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.


chaos said...

I tried to leave a message but I think that this blog is smarter than I am. Or at least the comment box. Probably both!

chaos said...

What I was saying, was...

I am new to your site and came across it by random Googling. I am also an atheist Midwesterner (former Catholic) who has been transplanted to the East Coast. I am constantly facing an internal battle of how to raise open minded children when the world is constantly forcing beliefs and traditions upon them that I do not agree with. I always express to them that kindness is key, and that we are responsible for our own actions and consequences. However, when it seems to click, a family member or friendly neighbor always finds a way to push religion and inequality back into their darling little faces.

It is wonderful to know that I am not alone. I can't wait to read more!

And thanks.

Mae said...

This post made me cry.

Probably because we just dealt with a similar situation. My daughter is so outspoken! She outed us to the whole library reading group. To a man at the zoo on friday. and to the emergency room doctor who stitched up her chin, saying "We don't believe in God."

Oh the reactions. From disbelief to a quick retreat.
We also live in the midwest.

I wish that I would have been more supportive, but I teach lily that those things are fine to discuss with people we know well but those who we don't know just don't need to know.
I'm struggling.

I want her to be proud of what she believes and not to feel like she can't discuss it. Though I don't think it needs to be a part of EVERY conversation.

I'm adding you to my reading list. I simply NEVER find other atheist mom's in the midwest so YAAAAY for internet and blogging!


Marcus said...

This post brought tears to my eyes! I hope to one day be as brave as your daughters are to "come out" about their beliefs.

Thank you for your blog!