN is running today. It’s things I want my college-bound kid to remember: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/28/living/parents-irpt-mitchell-letter-college/index.html

Abortion and Climate Change and Rush Limbaugh

Please forgive me for posting again so soon, but I could not pass this up:

One of America’s favorite whiners, Rush Limbaugh, said that, if you believe in god, then you cannot believe in climate change. Well, it’s a good damn thing I don’t believe in god because I do indeed believe in climate change, which is, no matter how ignorant Rush is, verifiable and provable, unlike his god. Rush says in this video, “We are so powerful. And we are so impotent–omnipotent that we can destroy–we can’t even stop a rain shower, but we can destroy the climate. And how? With barbecue pits and automobiles, particularly SUVs. It’s absurd.”

Ignoring the Freudian slip about his impotence, the gist of his complaint is that humans can’t control the weather, and therefore, they cannot control and are not responsible for global warming “…because man cannot control something he can’t create.” Right. We can’t redirect water, build damns, cut down trees or hunt a species into extinction. Got it. We have no control.

So we know that Rush has poor logic, but what else is he trying to tell us by tying in the whole abortion thing?

Well, it seems to me that if god puts babies in the bellies of women, then “intellectually” you can’t believe that man destroys the fetus either. I mean, like, we don’t create life, so how can we destroy it through abortion? We’re impotent, right? Or is it that Limbaugh’s omnipotent god cannot stop us from destroying both a fetus and the planet?

Maybe Rush should be listening more to John Kerry and less to those confusing folks at Fox News. Yes, Rush, we are “the safe guarders of god’s creation,” and whether god is a gray-haired old man or nature, we need all need to work together to preserve this planet for future generations of humans.

See, we’re not actually “destroying the climate,” we’re just making it less habitable for people–like your kids and grandkids.

Religion in Public Schools

JP brought up the following questions in regards to religion in school: “How and when should we talk about ideas that are important to us – especially ideas that are controversial? Who can talk to whom? Where can these conversations take place?”

When can a student talk about religion? In our school district, a student’s right to get up in front of the entire student body and talk about god and the bible are protected. We are reminded every single school year when the district sends a hard copy notice to our homes, telling us that kids are permitted to talk about god under HB 3678, the Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act. Would that courtesy be extended to atheists or Muslims? Highly. Doubtful.

Let me just remind you that a student can already talk about god around school whenever and to whomever he/she wants.  HB 3678, passed in 2007, allows students to talk about their religion publicly, whether that is during morning announcements or at an assembly or at graduation. It’s like giving the religious free advertising during the Super Bowl.  Why is this necessary? Why is one (already dominant) group given so much power and privilege over the rest?

HB 3678 also “protects” (read: enables and entitles) students in other ways, too: in “religious express in class assignments,” and “freedom to organize religious groups and activities.” In a state that claims it does not want government in our lives, Texas sure passes a lot of bills to limit the rights of women and to promote special rights for certain individuals, except when those individuals are corporations.

Having been the minority voice in a predominantly Christian society, nonbelievers are used to hearing about everyone elses’ gods. And, for the most part, we’re pretty tolerant, so I’m not really too worried about the Christian kids at the moment.

But as secularism takes hold and makes religion less fashionable, how do we protect the rights of those who want to continue to integrate religion and god into their lives 24/7/365? We do, after all, want to be fair.

Naturally, there should be a zero tolerance policy for bullying anyone for their beliefs, whether that person believes in god, allah, satan or nothing. But we don’t need–and should not have– legislation and school rules to protect the rights of students to discuss religion en masse to their peers. The simplest solution is just to keep religion in the churches that we, as a society, have provided for those folks who believe. Otherwise, why have special places to worship?

Let’s step back and consider these ideas: How would Baptists feel about an atheist attending their church and giving a speech about why belief in god is bad for society? I bet that idea would not be welcome. Now imagine how we feel when we have to sit through a god commercial before a graduation ceremony. Or this: How would the religious feel about an atheist kid giving a 15-minute speech before a football game on why he thinks god is a myth? Uncomfortable, right? This is how it feels to be a nonbeliever in a believer’s world.  We are held hostage, forced to passively participate in the rites and rituals of those who believe in the existence of something we do not.

There’s also another way to look at this. One girl loves Jesus. Another loves Ryan. We would not expect the student who loves Ryan to proclaim her love for him at a student assembly–that’s her personal relationship, and there’s no need to make it public. Same for Jesus. So it seems to me the most fair way to keep the halls clear of conflict is just to keep our very personal, very subjective views to ourselves, unless, of course, students just want to discuss their love interests among friends.

There should be no place for evangelizing at school, and for kids who don’t believe, they should not be allowed to pick on religion. It’s fair to expect god to stay inside the hearts and minds of those who believe, and it’s also fair to expect skepticism about other’s beliefs be kept inside the minds of those who don’t.

One exception: Every school should offer a dedicated religion course, which would teach all religions and world views as objectively as possible. Yet even there, respect should always rule.

Now it’s your turn. How and when do you think religion should be allowed in our public schools?

Jokes

You’ve heard this joke, right?

An atheist was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and he turned to her and said, “Do you want to talk? Flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.” The little girl, who had just started to read her book, replied to the total stranger, “What would you want to talk about?” “Oh, I don’t know,” said the atheist. “How about why there is no God, or no Heaven or Hell, or no life after death?” as he smiled smugly. “Okay,” she said. “Those could be interesting topics but let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose that is?” The atheist, visibly surprised by the little girl’s intelligence, thinks about it and says, “Hmmm, I have no idea.” To which the little girl replies, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss God, Heaven and Hell, or life after death, when you don’t know shit?” And then she went back to reading her book.

Of course, we’re wondering why little Ms. Smarty Pants would 1. be so rude and 2. know herself why sh*t looks the way it does. We also know that, for things like sh*t, which we can see, feel, smell and even taste if we want, we can scoop the poop and take it to our favorite biologist or vet and ask them. Just because we don’t believe in made-up stories like Snow White, Cinderella and God, doesn’t mean we have all the answers. Yet, apparently, there is a misconception that we do. The real problem seems to be not that we’re talking to little girls on planes (how creepy is that?) but that we’re making believers feel very insecure about the things they think they know.

But I really didn’t mean to write about all. In fact, this joke has, like the tramp that it is, made the rounds on FB and blogs months ago. When I read it the first time, I rolled my eyes. It’s not personal. But when I found out that someone I know sent this joke to my kids, it then became personal because that person was using this as way to undermine me, to suggest to my kids that they shouldn’t listen to me because I don’t know sh*t. And it occurred to me there might be other parents out there who encounter this: friends or family members or role models who might take jabs at you through your children as a way to tell you and your kids that you’re wrong and they’re right.

Kids are not dumb. I didn’t attack the sender, although trust me, I had a few fantasies about using a taser. I had to remind myself what my goal is as a parent and what kind of representative I want to be for those of us who don’t believe. So I only asked my kids their thoughts about the message. The older kid told me, before I even asked, the reasons why the joke was “so stupid.” With the younger kid, I had to throw some questions out, “Does this seem realistic? What would the little girl know that the man wouldn’t? Is she acting like she has all the answers? Who does have all the answers? How is animal excrement the same/different from made-up stuff like fairy tales?” I know, with that last question, you’re probably tempted to say that they can both be bull-sh*t, but I wanted my kids to understand that there are things that are verifiable (like poop) and things that are not verifiable (like myths). Asking questions and teaching my kids to think below the surface is the best way I can protect them against future attacks. Because, once again, I don’t want to think for them. I just want them to think for themselves.

So here’s one for you: what’s the difference between the adult on the plane who wants to talk with a kid about why there is no god and the adult sending emails who wants to prove to a kid that there is a god?

I don’t know, but both are pretty creepy.

Teaching Teenagers How to Fish

A great big thanks to Molly for her post and for everyone who contributed to the conversation. There were a lot of interesting comments and threads.

I went out-of-town for a few days and didn’t have Internet access, but I’m back to annoy you. I just have a story that I wrote down last week, and maybe you have an “aha” moment from your child or your deconversion that you’d like to share. This was a conversation I had with the younger kid recently.

Like many parents of teenagers, I have a love-hate relationship with my 15-year-old. Don’t ask me who does the loving and who does the hating. I think we both take turns.

I fantasize a lot about whipping out the duct tape during some of our more special conversations. (Please don’t call CPS. I have my urges under control.) This morning, for example, as I’m driving along, bothering no one, my kid says, “I wish you wouldn’t hum. It’s so annoying.” I think about telling him that when he forgets to wear deodorant it’s pretty annoying, too. I think about pulling over and letting him walk to camp, where he volunteers teaching little ones. I wonder how the heck these little kids can adore him when he’s so grumpy. “He’s great,” the camp leader tells me, “such a joy.” It’s funny that your kids are always a joy for someone else yet always a pill for you.

But I don’t verbally punch him back because I’m setting an example (right?), and he is trying desperately to sever the cord between us. I get that. He’s a teenager, and there’s nothing worse than being a momma’s boy.

So this morning, right after enlightening me about my annoying habits, he says, “About religion. Yeah, I’m not so sure about that.” I look around, wondering where that came from. Apparently he had pushed the pause button on a conversation we were having a few days ago. In the meantime, he was thinking, proving to me that he doesn’t just eat and eat and eat and poop. He thinks, too, much to both my surprise and my relief.

“I’ve been thinking about it. There’s really no proof of God. It’s kind of like Santa Claus. You have to grow up and out of your belief,” he says.

I was kind of worried about this kid. His dad takes him to church sometimes, and I really didn’t want him to grow up and become a Stepford Baptist. Being a boy, he respects his dad, who is, in all fairness, a pretty good role model. And being a boy, the last thing he wants to do is identify with me. So everything has to be his decision, his choice, his conclusion. That’s fine.

I don’t want him to believe everything I tell him anyway. That would mean I’m preaching, and he’s just a sponge, listening passively (or not at all) to what I tell him. Blah, blah, blah. No, this is the kid who desperately needs to learn to think because he’s the kind of person who learns the hard way, who takes too many dangerous risks. He needs to understand that jumping onto the roof of a car and holding on spread eagle while his friend puts the pedal to the floor can get him killed. Yes, he really did this, and when I came outside and saw what they were doing, I was the crazy woman screaming down the road behind them.

I know what you’re thinking. This mom needs to get a grip. Her son is crazy.
Maybe. But in all honesty kids do this kind of sh*t. They do. It doesn’t matter how you discipline or how much money your family makes or how much education you have, no one is immune to the dangers, heartaches and frustrations of raising teenagers. If you have an easy child, then hurry up and thank the genetic lottery because you’re damn lucky. Seriously. Our kids are like a lump of clay, and we’re the potter, helping to form them. But while we can affect their shape, they will always be made of clay.

So telling my teenager what to think would be of no use. He needs to think things through himself. I can only ask him questions or answer the ones that he asks.

He continues, “I understand that people want somebody to talk to when they’re all alone or worried about someone they love. It’s like having an invisible friend. But it’s not real. And it’s gotten kind of out-of-hand, especially with adults and how they talk about religion all the time.”

In a way, we’re kind of fortunate living here in Texas where people think religion is a sixth major food group. If we lived someplace else, where belief was kept private, my kid and I wouldn’t be having this conversation about God at this point in his life. He hears adults—strangers–talk to me about their church and their God. And he sees that I just listen. He’s thinking and watching and waiting. He knows my views. Had I argued with these strangers, I would have embarrassed the hell out of him, and he’d have these memories seared into his brain where they could cripple his common sense.

No, I have to teach my kids how to fish rather than catch the fish for them (which they would not want anyway).

“The Bible–I know people think that came from God,” he says, “but there’s no proof of that either. The stories don’t really flow. Sometimes they don’t even make sense.” I ask him if the God in the Bible is anything like the God the Baptist church talks about.

“Not really,” he says. “The God in the Bible is not even nice.”

An “Amen!” popped into my head, which I dared not say aloud for fear of derailing him on this important journey.

Now, if only he’d think about the importance of cleaning his room.