Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Worst Christmas Pageant. Ever.

My children attend a public elementary school in the Midwest.

So each Winter Concert there has always been at least one Christian Holiday song.  That might bother some atheist parents. Surprisingly enough, it hasn't really bothered me. Maybe because I once loved and cherished those songs. The two that seem to appear each year is "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger". Usually the kindergarten children play the hand bells along to them. I think it's sweet and they are rather easy songs. I can see why the music teacher selected those two songs for the youngest students in the school.

This year, their music program was called, 'Paint the Town December'. For the past two months, I heard my children sing the songs they were learning at school while they played at home. Based on the songs they were singing, it was going to be a wonderfully diverse program.

We arrived at the auditorium and took our seats. The 5th grade band played "Jingle Bells" and the older children sang some songs. Then the kindergarten children took the stage and played "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Away in a Manger" on the hand bells.

So far, it had matched each Concert that the school had put on since my children started attending there three years ago.

The first through fifth graders started walking down the aisle towards the stage and were looking around for their parents and waving when they found them. Parents were standing up trying to get their students attention. I was trying to locate each of my children so I knew where to look during the performance.

Once the students were settled and ready to go, they started with a non-religious song called "Paint the Town December", and it was really sweet.

From that point on, the Winter Concert became something other than what it should have been. I couldn't believe how many racist stereotypes were blended into something that I was expecting to be so very diverse.

As the children with speaking parts took the stage dressed in berets, white painter smocks and thin mustaches, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Their role in the Concert/Play was the painters. They were walking from store front to store front offering to paint the windows in the town with holiday themes. (Paint the town December, ah, I get it.)  But every time one of the students opened their mouths to speak, a thick, stereotypical French accent came out. I glanced at my husband and he gave me a look that said, "Give it time, maybe they just missed the mark on this part."

I wish it had stopped there. I really do. But every time they represented any culture or people who weren't Caucasian Christians, their portrayals were steeped in stereotypes.

The next song was a Hanukkah song. The children with speaking parts came out with yarmulkes and side curls. They spoke with heavy Yiddish/Hebrew accents. 

Then it was time for Kwanzaa... Same deal. Offensive stereotypical accents and garb. 

Even the secular song, "Up on the Roof Top" ended with a little boy yelling, "God bless us, everyone." You would think that would have been the only moment to offend someone who is atheist. Nope. They kept going.

Next, they had a little girl in a hijab walk out on stage. She spoke briefly about Ramadan. They didn't make her speak in a heavy accent. But they also had no song. Granted, Ramadan was celebrated in July this past year, and only rarely falls in December, (last time was in 1999 and the next time will be 2030), but I could see how they were trying to touch on as many religious holidays as possible, even if it meant leaving out a few that actually are celebrated every December. (Chalica, Human Light, Saturnalia...)

I am from Southern California, an area that is alive with the wonderful Hispanic Culture of so many different races. So when the children were setting up for the song, "Las Posadas", I was cringing before they even opened their mouths to speak.

The children were wearing over sized sombreros and ponchos that were made from small area rugs with holes cut in them for their heads to fit through. The fake accents were sloppy and offensive and I couldn't believe how the entire performance was riddled with pigeonholing and stereotypes.

Well, almost the entire performance. The one song that wasn't misconstrued by ignorant backwards thinking was the song that represented Christmas. The song was 'Shepherd Boy' and the children spoke in their normal accents, which weren't as 'country' or 'Southern' as they could have been. Or even should have been considering the running theme. They were reverent, soft and respectful. Did the store owner come out in a wife beater holding a shotgun? Nope. Did the children with speaking parts have bright white teeth and tans or speak like Valley Girls? Nope. They were just average, normal sounding children. There were a lot of American accents and stereotypes they could have chosen from. But because it represented THEM (mostly the person in charge of the performance, considering these are primary school children). It was something she could relate to, something that seemed 'normal' to her.

By the end of the performance, I was racking my brain for ways to un-educate my children who were obviously miseducated about so many wonderful cultures and so many different religions. We had already been celebrating Hanukkah, so I know that would be something that I had already, recently, put the foundations for in place.

I was so disappointed. I went in with such high expectations of diversity and well represented cultures and religions and I walked away with such a bitter taste from the pigeonholing that only stopped for a brief moment when the children sang a song that represented the majority of the school, and the music teacher.

I wanted to write a letter to the school, but I don't even know where to start. I loved the premise, I hated the execution.  I wasn't planning on making my children's Winter Concert into a huge learning lesson at home, but now I know I must.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our Atheist Hanukkah

Neither my husband nor I were raised in a Jewish home. I had never considered celebrating Hanukkah until after I had children. As a child I was always curious about my friends who celebrated the holiday.

The past few years we have lit our Menorah, read Hanukkah stories and played dreidel. This year they even sang a Hanukkah song for their December Concert at school. (More on that later.)

This year we focused on the story of the Maccabees, the Jewish rebel army who fought back to take control of Judea. We spoke about how the temple had been taken over and Judaism was outlawed. We learned about the re-dedication of the second temple and the oil in the lamp.  We spoke about religious freedom. We spoke about standing up for what we believe in.

We discussed the point of what a 'miracle' is. What defines magic, what defines logic and what we can conclude from our discussion.

My children are in first and second grade. So our discussion didn't get too deep, they were focused on the dreidel playing they knew would be taking place after mommy stopped talking. But I know that if we use this holiday as a way to have an open discussion each year about religious freedoms, and discussions about what makes a miracle, I know that the holiday I spent time wondering about as a child, will become a sweet family tradition.

Our Menorah on the 8th night of Hanukkah 12/2013

Each night of Hanukkah this year, they received a small gift. This was our first time doing more than the candles, stories and dreidels. My husband and I felt that it was time for us to make this our main holiday for the year, instead of focusing so heavily on Christmas. It felt really awesome seeing how much fun the girls had celebrating something so foreign and different to my husband and I.  To me, it proved that there were already so many awesome holidays in place, that I didn't need to create any of our own.

I am hoping to celebrate Chalica next year alongside Hanukkah and maybe Christmas. I want my children to learn more about the origins of Saturnalia and we may end up nixing Christmas altogether next year. I am hoping to find a way to mix all of the December holidays together, but I am thinking it may just evolve into a month long celebration of Thankfulness and lessons in religious freedom, science and history. As soon as I figure it out, I will let you know!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Taking the Christ out of Christmas

One of the most difficult things to learn about while I was unknowingly shedding myself of religion was that Christmas wasn't originally Christmas. It was a Pagan holiday called Saturnalia.  I know what you are thinking, that I just made that up. (I totally thought someone out there on the internet was messing with my mind.) But I assure you, the entire December birth in Jerusalem is probably not even true. Which is also something I read on the internet that I had originally thought was anti-Mormon propaganda.

Now, maybe it wasn't a shock to you to learn that the holiday we celebrate as Christmas used to be celebrated for a similar, yet entirely different reason.  They celebrated the birth of a son as well, but it was the Sun God. Christians snagged the holiday for their own and totally ruined it. I really wish they would have let it be. (Actually, there is a ton of things I wish Christianity hadn't tainted.)

This Pagan story is totally cool and equally fictitious, but I like how it's more about family and the days getting longer after solstice. It is the re-birth of the sun. And nothing makes a holiday more enjoyable for little ones than faeries and woodland critters do.

I don't think the story of Christmas is harmful to children. (Avoiding the part where Zeus God has sex with a mortal to get a demi-god son, per Mormonism.) I have taught my children the birthing story of the Christian god, as to give them knowledge they may need at school. But I didn't tell them it was fact, mostly because biblical scholars will tell you that Jesus was born in March or maybe early April. We even have a Matryoshka doll with Joseph, Mary, a sheep and Jesus that serves as the Christian Nativity in our home. This year we will have a Pagan Nativity as well.  It's important to me to give my children as much knowledge as possible, and the Winter Holidays are perfect for teaching various wonderful lessons that have nothing to do with the supernatural. (And some that do.)

It was difficult to find Humanist or Atheist holiday traditions on-line. When I went looking during my first holiday free of religion, I couldn't find much of anything. The first thing that I came across that really made me feel like I may actually find usable ideas was this:
Instructions for an atom snowflake.

I know that may seem trite, but when you feel like you are starting something steeped in tradition from scratch, little things can really mean a lot. And that little snowflake got the snowball rolling for me. I found it difficult to truly blend my love for science with the religious muck that seemed to be everywhere at first. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important for traditions that are not ours, to be respected, understood and cherished; to me, that is important in raising children with character and compassion. Sometimes people are going to believe crazy things, that doesn't mean we can't love them. I just wanted something of my own, something of great importance to me and my family to become part of December.  It took me a while to realize that I didn't have to start from scratch, a lot of the religious traditions I grew up with could be tweaked to fit our family and my new beliefs.

Besides the atom snowflake, I have collected little ideas here and there and I figured I would share them here.

 There are a lot of things that I want for my children. I want them to be understanding, compassionate and loving. And I know that in order for me to give them the best chance at understanding those around them, is to expose them to many traditions and cultures, as well as teaching them about why science is the most awesomest thing in the entire whole of existence, not forgetting, of course, about teaching them about human rights and what truth really means.

Picture of the Fellowship Baptist Church we passed on the way home one night.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Life After Mormonism

The further away from 'that' time in my life, the harder it is for me to identify with any part of it.

It was a piece of who I was for so long, too long, but now it seems so far away.

I never thought I would get to this point when I was first losing my religion. At first it seemed like it would always be there, haunting me. Hovering over me like a paranoid parent. But 5 years after my first big step away from life as I knew it, it seems so silly, so small and very much not who I am.

It's hard to think back to who I was when I was Mormon. I still know the tenets of the religion. I still know how to pray, how to worship, and how to dress if I were ever to end up in the middle of a Sacrament Meeting. But I feel so distant from the girl I once was.

I don't normally try to focus on the past, it only brings me down or causes me to focus on regrets, but I have been stuck in a circle of thoughts focusing around my eldest child. She will be turning 8 years old this coming February. Not normally a big stepping stone in the eyes of most, but in Mormonism, that is the age of accountability and the year children are baptized.

My daughter will not be baptized (I know, it's shocking); but I can't stop feeling like it's a big birthday. It is one of those things that I never thought would matter now that I walked away from Mormonism. It was a small thing that I didn't think of when I was stressing out and debating with myself and researching. But here I am, definitely not Mormon, but wanting this birthday to 'be' something.

I definitely don't believe that 8 year old children are old enough to truly to be accountable for much. She has been accountable for her actions for years now. So that doesn't really apply. She is too young to be accountable in financial or worldly ways, so I don't believe that truly applies.

A part of me wants to push these weird, inapplicable thoughts to the back of my mind. Back where I keep things I can never remember, like the social security numbers for my daughters or the reasons why I dated certain guys. But that quirky part of me wants to have a celebration, but make it secular. How do I make a strictly religious thing secular without it becoming a mockery of Mormonism as a whole? (As much as I can and do mock Mormonism, it's not my goal in life.)

As I was browsing the internet for some meaningful ideas, I happened across some posts about unbaptisms. You can even get a certificate. I smiled for a second thinking how cute she would look in a white unbaptism dress... but that wouldn't be something for her. That would just be for me. She has never been baptized, nor was she blessed into the church. (Mormons bless their babies within the first few months after birth. They give it a name and a blessing in front of the entire congregation.) Katelyn wasn't blessed into the church because my husband didn't have the correct 'level' of the priesthood to do so.  A lot of my Mormon friends have pictures of their beautiful 8 year old daughters in their baptism dresses. I think I entertained that thought just to feel like I thought I one day would, if I had stayed Mormon.

As of today, I haven't truly decided what, if anything, I will do when my eldest hits the big 0-8, but I know that even if I decide to let it roll by like the 2-7 years did, it will be a birthday that will remain in my memory as the year she would have been baptized.  And I will be happy with the thought that I saved her from it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A God Shaped Hole

I grew up being taught that the worst type of people on Earth were not the rapists, nor the murderers, but the atheists. My uncle on my father's side was an atheist and every flaw he naturally had as a human, was automatically blamed on his atheism.

He gambled.
He drank.
He didn't volunteer.
He never bought us birthday cards.
He got a divorce.
He wasn't loyal to his wife and married the lady he was rumored to have left her for.


As a rational adult, I don't see how any of those things on their own or as a whole immediately call him out as atheist. I think those traits can apply to any human, even a Mormon one.

But I was taught that my uncle did those things because he had a god shaped hole that he was trying to fill.  He tried to fill it with vices and he would never fill them until he found the truth of the gospel.

My uncle was raised by Catholic parents. Italian Catholics. They didn't go to church the same way I did growing up. They went on Christmas and Easter. And possibly Ash Wednesday, if I recall correctly. That was it, short of a Communion, or wedding.

And, as a child, I almost felt like my grandparents must have failed him if the belief in god didn't even stick with him. My aunt was still Catholic and my father had been converted to Mormonism.  But they knew god was real, even if my aunt had everything else all wrong.

But not my uncle. He was a lost sheep. And because of that, my mother did not want me to get too close to him. Atheists are the worst, they can use their logic, reasoning and anti-Mormon propaganda to pull even the most devout of Christ's followers away from the gospel.

So I never got to know my uncle the same way I was able to get close to my Mormon family members. I saw him every Sunday night at my grandmother's house for our weekly spaghetti dinner.

My aunt would buy us gifts for Christmas and birthdays, and write his name on the card beside hers. My mom made sure to tell us that they weren't really from him, our aunt was just trying to be nice to him.

Granted, my uncle was only about 12 years older than I was. So when he didn't buy me a gift for my 8th birthday, I don't truly believe it was because he was a heartless, soulless atheist. I believe it was more than likely because he was a 20 year old college student, focusing on mid-terms and girls. But you wouldn't have received that answer had you asked my 8 year old self.

My mother did her best to make sure myself and three younger half brothers knew that everything wrong with my non-Mormon family was due to them not being Mormon.

Grandpa smoked because he didn't have the gospel.

Grandma drank coffee because she didn't know the truth.

Our uncle gambled because he didn't have the light of Christ.

Our aunt lived with her boyfriend because she wasn't Mormon.

Any good traits or strong examples they set for us, were swept under the rug. As though everything 'bad' thing should be attributed to them not having the gospel of Christ, and every good thing was just a silly coincidence, they were acting as a follower of the gospel and unaware, or was because they were trying to showboat.

But my uncle was always the worst offender. I sometimes think that it was because being an atheist prevented him from having a way to repent. Did my mother feel like he couldn't truly be sorry for any wrong doing because he never repented? Or did the option of repentance being non-existent, make him come across as a narcissistic asshole?  I am not sure. But I do know that he was the example of the type of person that was definitely going to hell.

Was he a rapist? Nope. (You can repent for that.)
Was he a murderer? Nope. (You can repent for that too.)
Was he a pathological liar? Nope. (Another 'repentable' offense.)

He was an atheist. And all my opinions of atheists were formed at a rather young age, all based on my mother's biases. All of which made it so much more difficult for me to come to terms with facing my own cognitive dissonance.  And made it damn near impossible to utter the words aloud, that I am an atheist.

My uncle is an awesome man. He is an awesome father and an awesome person. I hate how I was raised to see him in such a negative light, all because he didn't believe in a god or gods. I hate how I was raised to look at my Catholic family with such disdain for their beliefs. I hate that I wasn't raised to love them as purely as I loved my Mormon relatives. I don't understand how my mother thought that would be a wonderful idea. It only hurt me, disabled me, and stunted my growth as a good person.

Judging people, even people you love, based on something so trivial, is mind boggling to me.

I hope that I can raise my daughters to love freely, without having to view people through a kaleidoscope of labels.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Is my Marriage Recorded in Heaven?

10 years ago today, my best friend and I eloped to Las Vegas.

We had decided 4 days prior to get married and, for a brief moment, I had visions of wedding plans and bridal showers. Then I remembered who my mother was and I realized that those things I'd been dreaming about since I was a little girl were not going to happen for me.

The problem? I still identified as a Mormon, and my best friend was not.

So my options were to get him baptized immediately, then wait the mandatory year before we could be sealed in the temple, or marry him outside of the temple and hope he would join the church eventually, so then after he accepted the gospel, and a year had passed after his baptism, we could be sealed in the temple.

I knew that the first option was not going to happen. It takes time for someone to accept the gospel. And Mormons aren't about baptizing people without making sure they were going to be committed tithing payers the rest of their lives.

The second option didn't look good either. I didn't want to end up paying for two 'weddings'. I also wasn't sure that my buddy would ever want to be Mormon. Funny thing about that was that I didn't really care. I had been a Jack-Mormon for the three years prior and had already started to lose the foundation of my belief system. I loved him and I wanted to be married to him.  Sucks, huh?

I realized shortly after we decided to get married that my love for him and my simple want to be his wife was going to cause drama and 'hurt' between my mother and I. (She would pretend to be the victim and end up hurting my heart.)

I had know him since we were 12. He and I went to Junior High School together. We were both in High School Marching Band and Color Guard. We were both in Concert Band. We would walk home together after school and he would carry my overstuffed backpack for me. We never dated then, but we were always really good friends. He was trust worthy, loyal, funny and kind, and I had fallen in love with him. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.

After we decided to get married, I started to get excited, but that quickly turned into concern about my mother's reaction.  Her capability to be truly happy for me was clouded by her belief in certain principles of her (our) religion.

I didn't tell her about my plans when I returned home that night. I started to think that not telling our parents would be best. Instead of setting a date for the next year, I figured we would 'sneak out' on Saturday and call our parents after the fact, as to beg forgiveness instead of seeking permission.

I knew my mother would rather me marry a lying, cheating ass of a man, as long as he was Mormon over a wonderful non-Mormon. I tried my mom's plan for me; I had dated Mormon guys, Return Missionaries, and boys about to leave for their missions. I was not impressed.

My plan to keep my big mouth shut was going swimmingly for an entire day, until my future husband told me that he had told his mother and she was so excited and wanted to come along. I felt like a deer in headlights.  I didn't know what my next move should be. Should I avoid drama now and invite my parents? Or should I continue with my plan and just never, ever tell them? The latter choice was still looking like the best option.

My future husband, being the loving guy he is, strongly recommended that I tell my parents and invite them to come too. So I did.  I could see the disappointment on my mother's face. My dad seemed taken aback. Almost like he couldn't believe it.  My mom kept asking if I was sure. She was truly concerned about him not being Mormon. She kept telling me that even though he was willing to marry me that wasn't a guarantee that he would get baptized for me. (You know, after you give him the milk, there was no guarantee he would join your cult.) I kept telling her I was sure and she ended up pouting the rest of the evening in her room.

They avoided the question of joining us on Saturday the rest of the night. It wasn't until the next evening, two days before I was hoping to elope in peace, that my mother told me that they weren't going to be able to go. She wanted me to delay the wedding day, she wanted me to pray about it longer. She wanted me to give god more time to talk me out of it or something. I started to wish I hadn't told her. I didn't want to keep living my life around her.

She was still a champ about it. Even though she wasn't going to go, and even though I wasn't marrying a Mormon boy, she still took me out to buy a wedding dress. Of course, it had to be temple appropriate, so it wasn't the one I wanted. But it was still better than the simple white blouse I had purchased for myself.

My future husband and his mother picked me up from my parents house that Saturday morning and we headed to Las Vegas. My mother spent the morning crying and refusing to take any pictures for me.  I left the house trying to shake off the guilt my mother piled on me for making one of the best decisions of my life.

My future husband's mother paid for the entire weekend. She even made sure we had our pictures taken so we would have that keepsake.  I guess she wasn't as upset that her son was marrying outside their non-denominational Christianity as my mother was that I was marrying outside of my cult.

We were married at 11:45 pm that night. Just myself, my new husband and his mother were present for our wedding. (We opted out of having an Elvis.)

I wish I could have had a wedding like most of my friends had. One I could have planned out, stressed about and had wedding showers for. I wish my family would have supported that. But I know that if I had planned out a wedding, my mother would have spent everyday trying to talk me out of my decision. She would have argued and debated me on every choice that was made. Just like she did with my dress and my choice of husband.

My mother-in-law mentioned that she wanted to throw us a reception for family and friends after we eloped. My mother seemed excited about it. Then the topic of alcohol arose. My mother-in-law wanted wine, beer and champagne at the reception; and my mother lost her shit. She wasn't going to help plan and pay for a party where alcohol would be offered. For a moment I thought my husband and I were going to have one 'dry' and one 'fun' reception. But no. We ended up not only with two mothers who wouldn't speak to each other, but also ended up without a reception. My mom then held the idea of a reception hostage. She said when we decided to 'really get married' (she meant in the temple), then she would invest in a reception.

I had to take a step back and refocus myself. I was legally bound to my love and I now shared his name. That was all I really wanted and everything else would have been a bonus.  And having to deal with my mother and her guilt for anything else wasn't worth it.

For the next few years, my mom would ask when my husband and I were going to get sealed in the temple. You know, because our 'Earthly Marriage' wouldn't count in heaven. If I wanted to be married in the after life, we were going to need to get sealed in a temple. It was the only way a marriage survives death. And for a while, my husband and I spoke about possibly getting sealed one day. We debated going to the Las Vegas Temple, to add some sentimentality to it all. But before we even got close to that, everything that was once important to me, became a bunch of silliness.

So a decade has passed. I am still married to my best friend. And it is okay that we never had a celebration of our love with our family and friends. We have each other, we have made it through so much together and I know we can make it through anything. And it's okay that we are only married until 'death do us part', mostly because death has the final say in every relationship anyway, no matter what anyone says about it here on Earth. And I know that we are going to cram every wonderful thing we can into the life we have here and now.

Happy Anniversary Dustin. I love you more than I thought was humanly possible.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Allowing Children to be in Public

I read this on a friend's facebook page in response to my friend posting an article from a father who had a bad run in at a local grocery store while his child was having a melt down...

"Parents, control your brats. I'm sick of hearing ear-piecing screaming everywhere I go. Not all the world is a Chucky Cheese restaurant. If you can't control your brats keep your goddamn legs closed long enough to buy a box of condoms. Don't bring your screaming toddlers into the movie theater two minutes before the movie starts and sit right behind me. Don't bring your crying babies into the coffeeshop where people are trying to read and have conversations. Don't bring your children incapable of lowering their voices to indoor level into restaurants where I budget money to have a nice night out at a place where people are supposed to be able to spend precious time with friends and hear each other. Leave the kids at home. Start a baby-sitting coop where mommies take turns watching each others kids. Establish public behavior expectations for your kids. If you can't keep them quiet, keep them away from people. Keep them home. They're not as adorable to other people as they are to you. Stop letting them pick their noses and grab cookies and put them back on the serving plate. Stop letting them take a bite out of cookies and put them back on the serving plate. Stop letting them eat sticky candy and touching everything and making the whole world sticky." ~Mary Hunt

I wanted to respond on facebook, but I didn't want to butt into a conversation that I wasn't invited to. Plus facebook isn't always the best place.  My blog, on the other hand, is perfect. 

Both friends are skeptics/non believers/atheists etc, so what better place to vent a bit, than my atheist blog. 

Where do I start? Is there even a place to start?

I have as much control of my children as I do of ignorant bigots and idiot strangers. Okay, maybe that isn't entirely true. I can bribe and punish my children more effectively that I can others, but that isn't to say that sometimes parenting small people, who have their own decision making skills and their own unique personality flaws, doesn't almost seem impossible. 

My mother always told me that the more children I had, the easier mothering would become. My mother is a pathological liar.

Parenting is difficult. I made the choice to become a parent (with each child) and I stopped at two children, but that doesn't make parenting any easier or harder than someone with one or twenty children. Having that much responsibility on your shoulders to raise responsible citizens that don't turn into serial killers is sometimes marginalized or looked at as being an easy job; and if we can't handle it, then we should magically go back in time and chose not to have children. Sorry peeps, it doesn't work like that.

I have ofttimes witnessed the eye rolls of others, judging the struggling parent who is juggling grocery shopping while trying to teach their child the proper way to behave in public. Children are stubborn little things. They don't always have the cognitive power to understand the 'why' behind mommy not letting them eat the grapes she just put in the basket right this instant, or the 'why' behind mommy saying no to the sugary cereal. It's not easy to explain things in easily understandable words to small, young people. And it's not easy rationalizing with them either. Nor is it easy feeling like the 'bad guy'.

To be clear, my children are angels. Sweet little demonic angels. I have been lucky that screaming tantrums didn't grace my children. When I was walking through the grocery store, saying no to all the wonderful treasures my children thought they absolutely needed, they would play opossum. Not kidding. My little K and her Irish twin sissy, little M, would lie down in the middle of the aisle and NOT MOVE. Luckily that doesn't bring the kind of attention as a flailing, screaming child does. But I didn't train them to do that. I didn't threaten them within an inch of their little precious lives, I didn't practice at home with duct tape and rope... nope (I know, what kind of mother AM I?)  That is just how they chose to express their frustration. 

...Mommy said no?  Okay, I'll just practice the civil disobedience mother patiently taught me at home and refuse to move away from the sugar coated, frosted chocolate, diabetes themed cereal and become practically immovable dead weight... 

They didn't scream, kick or bite. They just 'died'. 

Do I consider that a tantrum? HELL YES. 

Did I handle it in the same way that I would have if they had been screaming?  Yes. 

They were not going to get their way. That would be horrible parenting. No parent worth their weight would give in; THAT could turn a child into a brat. A child pushing their limits does not make them bratty. We ALL push our limits.  We just do it in different ways.

I push my limits while driving, while planning my day, when asking favors of friends, when I really want something from my husband. We all do it. Just little young people are still learning how to do it effectively. Positively reinforcing negative behavior isn't how you teach someone positive behavior.

Children should be taught to express themselves in a regular tone of voice, they should be taught to debate and stand up for themselves, but those lessons are learned over time. It's not a miraculous thing. Neither is learning to walk or ride a bike. Sometimes people fall, sometimes things don't come out right, sometimes people overreact. The same thing applies to children. How can anyone hold a small child to expectations they cannot met as an adult with decades more experience? How pathetic. 

Just to set the record straight, my children are also not allowed to act crazy in Chuck E Cheese either. What an ignorant thing to say. My children are expected to use their indoor voice at all times. Sometimes it doesn't happen and I have to gently remind them. Adults do the same thing. That doesn't mean that adults shouldn't be allowed to enjoy public spaces.

No one is perfect. And people should not throw stones, regardless of housing situation. People misbehave, no matter their age. Children know how to irritate their parents, they know their parents so well, they know the exact pitch to hit with their screams in order to get the fastest response. Trust me, while my children would go all opossum on me in the store, restaurants were so very different. I assume because restaurants tend to be loud, my children felt the need to scream above the noise to be heard. I have removed my children from restaurants to take them outside and have always done my best to help them reset. Does it always work? No. But as a parent, raising a child who I hope will one day save the world, I am doing my fucking best. 

Maybe instead of being such a judgmental shrew, Mary could rethink how SHE could be a better person in that kind of situation. Did you see a mother of two tending to one child who was hurt or needed help, and witness the child behind her take a cookie, bite it and put it back? How about you walk your lazy ass over, pick up that cookie and any others it touched with a napkin and dispose of it. Mother's don't automatically get eyes in the back of their head once a child in placed in their arms. Crazy, I know!

I hate to be the one to remind you, but this world isn't a man's world, it isn't a childless person's world, it isn't even a child's world. What kind of narcissist would expect people to live around HER? Should I ask permission prior to taking my child out to eat on their birthday? Some days people feel awesome and ready to conquer the world, other days, people don't feel so great. The same applies to young people.  Just because we are out to celebrate, doesn't mean my child feels like it. Sometimes they don't tell me because they are still learning to put their emotions into words.

Granted, there are some lazy parents, parents who have given up, maybe they didn't want to be parents to begin with. Maybe they have struggles that you don't see. Maybe the child has special needs that aren't apparent to the judgmental eye of folks.  Sometimes the child screaming is screaming because they can't get their parent to understand them and the parent could not care less. But every single parent I know does their best. They love their children and want their children to behave themselves too. But it's a work in progress. 

No one thinks their child picking their nose is adorable. When I see my children itching themselves or picking at things, I try to guide them to do it in private and to use a tissue. Children itch what needs to be scratched, they are still being modeled to be accepted into our society as 'normals' and sometimes it takes practice. What a dumb thing to say. I have never told my children that picking their nose and touching things is socially appropriate, how did you come up with this stuff?

Sometimes it feels like we are so used to complaining about and bashing others that we don't take a moment to have basic human compassion and empathy for them. I understand how frustrating it can be to plan a date night, budget in money for a movie and dinner (AND a babysitter) just to sit down next to a table full of rowdy children.  Does it kinda suck? Sure, but I've been the mother at that table of loudmouth, excited children. I can sympathize and it's not a crime to ask for a different table or move to the bar. I've done that as well, because I am a full grown adult that understands that people don't live around me. If I am uncomfortable, whatever the reason, I remove myself. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Life goes on.

I don't want to touch upon the misogynistic things she said about keeping legs closed, that is an entirely different can of worms that my feminist punk ass won't get started on. Dude... whatever happened to not saying things if you don't have anything nice to say, especially when what you have to say is borderline vicious?  Maybe Mary's mother should have done a better job raising her.  Since raising perfectly proper children is obviously as easy as tying your laces.

We no longer live in an era where children are seen and not heard. Same with women and mothers and minorities. Don't like it? How about you stay at home and not go out in public since it seems like you don't even have the skills you require to be out with the rest of the world.

One last thing I want to point out:

No matter how much you clean your kids or wash their hands or prevent them from eating sticky things, most children, by nature, tend to be sticky. (That is why most parents carry around wet wipes.) Fucking deal with it like a gawd damned adult.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Celebrating 4 years!

I have been free of the grasps of religion for four years now.

It wasn't instantaneous like I ofttimes enjoy thinking it was. It's been a slow work in progress. But four years ago today, in the darkness of my bedroom, I let that edifying thought parade through my head: I am an atheist.  I knew it was true the moment I allowed myself to dwell on it. And every day since I have let that sweet freedom live in my heart.

I know some atheists have always been non believers. I know some atheists don't call themselves atheists. Not every atheist is angry, not every atheist is nice. When I first came to the realization that I was atheist, I wanted to badly to belong to the atheist group, the atheist mothers, the atheist society of intellectual hierarchy. It took me a long time to realize that groupings just don't exist in atheism the way that it does in religion.

It was difficult to deal with the sudden and inevitable sense of loneliness. I was a stay at home mother in a brand new city, in a brand new state, in a brand new region of the country.  It wasn't the most opportune time to realize that I was atheist, one more thing to isolate myself even more than moving 2000 miles from home already had done.

Four years has gone by so quickly. Time has given me exactly what I needed in order to settle into my new, yet older, self. It was terrifying at first, a fact that I had finally accepted was now the elephant in my head. I tiptoed around telling my husband. Atheism isn't an easy thing to sugar coat. Especially when I had to tell the man who started out not Mormon, but had been baptized because of me. Yeah, I felt ashamed for deciding that the path I urged him to go down years prior was a path I no longer wanted to traipse along. We had brought two children into the world with the understanding that we were going to raise them to believe in a god. And now that they were already here, I was putting a immediate halt on any and all god talk, and wanted to throw it into park since I had decided on a completely different journey for them.

As scary as it first seemed, everything since that day has been beyond worth it. The response that I received from my husband was a humbling one. He said he has loved me since we were 12 and he would love me until we die and if there was life after that, he would love me then. He let me know that his love for me wasn't based on my belief in anything, he loved me because of so much more than my choice in religion. I felt silly being timid about telling him, he has always stood by my side, and I know he always will. My children were too young and I hadn't started indoctrinating them, so it wasn't a change for them. I do love hearing my children think about things rationally; debating ideas with two young elementary school children instead of telling them 'because I said so' has been oddly educational for me. (And them I hope). I never had imagined I would be that kind of mother.

As I have mentioned before, I found a lot of support online during the hardest period in losing my religion. I didn't decide to be atheist and then subsequently tossed Mormonism in one fell swoop.  My journey started as a young child of Mormon parents who built this wall of 'faith' up for me and as a twenty something my journey took a turn in a new direction with that wall being taken down one brick at a time by doubt and research.  The wall wasn't completely down before I realized I was an atheist. I looked for a god before I realized there isn't one. I tried to 'save' the building blocks of what my parents had put so much effort into building.  But once I realized that what they had built for me had no sustenance, I couldn't help but admit my atheism and continue to raze what little was left.

Now, four years later I am overjoyed to say that all traces of  the myths I once believed in are all distant, faint memories. Broadcasting my atheism is less of a fear and more of a thing of pride. And nothing brings me more joy than hearing my kids ask each other questions about how the world works, and when they don't know, they say 'let's google it' and come running over to me for help on the computer. 

I thought I needed a network of atheists to feel like I still belonged to something bigger than myself. But I found that isn't true. Atheists are everywhere. Non believers make up about 16% of America, maybe more, which is more than the percentage of Mormons. And as much as it gives me comfort to know that I am not alone in my non belief in gods, and I know I have been able to pull knowledge and strength from online atheist communities, I was able to find myself in the loneliness. Which I find comfort in, because even though I knew the loneliness would pass, I found relief in the fact that a god never appeared through it all. The loneliness I felt was pure unadulterated loneliness, so as I walked through the darkened room looking for a sign of a higher being, I found myself.  

And I know that without the loneliness, I would never have learned to rely on myself.  Which is something I never learned how to do in Mormonism.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Patriarchal Blessing

Every Mormon child looks forward to receiving their Patriarchal Blessing from their Stake's Patriarch.

To help that sentence make sense, let me explain. First, the word Stake. Think of a Parish; Mormons are divided up into Wards (congregations), which is based on geography. I attended Brea 1st Ward growing up. Some of the friends who went to school with me were in my Ward, but some attended Brea 3rd Ward, which met at the same building, but at a different time. Now Brea is a city in California and it had enough Mormons dwelling within city limits to warrant three Wards.

Now if you took those three Wards, plus a handful of others from neighboring cities, they make up a Stake. For example, the Brea Wards and the Placentia Wards made up the Placentia Stake.  Every Stake or region has a patriarch.  Still following? Good.

A patriarch is a man that is 'called of god' and is the only one who can bestow a Patriarchal Blessing. He is usually an older gentleman, who has been a Bishop before and possibly even a Stake President.  It's a big deal to get one, because you are promised that, if you live righteously and follow the gospel, the blessings that the patriarch promises you will come true.

A fun fact: The church used to charge $1 for the blessing back in the 1800s, and bumped the price up to $2 (which was like $50) before they forbid charging for them in the early 1900s.

Now, I know what you are thinking; maybe images of Tarot Cards or fortune tellers are popping up in your head. But allow me to reassure you that the church frowns upon those kinds of thoughts.  That stuff is silliness, this patriarch stuff is totally for real.

To be fair, the blessing is based upon Jacob's blessings to his sons. (Genesis 47:29-49:32) Though I am pretty sure Jacob didn't charge...

 The patriarch that gave me my blessing was Patriarch Ray Lowe. I was given my Patriarchal Blessing on November 15th 1994. I was 14. I was excited, and it was expected of me to go.

It reads:

"(My full maiden name), by virtue of the Holy priesthood vested in me and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I gratefully and humbly lay my hands upon your head this night and pronounce upon you a patriarchal blessing. This blessing will be a means of comfort to you, be a guide, a source of strength and faith as you listen to the words that come to you through the power of the priesthood.

Your life here is an important part of your journey back to your Heavenly Father. Because of the setting and nature of our mortality we are faced with many decisions and with many temptations, but you will know that the Lord knows and loves you and knows the end from the beginning and thus those things which will come to you will be calculated to give you experience, to help you grow in your faith and testimony, to give you direction so that you will live the life that will accrue to you the blessing of those who are faithful.

Your existence in the premortal life has much meaning for you. You were found worthy and faithful and thus have the privilege of coming to earth in this important time when the Kingdom of God has been established in the last days for the last time, peopled with those who have the spirit of Christ within them and a desire to be teachable and humble, to be led and directed by the Holy Spirit to respond to those principles of righteousness that they may find joy in this life and be prepared and qualified to return to our Heavenly Father.

You are of the House of Israel and through this heritage you are rightfully worthy of the blessings of Abraham, Isacc, and Jacob, and especially through the lineage of Ephraim comes to you the privilege of being a member of the Kingdom of God with great responsibility to live your life in an exemplary way with great love for your fellow beings and with an understanding that what you do is important in building the Kingdom of God on the earth.

You have received many gifts from your Heavenly Father, not the least of which is a love for others, faith in the Savior Jesus Christ, a knowledge of the reality of your Heavenly Father and of His great purposes.So I counsel you to continue to study faithfully and deeply, prayerfully, that this great understanding may increase to fill your whole soul, that you may have the courage and strength to make the proper decisions as you go through this life.

You have a heritage from those who have gone before, even your parents, your grandparents, and so on and many of the things you enjoy this day come from them, through their faithfulness, through their desire to bring to their posterity a way of life, the way to life eternal.

You will be a leader among your friends and associates in your immediate surroundings. You will be and influence for good. You will lead them to do good and be an example of righteousness. You will learn that the calling that you have in the Kingdom of God is to prepare yourself to teach the gospel through precept and example and to prepare yourself to teach you very own, even your children, those who will come to you as gifts from God. You will have the privilege of going to the House of the Lord, eve the temple, there to receive understanding and learning and an increase in your faith through the gifts of the Lord to those who qualify themselves for those great priesthood blessings.

I commend you for your sweetness, that in your tender years you have been willing to comply with those commandments which the Lord has given, for being honest and upright and clean and pure, being willing to live the law of chastity. And now as you are at an age in preparation for seeking greater learning in your schooling, I counsel you to apply yourself well, to listen to the teachers and to discern truth from error, and to base your growth and your decisions upon righteous principles.

I bless you in your home that you may be kind and considerate. You will do your part to make it a place of love and peace. You will be a steward over many things both physical and spiritual. You will can for those things properly and do your part to have a home of order and love, a home of glory, a home of God.

I bless you that you may seek those who need friendship; be a friend to all. Live the principles of righteousness and by so doing you will be a blessing to those who know you. If you will continue to be teachable and to prepare yourself in all things, the Lord will call you to be an emissary in His name, to carry this great message to those who know it not. You can be in your own right, a savior on Mt. Zion. At this tender age you may also have the privilege of seeking out understanding and knowledge of those who have gone before, particularly those of your own line, to know who they are and if they have not received the blessing of life, the gospel principles, the saving ordinances, it will be your right to prepare those things necessary so they may receive this great gift from you through the blessings of the Holy Ghost and the power of the priesthood.

I bless you that you may learn the things that are important are those things which will help you to be a friend to others, to make that area of your life in which you will spend the most time, even your home, a place of comfort and cleanliness and joy, where the spirit of the Lord will bring light and warmth as each day begins and ends with prayer. And you will seek a companion who will be equal to you and possess the same righteous goals to be truthful to the principles of the gospel and to establish an eternal family. These blessings are great.

There are many ways in which we may serve. If you desire to develop your talents and abilities to do things for the blessing of others you will have great joy therein.

I commend you for the preparation in your life and would exhort you to be aware that the next few years are very important. If you will follow through and listen to your teachers, priesthood leaders and parents as they attempt to teach you by example and precept those things which are eternal, you will prayerfully seek obedience to those righteous principles which come to you. You will be strengthened and blessed to overcome all temptation of evil, you will be safe in the hands of the Lord, you will walk peacefully through this life on the pathway of righteousness, knowing that Satan will not have power over you greater than you have power to resist and that you will be able to fulfill your earthly stewardship here and rejoice in the peace of the Lord as you are called home to receive that great reward to be with Him.

I pronounce these blessings upon you knowing that you have much to do and you have been given the qualifications and the ability to fulfill all of these requirements-- going through this life peaceful and happy and content to know that the Lord knows you and loves you and desires all that is good for you.

I bless you that you may be able to listen to your teachers in seminary and institute and that you will seek the areas of understanding. God will bless you in all your desires in righteousness.

I send you forth with the blessing that all is well and that you will be able to find much strength in the knowledge that the truth is here, that God is in the heavens and that our Savior Jesus Christ has made that great sacrifice, the atonement that we will live again.

I seal upon you these blessings together with all others which are rightly yours through your obedience and send you forth in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Now, I was told to keep this to myself and not to share it, ever. The one exception would be my one day husband. It's hard to keep things mysterious and unique if it's out for the world to see. So there it is. My personal horoscope blessing. Generic? Maybe. Can apply to almost anybody? Sure. But trust the church when they say that, "the blessings' fulfillment are often conditioned on members' faithfulness to the church, helping keep members obeying the church leaders and blaming themselves instead of the patriarchs' accuarcy when the promises are not fulfilled." So if the blessing ends up being wrong or misleading, it's not the patriarchs fault, it's yours.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Making Priorities


I try not to dwell on the tender feelings I have about cutting ties with my family. Sometimes I want to blame them for everything, and other times, I feel like everything happened due to my decisions. I know that I am where I am due to a mixture of choices on their part, as well as mine. But sometimes the emotions just get the best of me.

Choices, no matter how trivial they may seem at the time, sometimes change the course of things so drastically, that there is no way to return to the course that was once planned.

My brother asked his girlfriend to marry him in May of 2008. I like to think that was an awesome decision. She was sweet, pretty, funny and loving. They were sealed in the Newport California Temple in September 2008.  I had the privilege of throwing her a Bridal Shower at a local Tea Parlor a few weeks before the wedding. (I made sure they had herbal tea before booking). 

The thing about his marriage to his now wife that broke my heart is that, even though I was Mormon, so was my husband, and so was my youngest brother, that we couldn't be present at the temple sealing. Heck, we weren't even allowed inside the temple.

My middle brother was able to see his older brother get married because he had served a mission and had temple garments, as well as a valid Temple Recommend. What is a Temple Recommend? Good question.

A Temple Recommend is require to gain entry to a Mormon Temple. You need to interview with your Bishop (he is like a pastor) and he determines whether you are worthy to enter into the 'House of the Lord', or as most call it, The Temple. If, lets say, you have had a beer and a few packs of cigarettes, he may decline to give you a Temple Recommend, or lets say that you killed your brother, he may also find you unworthy for the temple. Or in my parents case, they were behind on paying the church their tithing, so the Bishop told them that he would not give them a valid Temple Recommend to see their son get married until they caught up.

I am sure most people are familiar with the word tithing. But in the Mormon church, you are required to give 10% of your income to the church. I remember sitting in the Clerk's office at the end of 1997, as a 17 year old, going over my tithing receipts to be certain that I had paid at least 10% of my $4.25/hr pay to the church.

So when my brother got engaged, and once they had set a date, my parents knew that they had to get their tushies in gear to catch up on their 10%. The thing that still resonates with me is that, instead of paying their mortgage in August and September, they decided to pay their 'back tithing' to see their son get married.

Now I am not saying that I wouldn't kill small gutter snipes to see my children get married, I would. I would have probably made a similar decision in their situation. The part that bothered me then and still bothers me now is that they ended up losing their home and the two months they went without paying was the start of a snowball effect, in which they never were able to catch their mortgage back up. When they made the decision to 'pay god first', they kept saying that it was okay, that god would provide. They knew that if they were righteous and made righteous decisions that everything would be okay.

Well, there was no doubt in my mind that everything would be okay. My parents are resilient, I knew that even if they lost their home that they would be okay. My dad is a very hard worker, he loves his job as a nurse at a children's hospital.  But the fact that their religion put them in a spot to choose between their son or their home, didn't sit well with me.  It still doesn't.  The fact that their priority was seeing their son get married isn't the issue, it's that the church put them in a spot where two things that had nothing to do with the other became a conflict.

I didn't get to see my brother get married because my husband and I didn't get married in the temple and hadn't done what the church requires for us to have taken out our endowments. My youngest brother didn't get to see his brother get married because he had not gone on a mission due to health reasons. We all stood outside the temple waiting for them to come out after they got married.

It still is a painful reminder of the mentality of the Mormon church, how my parents were put in a place to make such a ridiculous decision.

Granted, 5 years earlier when my husband and I eloped to Vegas, and we invited my mother and father to come along and see us get married, they graciously declined. I guess if it's not in the temple, it's not worth rearranging plans for.

(photo) Me and my husband on our wedding day in Las Vegas, Nevada 2003.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Burning Down the House

A beautiful house on our block burst into flames on a random Wednesday last month. The flames were so large and intense the local FD fought the fire from around 2am until after 8am.

The scariest part for me, as a mother, was that we live just 4 houses down on the same side of the street and my entire family slept through the sirens, the ruckus and the multiple shifts of firefighters for the full 6+ hours that they were just a hop, skip and a jump from my sleeping sweeties.

I cannot put into words how grateful I am. If it weren't for the speed and dedication of our local fire department, who knows how many houses the fire would have engulfed. We didn't even know it had happened until we drove by it when we dropped the girls off at school.

The experience brought up a few reactions that I know are linked to my religious upbringing. The first words out of my mouth were, "Oh my god." Then I let the words, "Thank heaven" slip past my lips. Granted, being raised Mormon I would have never said Oh my god, that's just rude and taking gods name in vain. But the fact that the first words I said were religiously skewed, made me think. I thought about how years ago I probably would have knelt down to praise and thank god for not letting the fire get to my house. How selfish that would have been. Being grateful that their house burnt down, but mine was fine. And how odd that would be, thanking god for having put out a fire that he himself could have prevented.

As I was trying to shut the door on the selfish skeletons in my closet, I started thinking about what I could do to really show how grateful I am that the fire didn't spread throughout the entire neighborhood.

The first thing I did was talk to the older couple who live next door to the house that caught fire. They are the only neighbor, as that house is on a corner, but their house is only about 10 feet from it. I spoke to her about the ordeal and she told me how they were woken up by police banging on their door a little after 2am that morning, how scary it was, how high the flames were, how she cried and cried worried that she was going to lose her home, how the police wouldn't let her back in her home, and how she is so grateful that embers didn't cause her house to explode in flames.

I let her vent about how scary it was and I offered her my understanding, empathy and sympathy for her feelings and fears. I then offered my phone number and pointed to my house, just in case there was anything I could actually physically do for her and her husband. 

I then wanted to do something for the people who lost their home in the fire, only to learn that house wasn't lived in currently. Which on it's own is something to be so grateful for. No one lost their lives, or anything of sentimental value. The house itself is a total loss, but it could have been so much worse.

I then decided the next logical step was to thank the firefighters. I had my daughters write them thank you notes and had them draw the firefighters pictures. We then worked together to make them a perler bead magnet for the firehouse fridge. I also decided that treats and a picture (above) were in order as well. Nothing says thank you quite like sweets.

Being non-religious made me look for ways to actually show my gratitude, rather than give it to an imaginary being who, in a round about way, actually caused the problem in the first place.  I know that many religious people would have done the same thing I actually did. But I also know that often times religious people use prayer as a crutch, to offer something without actually offering anything.  I found that I can no longer utilize that crutch. Being non-religious means that I actually do something, or nothing at all. And I knew that I had to choose the option that would give my gratitude the proper outlet.

Being non-religious has made me a better person because I use my logic, reasoning and heart instead of blindly following a prophet or ancient text just because my invisible friend says so.

Crafty like a Mormon

Every Tuesday night, while I was young, my mother would to go to a weekly event called 'Home Making'. Home Making Night was when the women's group, referred to as The Relief Society, would meet at the church to learn new crafts and homemaking skills together.

As a female in the Mormon church, you are valued, even though it may never be said aloud, by your homemaking abilities.  My mother always kept her house in pristine order. You never know when the missionaries will knock on your door asking for water, or when your Home Teacher will want to stop by unannounced to check in on your family. Even with four children all spaced within a 5 year period, she kept her home in order.

Growing up in the Young Women's group I learned to crochet, cross stitch, make jam, make taffy, sew and play the piano. I know the importance of having the appropriate amount of food in my pantry at all times and how to store water. I know how to preserve and can my own food, how to mend clothes and I know how to Spring Clean. I've had the knowledge and skills to do all that before I was 14. I gained these skills and practiced them because I wanted to be a good wife and an awesome homemaker.

I remember going with my mom to special Home Making Nights where the ladies in Relief Society were encouraged to bring their female offspring with them to come and learn together. To help build the mother/daughter relationship and to help raise good little peacekeeping homemakers. I loved it. I loved the positive reinforcement and I loved how it made me feel more valuable. I never once thought of it as improving myself as an individual, I always viewed it as upping my value as an eventual wife.

There is a silver lining in this somewhat depressing, sexist cloud. Even though the skills I learned as a Mormon child didn't add value to my proverbial dowry, I have used them to bond with my daughters, to make homemade yummies and needlepoint curse words to send to friends.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Problem with Tank Tops

Growing up as a child of Mormon parents is a very unique experience that many people never escape from. Meaning that when you grow up in a Mormon household, chances are, you become a Mormon adult and never get the opportunity to take a step back and view the experience from a viewpoint other than one tinged in the noxious muck of it. It's tough, I know because I lived it.

One quirky aspect growing up was the issue of sleeveless clothing. This wasn't an issue of modesty. I was never ever under any circumstance able or allowed to wear a halter, tube, strapless or spaghetti strap top. That crossed over into being indecent and slutty.

For example, back in 1997, I was in the Miss Brea pageant. My Mormon grandmother bought me a strapless dress to wear for the gown portion of the pageant. It was a beautiful, floor length empire waist burgundy gown with boning and a shawl that matched. It was beaded and fit so wonderfully. I couldn't believe the amount of money my grandmother spent on it and I knew I could wear it to my next formal dance, so it wouldn't be wasted on just one event. I loved it.  I tried it on for my mother to see how beautiful it was and I will never forget the look of disgust on her face. I thought my mother was going to lose her shit over it. She was livid that my grandmother would purchase such a inappropriate dress for her 17 year old daughter.  I was heartbroken that the experience of choosing a dress with my grandmother and the excitement I had felt up to that point was ripped apart with one look from my mother.

It was my no means indecent. My back and shoulders were covered with the shawl. My cleavage was fully covered and the dress touched the floor. Even as a young daughter of god, I thought the dress was nothing short of epic and I couldn't believe that I driven to tears over something so simple. But with how my mother was, it had been a long time coming.

All my swim suits had been one pieces my entire life. Bikini's or even a tactful two piece were always out of the question.  Even some of the other Mormon girls or my quasi-Mormon cousins were able to wear bathing suits with push up bras or cut outs. Not me. At the time it wasn't a big deal. I wasn't much of an outdoorsy or beach type girl. I rarely found myself in a bathing suit anyway.

But the Miss Brea pageant mattered to me. It was important because I wanted to show my family, mostly my mother, that no matter what she found wrong with me, that I was pretty enough. Silly teenage thoughts, I know, but at the time it mattered.

Looking back, I realize now how silly it was. I know my mother didn't believe that wearing a strapless dress to a pageant would turn me into a slut. I think she was more concerned with what the other Mormon mothers would think of her letting me wear something that I couldn't wear with garments. That was the problem with tank tops, that I couldn't wear garments with them.

Now, for those not 'in the know' about garments, they are the items of clothing every Mormon who gets their temple endowment receives. They are to be worn against the skin, under your underpants and/or bra and some people outside of the religion refer to them 'magic underwear'. Mormon men, and sometimes women, usually get their garments when they go on a mission. (Mission = Garments) Mormon women, and non-missionary men, usually get theirs a little before marriage in the temple, which is usually called a temple sealing. I never received my endowment, so I never received garments.

Why wear tank tops if you couldn't always wear them? Why buy them as an adult if one day they wouldn't be usable in your wardrobe? Why get into the 'habit' of showing your shoulders if that wasn't decent enough for god?

So I wore a long, simple, dark blue gown with a velvet top and satin bottom. I didn't win the gown part of the pageant. Hell, I didn't place in the pageant, which was okay with me; I went up against some really smart, beautiful college girls. I did win the essay competition though, which for me, was enough.  I tried my hardest, was walked down the stage by a Marine, and won a massage. And I learned a very important lesson about my mother.

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's the Little Things

When looking at my overall experience as a mother, and thinking about how my atheism has affected the way I raise my children, I am kinda surprised by my own established misconceptions. In the beginning, I felt that being an atheist would drastically change motherhood all together, but I can't help but notice how on a day to day basis, nothing really changed.

Granted, I became an atheist really early on in my children's lives. Little K was 3 and Little M had just turned 2. So I hadn't had much time to start to brainwash them into Mormonism. And I hadn't been very religious in over 8 years when my first little kumquat was born. So we never said prayers other than when we would go to my parent's house for dinner. I hadn't told them any Bible stories or really had gone to church more than a handful of times.

I honestly feel that with or without church, I would be raising my children, day by day, very similarly to the way I do now. 

We wake up around 7am every morning, the girls get dressed for school, watch a little tv, I make sure they are dressed for the weather and we head out to school. Warm days we walk, chilly days we take the car and they are at school on time every morning.  I am pretty sure that sounds like most mornings in most households with elementary school children.

If I was religious, maybe we would say a family prayer before leaving for school, but in my childhood home, we rarely said a morning prayer. It happened on occasion, but it was never a constant.

I work full time. My husband is a stay at home father. He loves his children and he picks them up from school each day. He sits and does their homework with them, then will play xbox games with them for little while. Viva Pinata is one of their favorites. When I get home from work, either my husband or myself make dinner. We watch The Simpsons, the girls hop in the bath and then it's time for bed. Maybe short of a prayer or two, I know it would be exactly the same with a religion to follow.

All the little things are the same; same day to day behavior and love. Maybe if I was still religious I would shove prayer in where ever I could, maybe a little Bible study too. Church would be a mandatory thing, instead of something we do when I have the energy, the gas and no other plans. (We sometimes go to our local UU church.)

But as much as the little things haven't changed, I know that there are a lot of little things that have changed drastically.

I know that if I was still religious, I wouldn't read the bedtime stories that I do.  My daughters love excerpts from The Magic of Reality by Dr. Richard Dawkins. I know that would not be a book on my shelf had I clung to the fleeting mesh of lies that is Mormonism. I would answer their questions differently. Instead of giving a basic brief explanation of where babies actually do come from, I know the words "Babies come from heaven" may have slipped past my lips.They wouldn't have a basic understanding of evolution or science. Maybe I would be a parent who spanks, maybe I would be a parent who would try to shove them into 'appropriate' gender stereotypes. I hope not, but that may just be the 'new' me talking.

So whether it be the little things that haven't changed, or the little things that have, when I take a step back and ponder my feelings about motherhood, I know that if it weren't for these two little critters that came into my life, nothing would have changed, and that's a really big thing.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Atheist Easter

The springtime holiday known as Easter is right around the corner. And I am frantically trying to get everything together for my daughters, which isn't too uncommon among parents of young children.

Why would an atheist parent celebrate a Christian holiday with their children? It seems silly at face value, but there are many reasons that freethinking families celebrate holidays that have religious undertones.

The first reason that comes to mind is tradition. I celebrated Easter as a child of Mormon parents. I got a dress, gloves, purse and hat (bonnet) for the occasion and after church, ran around the house and yard with my half brothers searching for Easter eggs.  I had so much fun and I know my children would love that tradition as well.  I still haven't heard an accurate argument as to what the bunny and eggs have to do with Christianity anyway.

The another reason, which may be the crappiest of all, is that all of their friends celebrate the holiday. I don't want to keep my children from experiencing commonly accepted events and fun.

I also want my children to have those little things in common with their classmates. They can talk about the eggs they found and the joy they had Easter morning. I want them to experience the culture that surrounds them.  I never want them to feel like they are missing out on something that is so easy for me to provide to them.

I am not Hispanic or Mexican, but I love celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I am not Irish, but every Saint Patrick's Day we have corned beef and cabbage and enjoy learning about the history of Saint Patrick and Ireland. Experiencing other people's cultures and learning history, whether it be religious or not, is enjoyable and healthy and wonderful.  What makes Easter any different?

It also gives me the opportunity to dig deeper into history to explain to them where the holiday actually stemmed from. My children have not heard the crucifixion story.  ::Gasp!:: Not that it should be a surprise to anyone, but that is a gruesome, horrible, tragic torture story that may not actually be historically accurate. I have not found any reason to tell my children a snuff story about anyone.

When I tell my children about Easter, we learn about Ostara, the goddess of fertility. We refer to the Easter bunny as a female. They know it's just an adult in a bunny suit at the mall, but we discuss how people used to believe that Ostara would sometimes take the physical form of a rabbit. We talk about how eggs are a symbol of fertility and how Earth is waking up, and how animals are giving birth and the flowers are blooming and how it all ties back into Mother Nature.  A little Pagan, yes. Better than the crucifixion story, hell yes.

I know one day I will have to go into more detail than that some people believe Jesus died and came back to life and that is what they celebrate for Easter.  That day just hasn't come yet.  Everyone talks about how innocence is lost so early and I refuse to contribute to numbing my children to torture.

A lot of people complain about how secular the holidays are becoming. But I think it's fitting. The non-believers are growing by leaps and bounds and the holidays are going to become more secular as time goes by.

So our Easter Ostara baskets will be filled with seeds, egg shaped candy, chocolate bunnies and random Spring themed toys, which I believe is comparable to what most children get in their baskets. It's a beautiful time of year and I am happy that I have something to celebrate with my children as an atheist parent.