Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

I respect your Christian worldview.  I respect your belief in it.  I admire your tenacious commitment to your religion and your indoctrination.  I admire your decision to indoctrinate me into a system you believed in.  Your personal beliefs are strong and solid and they have led you to many courses of action.  Good action in the service to others.  Good action in the humility and grace of a life lived with meaning and purpose.  You showed me this path because you believed this is the path.  And I really appreciate that you did so.

Now comes the hard part.  I do not share this worldview.  In truth, I never really have.  I had many many questions when I was a child and the Christian worldview did not answer them to my satisfaction.  I have beliefs.  I have a commitment to them.  I am committed to my beliefs but you and I do not share the same beliefs.  I have personal beliefs that lead me to serve others.  To find meaning and purpose.  To value respect and love and peace and individuality and community.  I believe in my path.  I am indoctrinating my children into my world view.  But ironically, I am not indoctrinating them into faith or religion.  I am showing them the world as I see it and I am asking them to be inquisitive and curious and to wonder and wonder and wonder and never stop.  I am raising free thinkers.  I am agnostic.

Since I know you so well I can say that every day you practice your beliefs.  Everyday you make choices supported by your ideology of Christianity.  I practice my beliefs everyday.  I practice humanistic faith in the world, the people, this life, all this love.  I do so because it is my ideology.  It is what I know.  Just as Christianity is what you know.

You would, no doubt, shudder to imagine raising us three girls any other way than in the Methodist Church that you've called your home.  I as well would shudder to imagine raising my three boys in any other way than in this inquisitive, free thinking, philosophical, agnostic wondering way.

We are more alike then we are different.  We raise our children with conscious deliberation and purposeful planning.  We mold them to become people who will make the world a better place.  We simply have different ideological frameworks from which we start from.  The day to day decisions we make are certainly more alike then different.

Here is what I believe.
*I believe that life is a deep and AMAZING mystery.  I cannot get enough of it.  I want to read all about the Universe.  In fact, if I could, I would sit down in a hammock and read every single book about the Universe like it's my job.  I would love that work.  I wonder ALL THE TIME why we are here?  What is the meaning of life?  Where did we come from?  Was there a creator of this amazing existence?  If so, who created the creator?  Did something truly come out of nothing?  So when I say I am agnostic that simply means I do not know.  It does not mean, I do not care.  It does not mean I do not ask.  It means I ask every single day and every single day my answer is, "I don't know, but it is exciting to think about."  If I had to stop thinking about these answers and simply told myself the answer was God in Heaven and Jesus Christ was his Son sent to Us to save us from our Sins, I would be so so sad.  Thinking and wondering is simply my life's greatest pleasures!  It is this experience that I want to indoctrinate my children with.  I want them to wonder at life just as I do and to always try to ask more questions.
*I believe that religion is a very understandable and normal reaction to life.  Life does beg questioning but for some people that is uncomfortable or scary or startling or confusing and religion answers questions.  I get that.  I can't make myself believe in an active, prayer-answering God, any more than I expect to make people who believe in Him to stop believing.  I simply do not believe.  And I have tried it on for size.  I cannot fit into this mold.
*Even if religion as a construct didn't deter me the institution of the Church would.  I do not like my philosophical yearnings, my inquisitive mind, my search for meaning to be guided by a minister or a book.  I want to to be wild and untamed and I want to read many many books about all different ways of believing in order to nurture my spirit.
*Even though I am not a religious person I am deeply spiritual.  I believe a little bit in reincarnation, after all, energy has to go somewhere.  I believe a little bit in karma and dharma, and I believe that meditation and prayer are equally powerful and equally mysterious and equally the same and equally different.  I believe than when I am alone in nature or with my loved ones in nature I am in my true form more than anywhere else on Earth and so I crave and cultivate natural experiences.  Taking my boys on a hike every week is our version of Church.
*I believe in humanism.  I import ethics onto my children intentionally.  I instruct them to use the golden rule.  Value all life and all living things (except spiders).  I teach them to honor me and their father and their fellow brother (related or otherwise).  I teach them to make ethical decisions based on what they know to be good and right (if it harms no-one and benefits the greater good over the individual need).  I teach them that loving kindness is our religion because that is the only religion that comes completely natural to me and flows through my body like life blood.
*Finally, I believe in telling my children all of these things.  I tell them, many people believe in God and many people believe in Jesus Christ.  I tell them, however, that when children are born in Africa, or Russia, or Japan, or South America, or Utah, or Moline, Illinois, they believe what the people around them indoctrinate them to believe.  Without giving children stories to believe, they are simply, athiestic.  I am trying to turn them into happy agnostics.  In other words, I want them to ask questions and search for answers, but I do not want them to be told that any particular story is the one and only truth.  Because, quite frankly, that's not possible.  Just as Muslims and Buddhists and Jews and Hindus and Christians all believe in their fundamental truths, I believe in mine, and I don't think anyone has the answer.  I encourage my boys to understand Christianity because it is the religion that we are most imbedded with in this American culture.   But I am working on teaching them about Christianity within the framework of religion in general and I teach them that it is one approach to understanding the world. 

Now that you know what some of my beliefs are, let me tell you something I am struggling with.  I have a great big job to do.  I have to introduce my children to concepts that are daunting and philosophical and very difficult to grasp.  It's going to take me some time.  I am growing my library of literature and I talk with them at any moment that they wish to talk about it but it's an evolving process, their religious education.  It's also a sensitive process.  I am careful to be clear and accurate when I describe beliefs or when I draw them "pictures" that I know are laying down very cryptic ideas into them.  So, bear with my sons if they ask questions and go ahead and tell them what you believe.  Just do me a favor and remind them that it is your belief and not the truth and the light.  Could you do that for me?  I have been working very hard to ensure my boys respect Christianity because after all people are Christians and people should be given respect.  So also, if they are a little, inappropriate in their responses to your questions, or they say things that shock you, it's okay to tell them how that makes you feel, just do it gently.  Say, "oh you know that's what I believe and when you say what I believe it's silly, it hurts my feelings," and then when they say, "sorry, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings,"  maybe you could say, "that's okay, families forgive, let's eat some ice cream!" 

Mom, I tell you all of these things because I am not going to send my kids alone into the world.  I am not going to have them respond to the question, Do you believe in God? honestly and with great enthusiasm and interest and thoughtfulness and wonder if I haven't stepped out too and answered these difficult questions right along with them.  In most of my life people know that I am an agnostic woman.  I can't keep you in the dark any longer.  It isn't fair to you, it isn't fair to me, and it definitely isn't fair to my kids.  

Thanks mom,
P.S. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner.  I thought you didn't want to know.
P.P.S. I hope you are happy that you now know.

Your 33 your old daughter

Friday, April 26, 2013

Middle son blues

I am so mad at myself.  I have been a terrible mother to my middle son.  He is 4 and terribly needy for my attention.  Which I almost never give him.  Because he's also constantly acting out and constantly dragging his feet when it's time to leave or darting into the street when it's time to stay.  He defines acting out = attention seeking.  I know what he needs is more of my love and more of my attention and more of my patience and more of me.  And I don't want to give it to him.  I want to get more time away from him.  He needs me and I don't want him.  Not the him he has been lately.  And that's why I am being a terrible mother to him.  I know I have to change this and truthfully every single time he's asleep I tell myself - tomorrow will be better and by 7:05 he's challenging me.  And I just don't want him to.  I want coffee first.  I want quiet cuddles.  I want love and kisses but I don't want challenges.  And I don't want to battle his will to do what he wants to do.  And I don't want to think critically about how to respond.  And I don't want to empathize with his feelings.  I just want him to be good and I just want him to be easy and that again is why I'm being a terrible mother to my middle son.  So, I am mad, but I am also sad.  Because I know I'm doing this and I can't even make myself stop.  What is it?  Older son and I have discussions, poetry, pleasant talk, dialogue.  Youngest son and I have a new skill of walking to practice, and cuddles to give, and diapers to change.  Middle son and I?  That is the problem.  He's the jumping bean loud and obnoxious and throwing his body all over the bed when I'm trying to hear oldest son's reading.  And he's the belly flopping, body jiving, hopping fool when youngest son is trying to take his steps to the couch.  And I am always telling him he's in the way.  And he must feel so terribly sad about that.  And yet he is in the way.  I do need to hear older son read or help younger son walk but I too easily forget that he needs to feel that he's not in the way.  And I often don't recognize that.  And I often don't take care of that.  And that's why I'm being a terrible mother to my middle son.

This weekend I have vowed to make changes.  Spend more time.  Give him more of my love and affection then he's had in too long.  But I also am fearful.  What if I fail?  What if I can't?  What if I don't.  What then?

I gotta go.  I just felt inspired to pick up my middle son from day care and go get some ice cream.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What I want for my kids.

You know what I want for my kids?  I want them to not give a shit about what people think (of them).  I also want them to give a shit about how people feel.  I just don't always know how to install these themes into them.

There is a herd mentality to raising kids.  I am not saying I'm completely unaffected by it, I am affected.  But, I don't (typically) cooperate with the herd but I'm always Always ALWAYS conscious of the pull.

Example:  School Picture Day
This week, my 4 and 1 year old's daycare had school picture day.  First off, it's crappy photographers with crappy backgrounds.  They know they'll make big money on these kids so they ask to come.  The teachers arrange the children and coax smiles and pictures are snapped.  Picture day is coming, the flyers announce!  In my head I make a mental note, "get nice clothes out."  Day of picture day, 4 year old WANTS to wear his favorite Buzz Lightyear and Woody shirt.  Total favorite shirt in every single way.  I spend about 30 seconds listening to the "pull" of cultural norms, "it's picture day, shouldn't he wear something nice?"  Then, I have the duh moment.  No, he shouldn't wear something "nice" he should wear something special.  And this Buzz and Woody shirt is very special to him.  That, I want to capture in a photograph.  So, off we go to school.  When we arrive at school it is immediately and abundantly clear that TODAY is Picture Day!  Every little girl I encounter has on a dress, a bow in their hair, pantyhose, sparkly shoes, curled locks.  Every little boy I encounter has on a cute little button up shirt, with a vest, sunday shoes.  And then, there's my kids.  4 year old with a buzz lightyear shirt and a pair of baggy sweats and the still stuck on temporary tattoo from 2 weeks ago, 1 year old with a frog onesie.  And I think they look absolutely adorable.  And I could not be more proud.

I know I'm counter-culture in many ways.  I only hope my kids will understand, will be okay with it to.  How powerful are the cultural themes, how strong is their pull, will my kids bend to them, shouldn't they anyway for a while, how will I know what to do?

The List

I am a mental health therapist, by trade.  I work with college students aged 18-22 (+).  Working with this age group is pretty interesting.  They are defining themselves, identifying the aspects of their personalities they like/dislike.  They are examining their childhoods and criticizing the mistakes of their un-cool parents.  And they are shaping their futures with goals and ideas.  It's cool.  Except that I'm raising kids while these "kids" are looking back.  So, in my mind, I always have this checklist going.  What does it take to make them "turn out all right?"  I have to know.  It's the most important thing to know!  So I have a little list.

One day, I was being particularly list-driven and I shared it with my husband.  I prepared him for my realization and I think he expected to be blown away.   (I mean, it is THE LIST of essential ingredients to successful kids).  So I delivered him the following list.  The list that took me about 3 years to complete and the same list that I have validated in rigorous follow up interviews for about 5 years since.  Ready for it?  Here it is:
Things we really need to turn out "all right" or to be "all right"

A mom who is loving and nurturing, kisses all the boo-boos.

A dad who does things with you.

Mom and dad who tell you the truth, even if others may think, it's age inappropriate, better to be told the truth than to know your not being told the truth by the very people who teach you to trust.

That's it, folks.  That's the list.

You probably won't be surprised to know that my husband was utterly underwhelmed.  I think his response was something along the lines of, "yeah, I already knew that."

And, awesome news, we already do that.  But in parenting, I so often make things more complicated than they already are.  My mind has to take the concept and throw it up onto the old poker stick in my brain and spin that baby around on every single angle and examine it, make implications about it, make predictions, relate it to other things, separate it from other things, decide its meaning, decide it's value, decide its worthlessness.  And, honestly, if I couldn't do that I wouldn't be me.  I do that.  It's what I do.  And, it gives me pleasure.  It interests me.  It occupies my mind.  So I will do that indefinitely but I also will know that I am already doing everything on "the list."

The list makes so much sense.  Women are good at relationships and good at nurturing.  They just have maternal instincts.  And men are do-ers.  They do stuff. They are action oriented.  So, if you happen to be in a heterosexual coupled family system, you need a mom who's nurturing and a dad who's active in your life.  Those are pretty good basic requirements.  Of course, if your in a homosexual coupled family system I'd argue you just need those two areas covered, nurturing and activity-oriented relationships.  And your good!  The truth part is where it gets tricky.  I have found that the people who are most successful navigating in and around and out of love relationships, dodging the bullets if you will, and being open for the right people at the right time, are people who have trusting relationships with their parents.  If you know you've been told the truth, you can certainly count on it continuing.  If the truth is never given, why would you expect it ever will be?  And I am not suggesting that Christian families don't tell their version of "truth."  I believe they do.  They are being truthful when they indoctrinate their children into their worldview, that's their truth and it's not mine but it is theirs and that's okay.  Athiest/Believers alike, you must be told the truth by your parents.  The parents need to be transparent.  Open.  Flexible.  Easy to find (their soul/psyche, that is).

That is THE LIST.

Simple.  As so often everything really is.

Hell. That was a terrible lie.

Last night I was reading with my oldest.  He's been really into poetry lately so we've been working through a book of children's poetry.  Toward the back of the book there are poems for older children.  He's only 6 1/2 but he was intrigued by the drawings and wanted me to read them.  Many of these poems have Christian themes, not all, and not always overt, but they are definitely there.  For example, prayer will be mentioned, or God, or, as was the case last night, Hell.  Now, my son is always inquisitive to the meaning of words he's never heard before and as luck should have it, he's never heard of the word Hell before.  So he asked.  And I told him.  And I flashed back to age 7, maybe 8 when I really fully realized what Hell was and I was scared to death.  I remember understanding that a demonic place with fire and pain and torture and screaming existed "under" the world.  And that we would go there if we were "bad" enough.  This would have been right around the time that I also realized that it's considered sinful to be "proud."  Which I totally didn't get because my parents were always proud of me and telling me to be proud of myself.  So, if I was proud, would I go to Hell?  I was literally scared out of my mind.  I have a very vivid memory of the imaginary place in my head that I created during that time.  I can go there easily and see the red fire and the devil sitting there with his pitchfork all horned out.  I can hear people screaming.  Oh my god.  That is so horrible.  Poor 7 year old me.  

So when my son asked me so innocently, "what is Hell?"  I had to tell him about it, I'm definitely not going to distort it for him, I sure don't want anyone else to clue him in. As these talks frequently go, when we started the discussion I had no expectations and as I usually am, I was pleasantly surprised with what he had to say.  Kids who have never been indoctrinated with themes of belief or rules with how to frame reality really have stunning insight.  Here's the parts I can remember:

"You know about Heaven, right?  The place some people believe exists where you go after you die if you believe in God and Jesus or maybe if you are just really really good?"  Yeah.

"Well, Hell is like the opposite of Heaven.  Hell is a place some people believe exists where if you are really really bad, you go there after you die.  And it has a man called the Devil there.  And there is fire and monsters and bad things." 
So, you mean, it's a trick to get people to do the right thing because it scares them with stories of monsters and bad things into being good all the time?

"Yes, that is what I think."

That's what I don't like the most about these stories other people believe, it's like they are trying to trick everyone to do things they want them to do by scaring them or telling them they get to go to a really good place.  That's not true though.

"Well, what is true, then?"

When you die, you just die, your body melts back into the Earth but it takes a really long time."

"Yeah, that's right, and that's called decaying.  And people are really sad when people they love die and that's why some people believe in Heaven, because it makes them feel less sad."

That deer we saw in the woods that day we were hiking was decaying.


I think Hell is a mean trick.

"Me too."

 We talked on some more about how life has meaning and the meaning of our lives is something each of us gets to decide.  I suggested that finding hobbies and pursuing passions and interests is one way of prescribing meaning to our lives.  I suggested being kind to others and doing the right thing just because it's right prescribes meaning.  And my son was inspired by those ideas.  So much so he decided he would infuse meaning into his summer vacation by writing a book of poetry.  I'm pretty stoked about that little nugget, we'll see if he still wants to do that in a month when school is out.

So all of this absorbed into my soul and after bedtime kisses were given and the kids were all tucked in my mind was spinning.  I am CONSTANTLY reminded that MY baggage is MY OWN and my son does not have the same fears/hurts/damage that I do.  I want to reiterate I was not harmed by religion, per say, but I grew up inside a box that framed my interpretation of reality.  I understood EVERYTHING, either directly or indirectly within the parameters of Heaven and Hell.  I went to Church every single Sunday and I sat at a children's table underneath a picture of Jesus and I walked up the stairs and saw him in a painting 6 feet tall and I was scared to death.  Because I knew that everything was not adding up.  And I was scared that if I could not get the "rules" down right, I would go to Hell.  Luckily, my sons do not have these indoctrinated beliefs.  We talk.  A Lot.  And we explain.  A Lot. 

They are natural skeptics and they are free thinkers and they are philosophical and they have meaning and purpose and they are happy and joyful and they are naughty and nice and they are imperfect and perfect to me and they are little miracles of evolution's birth and they are free from the lies and I am freer through them then I have ever been.


Friday, April 19, 2013

An agnostic mother's response to tragedy in the world today.

Last night, as I was laying next to my 6 1/2 year old sleeping son, I was thinking about this world that my husband and I have brought 3 children into.  I was thinking about the fact that the "right" answer to my fear is I'm adding loving kindness into the world in three human forms and that is the reason why I should choose to be positive.  But, since he was asleep, and looking so completely peaceful and innocent, I was not easily finding the right answer to be comforting.  I was sad.  I was sad because I was thinking about the parents who lost their kids to a school shooting in CT.  And I was said because of the boy who died at the Boston Marathon.  And I was said because in the future the unknown is going to happen and whatever does happen, my kids, randomly could be the victims.  Will all three of my kids make it through life?  Will I?  Will we all survive and not get cancer?  Will we all survive and not be harmed by terrorists?  Will each of the 5 of us in this little family unit live to the ripe old age of 90 and die blissfully in our sleep?

How do I love fearlessly when I am so fearful? 

So, I'm laying there snuggled up in bed with my son and the covers are around us and I am still shivering.  Clearly warm and cozy, he doesn't move an inch.  And I have this metaphor in my mind.  If I believed that God exists, and he 'works in mysterious ways' and he will someday take my soul to a heavenly kingdom in the sky, where I will be reunited with my loved ones and live eternally with them for the rest of eternity without ever having to fear any possibility of hurt/pain/loss entering my life, I would be so warm.  I think, if I REALLY really bought that, what would that be like?  And I thought, that would be so warm.  Like a big soft down comforter taken out of the dryer on top of me, a downy pillow of just the right plumpness under my head.

It's just that, the blanket I have is not all that warm.  It's scratchy.  It's lumpy.  It's still a little wet from the rinse cycle.  And try as I might, my feet always stick out the bottom.  I don't have "that" warmth.  And this helps me to really understand why people believe.  Because, you know what, if you can buy it, that this sub-reality is real...that this paranormal existential plane of "heaven" and "God" exists...then good for you.  I bet that feels warm.

I need warmth like that on nights like this.  I cried myself to sleep next to my big baby boy.  And I thought about all the ways that I could try and make each day more intentional.  More present.  More grateful.  Because I know that life is random.  And by chance, people I love will be victims of malevolence, or cancer, or car crashes, or ....  but all I can REALLY do about it is to not place energy into the possible/probable/maybe but instead place energy into THIS moment.  So, I pulled myself into my senses and I gazed at my son and I burned his face into my mind's eye and I smelled his head and I clicked the camera in my brain over and over again to hang out tight to the here and now.

What else can I really do?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Move On.

I have this amazing sister.  She was married to 16 years to a grade A asshole.  He basically was/is miserable and depressed and angry and she loved him unconditionally and cared for him completely all of their marriage in an effort to love him enough to fix him.  Then, she realized she couldn't.  So she granted him a divorce and she moved on.

She dated this guy, Max, about a year after her divorce.  He, was a kind/nice depressed/miserable person.  She didn't see it coming right away, she thought, eh, he's not "that" broken.  But, he was broken.  And after a year of that 'relationship' she realized that she couldn't make him happy either and that she was settling for less then she deserved.  So, she left him.  She moved on.

Now, she is Open.  Not bitter.  Not jaded.  Not guarded.  Open.  Do you see why she is so amazing?  If anyone has the right to be bitter and jaded, she does.  But, she's not.  She's completely open to finding love.  She says, love is the most natural emotion in the world.  Everybody wants somebody to love. 

She has met a new guy.  He's kind, warm, loving, Open, and emotionally available.  Their story has only begun but already it's obvious that they are suited perfectly. 

You know what she told me?  She said, "you know what the secret to life is?-it's moving on."

She's totally right.

Life goes on.  Move on or don't, the choice is yours.  But if you don't move on, you will be stuck.  And being stuck feels like it.  And moving on feels like that.  Good.  Move on.

Being a therapist, I am always talking to people about their lives, their emotions, thoughts, moods, ideas, beliefs, etc.  Some sessions are more existential than others.  But, fairly regularly, I have philosophical, existential conversations with people who are examining their lives and themselves.  And, it's a pretty amazing job.  And, I totally agree with my sister.  If I look at my own life and ask myself, why, really, why did I "turn out allright?"  Why, am I happy/content/at peace?  Why do I feel so okay when these people who I sit with do not?  One answer is, I moved on.  When things upset me, unsettled me, provoked me, challenged me, hurt me- I moved on.  First, of course, I felt the emotions, and I worked with them, validated them.  Then, I moved on. 

This begs the question, why can't other people move on?  What installs in us the desire to move on?  What prevents us from feeling motivated to move on? 

Self worth? 

And, with these three boys I (with my husband) am raising, what can I do to ensure they always move on? 

Teach them to live in the present moment?
Teach them to name their emotions and then lay them to rest?
Teach them to value themselves but to also not take themselves too seriously?

But, how?

Because moving on is a very very important skill to have.  I need my children to acquire it, it might be the most effective skill they have.  How do I make 100% sure they have it?

Monday, April 1, 2013

My Beliefs

Something bigger than me?  Absolutely.  The Universe is bigger.  The eternity of time and space is bigger.  The Whole is bigger than me.  I absolutely believe that something is bigger than me and every SINGLE creature.

A creator?  I don't know.  I'm skeptical, though.  IF a creator put the Universe in play, I think that's all this Creator did.  No plans.  No micro-managing.

Prayer:  Talking to your soul in loving kindness.  Asking your conscious heart to accept your unconscious desires.  Self-therapy.  Talking to that Higher Power.  Asking for LOVE to fill you (from the Universe).

After-Life:  Sadly, no.  Your body decomposes to the Earth.  You are never YOU again.  You are bits and pieces, particles, energy, atoms that get reorganized reshifted and redistributed to other things.  No gate.  No Heaven.  No clouds with your family members and your old pets.  But I truly wish it were true.  And I completely understand the need to believe this.

Hell:  Luckily, no. 

Karma:  Yeah.  I dig that idea.  Hey, it could happen?!

Mindfulness:  My every day goal.

A God who could both bless your home's inspection, allowing for it to be approved so you could sell your home (Praise him!) but who also would not step in to save the Jews from the Holocaust?  Completely and utterly insane. 

Why would GOD be working in your life in Iowa where you have everything you actually need and so much more and yet be completely off duty while children die in Syria.  What makes you so freaking special? 

The Bible:  Interesting historical document with many ways to examine and explore it.  Completely metaphorical and created with intention, which is exactly the problem. 

The Need for Humans to Believe in Something:  I completely relate.  I completely desire this as well.  The reality of how infinitely small and minute we all are in the scheme of life is overwhelming.  That we have not been plucked from the Earth, amazing, that our loved ones are alive, tremendous, that our loved ones have passed, understandable, it is inevitable.  We are passing time.  Neurosis invades, collective consciousness creates mystical experiences to generate control.  I get it.  It's depressing actually.  Love helps that.  Love love love.  Love.

Love helps all these things.

God = Love

That- is what I believe.

Just because I'm not OUT, doesn't mean I'm still IN

I am not OUT all the way as a nonbeliever.  My family, they know.  They know but they don't ask.  We don't discuss.  EVER.  My mother is a devout woman.  A strong Methodist Christian.  She is a believer through and through.  She has a prayer book full of things to pray for and I'm 100% positive that I am on the list.  Not just because I'm her daughter but because I've turned my cheek.  I know she MUST be worried.  But, she never says one word.  Not a single word.  I'm so incredibly grateful for that.  Grateful?  Yes, Grateful. 

I don't want to hurt my mom with a painful conversation about my views.  I think she probably thinks MAYBE I'll change my mind and I'm going to let her keep on thinking that, because it's probably getting her through.  But, I won't be changing my mind.  I've tried.  GOD I've tried! 


I have put in A LOT of thought.  I've taken away every example of Christianity and just asked myself the questions and the answers are the same every time.  I don't see it.  I literally do not see it.  That thing that Christians do when they take the leap and believe?  Have faith (small as a mustard seed).  Faithfully believe?  I do not see it.  It is not in my worldview.  It is not in my psyche.  It is not in my soul. I have other opinions, strong ones.  But, the Christian opinion, I do not have.  and, I am not going to have any epiphanies.

So, I keep accepting the bracelet's with a cross on it and the mustard seed pins and the FAITH sign for my house and the Cross carved from wood by my Uncle.  And I smile and say, thank you.  Because, that's not that hard for me to do.  And it makes my mom happy.  And she is a good mom.  And a good Christian.  And she's just doing her part.  And I get that. 

I'm not really "out" as a nonbeliever, implied-definitely, imagined to be-probably, but technically-no declarations have been given.  Until pressed to do so, I'll stay here, quiet and unbelieving.  But, just because I'm not "out" certainly doesn't mean I'm in. 

Belonging: I get it.

On the Parents Beyond Belief page recently the moderator provoked a conversation about Belonging relating to our children and installing in them this sense.  I totally get the struggle.  I admire those that haven't had it and I'm slightly miffed too (not really). 

I used to belong.  I belonged to a community that was huge, enormous really.  Probably 95% of all the people I have ever been in relative close relation to either familial or friendly my entire lifetime have been followers of Christianity.  Either extreme really, devout to the Christmas and Easter Only crowd.  But, collectively, the majority of the people I relate to and have ever related to in an ongoing, cooperative, relational manner are believers. 

They make up a club that I, do not belong.  By proxy, my kids aren't really in that club either.  But the thing is, they don't care.  I do.  It is my issue, this "belonging" problem, not theirs. 

Because truly they belong to this family, to our community, the schools they are in, the club sports they play, the friends they hold, the friends we hold.  It is really me that feels the effects of the break up from religion. 

Of course, I could say I belong to all those things that I said my kids belong to and that would be true.  And I feel like I belong there.  But, I also feel that I don't belong in that other group, the one that predominantly is every where. 

I wonder, since they've never "belonged" to that group, will they ever feel that they don't belong?  I think they'll feel lots of belonging feelings towards lots of entities.

I think, by the nature of the break up, I have that loss.  This is my issue, not theirs.  Good for me to remember. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

That feeling is called Shame.

A game of chase is under way.  6 year old and 4 year old are running around wildly, darting behind couches and leaping over stairs.  They are thrilled with idea that they just might be captured and they just might escape.  A rush of adrenaline ensues.  Taking turns grabbing and tickling each child I am conscious of playing fair.  After I nab 4 year old boy, I nab 6 year old boy.  Keeping the playing field even makes the game more enjoyable for everyone.  Some competition for my attention is ALWAYS in play.  I tell myself it's got something to do with their male-ness.  They compete for my affection and my attention all the time.  Literally.

Ooops, I got 4 year old twice in a row, a few more times that big son.  Maybe tickled 4 year old with a little too much vigor.  Big son gets jealous.  Because the game is physical it turns to wrestling on the floor.  At first they wrestle just me, taking turns plowing me over.  Then, a brother wrestling match ensues.  Bigger son being, well, bigger, gets a little rough.  A little rougher the next time too.  Pretty soon, he's too rough.  He's jealous and he's too rough and little son cries.  And cries.  Because crying is little son's way of staying little and getting some attention back his way.

I have to correct big son, it would be wrong not to.  I challenge him, "your being way too rough,"  "you know he's smaller, you know he's younger, don't do that."  Big son gets rough again.  Way too rough.  I come down harshly.  "Whoa, not okay, I'm feeling really frustrated at you, you are being way too rough."  Big son knows he is.  I can see it in his eyes.  He knows he's been way too rough, and he's ashamed of himself.  He's ashamed of his inner anger and his inner adrenaline that felt so good when it got released on his younger brother.  He sulks.  He cries.  He is so angry.

Big meltdown ensues.  Big son is in pieces.

"Whoa, what's this about?"


"Talk to me, tell me what are you feeling?"


"Sit with me, tell me."

"I'm mad."

"Who are you mad at?"  I anticipate his answer will be his brother.


I don't expect this answer.  I think.  For a while.  Then I say, "are you mad at yourself for losing your temper?" 


"Ah, I see.  That feeling is called Shame.  When you are mad at your self for doing something bad that felt good to do, that's called, Shame.  And feeling Ashamed doesn't feel good.  But being ashamed of yourself, doesn't make YOU bad." 

I know WAY too many people who have lived their lives in shame.  I know WAY too many people who have guilted themselves and held themselves victim to the experiences in their lives that were shameful for so long that they have literally ruined their entire lives for it.  Shame sucks but it's also a normal emotional state that will occur and also, being an emotional state, will pass.  If you let it.  I want my kids, when they encounter shame, to name it.  Then I want them to learn from it.  Then I want them to let it go.  I don't want them to believe they are bad and need some higher power to cleanse their sins.  I don't want them to believe they are ALL that and a bag of chips either.  I want them to know they are HUMAN.  They have impulses/desires/wills that tell them to do all sorts of things.  I want them to know that they are entitled to thinking any thought that pops in their head because everybody has weird thoughts.   I want them to choose loving kindness over spite or vindictiveness or meanness or cruelty.  I want them to work hard to not act on the impulses that are mean but I do want them to acknowledge that those impulses are within them.  Because they are within every human being on Earth. 

I just want my kids to work hard to be good humans.  I want them to always choose love over hate.
And I want them to feel ashamed when they chose hate and I want them to call it shame, learn from it, and let it go. 

So often I feel like religion is a crutch for the experience of shame.  Everybody easily talks about Christian hypocracy and that is an annoying aspect of religion but what I really think they mean is why be a Christian only on Sunday?  Because it doesn't make sense to the non-religious why Conservative Christians won't allow for, say, homosexual marriage.  Because marriage is a choice of love.  And I'm always on the side of love and I'm not a Christian.  So, why not be on the side of love?  If your not on the side of love, really, that means your on the other side.  And that does seem pretty hypocritical since Christianity is about Christ's love.  Anyway, back to the shame problem.  I know a great number of people who have a problem with shame.  Shame is a central feature in their lives, their entire existence is built on a foundation of Shame.  Feeling ashamed is okay.  When you have done a bad thing, by all means, you should feel bad!  But, why do so many people hold on to that feeling?  I think for some of these people, their religion is a crutch for that experience.  Religion holds it up for them.  Because they are supposed to be sinners of course, but they are also supposed to ask for forgiveness, from a God.  Not from themselves, from God.  So, they sin, and they repent, to God.  But not to themselves.  They are not worthy.  They are sinners.  They are bad.  God has mercy on them.  Whew.  Thank God for having mercy on them because they show no mercy for themselves.  Sure, some people can be religious and not live in containers of Shame, of course they can.  Just like a lot of people without religion can live in containers of Shame.  This isn't a causal relationship I'm hypothesizing.  I'm just hypothesizing that for some people, including my father, religion has been a crutch that has continually allowed them to shame themselves.  My father continually looks outside of his self for mercy and grace.  Something bigger, his God, will have mercy on him because he sure the hell isn't going to, he's a bad seed, a sinner, a shamed man.  Let me tell you, that's never gotten him anywhere but heartache-ville.  He is a generally good guy but he's never worked all that hard to be the best person HE could be because he always has looked at God for saving him from himself.  And, I think that's pretty sad. 

So I will install this simple recipe into my children's minds and hearts.  When you do bad, you'll feel bad, and you should.  Then step up to the plate, call it what it is, rectify what you can, make retributions if your able, and let this shame go.  No one is perfect but if you try really hard, you'll be pretty damn good.

A letter to my son

My dear son,

You are only 6 ½ years old.  You came home from school yesterday with a shiner on your eye.  You were playing chase and inadvertently slammed your face into a classmate’s knee.  You were so sad.  Sad, not because you are physically hurting, though it did hurt.  You were sad because you knew that today when you went to school, people would notice your eye. You would be different.  You told me so. “Mom, can you please keep me home from school until it’s gone?  No one else has an eye like this.  I will be the only one!”  

 You are only in Kindergarten and you already know what it is like to crave conformity. 

Someday you will be in your mid 30’s, with a couple of kids, and you will know the world as I know it.  Or sort of but similar to me you will understand things that you yet do not comprehend.  Because I am your mom, I wish I could explain everything to you right up front and tell you where all the keys are that will unlock your mind and allow you the freedom, the total freedom, to be just who you are.  But, I can’t do that for you.  I am your mom and I am also a therapist and so I know a little bit about this process.  And I also know that you must experience these problems.  You must go through the process of painstaking agony at being “different” than the rest in order to get more comfortable with being uniquely you.  I know that you have to go through it but I still don’t like it.  I want to tell you (and I maybe did) that one day you will want to be different, you may even choose to be different.   

You may have looked at me like I had green hair.  

You may have said, “why would I ever want that.”  

 I may have felt my heart break just a little.

But I see you tonight go into the bathroom (because it has a lock!) and make your 4 year old brother a birthday gift of drawings that you neatly place inside a Tupperware and then wrap up with scotch tape and paper.  I see you gift him this artistic creation.  I see his joy.  I then see him lock himself into the bathroom and create for you the very same gift.  Complete with Tupperware sealing and scotch tape.  He gifts you your “birthday” present even though it isn’t your birthday.  You thank him, sort of (and I am pleased).  You are gone in an instant, on to different things.  He deflates ever so slightly because he can sense your gratitude is apathetic. He wanted to be just like you.  But he can’t reinvent the wheel and your gift can never be exactly recreated and to him, that was a small puncture to his ego.  Yet he quickly moves on to wrapping up more paper goodies for me, for our baby, for dad and he rebounds and recovers.  He has no way of knowing that this was a small training exercise that will prepare him for worse blows.
It’s not lost on me that you want to be like all your peers and your brother wants to be like you and baby brother wants to be like both of you.  We like to be like other people.  Being different doesn’t feel right.  It’s in our DNA.  We are encoded with this program that says, “copy everything everyone else does!”  Don’t believe me?  Just look at your baby brother intently and then make a show of sticking out your tongue and watch what happens next!  

So, I take note and I don’t continue my agenda of trying to make you see the world through my lens.  But I still tell you that different is good.  Because it is.  But I also tell you that conforming is natural.  Because it is.  And, I bank on hope that this is the right approach to take.  

So you are off at school now with your black eye.  Well, deep red today, purple tomorrow, black the day after that.  For the next few days you are going to be different, son.  Classmates will ask you questions.  Peers will jest you.  Bullies may make fun of you.  You may hurt.  You may feel embarrassed.  You may cry.  You may feel alone.  You may feel like you don’t have a friend in the world.  But I will be there.  I know you will rebound and when you do, you’ll be a little bit stronger for it.  You’ll need that strength to deal with the ongoing thwarts to your ego that will be essential ingredients to your developing identity.  So to that end the means have justification.  But, I also hope you will keep this experience in mind so that when someone else is different, you remember that it feels bad to be told so.  And all I can do is hope you pay it forward, son.  

Someday, please pay it forward.  That way your experience gets to also have a humanistic purpose.

P.S.  I will be available all evening for extra hugs and lots of comfort. 

I'm not Pinterested

I pretty much hate pinterest.  I hate it because it exaggerates both my ADD tendencies (start everything, finish nothing_ and it inflames my guilty (everyone else is pinning THE best books to read to your kids-shouldn't I?).  And, I really hate it that it challenges my counter-culture feelings in the WORST way.  If I have an idea to do something, make something, go somewhere, write something, whatever, and that idea is popular culture-I will NOT do it anymore just BECAUSE it's popular culture.  I know that's pretty stupid, but I can't help it, I feel compelled to resist BECAUSE something is mainstream.  And, really, there are tons of "good ideas" on pinterest that I won't do because it's too cliche now.  Ugh.  I can't even stop myself from being so bullheaded.  

Let's take, for example, house hold organization.  I am a working parent, of three children.  My job is, luckily, not really stressful, and I have a lot of freedom, but still, 5 days a week 8 hours a day I'm not home.  So, my home is in total disarray.  I don't like to do housework, and even though I actually like a clean house (who doesn't) I don't practice any system of making it look that way.  Pinterest has gazillions of charts and plans and schedules and organizing tips and probably, I could learn a thing or two.  But if I get on Pinterest and see that my stay at home mom friend has pinned 5 new home organization tips that I deep down think are good ideas, my first instinct (this is so sad) is to rebel BECAUSE someone else I know (who I don't relate to in identity) thinks it's a good idea too.  

I can't be the only person who thinks like this, right?

Aren't we all sort of wanting to be original?

P.S., I do have a pinterest "account" but I don't pin and I look at pinterest about 2/month when I'm bored and feel like torturing myself.  And for the record, I know I can stop.  And for another record, I think it's a genius idea to have a virtual web board and I would really like to have the boards with no followers and no-one to follow, is that even an option?


To video game or not to video game. That is the question.

Here's the short answer.  Not. 

Why does our culture have a love affair with video games?  Why does nearly every single child my oldest's tender age of 6 1/2 that I know have a DS and a Wi and probably some other game system?  Why do we as adults encourage video game culture to unravel in our young impressionable children?  

Our oldest has to to to the YMCA during the day when his school is on spring break.  We are a two parent working family.  The YMCA has some Christian foundations.  A lot, actually, it's in their mission statement.  But, I am okay with it.  It is what it is.  We talk about it in our family.  We intentionally discuss it.  The principles and morals they hold we actually hold, as so often it works out that way with us and Christian themes.  We dig it.  But, here's the thing, they have a Wi at the Y. 

We don't have a Wi.  We won't ever have a Wi.  We don't have a DS, or other game system.  And, we never will.  

When you take your kid to the Y for school's out care, you let some things go.  You can't control the world around your kid.  I accepted that about 3 days into Kindergarten.  Most of what goes on, you are oblivious to.  Hopefully, good communication has been incorporated prior to these experiences so your child will come home and talk through things that are confusing to them.  Hopefully.  

My child loves to play video games.  I know, it's probably such a strong desire because we don't have them, and shame on me and all that.  But, it's more than that.  He loves them!  He is super competitive and video games offer him plenty of chances to explore that drive.  But, I hate them.  I mean, HATE them.  So, what do you know, the YMCA lets kids play the Wi while waiting for their parents at the end of the day.  Which means that when my husband arrives to pick up our son, who has almost reached the front of the LINE to take his turn on the Wi, our son has a fit.  A FIT!  Because he was all sorts of jazzed up to get his turn.  FINALLY!  HIS TURN!  And then here comes bad ole dad to ruin all the fun.  Tantrum ensues.  Ugly.

This is a perfect example of why I hate video games.  They foster unreal experiences (virtual) of extreme excitement, competitiveness, drive, etc.  And these unreal experiences coupled with intense emotions create an atmosphere ripe for mishandling intense emotions.  My 6 1/2 year old, yes, in part because it is forbidden, has a horrible time handling the emotions he feels when he plays video games.  And it is upon us, as his parents, to stop whatever we are doing (which we will) to guide him through this explosion.

What pisses me off is that when we are able to reunite at the end of a long day and enjoy one another and reconnect and be just, together, we can't.  We are thrown immediately into an extremely emotional situation where we are on different grounds and have different stakes and are different but equally valuable feelings and thoughts and ideas.  And we are in conflict.  And this is why I hate video games.  I want to pick up my son and be with him.  Not the him that he is when he's on video games.  Eventually, after an hour or two, he is back.  And we chat.  And we talk about this experience.  And he doesn't understand how we feel.  Because he's 6.  And, much as I would like to say I understand how he feels because I was 6, I don't fully understand him, because I'm not him.  But we try and we wrestle with the common ground and we try some more.  

Ugh, video game culture....I hate you!


Praying isn't Funny, son

My awesome dad visited us recently for the weekend.  Conservatively religious man that he is, I know it pains him that my children don't have formal religious experiences.  And I know that he must have lots of worries about my soul and the souls of our three, unbaptized, boys but he doesn't really ever say that and I'm grateful to him and I am also pretty impressed with that.  I often remind myself that it must take a lot for my dad and my mom (though they are divorced) to hold their tongues when they see me living a lifestyle so counter-culture to religious indoctrination.  I would like to think that they see me as a good person who's doing a pretty darn good enough job at bringing up their grandboys and so they are resigned to hold back.  That doesn't stop them, however, from indoctrinating those grandboys.

I have pretty much come to accept that my mom and my dad, separately, are going to tell my children that Jesus is the son of God and is the key to salvation.  I'm pretty sure they are going to tell them that Jesus loves them.  And I'm pretty sure that they are going to tell them that God is in Heaven.  Some people might suggest that I should not be okay with that.  But, I am okay with it.  I'm okay with it because I can talk to my kids, later, about what that all means.  I can tell them, when grandpa leaves, the truth; that no-one really knows but different people believe different things.  

I actually need my boys to see the influence of religion from safe family members so they can have a good familiarity with the concepts and the ideas.  I feel like it allows them to relate more to religious people and Christian themes, which they will need to do to live in this midwest world.  

To tell the truth, my boys find religious ideas a little bit, well, funny.  So, back to my dad's visit.  He was helping out at bedtime, reading books and tucking in the boys, who share a room.  First, he tucks in oldest son.  Now, my dad is a guy with a big ole personality.  He's very very loud and truthfully, kinda crazy.  In the very best way, mostly.  So, tuck tuck goes the covers and then a kneel to the floor, prayer hands, here he goes, "Dear God and Jesus in Heaven, watch over boy while he sleeps and keep him safe from harm, Amen."  I, sitting on the other boy's bed, pause.  I feel tense.  Not because I am shocked by his words, but because I am worried what my older son is going to say.  

He doesn't say anything.

He laughs.

He laughs and giggles and roars with hysteria.  This, to him, is the funniest thing he's heard all day.

I cringe.  My poor dad.  :(

Undeterred (or maybe just hopeless) dad moves on to younger son.

Same prayer.  Same response.  

Oh boy.  I have some work to do, I think to myself.  

Now, in the moment, this all happens pretty quickly and my dad, being pretty manic (literally) moves past quickly as well.  Out he goes, lights are off, kisses goodnight, end of bedtime routine.  But, it doesn't end for me, internally.  I know at that moment that my boys need to learn respect for religion.  The true conversations we have had with them about religion have backfired just a bit to the point of a lack of formal respect for the practice of religion.

I know some people, particularly some athiests, feel that we should not respect religion, but people instead.  And, I see their point, but I don't agree.  For my children, I want them to have respect for the practice of religion.  Mostly, that is because they will be rubbing shoulders with practicing Christians their entire lives, so they must have respect.  At least they must SHOW respect.

A few days later, my husband and I addressed the giggles.  With sensitivity we discussed the importance of valuing other people and the beliefs they hold.  Somewhere in the talk I uttered the phrase, "praying isn't funny,son."  And he got it.  But I did ask him what he thought praying was.  And he said, 'talking to yourself?'  And I said, 'oh yeah?' And he said, 'maybe, or maybe talking to the Universe?' And I said, 'oh yeah?  Cool-I like that.'  

And that was a pretty neat conversation.  

Sorry, dad.  : )


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Secular Easter?

“When are you going to hide those eggs with jelly beans inside of them?” 

“Is the Easter bunny going to bring us something for Easter?”

These are some of the recent questions posed to me by my 4 and 6 year old boys.  These questions haven’t exactly come at the easiest of times.  When picking my 4 year old up at preschool, juggling a baby on one hip and assisting him with his coat and hat, he inquires when those jelly beans are going to happen.  I had an impulsive and quick response, “soon, dear.” 

Wait.  What did I just say?

Obviously, Easter has come to us before.  Last Easter was a blur as we were busy preparing ourselves for the any day now birth of our third child.  It just sort of passed.  The year before I vaguely recall buying some bunny related goods and the year prior to that I have actual pictures of dying Easter eggs with my then very young sons.

Not much has changed about my worldview in the last few years. 

But, my sons are now a lot more conscious about the world around them.  They know things.  Things that I did not know when I was their age.  They know, for example, that we are a family that doesn’t believe.  And they know that there are many families that do.  They know that, in fact, nearly everyone they know lives in a family that practices beliefs of God.  And they know us to be “different.”  And we know they need to be respectful of others beliefs and we have to work hard to relay that to them, because to their little skeptical minds, believing in the supernatural is a bit, well, funny.  

I grew up in a conservative Methodist Christian family attending a country church faithfully every week.  I had a great upbringing and the Christians I interacted with were good folks.  I can’t complain.  But, I did have a lot of questions.  Questions that were not exactly welcomed.  Questions that had answers that did not make any sense.  I didn’t lose my religion because I was abused by religion.  In fact, religion was a beautiful part of life until it wasn’t.  I lost my religion because I don’t believe the things that it touts.  I simply do not.  For a long time I wished I did.  I am well past that stage now.  The new stage I have found myself in is the gap between my peace of mind and the way the majority of the community we live in indoctrinates children (including, by proxy, my own) into the Christian world view.  I can’t exactly stop it, and I do my best to talk to my kids about it.  But with Easter, comes a quandary. 

I’ve pretty much deduced that my kids want the following out of Easter:  Candy, Gifts, Treasure Hunts, and they don’t know they want this part but likely they would enjoy dyeing the eggs.  In that order, I believe this is their motivation for Easter.  This doesn’t support my very anti-consumerism/materialism beliefs so I’m actually really good with not handing them these experiences.

Still, that little tiny voice inside me asks, ‘are you robbing your children of memories of Easter baskets, dyeing eggs, seeking treasures inside little plastic eggs that are hidden in our family home and yard?’  Because I had those things and my experience was good and my memories are wonderful.  And I thoughtfully answer it:  Maybe.  But, what I am giving them instead are memories of hikes in the wood over Easter weekend and a treasure hunt of searching for just the right leaves and just the right rocks to explore.

I can’t actually give my children the same childhood I had, because I am not indoctrinating them into beliefs of faith, but I can give them a great, secular, childhood.  A beautifully natural life, filled with hikes and caves and explorations of the Mississippi River.  I can give them these things that I did not have and I can give them a reason to celebrate every day, not just Easter. 

So the next time that my 4 year old greets me with a question about religious practices when I’m shuffling papers and focusing on zippers I’ll try harder to tell him the truth, “son, we are going to have a wonderful weekend full of treasure hunts and family fun.”  And that is just what I intend to do.