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.

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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 Christian 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.

1st Journal Entry to my Newborn Daughter

How am I going to raise a girl, and help you establish a strong self image?
How do I teach you what I myself don’t know how to be?

JOURNAL FROM MOM TO JRW

1/10/02

Hi JR. Welcome to the world. What to say… It’s hard to arrange all the things I’d like to say to you here, now, on this 6th day of your life, outside of me. You’re sleeping on the bed next to me as I type this into my laptop. You’re sure cute. And small!

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to have two kids. I always pictured having two boys. When I found out you were a girl it scared me a little. A lot, actually. How am I going to raise a girl, and help you establish a strong self image? It’s easier with boys. Socially, boys are indoctrinated with a strong self-image. But in my experience, that’s not been the case for girls. It’s been, and still is very hard for me to believe in myself, to trust myself, to like myself, for the greater part of my life. I don’t want that for you. So how do I teach you what I myself don’t know how to be?

I wanted two kids so that you and your brother can have someone of your own generation to grow with, to share life with, to align with. Your dad and I are older parents, two generation drops from you and your brother. We didn’t intend it to be that way. At least I didn’t. I wanted kids much younger, but even with vigorous searching I didn’t meet anyone I wanted to marry until your dad, when I was 37. We tried having kids straight away, but I had a lot of miscarriages (7), and it took us two years to have your brother and another 2 plus to have you. After losing 5 pregnancies before your brother, I was scared out of my mind that I would never get to have any children.

After your bro, I was sure all those loses were behind me, and your dad and I tried for you 6 months after your brother was born. But I lost that baby, and another one a year and a half later. And I didn’t think I could handle another loss. So we stopped trying so hard. And 4 months after that last loss, you were conceived. And I was so afraid I’d lose you too. But you hung in there, and saved my sanity. And you were born to me on January 4th, 2002. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I kiss your head with my words.

I hope I serve you well as your parent. I hope we can grow to be good friends. I’m not quite sure how to be a mom to two children and give you both what you need. As I’ve told your brother, and I am telling you now- I’m sorry for the times you will feel I was not there for you. I hope they will be few. And I hope you can forgive me for the times you will feel you are left wanting. I promise to do my very best, and to make you and your brother the highest priority in my life. I love you more than you’ll ever know, unless you get lucky, like me, and have children of your own.

I’m looking forward to you growing. Infancy is a hard stage for me, as I don’t really know anything about you, who you are, how you are, what kind of person you will want to be, and become. I hope for you that you are kind, that you care about the world around you and the people in it. I hope for you that you are strong and stand by your convictions with actions. I hope for you that you are wise and understand when compromise is necessary as it will be so much of your life. I hope for you that you choose wisely whom to love and that you understand that love is an action and takes constant work to maintain. And I pray that you will always know that I deeply and passionately love you, my beautiful daugher.

Welcome to earth, JRW! So very glad to meet ya!!