Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm so not good at the whole "not discussing religion" thing

As promised, I wanted to write some more on the thoughts that have come up in the process of writing my latest religion post and then reading the comments. My attention is splintered between this and the Obama speech, so I don't know where this may wander. Some of this will tread on my earlier writings on the topic, but it's easier to put a little more in here tonight than track down the old posts and expect you to follow links.


I was raised an atheist. Not that my father actively molded us into atheists, but more that he started with a rational, scientific view of the world, and by the time I started to learn about religion, especially Christianity, I just couldn't believe it on a literal level. Religion interests me in something of an anthropological way; I am a fascinated, but outside, observer. And I like it that way--being in the midst of overt religion makes me quite uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, I consider myself spiritual. Not that I believe in one or many deities, but that I find great wonder in the world around me and frequently experience moments of awe. I find these in art, music, science, philosophy, a myriad of little things I encounter in my daily life.

Trillian was raised in a fairly liberal denomination, as a minority in a town practically run by a very conservative denomination. She frequently heard that anybody not agreeing with that church, i.e. her and her family, were going to hell. She heard judgments passed on all sorts of things. She didn't come out until after we were together, and even then limited who she told, because of the horrific pronouncements made on gays and lesbians. Even now, she has to deal with family members who truly cannot reconcile what their religion says and the fact that a relative is gay.

Religion angers Trillian. She bristles at the presence of religion and greatly distrusts it. Can't say I blame her.

With Scooter, it is our intention to raise him more in the spirit of my experiences, but even more conscious of our decision than my father was. It helps to have sites like Dale McGowan's Meming of Life. And as a result of hearing him speak, we now have a group of like-minded parents we meet with twice a month. It's pretty informal right now, but we generally talk about a myth and then do a science activity. With the myths, we plan on working through world mythology in a fairly chronological order, starting with Egyptian and moving forward, reaching Judeo-Christian stories in due time. With the science, we want our children to discover some of the ordering principles of the world while also promoting the sense of wonder such discovery can bring.

Our general approach in dealing with questions of religion that come up (not too many so far, since Scooter is so literal-minded) is to say that "Some people think/believe/do x, but some people don't." And so that is how we tried to handle his "church toys" disdain.


As for the neighbor-kid. He is a sweet kid, similar in many ways to Scooter. Trillian and I actually laugh at how often his mother will remark that her son used to do or still does something that we consider to be a potential indication of Asperger's or PDD-NOS. She says it to soothe us, as proof that Scooter is perfectly normal; we see it as a reminder that there are a lot of boys around here who probably would be considered odd anywhere else. Anyway, this family belongs to the local church of the same denomination that Trillian had to deal with in her hometown. Generally speaking, they are not tolerant and are very literal. From conversations with his mother and another mother in our neighborhood (whose family attends the same church), the children's religious education involves a lot of memorization of scripture. So while I do see some of the helpful, social aspect of the neighbor's question, I also suspect that finding out we don't go to church bothers him because he likes us and doesn't want us to go to hell.


I don't think we're the only neighborhood family, in the cul-de-sac even, that doesn't attend church. As far as I can tell, one set of direct neighbors don't go to church on Sundays; I suspect that even if the wife does on occasion, the husband does not. He's another scientist-type, very no-nonsense, someone who looks at objects and can easily visualize how they work. So we're not the only ones.

On the other hand, I know that I'm a bit skittish because of the lesbian thing. Or, more precisely, because of the combination of the lesbian and atheist (and liberal) thing.

When I was younger, I could usually get people to back off when pushing Christianity by appealing to my Jewishness. For whatever reason, that worked as a sort of pass. Now, I find that the gay label has almost the opposite effect. Most people hear that I'm gay and don't attend a church and immediately assume that there is a cause-and-effect relationship. And so I've heard from many a friend and relative about how accepting their church is or how many gay couples they've met there. Sometimes, I can get away with thanking them for the information and leaving it at that. On some occasions, however, they become quite insistent and I have to explain, usually several times, usually increasing in intensity, that I just don't believe, that I never have, that I would still be an atheist were I straight.

I need to work on how I react to those conversations, both for myself and as an example to Scooter (in case he ever witnesses these), but the people who push don't seem capable of taking the polite response and letting the topic be.


One of Dale McGowan's suggestions in his talk for the religious-literacy education of older children is to allow trusted friends and relatives--who do believe--to take them to their house of worship. He emphasizes that this should be someone who is both religious and open, i.e. not judgmental about raising the child without religion, able to provide the child this experience without pushing indoctrination.

I know that for the next few years at least, I will not let Scooter accept any of those invitations he is sure to get. I remember receiving them as a kid and not understanding why my father wouldn't let me go. (It always sounded like so much fun!) So I do expect to have conversations about this with Scooter. Possibly, down the line, if we're still in Springfield and know people much better, I might consider allowing him to accept the occasional invitation to a church. But only when I feel that his Humanist foundation is solid.


Not comment-related, but somehow appropriate to the topics at hand.

I was searching on Facebook in the high school class a year ahead of me, looking to see if a specific person was on. And came across my first high school boyfriend. That guy, if you catch my drift. Not entirely a surprise, as he was in that year. But I hadn't thought about him in years, hadn't tried to find anything out about him since reading his wedding announcement many years ago in my hometown paper.

But there he was, right in front of me. So I clicked through to see his friends (all I could do since I haven't friended him). No friends in common, not even any names I recognized. But a whole lot of people who listed a particular seminary as one of their networks. So I ran a search and discovered that he also is a student at this seminary, along with his wife.

I suppose there's no reason for this to be a big surprise, yet there was something about it entirely incongruous for me.

OK, so it's been years. (Right around 20! Which doesn't make me feel old at all.) Not that I ever knew him well enough to be able to define his religious beliefs. But even if I had known him as a non-believer, that's plenty of time for him to change his mind or renew an old faith or have an epiphany. Heck, maybe it was great remorse over how shitty he was to me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A political interlude

I started a post as a companion piece to my previous entry; it grew out of my responses to the comments and then grew and grew. But before I finish it up, I wanted to indulge in a brief rant, brought on by the Democratic National Convention and the many different ways the talking heads have been rehashing the discontent among Hilary Clinton's supporters. Apologies to Canadian readers, who, I'm sure, are already bombarded non-stop about an election in which they have no voice.

Here's the thing. I just don't get the Clinton supporters who say they can't support Obama. One reason I reserved final judgment after Edwards dropped out* was that Obama and Clinton have always been close enough on their policy stances that I knew whoever won the candidacy would be generally in sync with my beliefs.

On the flip side, if one were to compare either Obama or Clinton's stances with McCain's, there would be no discernible agreement.

So, if these Clinton supporters feel strongly about even one of her positions, how could they suggest that McCain would be a better choice than Obama? Or, if they're saying that they just won't vote (shades of "I'm taking my toys and going home"), are they really willing to abdicate their voting right and responsibility because their first choice isn't the candidate? And have they always had their optimal candidate in place every time?

From all accounts, Clinton will be making several of these points tonight, though probably a little less stridently than I would.

All of this ignores the fact that the position of president tends to be viewed as more important than it is. The president's main function is as a figurehead, the representation of our country both at home and abroad. (At least if s/he is going to operate within constitutional limitations. Which has been an issue of late.) What is even more important than the specific person in the office is who s/he chooses to function in an advisory capacity.

Exhibit A: The current administration. Bush is, by pretty much all accounts, not particularly bright. But he has a cadre of politicos with lifetimes of experience. Even when recent policies have stepped over those constitutional boundaries (I won't go into that rant tonight), you can be sure it's not Bush who has shaped them, but someone close to him. Bush is the mouthpiece, at least when they use large print and short words on the teleprompter.

The truth is, I find an Obama candidacy exciting. I think he is very much what our country needs right now. He is intelligent, well spoken, and vibrant. He is igniting political interest among the young. He will be able to engage with international leaders on an equal level. This is what we need.

*And now I can say it's a good thing he did, because talk about a campaign ender!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Not ready for that coming out

One of the neighborhood kids caught up to me today as I was walking Scooter to school. I had no problem with him keeping us company. He's quite the talker, so I mostly just listened and made appropriate noises from time to time.

Then he asked, "What church do you go to?"

Several different answers flashed through my mind, but I decided to go with the one that answered the question directly without supplying extra information: "We don't go to any church."

He then told me about the one his family attends and mentioned another one in town, all with a friendly and helpful demeanor.

A bit later, as we approached the school, he mentioned a word he had seen but didn't know. I explained what it meant in Greek, which both jogged his memory ("Oh, I guess I did know it!") and elicited questions about me knowing Greek. "Well, Ancient Greek," I specified. I then explained what "Classics" is and that I spend a lot of time reading Latin and Greek. Which brought him back to matters as religion, as I confirmed to him that, yes, I can in fact read the Bible, or at least the parts in Greek (my Hebrew has shrunk from years of disuse and my Aramaic is non-existent--though I didn't get into that with him).

"But," I clarified, "I mostly read Latin poetry." I tried to explain "epic" and he had heard of Homer, but we ended up back on the Bible again, as his point of reference.

This is primarily a company town, one that employs a lot of people in science and research positions. Pretty much every household around us has at least one very science-oriented person. And yet, religion predominates more than I would have expected. As small as our town is, you can find a wide range of Christian denominations and several of the congregations seem quite large.

In many ways, I feel like being a lesbian is easier than being an atheist here. For one thing, we haven't really had the option to hide the fact that we are two women raising a child we both call "son." (It's not impossible to hide, but involves such a web of lies and paranoia that we never even considered it.) But the atheist angle is not as obvious. As new as we still are to town, it might be easy for them to figure we haven't had a chance to check out the different churches in town. Or maybe we're just not as observant. Or maybe we're going to the same church as Trillian's in-laws in Capital City (which, we kind of are, as in none).

What probably hasn't crossed their minds is that we don't believe. That we are part of a family group in Big City which gathers a couple times a month to present lessons on different cultures' historical beliefs and then perform science experiments. That we are quite consciously raising our son without religion--not to define him as an atheist right now, but to equip him with all sorts of knowledge before he makes a decision. That, as someone raised in a similar environment, I know what I hope he decides.

I know that I didn't explain any of this to our neighbor this morning, in part because this didn't seem like a conversation to have with an 8-year-old. His parents, yes, when the topic comes up, not that I'm looking forward to that conversation either, but I definitely didn't want to come off as trying to push my non-belief on their impressionable child. In a funny way, it's a bit like the fears that can come up with introducing children to the concept of "gay." And again, it's a concept that can be a total non-starter for many people.

(At least Scooter didn't respond to the neighbor's query with his usual disdain for churches. I swear that this doesn't come from us, but one time as we were driving by one of the churches--and we had never told him it was a church and we just don't talk about church at all--he started in on "church toys" and how he didn't need "church toys," all with a sneer in his voice. We suspect this may have come from a conversation at preschool, but never figured out its origin.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The receding horizon

I've been sitting on this for about a week, trying to figure out how I feel and what I want to say.

Technically, by the numbers, according to quantitative measures, I'm perfectly fine.

I went into my appointment hoping that the doctor would come in and tell me she'd found something. I cried when she said I was fine.

"So why do I still feel so bad?" I asked the endocrinologist.

This has come to be about much more than trying to have another kid. Back when I thought I had this figured out, when I thought I had found a reason not just for the miscarriages, but also for the chronic pain that has been my companion for as long as I can remember, I became hopeful about finally feeling better. And then the hope grew until my focus was conquering this pain and pregnancy something to return to after.

But, according to the labwork, it's not my thyroid. Not that my numbers are ideal. My T4 remains a little high, my TSH has been unstable, and a few numbers are at the edge of the reference range, but there's nothing obvious to be treated.

"Western medicine doesn't have all the answers, for all it wants to think that it does," she told me.

At my endocrinologist's suggestion, I have started to see an acupuncturist. I decided that I will be open to what he says and follow all of his recommendations. And so I am taking a range of herbs and probiotics, which I fervently hope will make a difference--and that my underlying doubt will not negate any improvement, placebo-effect or not.

It helps my attitude, at least a little, that the acupuncturist wants to know what the labwork has said. There's enough science in what he says that I can buy into a good part of what he says. He expressed shock that there isn't any obvious issue with my thyroid. (That makes three of us. Trillian is still shaking her head over this.) He is concerned that my sedimentation rate is slightly elevated and suspects that this constant, low-level of inflammation may have caused my miscarriages (which even meshes with what the nurse practitioner said); since tests for rheumatic factor and lupus and other inflammatory diseases always come back negative and the inflammation is not that elevated, most doctors dismiss its importance. So he also gets points for demonstrating concern about issues that concern me. And taking a couple tears in stride.

My emotions continue to roil under the surface, not always under the surface. Back in March, I expected to have an answer within a month. In June, two months. Now, I'd even forgo an answer, if only I could feel better. But the waiting continues.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I do not (usually) complain about other people's children in real life

As I mentioned in a comment on my previous post, Scooter is in a class with a couple of kids I wouldn't mind not seeing again. Now, I hold a strong opinion, forged in my years of teaching, that it is my responsibility, as an adult, to interact appropriately with all children, even those with whom I am a complete mismatch.

But what I write here is not an interaction with those kids, so you'll excuse me if I abdicate my adult responsibilities for just a bit in this space.

The kid I knew would be at Scooter's school is not only in the same class, but will be sitting catty-corner from Scooter at the same table. To start. We let the teacher know that Scooter has a tendency either to get angry at this kid or to imitate his noises.

Wait, let me back-track a minute. Let me explain our interactions with this child. And, so that you can hear this appropriately in your imagination, let me give him a (barely) disguised name: Lucifer. Think of a nickname for this that is a common boy's name. Just know that I used to LOVE this nickname.

We first met Lucifer in an introductory sport class for kids aged 3-5, held at our local Y. I signed Scooter up for something to do before we could get him into the preschool program. I figured it would require him to use gross motor skills and be a marginally helpful thing until he was back in OT. I could do a whole "mean mommies" post on how I found myself in the middle of a group that had been doing this program for months and so the women found it hard to muster even a greeting. But most of you don't need that spelled out.

Lucifer and his mom were a bit late to the first class Scooter and I went to. His entry immediately changed the tenor of the class. He was not still for a second and didn't/couldn't pay any attention to directions. He touched and poked and pushed other kids. His mother split her time between yelling at him to stop whatever he was doing and chasing after her toddler.

By the end of our month, neither Scooter not I wanted to go back, so we waited for soccer instead. Guess who was on that team too!

Turns out we had been seeing a fairly tame version of Lucifer. In soccer, he was even worse. Things like blowing spit bubbles (at kids), picking boogers and chasing people with them, pushing even more, picking up sticks and then refusing to put them down. Whenever he was at practice, Trillian (who was assistant coach) spent most of her time corralling him. His harried mother would again be shrilly, oh so shrilly, shouting his name from the sidelines.

(This is why I can no longer use a boy's name with that nickname. The sound will forever be etched into my brain!)

To be fair, I found out later that he has asthma and is on inhaled steroids. His impulsive behavior is either due to this or, at least, greatly exacerbated by it. So I do feel sorry for him and his mother. But holy hell, that doesn't make me want to spend more time with him.

Then there's a second kid in the class who drives me nuts. He was in Scooter's preschool class, I would guess for behavioral issues. He is, as best as I can tell, the fourth of five kids. When he came to Scooter's birthday party, his father dropped him off really fast and picked him up last (besides the neighborhood friend who lives a couple houses away). We were lucky to have extra adults, because he needed one to watch just him most of the time. He's the only kid who let himself into Scooter's room, while everyone else was playing outside. He also shot one of Scooter's plastic golf balls so far into our neighbor's yard that we couldn't see where it was (and it was yellow, so pretty obvious). He unceremoniously takes possession of anything that interests him, including grabbing ahold of gifts as Scooter unwrapped them.

I initially assumed that this child's behavior was some combination of being the youngest (somehow, I got the impression that he was the youngest of three from what his father had said) and his particular character. Then our neighbor told us that all of this family's brood are just as wild as he is.

So these are two of the kids Scooter will be spending kindergarten alongside. At least during the meet-the-teacher afternoon, I know that the teacher got a chance to witness a little of these two's antics. Apparently he taught one of the wild brood last year, not to mention the obvious grabbing and attempts to make off with others' property. And Lucifer gave a performance of his noises at full volume.

On the plus side, Scooter is sitting next to another soccer teammate, one who seems fairly level-headed and nice. And it turns out that the son of the woman who gave us a ride home during a rainstorm is in his class too. I think that he knows yet another boy too, though I'm only going off of first names, so I won't be sure until I see the whole class.

Crossing my fingers that somehow Scooter's drawn to the nice kids and not the bad boys as he sometimes has been in the past.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Countdown to Kindergarten

Scooter's summer daycare situation is winding down. Class lists are posted soon. Then there's a meet-the-teacher time where he can scope out the classroom and drop off his school supplies.

And then he starts kindergarten.

This week, we've been making use of a guest pass our neighbor gave us for the pool that's near the elementary school. As Scooter and I walk over there, we'll talk about how this is the way we'll walk once school starts and count the days until various kindergarten-related events. Yesterday I asked how he was feeling about kindergarten starting soon and gave him the choices of excited, worried, or excited and worried. He chose excited, and we began to talk about all the different things he would get to do.

I, however, would have chosen excited and worried.

Overall, I am hopeful that kindergarten will be a good experience for Scooter. I suspect that the all-day structure will be good for him. At a couple of the preschool/IEP meetings last year, I pointed out that the brevity of the preschool day (2 1/2 hours, four days a week) probably worked against Scooter's comfort. They tried to go to all of the extras that the other classes do, but this created a very compact schedule with lots of transitions and little chance for Scooter to settle into a rhythm. He was never very excited about school and had multiple meltdowns in those 2 1/2 hours on several occasions. In his summer daycare, where he stays for about 7 hours a day, he has had very few meltdowns and is almost always excited to go. Some of it is probably due to the similarity of their style to his old daycare in Toronto, but I feel pretty sure that he also feels more at ease since activities are given a bit longer. It doesn't hurt that these teachers seem better at letting kids know about imminent transitions before they happen instead of demanding an instant switch to a new activity.

I am also confident that Scooter is ready for the academic kindergarten. He really wants to learn how to read--he doesn't consider the fact that he can recognize some words, sound out others, and spell yet another group to be real reading; he wants to be able to read a whole book. He'll tell you he can count to 20, but with only a little help, he can make it to 100 and can identify numbers much higher than that. He is absolutely ready to soak up whatever knowledge his teacher can impart, and somehow I think that he will be more willing to consider it true learning if it comes from a teacher instead of me or himself.

But that also raises the first of my whispering concerns. I cross my fingers that he will have a teacher who will keep the material interesting and provide enrichment when he's already beyond the curriculum. Given what I've seen of other kids in the community, I have to imagine he's not the only one and the teacher is used to dealing with 5-year-old smarties, so I won't actively worry about this until there's reason.

It also helps that there will be some continuity for Scooter. He'll be working with the same OT and will probably have teachers he's met before for PE, music, and library. He's walked through the building and knows at least the main corridor.

He's not worried about the issue of friends, even though most of the kids he met at daycare, especially the other boys who are odd in the same ways as Scooter, are going to other elementary schools. So far, the one kid I'm sure will be there is one who was on his soccer team, not a kid Scooter or I particularly like. (Hearing this child's name shrieked non-stop by his harried mother turned me off of my favorite boy's name since she was using the shortened version--which was the nickname I would have used.)

He's not concerned about where the bathroom is or having an accident at school (which kindergarten-readiness articles tell me is a common cause of anxiety), but I've noticed that a fresh change of clothes is not included on the supply list. So now I'm anxious for him. Will the teacher have scheduled potty breaks? Will he have a cubby where I can stash clothes for him? Or will I have to convince the teacher to find a place for them? Will the accident(s) he almost certainly will have haunt him for the rest of elementary school? (This reminds me a bit of Aliki's post on sleep issues with L. This is not something I discuss with other parents around here, because who still has a kid at 5 for whom accidents are still a concern? He can make it through most days, but will then slip up a few times in a row. And we still have to frequently remind him to take potty breaks.)

Outside of all this, of course, there are the obligatory motherly exclamations of "How is it time for kindergarten already?" and "What happened to my little baby?" Trillian and I both are likely to cry when he heads into school by himself that first day. Hopefully, when this is all routine in another month or so, my concerns will have been unfounded and we'll be happily discussing what Scooter wants to learn next.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Isn't it romantic?

The last sentence of Lisa b's comment on my last post reminds me of another bit of our Toronto trip that deserves to be set to the page (er, screen).

I also cannot stop laughing when I think of your romantic room with two twin beds!

On my previous trip to Toronto, I spent the night before my exams in a hotel. I knew I wanted to be in a location convenient to campus and in a decently nice hotel. So I turned to Hotwire. This website, if you haven't encountered it, basically carries the leftover rooms from various hotels. You don't get to see which hotel specifically you're booking, but they give you a star rating and a general location. I was able to get a 4-star hotel in Downtown Toronto West for a really good price, so I booked it. It turned out to be the Sheraton on Queen St, which really was handy for what I wanted.

When I got there, the person at check-in informed me that the only non-smoking room they had was a business suite. The deal with it was that it was significantly larger, but did not have a permanent bed. Instead a roll-away is brought in. I was fine with that since I expected to be up studying for several more hours. Not that I told him--he comped me the breakfast buffet.

The set-up worked well for me that night. I had plenty of surfaces to spread out my books, plus two very comfortable couches. I called in room service, turned on some lamps, and frantically ran through my notes for the next day. The roll-away bed was actually quite nice--a comfortable, thick mattress, not just a cot--for the less than four hours of sleep I got.

Fast forward a few months. Trillian and I decide to go the Hotwire route again, in part because it will be easiest to be downtown. I find the same deal, so I'm not surprised that it's the Sheraton. What I wasn't expecting, though, was that we'd find ourselves in the same situation as before. Sure enough, our choice was a smoking room or the business suite. The smoking thing is a big enough deal to us that we opted for the business suite. We got the free breakfast buffet again, but that didn't quite make up for the fact that we spent our vacation, longest away from Scooter yet, on twin beds pushed together.

As Trillian remarked, it felt a bit like we were in a 50s sitcom--other than the whole lesbian thing.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Lisa b is always right

I should know this by now. And it's not that I ever actively doubted Lisa.

She has written before (and spoken) about how Toronto is a small town. But usually in the context of the medical professionals she deals with. And it seemed completely reasonable to me that, even in a big city, various medical experts might expected to have their paths cross more often than the average Torontonians. That the child of one of these experts attends the school where she has taught, well that was an interesting coincidence, but not wholly surprising within the given context.

But I have learned my lesson: Lisa b is always right and I shouldn't try to place limitations on the wisdom she imparts.

Toronto is a small town. As I had amply demonstrated to me during my last visit. And by none other than Lisa b herself.

Trillian and I walked a lot while we were in Toronto. We were staying in a downtown hotel and it only took us 35-40 minutes to walk to campus, so we made that our exercise. In the afternoon of our first full day in town, we were headed back to the hotel after a visit to Whole Foods for some provisions when we saw a familiar face just up ahead. There was Lisa b, in the flesh. Not a planned meeting at all and quite fortuitous, as we'd been going back and forth in email, trying to arrange a meet-up. We walked all together back to the hotel and firmed up plans for a later meeting--so much easier in person.

And again Lisa told me that Toronto's a small town. I could try to chalk the coincidence up to our location--near a cluster of hospitals where she, unfortunately, still spends a lot of time. But that doesn't explain the timing or being on the correct side of the street. So I'll just use this as a reminder to believe whatever Lisa tells me.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Impromptu weekend away

Have run away to the in-laws' air conditioning. Will post again once brain stops boiling.