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.

Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He’ll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we’ll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known— actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero— the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother’s death bed she asked me “Did I make a difference?” She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren’t filled with hate, or born of ignorance.
My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his ‘sunshine.’ Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She loved to dance, especially with my dad, and they were grace in motion. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father’s melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even want to be, but wasn’t. She was childlike in many ways however, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments her expression became sadder and sadder, and my “turn that frown upside down” mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give but she realized her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.
Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.

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Letting Go of Our Kids

Heavy sigh as I drove away, watching him in my rear view mirror struggle with his gear and then disappear into the school.
And quite unexpectedly, I burst out crying.
My son was growing up. He needed me less and less.

Our son went on a camping trip with his 5th grade class last week. He was gone four days, spent three nights bunking with eight of his classmates and a high school chaperone. They shared a cabin (with heated floors and a private bathroom), one of many scattered around Camp Arroyo, nestled in the eastern foothills of the San Francisco Bay.

High drama days before he left. Lots of spontaneous hugs. He’d grab me on the stairs, or in the kitchen while I stood cooking at the stove, wrap his arms around my waist, bury his face in me and say, “I’m going to miss you, mom.” And, of course I returned the sentiment, which seemed to sate him, and me momentarily. I put on a brave front, but as his day of departure drew nearer I dreaded how much I’d surely miss him.

Other than rare sleepovers at local friends, my son’s first overnight experience without mom or dad was the previous weekend on his first Boy Scout campout. He didn’t seem all that enamored with camping. Dirty and tired when he got back (after less than 24 hours away), he endlessly repeated, “It’s so great to be home.”

My son was not the only kid feeling nervous about the 5th grade campout. Two of his friends admitted feeling scared, one never having had a sleepover anywhere but relatives. Several parents laughingly confessed to feeling anxious about missing their kids over the four days they’d be gone. Many had yet to be away from their children for more than a weekend at most.

I, too, felt apprehensive. My child wouldn’t be safe at home where I could watch out for him, be there for him if need be. A long time ago, when I was in my late teens, my mother told me she never fell asleep all the way until her kids were safely ensconced in their beds at night. Only then would she be able to rest. At the time I figured she was trying to guilt me out for coming in late a lot. But as I helped my son pack for camp the night before his departure, I anticipated three restless nights without him.

Dropped him off at school the next day like any other morning, except for the sleeping bag and pillow he put down on the curb so he could hug me goodbye. He held me hard, and long, which was weird right in front of his school and classmates like we were. I hugged him back, tried to transfer my love without too much drama and left. Heavy sigh as I drove away, watching him in my rear view mirror struggle with his gear and then disappear into the school.

And quite unexpectedly, I burst out crying.

My son was growing up. He needed me less and less. As he moved into his teen years we’d naturally separate, until he’d no longer be completely immersed in my life. We’d been bonded for 11 plus years and I could feel it coming to an end. And sadness consumed me on my way back home, but only for the first block from the school.

As suddenly as I started crying, I stopped. The next four days I didn’t have to stop working at 2:30 p.m. (and 1:00 p.m. every Wednesday) when he came home from school. I didn’t have to be the constant nag, reminding him every other minute to study, practice guitar, do his homework or his chores. The dinner menu didn’t need to be altered to my son’s particular tastes. Sushi was a distinct possibility since our daughter was generally open to trying different foods. And best of all, I didn’t have to play ref or break up their petty sibling rivalries.

The four days my son was away with his 5th grade class passed in the blink of an eye. I published two new articles, finished the second chapter of the final, final, final…etc. draft of my second novel, finished the French screens I was building, found and set my daughter up with a great new 2nd grade math program, and shared with her some of the best Japanese food ever—turning her on to a brand new cuisine. There were no sleepless nights while my son was gone.

He hugged me when I picked him up from school after his trip last Friday. His embrace was warm, and tender as usually, but over quickly. He pulled away, looked around and then picked up his stuff. I carried his pillow to stop him dragging it along the ground as we walked home. He told me about his time away, but I had to prompt him a lot, and though he insisted he was just tired, I felt a contextual difference between us, a distance imposed by him, or me, or both.

We were quiet for quite a bit of the walk, but it didn’t feel awkward. He seemed introspective, more grown up than little kid. His youth, like much of our time together was passing, as it should be, but none the less, there is sadness in this. The upside is as my son moves on, I get to as well. As he embarks on life on his own, I can get back to mine—the life that became secondary when my kids arrived on the scene. From the day they were born they’ve been my first priority, and though perhaps they always will be, their daily demands are getting less as they become more self-sufficient. And as we all grow and mature, I find I no longer fear, but accept, and even welcome the separation occurring between us.

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!!

On Being Cool

Cool means Popular when you’re 11, and I suppose even for adults, too. Most of us want to be liked, admired, feel special, unique, seen as cool. It’s why we buy iPhones…

Had a meltdown on my tween son when he asked, yet again, for an iPad at breakfast this morning.

Before the iPad he wanted a laptop. He insisted he needed my old HP the moment I purchased my Toshiba, though could give no reason why he had to have it since he had a powerful PC with an enhanced graphics card for gaming in his room. After weeks of needling me I finally gave him my old laptop to share after backing up [mostly] everything. He loaded the same games he had on his PC and played them in bed on the laptop for about a week, until he inadvertently downloaded a virus which destroyed every program, every file including seven years of my labor. Between ‘mostly’ and ‘everything’ backed up turned out to be the Grand F**king Canyon.

Prior to the laptop he needed an iPhone. He’s had a cellphone since the 5th grade, when he started walking the quarter mile home from school. In the two years he’s had it, he forgets it at home most of the time unless I remind him to bring it with him. More often than not the phone has no charge because he doesn’t remember to charge it. Though all his friends have cellphones, he’s exchanged numbers with no one, and this seems fairly typical among his contemporaries upon inquiry.

Before the iPhone he had to have a video camera, which he got for his birthday. He used it a few times to tape episodes of Sponge Bob off the TV so he could view them later through the camera’s viewfinder. That lasted about a month until he tired of it and he hasn’t touched the camera since.

An iPod was before the video camera. I use his iPod when I’m recharging mine since in the four years he’s owned it he’s used it maybe 10 times collectively.

He sat at the kitchen table this morning eating his cereal telling me how badly he needed an iPad. They are so cool, he insisted, giving me his puppy face, and good for school, he assured me, though was unable to define how since a home PC with internet access was all his middle school required. He kept at it throughout breakfast, bargaining away all other gifts for his upcoming birthday in exchange for just one iPad2.

And I blew a gasket.

He wanted too damn much! He asked for too much with no purpose. What the hell was the point of all these things when he didn’t even use them?

To be cool, mom, he said through tears.

His palpable shame was a knife through my heart. At 11 years old, crying had ceased to be acceptable except in tragic situation, and me yelling at him wasn’t one. I sat down at the table adjacent to him and stared at my son, fighting tears from overwhelming me as well.

Being cool isn’t about what you have, I reminded him gently. Cool is about what you are, who you are, what you do that makes you special, separates you from the crowd. He was a straight A student, in advanced at math, played electric guitar, but every accomplishment I pointed out just made him cry harder.

None of that matters, he insisted. No one cares about that stuff. And being a nerd might pay off later but right now no one his age knew or cared who Bill Gates was, he said, throwing my refrain back at me.

Your dad would ask why cool matters, was the lame response I came up with. I knew cool mattered, even to me, but especially for a kid becoming a teen.

It just does, my son assured me. And I’m not, he added shakily, unable to stop the new round of tears.

My heart in my throat and struggling to swallow back my own tears stopped me from lecturing, but I again reminded my son that iPads and iPhones and video cameras are tools, nothing more, and possessing them doesn’t make one cool.

Yes, mom, he patronized me. But an iPhone is still cool, and so are iPads. I felt him lighten before I saw him grinning to himself.

They are cool, undeniably, which makes the engineers who invent Apple’s products cool, but not so much the people who use them. I needed to be sure he understood what cool really is, and perhaps remind myself as well.

Michael has an iPhone and an iPad and he’s totally popular, my son insisted. Everyone likes him. He has tons of friends and no one picks on him, ever.

Cool means Popular when you’re 11, and I suppose even for adults. Most of us want to be liked, admired, feel special, unique, seen as cool. But I knew Michael wasn’t popular because of his iPad and went about trying to enlighten my son without losing his attention. I spoke of Michael’s extensive involvement with his church, attended by many in our area. I pointed out Michael’s rather jovial demeanor, and reminded my son that his friend was also an avid sportsman, into soccer, basketball, baseball…etc, the ultimate key to cool for boys in school.

Perhaps Michael’s popularity had nothing to do with his iPad, I suggested. And to further my reasoning I asked, If Evan had an iPhone or iPad do you think he’d be more popular?

Evan is a jerk, my son proclaimed. He’s mean and rowdy, and he has an iPhone, mom. His eyes seem to sparkle with awareness of his own words. Then he smiled. He got it, and I smiled, too, for about a second, until his expression darkened again. But I’ll never be like Micheal, do what he does. I’m not discovering religion any time soon, and I suck at sports and don’t really care about ’em, and I’m not exactly what you’d call upbeat.

And I’ll never write like Stephen King, or Ray Bradbury, or John Fowles—

Who are they?

Famous authors you’ve obviously never heard of. Forget it. Tell me, who else is cool, dude? Name five, other than your friend Michael. Anyone, doesn’t have to be one of your contemporaries…

Greenday, he looked to me for approval.

Okay. Who else?

Death Cab [for Cutie] (another rock band). Thomas Edison. Einstein. And Jason, at school. All the girls really like him.

I laughed. Why?

I don’t know. He’s short but kind of buff already, I guess. He’s on the track team and the basketball team and he tells everyone he lifts his dad’s weights. He’s really into working out.

And what do all five you just named have in common?

He fiddled with the remainder of the Crispex in his bowl as he pondered my question.

They’re all good at something.

And how do you get good at anything? yet another of my canonical refrains.

Practice.

You bet. Find something you love, that turns you on, and work at it, my beautiful son. Practice your guitar more and become a great musician. Invent a new video game instead of playing someone else’s creation. Learn how to program and develop apps, show us you need an iPad as a tool to create with.

He brightened, smiled at me. I had his full attention again, my reason for slipping in the iPad comment.

Owning an iPad is easy, my baby, and meaningless, just one of many who do and more who will. Creating with one is cool. Cool is as cool does, kid. Pursue a passion and you’ll be engaged, entertained, and so enraptured in the process you won’t notice or care if you’re popular. And how cool is that! ; – )

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.