The Folly of Perception

Unique often translates into strange. And as the mother of a 10 and an 8 year old, I do not want to be perceived as strange or different. I want to blend like homogenized milk and give my kids the platform to fit in, be a part of.

I’ve been on the outside looking in since I was a little kid. Failing to assimilate, I worked at cultivating unique and different. After achieving this coveted perception, I no longer wish to possess it.

Unique often translates into strange. And as the mother of a 10 and an 8 year old, I do not want to be perceived as strange or different. I want to blend like homogenized milk and give my kids the platform to fit in, be a part of. What I don’t want is for either of my children to be, “that kid with the weird mom,” though I fear I may already be there.

My kids still hold my hand, and not just in parking lots or crossing the street. They both still love to snuggle. I am their first choice to talk to, confide in, way beyond even their dad, which makes me feel valued, respected and deeply humbled all at the same time. I realize this level of intimacy probably won’t [and perhaps shouldn’t] last as they grow and find their own path, but I don’t want my kids to ever be ashamed of me. I want to be proud of them. I want them to be proud of me.

I try to fit in. I go to the soccer games and the ballet classes and I wait around with the other parents and try to blend. But I don’t. And I get that they notice I don’t. I look different. I’m one of the oldest among them, by a good margin. My kids came late, after six pregnancy loses. I dress for comfort so most everything I have is rather loose. I don’t wear make-up. My hair is long and fine and all over the place. It refuses to stay pulled back in the scrunchy. I never quite look ‘put together.’

But looks aren’t the only thing that separates me.

Through the years I’ve come to realize that I don’t think like most people, and the glass wall between me and most of humanity is not just me being paranoid. There is a casualness the parents seem to have with one another as they discuss their kids, or some celebrity or popular new show. I stand there and nod my head when it seems appropriate, but I don’t watch much TV, and really don’t care that Kyle is playing basketball now which conflicts with his sister’s dance schedule.

I’ve tried engaging more personally, ask about jobs, interests outside of family, broached news and current events, but taking a position and endeavoring to discuss it has mostly been met with nods and polite blank stares (like I so often wear). Everyone is careful with their words—politically correct and upbeat. I’m neither, and over the years I’ve learned shutting up avoids discord. The conversations usually segue back to their kids and related activities around family, school, church, and I invariably check out of the exchange and focus on the event at hand and cheering on my children.

The game or recital ends but everyone stays and continues talking. I’m on the outside again, feels like I’m lurking while I linger to give my kids time to play. I stand there watching them all integrate, proud of my children for choosing to, and of myself for giving them the opportunity when I’d rather just leave. I watch the parents gaily chat and wish I fit in like that. The folly of unique and different is it’s really quite lonely.

Boy Scouts of Trump’s America

Even if our son fulfilled all the Boy Scout’s requirements through middle and high school, he was not qualified to become an Eagle Scout because our son is an Atheist.

After his scout meeting, our 11 yr old son announced he was never going to advance to Eagle Scout, as we’d all hoped, when he ‘bridged’ from ‘Webelo’ Cub Scout to become a full-fledge Boy Scout.

Attaining the Eagle rank is often the end goal of a scout and his parents. It looks good on a resume and shows commitment to a program over an extended span of time.

These are the opening lines on an Eagle Scout information page for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), and one of the reasons we encouraged our son to stay in their program.

But the rank of Eagle Scout was not attainable for our son, his troop leader had told him last Friday night. Even if he got all his merit badges, and fulfilled all the other Boy Scout requirements through middle and high school, he was not qualified to become an Eagle Scout.

To achieve Eagle Scouts, or any other rank, Boy Scouts must live the Scout Oath, which requires belief in God. 

My husband and I introduced our 5 year old son to scouting. Fourteen Christians and one Jew, and our kid was the only member of his Webelo troop being raised without religion. Most of our neighbors, and our kid’s classmates, attend the local church. My husband and I are Atheists. Our kids are not privy to the benefits of participating in this tight-knit religious network. Scouting seemed like a positive way for our son to meet other boys his age in our area. 

We didn’t consider the Boy Scouts an exclusively religious organization. We’d heard stories, of course, and knew of the pending lawsuit in the supreme court filed by a father for discrimination against his son who claimed to be an atheist. It motivated me to ask the women at the Cub Scout table during school registration if their troop was religious, and if so, how. Both women assured me their den had several different faiths among its members, and their policy was to keep religion at home, not practice it in scouting.

They were true to their word during the first five years our son belonged to their troop, participating in most events from hikes to community drives to popcorn sales, and earning quite a few merit badges along the way. Religion, even prayer, was never practiced or promoted. He bridged from Cub Scout at the end of fifth grade, and became a full Boy Scout with the aim of eventually becoming an Eagle Scout in high school.

After his new troop’s first official gathering a few months back, our son informed me the Boy Scout troop he’d bridged to said prayers at the end of their meetings. I asked him how he felt about that. He confessed he’d already branded himself a non-believer, when the scout master asked him to lead the prayer at the end of that first meeting. He’d refused, stating he wasn’t sure there was a God, and he thought praying was a waste of time because he was certain there wasn’t anything listening. Though he’d been publicly labeled “misinformed” by the scout master at that meeting, and endured jeers and taunts from several of the boys, every Webelo he’d been with the last five years had bridged to this new troop. Our son didn’t want to look for a new non-religious troop, with a bunch of kids he didn’t know. He just wouldn’t recite what he didn’t believe, he’d told me.

That wasn’t good enough for advancement, according to his new scout master, who asked him again last Friday night to say a closing prayer. No matter how lax about religion our son’s lower division troop, rank of Boy Scouts and higher stuck to the rules of the BSA, he told our Boy Scout. A religious association, and faith in God is required for rank advancement. Commitment to community service, practicing Scouting’s core values of honesty, compassion, as well as continually exhibiting diligence as a contributing team member, were irrelevant. Belief in a god was more important than social service. Atheism is a sin, the scout master assured our son at the end of last Friday’s meeting.

I could lie that I believe, my son suggested, if I have to…

Think that’s a good idea? I asked, glad to be driving, which made it easier to keep emotional distance and sound casual.

Maybe. I just don’t get why I have to pretend I believe in God. The Boy Scout handbook says we’re supposed to “respect and defend the rights of others to practice their own beliefs.” But they’re not.

Ah, from the mouths of babes…

He’s right, of course. Click on the ‘Litigation’ link on the official BSA website, and bring up the “Duty to God” page. Part of the Scout Oath proclaims the scout will ‘do his duty to God [and country].’ Every level of advancement requires a promise or show of faith in God. Boy Scouts are instructed to respect the beliefs of others, but only those that believe in the Christian/Judaeo God.

Nowhere in the BSA literature we received and perused before or after our son joined the Boy Scouts did they say they were a faith-based organization that required their members to be believers to receive equal rights and priviledges as those granted to religious members. Had they disclosed this with all transparency, as do churches and other religious organizations pushing their beliefs, I doubt my husband and I would have channeled our son to participate.

We impose no religion on our kids. We discuss it often— the concept of one god verses many; various cultures and their belief systems from beginning to modern man, using everything from the Tao to biblical references. Our kids get additional religious education through their friends and faith-based celebrations with family. My husband and I hope to expose our children to many possibilities, and let them discover their own spirituality.

Parents who provide religious training for their kids early on, and, it would appear, register them in Boy Scouts, are looking to validate their beliefs by indoctrinating their kids with the religion on which they were raised. And most of these parents have never stopped to consider whether the rhetoric their parents sold them is truth. They are blind believers, and turn their children into the same.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) takes a strong position, excluding atheists and agnostics,” according to Wikipedia.

Perhaps the BSA is a front for the church, and works to convert unsuspecting non-believers working to advance in their organization. Hook the kids without religiosity when they’re young–in Cub Scouts. Get them to work hard for advancement, then deny them further advancement unless they convert to Christianity. Whatever BSAs agenda, and our son now sees they clearly have one, the meeting with his troop leader last Friday night soured him to continuing in scouting. It’s a shame, really, because the Boy Scouts have so many positives to offer. Weirdly enough, they tout the same morality I preach to my kids, like being courteous, and honest, loving and compassionate. The only difference between us is I don’t believe a god gave us this wisdom. I give credit to humanity, over eons, watching what works, and doesn’t.

There is no god that’ll save us from hate, prejudice, nationalism, exclusionary sects like the BSA who lure kids in, like the Pied Piper, under the guise of community involvement, then change the rules mid-play. Regardless of our differences, religiously, culturally, politically, PEOPLE, me and you, must use our collective wisdom to unite for humanity’s continued evolution.

Proselytizing Religion to Atheists

“Do you know you’re going to hell. So is your whole family. When you die, you’re going to burn in hell forever.”

Our 10 yr old son’s response, “I’m not going to hell. And neither is my family. Besides, there is no such thing as hell.”

Our 10 yr old son’s closest friend was at our dinner table sharing a meal per usual. Half way through dinner he said to our son, “Do you know you’re going to hell. So is your whole family. When you die, you’re going to burn in hell forever.”

He didn’t say it to hurt, though of course it did. Our son’s response, “I’m not going to hell. And neither is my family. Besides, there is no such thing as hell.”

“Oh, yes there is,” the child insisted. “My pastor told me, and showed me in the Bible where it says that all non-believers, people who don’t follow Christ, are going to hell. You and your family don’t believe in anything. You’re going to hell.” He said it as a statement of fact, and for him it was.

My husband and I looked at each other with furrowed brows, both of us looking to the other for words of wisdom. Clearly the boy’s words were hurting our kids, as our daughter was at the dinner table too, and protested loudly at first. Then, being only 7, turned to me and asked, “Is he right, mommy. Are we really going to hell forever after we die?”

“No. Of course not.” I assured her. Then I addressed our son’s friend. “I realize you are a Christian, with certain beliefs, but everyone’s beliefs aren’t the same. Since no one really knows what happens after we die, as no one has come back from the dead to tell us–”

“Jesus has. If you’re good you go to heaven. If you’re bad you go to hell.”

“Do you think your good friend since kindergarten, or his sister, or my wife and I are bad?” my DH inquired gently.

The boy thought about this. “Well, no…” He thought some more, clearly in conflict with what he’d been preached and his experience in the real world. He was at our house constantly, afraid of his own with two older brothers that bullied him relentlessly.

I wanted to say, “Then think for yourself instead of believing your pastor,” but didn’t, of course.

Later, my husband felt a need to mention the exchange to the boy’s father.

The dad scoffed at his son while the boy put on his sneakers to leave. “Your pastor didn’t say that. You misunderstood.”

“No. He said it, Dad. And showed me in the Bible, too. It’s in Revolutions.”

“Revelations.” My DH corrected.

The boy’s father scowled. He didn’t apologize for his son’s earlier words. He simply insisted his son didn’t know what he was talking about and had misquoted his pastor, then bid us goodnight.

The exchange had little to no effect on the boys relationship, or my feelings towards our son’s friend. Children proselytize what they are taught. My sadness and frustration is directed at the Church and their followers, that preach togetherness, forgiveness, but only to those who believe as they do— dividing us, still.

What is Genius?

Went to the Jelly Belly Factory on a field trip with my daughter’s 2nd grade class. The young man assigned to escort us on the tour misquoted a brilliant saying by one of my favorite icons.

The guide delivered his canned speech, spoke of how long and complex the process to make even one single jelly bean, but that nothing great every came easily, “as the inventor, Thomas Edison said: ‘Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.’”

But that is NOT what Tom said. He said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

So what is my issue with the mere 9% our tour guide misquoted?

Mr. Thomas Alva Edison was trying to tell us that to get good (‘genius’) at ANYTHING takes HARD WORK (‘perspiration’), and a lot of it. He should know. It took him and an educated team of men many years and over 5,000 exploded glass bulbs to invent the light bulb.

Still, you say, it’s only 9%. The 8 year old’s the tour guide was talking to didn’t even know what percent meant. And while this may be true, there were 15 adults with the pack of 40 kids the guide was leading. And the parents understood. Most had probably never heard the quote before. It is somewhat obscure, which is a shame because it is an astounding insight. What the tour guide misquoted did not communicate the gravity of Mr. Edison’s meaning.

In the beginning of the 4th grade our son failed several math tests in a row, and upon inquire we found he didn’t understand the material. When asked why he hadn’t asked for help from either his teacher or us, he confessed he felt afraid he’d look dumb. Having always done fairly well in math, when he got lost he felt too stupid to ask. He was supposed to be smart, but maybe he wasn’t he cried, clearly shamed.

I hugged him, held him, and reminded him of old Tom’s saying for the hundredth time. Then my husband and I got to work, played tag team, alternating afternoons, evenings and weekends to teach our son what he needed to know. Within three month of daily math he not only grasped the material presented but excelled to the top of Math Swap in his grade level and remained there through elementary school.

Our son now loves math. It’s his favorite subject. He works hard at it and that hard work just placed him in the most advanced math class at his new middle-school. Failing those math tests in the 4th grade turned into a great education for all of us. We got to see directly how hard work pays off. And though our son may not always tow the line of excellence, he now knows that ‘smart’ is not given, but earned.

The New York Times Magazine had an article a while back on ‘genius.’ It sited Anders Ericsson’s research on The Making of an Expert, which concluded ‘genius’ wasn’t born, as previously thought, but made.

“Outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice, not any innate talent or skill.” According to K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely.

Most everyone starts out with the 1% inspiration. It comes with being human, and our ability to think abstractly.

Few of us have the tenacity, or the determination to endure failure after failure and continue through that last 5-10% it takes to achieve excellence. Most of us settle on gawking at greatness instead of pursuing it.

So, the question isn’t ‘What is genius,’ or even excellence, but what motivates persistence?

Good grades, or better at piano or guitar, or soccer, [or parenting] takes “deliberate practice.” We need to impart Tom’s wisdom to our children, teach them by example, with unwavering diligence that reaching their potential can not be achieved blowing most of the day in front of the PS4 playing Street Fighter X, or reading Harry Potter for the 5th time. To actualize ‘greatness’ means devoting the 99% perspiration— the time, energy and effort necessary to create anything of lasting value. Whether it be a school report, a science project or a math test, genius is not only doable for most every child, but for all of us with hard work and persistence.

Raising Kids Without Religion

My husband and I are the ONLY parents I know raising our children without religion, or even a religious identity (as in claiming to be Christian simply because your parents claim they are). We’re both devout atheists, and I use the term devout with purpose. We don’t believe in a higher power, or any gods, or even the possibility of one. We are not agnostic. We believe awareness begins at conception and ends at death. Our combination of chemistry defines individual uniqueness, so often mislabeled as a soul. No heaven, or hell, no rebirth awaits us after death. There are no second chances. We all end up the same place as Hitler. We cease to exist. Only our contributions in life remain when we die.

Frightening and harsh though this may seem to believers, the implausible bible stories and the ‘jealous’ (Exodus 20:4-5), malicious god described in them never resonated with either of us. Much to our parent’s chagrin, we grew further from all religious ideology with our spiritual indoctrination. Ancient dogma conjured by men to control the masses by creating an outside deity that could not, and by its own commandments, must not be questioned, religious leaders were telling us not to think, and neither my husband nor I were willing to do that.

We agreed before having kids that we’d raise them without religion. We would not teach them what we do not believe and what we both feel is fundamentally destructive at this point in human development. The value system we hope to impart is based on a keen awareness of our world, and our immense responsibility to preserve it.

Picture a bull’s-eye, we tell our kids, like the Target logo. You’re the center dot, obviously, as you can only perceive and participate in life while living. The first ring out from you is your immediate family; the next is your extended family and friends. The next ring is your community, then your country and then the world. And all rings must be considered when making choices and taking actions.

The Target philosophy is a model for a thriving society. Stopping to consider the radiating effects of our actions forces us to think before we act. Our ability to think conceptually is what separates the human race from all other life here. There is no need to sell our kids on religious dogma such as promises of heaven, or threats of hell. We teach our kids not only to be considerate and responsible to family and friends, but to humanity and all things on earth. We expect them to honor their debt to those before them by striving to deliver a better world to those yet to be.

As atheists we are considered by many to be heathens– uncultured, uncivilized people. Our parents are constantly trying to convert us to Judaism, under the delusion that we are whether we admit it or not. They vehemently express their disgust in our ‘denial’ and barrage us with threats that our children will be lost without a religious upbringing. My brother, a born again Christian, assures us that Christ died for our sins. He promises my children will be ‘saved’ after death from all wrongdoing if they just accept Him as their savior, without considering the catastrophic lack of responsibility this ideology instills in individual behavior.

By everyone’s reckoning who knows them, from family to teachers to friends, my kids are well liked and well respected. They are courteous and conscientious, and more considerate than most adults, and 90% of their so called ‘god-fearing’ peers. They are team players in sports, strive for excellence in their studies [to enable them to become contributing members of society]. They share what they have, and compromise to ensure fair play. And they do all this because they understand their role in, and responsibility to humanity and this planet we inhabit, not by threats of eternal damnation. My children are not lost and experience no spiritual void. They find beauty and wonder in many things, like nature, and sometimes even in the nature of man.

With the advent of technology and advanced weaponry our world has become so very small and fragile. We must stop pretending we are powerless, under the will of various deities, or follow the divisive rhetoric of religious leaders who preach if Christ exists than Judaism is wrong. If Allah rules than Christianity is a lie. Religion has become the problem, giving excuses, or worst, forgiveness for whatever crimes we commit. Christ will not save us from global annihilation. We are all responsible to save us from ourselves.

My husband asked our 3 and 5 year old kids a simple question: “What are you?” Both answered: “Human.” Touché! Religion, skin color, and/or economic status, my children see no division between themselves and other people. This position is mandatory for the survival of our race. We teach our children to recognize their radiating effects on all they touch, and not only acknowledge their mighty power, but embrace the responsibility that comes with it. Humanities future depends on each of us taking individual responsibility for the actions we take in life, not for rewards in an afterlife, but to make it possible for those yet to be to experience living.