Scratches in the finish
Chips in the paint
dents in the wall
a doink on the sink
I thought you were careless
When I yelled at you
But you’re gone now and I see
I was the one who was careless
Scratches in the finish
Chips in the paint
dents in the wall
a doink on the sink
I thought you were careless
When I yelled at you
But you’re gone now and I see
I was the one who was careless
I used to be so carefree. At least, I think I was. I vaguely recall that person! I really didn’t know what I was getting into with this whole parenthood gig. Here are a few of the things that parenthood has taught me that I was definitely not expecting.
Catholics have their sacraments – among them baptism, the eucharist, penance and marriage. Muslims have the Five Pillars of Islam, including the Shahadah (profession of belief in Allah and acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet), salat (daily prayers), zakāt (charitable giving), sawm (fasting during Ramadan), and the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). Hinduism recognizes four stages of life – student, household life, retirement, and renunciation – during which people would be expected to have different pursuits and contribute in different ways.
Most religions and philosophical systems have rules of behavior, rites of passage, goals and commandments. Taken together, these can be seen as rituals for a sense of shared community, for celebrating and acknowledging important changes in life, and as best practices for maintaining a healthy self, healthy family and healthy community.
Recently I’ve been wondering what a secular version of such a system might look like. Obviously the whole idea of rigidly subscribing to a set of life rules is out the window. But I think most people (atheists included) find that the “rules” of other religions resonate with them, because they acknowledge or address things that we all have in common.
The idea of giving back to the community certainly has appeal. This is captured nicely in the ubiquitous bumper sticker phrase “Practice random acts of kindness.” Improving oneself is always good – “be all you can be.” Many people make New Year’s resolutions – to be better, or kinder, or to appreciate life more. These are all nice secular examples of rituals that can bind us and guide us in life.
Here are a few ideas I have had about acts that atheists/secularists/humanists/skeptics/whatevs can perform to achieve the goals of being better people and leading positive, purposeful lives:
“Everyone must leave something in the room or left behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
I know that wasn’t 10 things. Ah well – you get the idea. I could add more. It’s good to be humble, to give thanks, to appreciate people, to listen, and to be compassionate. But some of these things are just so obvious that they hardly need to be listed. You should have learned them in Kindergarten, right? And maybe the above list is obvious, too. What can I say – I like making lists.
Saw this today in the Barometer and really liked it:
“One thing that I have learned, that in order to be the best wife and mother I can be, I have to be at my peak of health – mental and physical – and that investment is worth it… We can’t fool ourselves into thinking we can be good servants of God, good parents if we’re not whole inside.” – Michelle Obama on BET’s “Lift Every Voice”
Being a good parent starts with taking good care of yourself. And as a bonus, we set a good example for the next generation. I couldn’t agree more.
Penelope is 29 months old now, and her speech is so fluent, I’m thinking it’s high time to teach her a second language!
Here is a recent transcript of Penelope’s speech. We were sitting at the dining room table, playing with playdough.
The ?? denotes words I couldn’t understand. There were just a few. You’ll notice she carries on a conversation quite well all by herself. :-)
P: I’m making a snakey. Hi Mommy. Do you wanna make one of my snakeys?
M: No, you go for it.
P: Okay. I’m gonna go for a little ball. come on. Come on little ball, let’s go. (Singing) I’m gonna lay right down here in the grass… pretty soon all my I see a flying leaf. Shu shu shu. Yesterday it rained in Tennessee. Not a drop fell on little old me. Shu shu shu.
It’s getting bigger Mommy! Look Mommy! Look Mommy! It’s getting bigger! I’m gonna make this bigger.
Oh wow! I just ?? into that ?? I fink I’m gonna do this.
I did it! I did it again! I did it again! It’s bigger.
Look look look! It’s purple! Look it’s purple. How ’bout that?
Can I get a piece o’ red? piece piece piece Look, there’s black in there. (growling, trying to get playdough out of the container) Rrrrr.
Hee hee. Neo’s licking hisself again. Eww. (Neo is our cat)
Look. Dat is a band-aid. It looks like a band-aid. (laughs)
Let me put finger pants on my ? Dere you go.
I hurt myself. Look Mommy. Look Mommy. I hurt myself.
M: Yer funny.
P: (to her playdough) Come on. Come on. ??
P: It’s da ten weeks!
D: Ten weeks?!
P: And we got ta put it on da table.
Daddy, I gotta curl it up inna ball.
(drops playdough) I dropped it.
No Daddy, you can’t get it. I’m gonna get. I got it! I got it!
I got to make it on da ground.
M: What are you making?
P: I making a snake. And I got ta make a snakey. I did it!
M: Good job!
P: Can I make purple?!
I’m gonna make magic fings up. I’m gonna make magic fings up. I’m gonna make magic fings up.
Do you like ta make magic fings up, Mommy?
I’m gonna make somefing purty. I’m gonna make a snakey. Just a big snakey.
(mumbled, to herself) Get into a snake. I make it into a circle.
M: How do you make a snake?
P: I’m making a ball. Here’s a tiny ball for you. Here go.
I’m gonna make a bigger snakey. An’ a hole.
I foun’ one more ball.
I not going away. (drops ball)
You allowed to go on a floor. You are apposed to come wif me.
Okay, okay, one more snakey. One more snakey roll.
Dat’s enough. Dat’s enough.
Look, look, it’s on my nose. It’s on my nose. Playdough’s on my nose.
Dere’s a little tiny playdough.
Look, look, look. I turned (it) into a cookie. Can I do it on anoder cookie?
M: (to cat) Hi, Neo.
P: He’s a byoootiful kitty.
Look, look, look.
Look, look, look, look, look. Neo’s a beautiful cat now. He’s nice. When kitties bite, dat means dey’re mad.
(Mommy makes a snail out of playdough)
Ooo, you drew a little snail. Do you let me got a hold of little snail?
Come on snail. Come on. Let’s go ?? some paper.
Stage 1: Baby is Immobile
Tips: No special action required; baby examines surroundings, plotting for next stage.
Stage 2: I can roll off the bed!
Tips: change baby on floor; it’s hard to fall off of.
Stage 3: Everything I can reach goes in my mouth
6-12 months (crawling to furniture-surfing)
Tips: Baby can be contained in playpen or similar enclosure, no worries here. Visiting other people’s houses is a nightmare best avoided.
Stage 4: Everything hard or sharp will connect with my forehead
12-18 months (toddling to streaking)
Tips: Apply padding to child instead of furniture – saves time.
Stage 5: Everything that is yours is mine
18-24 months (advanced climbing)
Tips: Padlocks, duct tape, whiskey (for parents), etc.
Stage 6: The world is mine!
24 months – 18 years (doorknob skill acquired)
Tips: ??.. Purchase second house??
I have been seriously remiss in posting to this blog lately. This one is (brace yourself) not about atheism! I wrote it for my dad, and thought it was nice enough to share.
When I was about six or seven years old, I wiped out one time on my bike pretty bad. I came in bleeding, with bits of me showing that were normally on the inside. Mom was usually the comfort parent, but somehow Dad was always the field medic parent – the one who cleaned up my scrapes, applied antiseptic and gave me stern lectures about wearing proper gear – you know, like helmets and knee pads, and shoes…
I tearfully showed Dad my wound. When I cringed at and whined about the antiseptic he was poised to apply, he gazed at my injury calmly and hmm-ed for a moment. He then pronounced it incurable and informed me that he would have to lop the whole arm off. Suddenly my arm hurt a lot less. “It’s not so bad!” I exclaimed cheerfully. “You can clean it! I won’t complain!”
Perhaps it is the role of mom’s to be the comfort parent, but dad’s have an equally important role: confidence parent. Thank you Dad for all the many ways you built up my confidence over the years. It has helped me weather many a scrape and worse.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. :)
Penelope is now almost 22 months old. I gave up trying to document her vocabulary several weeks ago when she surpassed 400 words and started adding about 10 new ones each day. It became pretty difficult to keep up with.
Besides, her ever-expanding vocabulary is not the most interesting part, by far. Her grasp of syntax has changed dramatically in the past few weeks.
She now routinely speaks in multi-word phrases, and creates simple sentences with subject+adjective or subject+verb. She uses pronouns and possesives consistently, although they are not always conjugated correctly. She uses the -ing form of verbs, and uses verbs with auxilaries (e.g. “fall down”). She also puts several sentences together now to form a narrative or to make requests. And she makes up stories with her toys.
A few examples of recent Penelope utterances:
Finally, she is singing simple songs, and actually getting most of the words. She gets the tune right, but drops words that she can’t remember (you know, the way most Americans sing the national anthem). For example, she sings:
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder…. Up above… so high… Twinkle, twinkle”
“A B C D E F G H I J K … N O P … W X Y Z, Now I know my A B Cs, next time… sing with me”
and her favorite is:
“Hey oh little fishy, don’t cry, don’t cry. Hey oh little fishy don’t cry, don’t cry”
… Which is super cute. :)
She counts to 10 and above, but always leaves out the number 4, and other random numbers above 5. She definitely understands the concept of counting now, and recognizes up to 3 items. (I learned this when I tried to give her two chocolates and her sister three – Penelope noticed and pitched a fit. I gave her a third chocolate, and she lined them up and said “One, two, three! Three chocolates.”)
She has also learned to read some words, and is starting to get the idea of spelling. This kind of freaked me out. Alexandra never did that at this age. I wrote each letter of Penelope’s name, asking her to say each letter as I wrote it. Then I asked “What does this say?” and she said “Penelope!” She also likes to sing the “C is for cookie” song, but she now replaces the letter and word with novel combinations, and she gets it right. For example, I heard her singing “P is for paper, uh good enough for me” … and that was not one that we taught her.
I haven’t been trying to teach Penelope any signs lately. She still uses the sign for “more” quite a bit, but the way she uses it, it just means “I want X really, really bad”. I ran out of songs to sing the other day, and started singing the Japanese alphabet, and she loved that. She seemed to really enjoy the few sounds that are different, like the retroflex [r] and biliabial [f].
She still can’t say the [kw] sound, and her [r] and [h] are inconsistent. I think she can say every other English phoneme at this point. She has recently been improving her pronunciation of some words that she has been saying for a while, such as “potato” instead of “tato”.
From a pragmatics perspective, she is using language consistently to express desires, and describer her state of being. She uses speech increasingly to describe things going on arround her and to tell her own made-up narratives. She also uses ritualistic expressions like “hello”, “goodbye Grandma”, “please” and “thank you”, although I have to remind her on those last two!
Since I live in a Christian culture, there are unsurprisingly a lot of Christian cultural habits that are hard to shake. I don’t like to act like I’m a Christian when I’m not; it feels very dishonest, and I highly value honesty. However, there are times when I don’t want to make a scene either. How do I fit in while maintaining my integrity?
Some things are easy to deal with. I say “gesundheit” instead of “god bless you”. It’s a perfectly good German expression meaning “good health”, and it allows me to counter a sneeze without being all in-your-face about how I don’t believe in a god. Some people look at me funny when I say “gesundheit” but no one has ever been offended, so that’s good.
Other things are much more difficult, and I am often at a loss to know what to say. What should I say when a coworker has a family member in the hospital? I am sure not going to say “My prayers are with you.” But that is what at least half the folks in my office wrote on a recent card to a coworker. I was … without words. I had no handy platitude to fall back on.
A common thing to say in such situations is “let me know if you need anything,” but I kind of hate saying this, too. It puts the onus back on the person who is having trouble to actually ask you for help, and chances are they won’t ask, even if they really need it. They will assume you are just saying that to show that you care. If I am sincere in a desire to help, I will say “what can I do to help?” because that shows that I really mean it. If I don’t mean it, I won’t say it.
It is likewise very difficult to know what to say when someone has died. I am sure it is hard for everyone in such circumstances to know what to say. But the religious person can always fall back on “our prayers are with you.” That is also pretty presumptuous – what if the person you are saying this to is not religious? Now they are upset and offended.
I shouldn’t be so harsh. It’s hard for everyone in such situations to know what to do, or what to say. But a little sensitivity goes a long way. I would rather say nothing at all, than say something hurtful.
There are other situations that require a bit of thought, if you are not religious. Weddings and funerals come to mind. Our solution was to have a fake wedding (we called it a celebration) and then get married officially in the courthouse. If I had it to do again, I would skip the fake ceremony and just do the courthouse and maybe dinner with close family. I just felt so compelled to have a proper wedding, even though I didn’t want any part of it to be religious.
I have never had to arrange a funeral, but I can only imagine how hard this will be, especially with the added aspect of being an atheist. People have a certain expectation when it comes to funerals, no matter what the faith (or lack) of the deceased.
There are other land mines, of course. Holidays are a pain. If I told people that I wasn’t celebrating Christmas because I was a Muslim, they would be very understanding. But if I just say “I am not celebrating”, just ’cause, they really don’t get it. And many people assume that means I am free that day to join in with whatever they are doing. Easter is the worst example of this. I can’t think of a more useless holiday. It’s pretty easy to dump. But I’d better plan to be doing something else that day, or I’ll be roped into something I don’t want to do.
It’s awkward being a parent who isn’t religious. I want my children to be critical thinkers and not take a dogmatic approach to things, but children tend to be a bit black-and-white about everything at first. And while my children are learning to be a bit more subtle, I hope they don’t offend other children unnecessarily. I have already had to break up one religious argument between my daughter and a cousin. Sigh. They are six, they have more important things to worry about!
Anyway, I’m looking for some creative suggestions on how to navigate this Christian land without pissing off its other inhabitants.
So, our government is about to face a shutdown. And the issue at stake that is sticking in everyone’s craw? Abortion. Specifically, a rider the GOP tossed in with the compromise budget bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Really, guys? Is this really the most important thing we have to worry about?
Let me diverge for a moment to state my view on the issue: I’m not only pro-choice, I’m pro-abortion. I wish more people would start saying that. Only about 5-6% of the 1.2 million or so abortions that occur in the U.S. every year are for reasons of the life safety of the mother, or viability of the fetus. Most reasons women provide for having an abortion are what pro-lifers like to call “lifestyle reasons”. You know, things like:
* not wanting their parents, boyfriend or husband to kick them out, leaving them destitute on the street
* not wanting their college plans or career derailed
* not wanting to be plunged into debt
* not wanting to raise a child at that time
* not wanting to add children to their family because they already have enough/too many
* protecting themselves from harm from family members because the child is “illegitimate”
* the mother is either too young or too old
Incidentally, abortion in the case of rape and incest falls under the category of reasons that pro-lifers generally call “lifestyle reasons”. That’s obviously idiotic, but not really that important, because it only applies to about 1% of abortions. Most of the abortions that happen in the US are for one or more of the reasons above.
Now I am not going to try to argue that ending a pregnancy is somehow not killing a person. It absolutely is. Abortion means ending a life. (Though a recent neuroscience study claims that the fetus is not capable of feeling pain before 24 weeks because it lacks the necessary neural circuitry. But that argument won’t carry much weight with anyone who believes in a soul. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 88% of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks.) It would be better to avoid abortion all together, which is why I am in favor of free birth control and ubiquitious sex education. The answer to ending this form of infanticide is to prevent the unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
But, there are times when our society acknowledges that ending another life is warranted, or at least not punished. A few examples:
* In self-defense, or in defense of another person who appears to be in danger of bodily harm
* In war to “protect our way of life” or to “protect American interests”
* To enforce laws (e.g. border patrol)
* As a punishment for breaking various laws (i.e. capitol punishment)
For that matter, every one who eats meat is directly or indirectly ending MANY lives every year, and often causing a huge amount of suffering, too. (That is, if you accept that animals, with or without souls, are capable of suffering. I would hope that anyone with a brain and a half-ounce of empathy would be able to see that this is so.)
So, society does condone killing at times, under certain circumstances. Why is it so shocking for a pregnant woman to kill her unwanted fetus? (You can replace “fetus” with “baby” if you prefer. I’m just being technical, not trying to dodge the fact that it is, indeed, a human.) A few possible reasons come to mind:
* A double standard: It’s okay for men to kill (in war) to protect their way of life, but it’s not okay for a woman to kill to protect her way of life.
* Young children are helpless; unborn fetuses completely so. Thus killing one seems especially wrong.
* An unborn baby is innocent, and therefore cannot possibly deserve to die.
The last two sound like pretty reasonable arguments. But here’s the rub: parents have been killing their babies for millenia. In every culture, throughout time, women and men have been engaged in ending unwanted pregnancies or killing their babies after they were born. So… we say we think it is wrong, but then everyone goes and does it.
Okay, perhaps not everyone, but certainly a LOT of people. The Guttmacher institute estimates that one-third of women in the US will have at least one abortion by age 45. About 20% of pregnancies in the US end in abortion. And by and large it is for the type of “lifestyle” reasons listed above.
So, why do parents kill their babies? The fact is that children are a liability. Obviously they become a resource to their communities later on. But for several years they are a huge drain, resource-wise. And it is not just the mother who feels the burden. It truly does take a community to raise a child. What happens when the mother is sick? Or at work? Mothers have always pretty much worked, across cultures and throughout time – it is not a modern phenomenon. Everyone has to contribute as best they can to keep the group afloat. A woman who has a child and then is not in a position to care for it (due to lack of other support – which is typically but not necessarily a man) has created a problem for her entire community. My guess is this fact is the reason that so much of religion – both early and modern – focuses around controlling sex. Early peoples all over the world figured out that controlling sex meant controlling resources better and thus helped ensure the survival of the entire group.
There have been other reasons that parents have killed their children, for example:
* Health issues with the child. This sounds horribly cold-hearted, until you consider that in a situtation where food and other resources are scarce, raising a child that might not survive to adulthood could mean depleted resources for another child that has a better chance. People have thus sometimes killed or abondoned a baby because they feared it would be a resource drain, or because they wanted to try again for a healthier child and therefore a better investment for the community. They probably did not think about the decision in such terms precisely, but rather some cultures evolved to embrace this practise because they were living in hard times and it helped them survive.
* Religious reasons. I had a hard time grappling with this – especially reading accounts of Aztec ritual infanticide, where parents willingly gave up their children to be tortured and killed to appease the gods for rain. The accounts of those practices may have been over-dramatized by the Spaniards who wrote about them. But I think no one disputes that they did in fact sacrifice their children. It might be easier to understand why a parent would do this if you consider that they believed the sacrifice would help their community, and could save the lives of their other children. (Too bad they were horribly wrong.)
* Pressure to have a child of a certain sex (typically a boy). This has been a common problem in India and China, where boys are seen as a boon to a family, while girls may be seen as a net liability.
* To protect them from outsiders. For example, some Danish Jews, waiting for boats to flee Denmark, panicked and killed their children to protect them from the Nazis. They were terrified of what would happen to their children once they were imprisoned and separated, and so killed them to save them from torture and what was sure to be a less humane death.
Long story short: parents sometimes kill their children, and they do so for reasons. I am by no means saying that this is always justified! But I think it is important to mention in the context of abortion. There may be times when, considering all the facts, we as a society would condone a parent killing their child.
To me, killing a fetus when it is too immature to feel pain (before 24 weeks) is less horrible than, say, carrying the child to term and then killing it or subjecting it to several years of neglect, abuse, or abandonment because you didn’t want it or can’t provide for it properly. Those are the very sorts of issues that parents consider when they are facing an unwanted pregnancy. It is not a simple black-and-white decision.
The reason I say I am pro-abortion is because I want us to get past this idea that abortion is only okay when the mother or baby will otherwise die. The fact is, a great many people are already engaged in this behavior, so there must be some reasons for it. Incidentally, 72% of women who have abortions self-identify as Christian, so the question about abortion is not really a religious one. I suspect that some people think abortion is fine for them, but not for others. Perhaps they had an abortion once and then regretted it later – which is totally understandable, but pretty hypocritical, too.
Incidentally, it would be nice if we lived in a society where parents need not fear that they and their children would be supported. Oh wait, that’s socialism…
At any rate, there are probably some arguments that a reasonable person would accept for a woman having an abortion. At a minimum, forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term is slavery and torture. So, there is that. Is slavery and torture better than murder?
Anyway, back to the politics: frankly, I don’t give a hoot whether the federal government funds Planned Parenthood. I agree with the tenets of their organization – that women should have the final say in what happens with their bodies. I even feel strongly about it. But I don’t think this fight is worth stopping our government. I don’t think it is worth the embittered divisions it creates. It is such a charged argument – I can’t think of one that is more polarizing. Let’s get on with our lives, already. Women (and men) will continue to find ways to control their fertility, with or without Planned Parenthood. I almost think it would be better for them to be privately funded, so we can get this argument out of politics altogether.
Now, if the pro-lifers manage to reverse Roe v. Wade, I am taking my daughters (and my husband!) and leaving this country, because I will not live in a country that enforces slavery.
http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html – a pro-choice site
http://www.abortiontv.com/Misc/AbortionStatistics.htm – a pro-life site