Monday, December 17, 2012


I was privileged to give a short lesson to a group of kindergarteners about the Jewish holiday Hanukkah this December.

I know what you must be thinking, an Ex-Mormon atheist gave a lesson to a bunch of 5 year old children about a Jewish holiday... Yeah, it happened. In the middle of Indiana too.  And it was actually pretty neat.

I told them the story of the Maccabees and we spun dreidels and I shared some gelt and stickers. They listened and kinda sat still. My kindergartener helped me pass out the stickers and gelt. She felt like such a big girl. She held up our Menorah and walked it all around the room to show it to her classmates.

At the end of my lesson my daughters' teacher thanked me for coming in. She then asked if our family was Jewish. I said no, but we do celebrate Hanukkah because we want our children to learn about other people and their traditions.  She said she only asked because last week my daughter had told one of her classmates that Jesus was dead and god wasn't real.

As much as it caught me off guard, it really shouldn't have. She is my youngest child and she is very matter of fact about things.  I was little embarrassed because I have had this talk with my daughters about how some people believe in a god, some believe in Jesus and sometimes people believe in Santa. And that they shouldn't tell them that what they believe is wrong. I know that day will come before I know it.

I think the teacher saw me hesitate after she told me about the facts my little one had said earlier in the week, she then asked if we were Christian. I answered with a no, and then said my husband and I were raising our children as freethinkers. She smiled and then remarked about how they could then decide for themselves later on. I felt like she was the first outsider who 'got' it. Even though I hope that there will be no decision for them to ever make because I raised them to know better.

It felt good to help a classroom full of kindergarteners understand another culture and religion, even if it wasn't mine. It felt good to give my child the opportunity to have answers that her classmates wanted to know.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Happy thoughts of acceptance

I was once a Girl Scout. I sold the cookies, went on the camping trips, earned patches and memorized 100's of campfire songs, mottos and ghost stories. I have very happy memories of making friends and belonging to something outside of church and school. So when our daughters asked if they could join their local Daisy group, my husband and I said yes.

Tonight was the night for sign ups and I met my husband and our daughters at their elementary school. We filled out all the necessary paperwork while the girls worked on crafts with the troop leader. My husband and I watched as the girls gathered around to learn the Girl Scout Promise. The girls held up three fingers, getting ready to recite the promise, and my thoughts went back to when I was young and I learned the same thing they were about to learn.  Then it hit me. I turned to my husband, but it was too late. I told him that the Promise mentions a god, and as I was saying that, the leader had the girls repeat that line, 'to serve god and my country'.

Now, my girls recite the pledge of allegiance every morning at school. I have told them that if they ever don't want to say the pledge, they don't have to. (My issue with the pledge isn't only with the mention of a deity.) They know they are allowed to decide, change their minds, consider and debate their own beliefs. They don't have to believe what mommy or what daddy does.

My sweet youngest daughter is fairly outspoken and I have tried time and time again to make sure she never pushes her lack of belief in a god, Santa, the Easter Bunny or monsters on anyone, especially her peers. She was already told by a well meaning friend that if she doesn't believe in Jesus, he will eat her. (To which I am sure she argued the point that not only is Jesus dead, but there are no such thing as zombies.)

But my youngest repeated the promise as her leader taught her, as did my eldest. A selfish sigh of relief came out of me; explaining our Atheism in the middle of the Midwest to a bunch of children and mothers wasn't high on my list of wants tonight. Then there was that pause in little M's eyes, that little hesitation and I knew in my heart that she was about to out us. I looked over at my husband and he began to blush. I knew that feeling as I could feel my cheeks getting red. Great, I thought, just great.

Little M looked at the troop leader and asked, "Why did you say god?" I took a deep big girl breath and prepared for the leader to turn towards me, and politely ask us to leave. I know that is not the Girl Scout way, but I do live in the place that is known for it's holier-than-thou religious folks. Then something amazing happened, the leader looked at little M and said that some people believe in god, but if they don't want to say god, they can say something else, or they can skip that part.

The heaviness in my heart lifted. I wasn't going to have to explain to crying little girls why they were kicked out of their troop on the first day. Then little M pushed on, she said, "I don't believe in god or Santa." My throat tightened, I didn't want my children to feel the sting of rejection from an adult, or for the other little Daisies to attack. The leader calmly explained to little M that it's okay for her not to believe in god, that some people are Christian or Jewish and that those people do. Oh thank FSM, the conversation didn't explode into a thousand tiny accusations and prejudices.

But anyone who knows my little M, knows she wasn't done yet. Her troop leader had mentioned Judaism and Little M took that opportunity to tell her leader about Hanukkah, and how she loves to light the candles. Her troop leader then asked Little M if she was Jewish. Little M said no, but that Hanukkah was her favorite holiday. The troop leader impressed me again, and said, "It's so great that you celebrate a holiday that is not from your beliefs, that is how we all can learn about each other."

My little M looked over at me with a big smile on her face. She was accepted for who she was, with no negativity or scorn. Little M and her shy, older sister were taught something that I couldn't teach them as their mother, that it's okay to not believe, it's okay to be yourself and it's okay to learn about other people, as we all learn from each other.

I know not every encounter where little M speaks up about her beliefs will go as wonderfully as tonight, maybe that is why I am so grateful, but I know that every time my child is accepted for who she is by people who are different from her, it's an amazing thing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stories my grandmother told me

I loved my maternal grandmother. She was the embodiment of beauty; I looked up to her my entire childhood and well into my twenties, even now. I can still remember her hands, her smile, her smell, the way she hugged, the way she would sing. I loved her so purely that at times I think I loved her more than I loved my mother.

We lived with my grandparents on and off for the first 12 years of my life. My grandmother taught me how to play the piano, helped me learn to read music, taught me what I know about baking and sewing. She made dresses for me as a child, and they were my favorite dresses growing up.

On occasion my grandmother would let my brothers and some cousins and I sleep downstairs in her living room, all in a row; a pile of mismatched children and blankets, and she would tell us stories that she would make up on the spot, or ones that were reminiscent of childhood tales from her youth. She would keep the story going until every grandchild had fallen asleep.

When morning would come, she would have biscuits and gravy ready for us to gobble up, or if we were really lucky, she would have scones frying in a hot pan of oil. I loved the way she loved us. She would always tell me that I was her favorite, which I wholeheartedly believed because of how much love I felt from her.

My grandmother was a huge part of my childhood. Not only because we lived in her home, but because my mother became sick around the time I was 5. My grandmother stepped in when my mom was sick in bed with a migraine, or had adverse side effects from the medication her doctors were experimenting with at the time.

I remember all the stories my grandmother told me as lessons or as lullaby stories. But the one I can't forget is how she would tell me how sick my mother was. She would tell me that if my mother died, she would go to the Celestial Kingdom, which is the highest level of heaven. She would tell me how Jesus and God would be there to hold my mother and comfort her. She would tell me that my mother would no longer feel pain. She let me know that I would feel so sad, but it would be okay, because it would be in God's plan. I remember how she would wipe away my tears and how she would hold me.

I remember my mother being in the hospital over Christmas in 1992. I remember my father telling me and brothers how the hospital didn't allow visitors on Christmas, so we spent the entire day at his parents house, whom I loved as well. I remember opening our gifts in the hospital the day after Christmas. And I remember coming home to a house that felt so empty. My mother was in the hospital and my only sense of comfort had moved to Apple Valley the previous Summer.

Two years later my parents when through their first divorce. (Yes, I said first.) And I looked forward to the week every Summer that I would spend at my grandmother's house. My grandfather had a wonderful garden, and we would pick zucchini for the delicious zucchini bread my grandmother would bake. I really missed her after she moved. Every time I visited, I eagerly waited to hear her stories, they had changed from bedtime tales to childhood memories over a game of Up Words.

I loved every story she told me, and even though her story of what would happen if my mother died really made me feel like my mother was definitely going to die, I know now that her intention was to comfort me.

My grandmother passed away in 2009. I hadn't spoken to her much the last year of her life, but I know how much she loved me and I believe if I had loved her any more than I did, my heart would have burst.

After my grandmother had passed away, I had a gander at some of her children's facebook postings. They all were posting about how they know she was playing the piano up in the spirit world, or how she was now living without pain awaiting judgment day. Some mentioned how they couldn't wait to see her again.

It was a bittersweet moment for me, when I took a step back from the pain of losing her, and realized that I would never see her again. I realized the story she told about what would happen to my mother was something she truly believed would also happen to her. That I would never, ever get to hear one of her stories ever again. Then the sweet part came, when I realized that even though she was now gone, that she did exist. She lived a full and beautiful life, filled with pain and regret and love and family. She taught me to play the piano, which I can now teach to my daughters, my grandchildren and maybe even my great grandchildren. I learned how to sew, which has turned into a full blown craft obsession.

And the best part of all, besides having her chicken and dumplin' recipe, is that I got to love her and be loved by her. And I get to share each and every story she told me with my daughters, plus the story about how purely awesome my grandmother was.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Flying Spaghetti Monster sighting

We signed our daughters up for swim classes down at the local YMCA. They both received t-shirts at the end of the week, which they wore all day Friday.

As I was doing laundry this weekend, I found the shirt my youngest was wearing, because I knew she got a bbq sauce stain on the bottom.

As I was spraying the heck out of it with stain remover, because we all know tomato based stains are a bitch to get out, and I noticed a familiar 'face'. I took a step back and realized that His Holiness had appeared to me. I had to document it for everyone to see.

The importance of this is two fold, not only did he appear to me during my second least favorite chore, but he also appeared on the most holy of atheist holidays, April Fools Day! ;)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Been gone too long

In one of the correspondences with my mother, before we stopped talking with each other, she mentioned that I had 'been gone too long'.

Lately those words have really been resonating with me.

Knowledge I used to have ready at a moment's notice is getting more and more difficult to recall. All the Bible and BOM scriptures that I used to be able to quote verbatim, now are faint and I would need to look them up. I won the Scripture Chase my Senior year of High School, I knew those verses like my social security number. And now I can only remember a handful, and not very well. I used to know the names of Joseph Smith's siblings, and now I can only remember Hiram. I can no longer recall exactly how BOM stories went down. Hymns I could once play on the piano, are no longer second nature.

Is this what happens when you are gone too long? I know how she meant it. She was saying that I had left the gospel, I had left the truth so long and now Satan had been invited into my life. And the Holy Ghost cannot dwell where Satan resides.

But that's not how I take it. I am not sad that I cannot recall stories from the BOM, or that I can't tell you any of the Scripture Chase Scriptures that I had used to kick every other Mormon kid's ass in the competition. I am mostly relieved. Being able to tell what is truth and what was bologna has been getting easier.

Keep in mind that it's not like the moment I became an atheist, all the bad information I had been given just left my memory. I had a big task at hand; to pick through all the lies and half truths I had been taught, to find the truth. Which can be tough. At times I wish I had a factory reset option.

My mom's words felt weird to hear at the time. I hadn't been gone all that long. And she may have spoke prematurely. I can still remember Joseph Smith's birthday, I can still recite the words to the Sacrament prayers, I can still remember the words to my favorite Hymns, though the notes on the piano escape me. I think her words are starting to apply to me more and more each day. The longer I am gone from Mormonism, the easier it is to forget the scriptures, hymns and principles I had memorized, the easier it is to forget the 7 steps to heaven and the easier it is to forget the stories in the BOM.

But I have found that certain things have become easier to remember. It's easier for me to remember how many wives Joseph Smith had, the horrific details of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the crimes Joseph Smith was arrested for as a confidence man, and exactly what Joseph Smith stole from the Freemason's rituals that he wrote into Mormon Temple rituals. It's become easier for me to remember why I left the church.

I know my mother would say that I have let go from the iron rod. I have strayed from the straight and narrow path. That I have let Satan influence me. But none of that makes sense, mostly because those statements are all based on made up tales of a confidence man. Yes, I have partaken of fruit from the tree of knowledge. Which is the worst crime in world history; that a woman partook of knowledge is the whole reason why we have original sin. And I knowingly did so. I still don't understand how can any god worth it's reputation can deem knowledge to be a sin.

I have been gone awhile now, eating up as much knowledge as I can every moment I am free and alive. Teaching my children every piece of knowledge I can get in my memory. And every day I am gone, I feel my joy grow.

I have felt the Holy Ghost, I had been moved by Him while I was religious. And I can tell you that THIS feels so much better. Being 'gone' feels awesome. Knowledge feels wonderful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Raising children of atheist parents

A certain awesome man named Richard Dawkins once stated that there is no such thing as a Christian child, just a child of Christian parents.

Most understand his statement as saying that children are much too young to have the advanced reasoning skills to decide for themselves the origin of the universe, or the meaning of life.

I understand it as they are too young to doubt the black and white answers their parents or guardians give to them. They aren't too dumb to understand how things really work, they are just too young and even fearful to doubt their parents. And I can agree with that. I was raised as a child of Mormon parents. It took 28 years for me to have the strength to stomach the guilt that comes with doubting the black and white answers I was force fed as a child.

I know plenty of freethinking parents who apply the same logic to their children. They have respect for their children and don't want to 'brain wash' their children in a similar way they feel children of religious parents are being brainwashed.

I was in that boat, actually I may still be in that boat at times. I am an agnostic parent, in the sense that I am never really sure I know what I am doing as a parent, a lot of the time I feel more like a teacher/cuddle bunny, mostly because as a mommy, that's what I spend the majority of my time doing... you know, teaching and cuddling.

I don't ever want to squelch my children's curiosity. I want them to feel comfortable doubting me, questioning me (even though that gets annoying quick at bedtime), and I want them to always be skeptical of what they are told, especially if it doesn't add up.

But there are times when I really want to raise my skeptical, freethinking children to be strong atheists. There is no evidence of unicorns, why would I need to present my children with that 'theory'? I know they will have times when they will believe monsters are real, and the same is probably true with a variety of things, but the more time I spend as a mother, the more I realize that my children are capable of detecting bullshit, and they will need that in this world. Even at the young ages of 6 and 4 they will call you out on an obvious lie.

I know the dangers of religion, I see the way others' twatwaffle beliefs get written into law. Laws that hurt others. And I never ever want my children to be on that side of hate, bigotry and ignorance.

The more I think about how to raise myself a great set of little heathens, the more I realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. My children may be too young to really decide for themselves if there is or isn't a god, but they are also too young to really decide if there are unicorns somewhere or if there is a teapot caught in the Sun's orbital gravitational pull.

Hell, I tell my children that monsters aren't real, and I go through the logical steps to prove it. (And I do it with the whole god/goddess question too.) I don't believe my children are too young to require evidence, they aren't too young to doubt nonsense. So as much as I tried to stay neutral, it's no longer on the top of my importance list as a parent.

The rules I set for myself in regards to raising my atheists to be the beautiful young ladies I want them to be are simple and more like promises or vows than rules. To raise atheist children all you need is logic, reasoning, bunches of patience and love and at least one child. (Don't go all quiverfull though, that's just irresponsible.)

I vow to never lie to my children. If I don't know the answer, I say so. There are no circumstances that exist that I will ever tell them something that I can't prove, or has not been shown to work by a double blind peer reviewed scientific study. (The Bible doesn't fall into that category, sorry folks.) Or that I can't prove by the magical wonder of Google.

I vow to love my children unconditionally. That means there are no conditions or circumstances that exist that I will ever kick them out of my home, ever disown them, or pile on vast amounts of unforgivable guilt.

Got pregnant out of wedlock? No worries.

You fell in love with a woman and want to get married? Awesome!

You want to vote Republican?? Oh Damn... um... Let's have a little talk about women's rights, human rights, and ethics my darling daughter... (Unconditional love doesn't mean that I will turn a blind eye to glaring mistakes and bad decisions.) I should know, I was a Republican once.

I vow that as for me and my house, we will serve. (It's tough not to finish that sentence with 'spaghetti'.) But seriously, serving our fellow humans and our planet is very important. It is especially important to atheists, considering we do not believe super magic Jewish zombie Jesus is coming back to destroy it anyway. Teaching my heathens to give to others, to love others, to accept others and to treat this planet as the only one we 'get' is vital to beauty and happiness. We will recycle, we will donate our money, resources, time and talents to others.

And... well, you know... that's it really. What more could help create perfect atheist young ladies? 100% honesty and 100% unconditional love and 100% serving our fellow humans.

So do I push aside the common knowledge that atheists do not raise their children as atheists? It seems more honorable in atheist parent circles to raise freethinkers.

They were born into this world as atheists, how does me raising them as such do damage? It brings me joy when we are doing Brain Quest trivia and the question, "When might the tooth fairy pay you a visit?" is answered with, "Never, the tooth fairy isn't real." That's right my skeptic little girl, that's right. There is too much beauty and 'magic' in the natural world to ever have to believe such poppycock.

So as much as I know that I am raising two freethinking children, I also know deep down in my heart that I am raising two strong smart women, two awesome atheists and two beautiful, graceful ladies.

And if one day, one of my beautiful young daughters decides that she believes in some religious poppycock, I'll just refer back to my second rule.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Awkward Atheist

It's tough being an atheist parent in the middle of the United States. That sentence kinda stands on it's own, but let me elaborate...

All of my coworkers believe in the Judea-Christian god. Before having a potluck/pitch in at work, my boss has us all hold hands as he prays.

We went down to the lake this past Summer and while enjoying the beach, we noticed someone baptizing people in the Reservoir.

My husband is a Freemason. They seem to be uber Christian here in the Midwest. Back in California, not so much. The Grand Architect of the Universe (Higher Power) could be anything you defined it to be. Out here it's god. And not just any god, the blonde Caucasian Jesus/god.

The state I live in just passed a bill that gives Science teachers permission to teach creationism in Science class. I hope that any Science teacher worth their mass in gold wouldn't dream of teaching a topic that should be taught in a World Religions class in their classroom, but having experienced the Midwest for over 3 years, I have a feeling that there are a few out there.

When I wrote to my Representative about not signing a bill that would change the state constitution to say that marriage will only be between one man and one woman, he responded by telling me that his god feels that marriage is that way, so that is how he is voting.

My coworker felt that it was okay to tell me that this country is going to hell because of 'all the brown people'. I wasn't allowed to do bank deposits under my last supervisor's reign because I am a woman.

I live in a state where it's illegal to buy alcohol or a car on a Sunday, but public school teachers can legally spank my child; and we aren't even in the Bible belt...

Flabbergasted? Sure. I have slowly been getting used to it, slowly starting to expect it.

All of this makes me uncomfortable. And in turn, causes me to feel awkward. It's difficult to feel outnumbered. It's difficult to teach your children reason and logic, when their classmates in preschool are telling them that if they don't believe in Jesus, he will eat them.

It's tough making friends in a new place. It's tough making friends as an adult. It's tough making friends when you have children. It's tough making friends in the Midwest as an Atheist.

When everyone seems to judge your character on how 'churchy' you are, it's awkward when they ask you what church you go to. My answer is always the UU church. (Which we do attend on occasion.) Or when you are asked what you believe in, while at work, by a coworker. My automatic response was "Nothing". I am so glad she didn't ask me to expound upon that, because I need my job.

I thought that as time passed, I would find a friend or two who would have children around the same age as mine and who would be agnostic, freethinking, secular humanist, anything... no such luck. But hey, I guess being friendless still beats going to church any day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Be Out and Be Normal.

My post from We Are Atheism.

Hi! I'm Leia, and I am a mother and a wife. I love baking, sewing, needlepoint, reading, crocheting and music. I am a geek and probably always have been. Oh, and I am also an Atheist.

I was raised in a Mormon household. I was the stereotypical annoying religious girl in High School. I even gave most of my friends Books of Mormon with my testimony tucked inside. I was on the straight and narrow path to marrying a return missionary in the temple and having as many kids as I could pop out. But then a funny thing happened, somewhere along my path, I became an Atheist.

I can't truly pinpoint the moment I lost my firm grip on my religion. It was a process, a long process, that took years.

In college, I dated boys outside of Mormonism, which was frowned upon, and they helped me start to question things that I had always accepted on face value. I even married a non-member and even worse, we eloped to Sin City. I had become a 'Jack Mormon'. I struggled to stay active in the church, but I didn't really want to go. My husband attended more than I did and he wasn't even born and raised Mormon.

Then, it happened. A thing called Prop. 8. My family was on one side, and I found myself on the other. I felt at war with myself. I had been slowly changing over the years and almost didn't even realize it until my values and ideals were at odds with what my family and the Prophet were saying that god would want. That moment at my mother's dinner table I realized that I could no longer be Mormon. I could no longer be counted with them. I could no longer be okay with raising my daughters to follow blindly.

After that I tried so hard to find god somewhere else. I tried to find him in non-denominational Christianity, I tried to find him in Nature, Science, Buddhism... but he was no where. And then it clicked, and I was able to let go of the idea that he had to be somewhere.

I started reading atheist blogs, cartoons, books and forums. I started thinking for myself, coming to my own conclusions and something happened that I never, ever imagined could; I felt happy. Truly happy. Instead of brushing off questions by using a god based answer, I was really learning why rainbows appear and how Newton proved the spectrum of light, how evolution works and what natural selection is. And the more I filled my head with knowledge, the less I needed a god.

It changed me as a mother. I am still the geek I always was, but now I look at my children as the real miracles they are. They weren't predestined to me mine, but I am responsible for them, for teaching them and molding them into the freethinking people they will one day become. And that is so much better than any god reason that I have ever believed.

I keep my atheism to myself for the most part. I never really 'came out', because walking away from Mormonism, even though at the time I still believed in god, was enough to put major strain on the relationship I had with my family. I may as well have become a baby eating devil worshiper.

I told my husband one night, and he shrugged it off, he loved me for me, not my beliefs in a deity. My children know I don't believe in god and they go back and forth between believing and not believing in god, unicorns, faeries, monsters and Santa. They'll make up their minds when they are ready.