Growing up (a)religious

I’m afraid one of my new friends will find out I’m not religious. One of the first times I met her, she told me she didn’t like hanging out with another group of people because so many of them were atheist and she herself is religious.

I found myself smiling uncomfortably, wondering what I should say. I’m an atheist, but it’s only recently I’ve felt free and secure enough to openly say that. Growing up in the Bible belt, I definitely did not.

My entire childhood, I always thought there was something missing in my life since I didn’t have a religion while everyone else I knew did. My parents were Mormon before I was born, but left the church a few months after I received my blessing. After a few years of bouncing around, my family started going to the Unitarian Universalist church, but stopped once it got ‘too Pagan’ for my mom. Other than that, we weren’t excessively religious. The extent of my religious education at home was my mom buying me a Bible coloring book and telling me I needed to be familiar with these stories because they were important to our culture.

This made me an instant target for the religious people surrounding me. I wasn’t actually smart enough when I was a child to keep it to myself and I remember loudly commenting in elementary school that the Bible should probably be in the fiction section. Shortly thereafter, a classmate started trying to ‘win my soul’ and would follow me around during recess and read me the bible. When she moved away, she wrote me letters for many years imploring me to get saved and mentioning the ABCs:

Admit you are a sinner

Believe that Jesus Christ is the son of god

Confess your sins.

I never did, and eventually I stopped replying. Eventually, so did she.

Not having a church meant I had Sundays and Wednesday nights free…to get invited to go to church with my friends. In a lot of ways, I didn’t mind because I got to hang out with my friends and they had quite a bit of fun. Then we would watch videos about kids who died and weren’t saved and how they would spend eternity getting poked with sticks in hell fire and my friend would give me nervous glances all throughout.

It’s no wonder I thought I was the weird one.  When I hit adolescence, I started thinking about getting a religion. Christianity was out–continuous soul-winning efforts had made me perfectly immune and I was already ethnically christian, anyway. But I did like Judaism. Oldest monotheistic religion in the world, still going strong and they’ve been persecuted nearly ever where! They must be on to something. But I didn’t convert. I knew Judaism was pretty iffy on having converts and I learned that if you converted to reform, orthodox Jews wouldn’t accept you. Just as in every thing else in the world, every religion has its idea of what a real Jew/Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/etc. and you probably don’t qualify and are going to hell. Sorry.

Secondly, I figured if I actually did convert I’d have to marry someone who was also Jewish and I didn’t feel like narrowing the dating pool anymore than it already was.

So I looked into Buddhism. Buddhism is a fun religion and I actually agree with a lot of the things it says. Wanting is a large source of unhappiness in the world and not wanting anymore would be a good thing to accomplish. But I read a few books on Buddhism by western converts and that put me off it. What is is about western converts to Buddhism that makes them all so damn sanctimonious? My Actual Buddhist friends weren’t like that. They even invited me to go to a celebration at their temple, but my mom forbade me to go. Maybe she was afraid I would convert.

But there were always my Christian friends, a clear majority in my group of friends, though it also had Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. One of my friends and I actually discussed religion quite a bit and she convinced me to read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. He was an atheist convert to Anglicism and a pretty horrible writer in my opinion, but maybe that’s what happens when you read the Chronicles of Narnia when you’re 16 instead of 6. Oh well. I got to the chapter on “Christian Marriage” before I gave up, but I did agree with a lot of things he said. Like how “Love thy neighbor as thyself” means you should make allowances for your neighbors’ faults just as you make allowances for your own. You love yourself in spite of your imperfections, so you should do the same for others as well. Makes sense. Doesn’t explain what you should do if you don’t love yourself and can’t tolerate your imperfections. I guess you just hate everyone then?

I enjoyed discussing religion with my Christian friends. It was a nice change from just getting preached to about how I was going in hell and I was genuinely curious. Then I posted a quote by Richard Dawkins to my friend and she got really upset:

We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.

In all fairness, I didn’t actually know who Richard Dawkins was at the time. I thought the quote made a good point. No one worships the Greek or Roman gods anymore, after all. Well, maybe some loonies do. But loonies.

But it was the last time we discussed religion. After that, the fun in the debate was gone. Areliigious people growing up surrounded by religious people are required to respect religion and I think it causes you to grow up thinking you’re inferior to those with religion. You have to respect their beliefs, but they don’t have to respect yours.

Religious people claim the moral high ground. A friend of my sister’s who I never thought as religious caught me completely off guard when we were at her house for dinner and they prayed before the meal. I asked my sister about it later and she told me they had also started going to church so her daughter would “grow up with good morals.”

Aside from the fact that going to church doesn’t actually make you moral, this is pretty common in the Bible Belt. So common that they actually have churches people can go to that aren’t really religious. It’s just so you can feel like you’re going to church and, more importantly, have a church to refer to when people ask you what church you go to. Because that does happen.

Then I moved out East. Obviously there are still religious people out here, but it’s not as religious as the bible belt. I think I know 4 people out here who go to church regularly. There rest of us…atheists. When discussing religion, one of my friends said he was an atheist, but considered himself an “ethnic Christian” because that’s his cultural background. He celebrates Christmas and (kind of) Easter. I didn’t realize how stressful it was to be constantly feel like you were the strange one for not being religious until I moved to an area where people were less religious. I’m now ok with saying I’m an atheist, but knowing that atheists are overall the most hated group in America, I don’t wear this on my chest. I like to keep it under wraps. If I don’t know someone well, or I know that they’re religious, I just tell them I’m areligious, or an agnostic. Saying you’re an atheist tends to be very confrontational and everyone takes it badly.

I’m a negative atheist. That means I don’t believe there is evidence that a god exists. My husband, on the other hand, is a positive atheist. He thinks that there is evidence that god does not exist.

Strangely enough, he’s the one who grew up with a more religious background. He’s been baptized and confirmed in the Finnish Lutheran Church. His mother is religious for a Finn and goes to church about 4 times a year. She doesn’t believe in evolution and prayed with our kids when we went out without them.

My husband left the church when he was 15 and it took him a while to lose the feeling that he would go to hell if he didn’t believe in god. He was actually quite afraid and now considers religion to be child abuse since you’re essentially telling children they will go to hell where they will be tortured if they don’t believe a certain thing. He later became involved with a movement to get people to leave the Finnish State church, which is funded by an optional tax. By leaving the church, you no longer have to pay the tax. It bothers him to no end that the rest of his family are still members. His sisters aren’t particularly religious, but ‘it’s tradition.’

He’d be perfectly fine if our kids were raised without any religious input whatsoever. But, like my mom, I understand that it’s an important part of American culture. So I’m alright with telling them Bible stories. I don’t tell them they’re true; it’s like reading other myths and fables from the past. I also have a great book from the German “Wieso? Weshalb? Warum?” Series called “Unsere Religionen.” It discusses the 5 largest religions in the world (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and does a good job of explaining why some people are religious and what some basic beliefs of these religions are. They don’t need to be religious, but I don’t see my job as to automatically impost my beliefs on them. They can decide for themselves what they want to believe.

Interestingly enough, I think my religious friends from high school have moved more toward my point of view than me toward theirs. They no longer go to church, something which I didn’t expect would happen. They probably aren’t atheists, maybe not even agnostics. But religion has moved more into the background in their lives than I would have ever expected. It’s nice to know I’m no longer the odd man out.

I still don’t know what I should tell my religious friend. I’ll probably take the easy way out and not discuss it.



Speech Therapy Begins

Alpha has had two speech therapy sessions so far and I have no idea how it is going. I don’t go into the sessions; he goes by himself. They spent one session practicing ‘t’ and ‘d’ sounds. Then the second he practiced ‘n.’ After the second I thought to ask the therapist if I ought to practice with him at home and she said that would be good. In some ways, I preferred the previous therapist who did Alpha’s evaluation. She was a little bit more communicative than this second one. At any rate, the second speech therapist said she would give me some print outs at our next appointment detailing what I could do at home.

I decided not to wait and did some googling and came up with some good websites detailing how parents can  help their child’s speech therapy. The most useful I’ve found so far is Mommy Speech Therapy. It not only explains various different speech problems, but also explains how you can show your child how to make the various sounds. So I referenced the ‘t’ and ‘d’ page for our practice yesterday and today. My main problem is I tend to advance too quickly. I need to go much slower and make sure that he can make the sounds perfectly before progressing, according to the pages. Then move onto syllables and, provided he still makes the sounds correctly, words and finally sentences.

We’re aiming for 10-15 minutes daily, but that is a hard goal to reach. Alpha is generally reluctant to practice. The first time I suggested it, he insisted that he didn’t have to do that here; he only does that with the speech therapist. I have to insist that he practices with me and until he gets accustomed to the idea of it, I will have to be very persuasive. Yesterday I told him he had to practice before having a show. Today I added a piece of candy to sweeten the deal. Still, going the entire 10 minutes is difficult. “I already did that,” he informs me repeatedly. The problem is getting him to understand that in order for him to have already done it, he needs to make the sounds properly and always place his tongue in the correct place. Easier said than done. Mommy Speech therapy suggests putting a bit of peanut butter or marshmallow fluff on the aveolar palate so he can lick it off and feel more compelled to put his tongue there. We have nutella, so I will try that tomorrow and see if it helps. If tongue strength seems to be a problem, she suggests having him hold a cheerio between the palate and his tongue for 10 seconds. I haven’t seen any evidence that there is tongue weekness, but I’ll keep it in mind. At this time, it appears to be more habit. He can put his tongue in the right place, but is not used to always putting in there. So practice. And more practice.

It will definitely take a while to see definite progress, but the fact that we’ve begun is very encouraging and I hope that in a few months, we will see some definite progress.

Beta Update

I don’t talk about Beta much on my blog, maybe because she’s still so young and has yet to develop any interesting problems like Alpha has, but since I’m not actually keeping a baby book, I figure I should put forth some sort of effort to record what she’s up to.

She talks. A lot.

I think it must be because she’s a girl, but sometimes I feel like she is never quiet. A few nights ago, she woke up when I got home around 9pm and was awake until past 11, talking. I recorded some of it. She sang songs, she talked to me, she talked to her stuffed broccoli. “No, broccoli, go home broccoli. Broccoli, come here. Go home, broccoli.”

She has recently become really into Dora. I’m beginning to think this is a mistake because her English is exploding and she seems to prefer using it to other things. She has a long list of Dora-specific English vocabulary she now uses all the time and has started calling me ‘mommy.’

“Mommy, say backpack! Say BACKPACK!”

“You’re too late!”

“We did it!”

She’s also started referring to her ‘squeaky,’ but she can’t say that work right so it always takes me a long time to figure out what she’s talking about. Since she’s pretending, it doesn’t make things easier.

Both she and Alpha are terrified of Swiper. As soon as he hears the Swiper rattle, Alpha runs out of the room. If he’s there when Swiper triumphantly swipes something, he screams. But today I gave him a Swiper sticker and he was thrilled. He started running around, throwing stuff in the other direction and then saying, “Ha ha ha! You’re too late! You’ll never find it now!”

Then Beta caught on and started doing the same thing.

I’m beginning to wonder if I should get some Dora shows in German or something.

The interesting thing about Dora is that one of its “educational purposes” is to expose kids to Spanish. But so far, I haven’t noticed my kids picking up one lick of Spanish. Alpha might repeat some of the words, but he doesn’t seem to be using them in everyday life. This is because until age 3, kids only learn language from a physically present adult. They don’t learn from TV shows. So while Beta appears to be learning English from the show, the reality is she’s mostly picking up vocabulary or it’s reinforcing English she has already heard from real life. She is also convinced that the map’s name is I’mthemap.

Other than that, she is very cuddly and has started kissing me on the cheek at bedtime and saying, “Gute Nacht, Äiti! Schlaf schön!” (good night, mom! Sleep well!”), which is what I tell her.

I discussed the possibility of Alpha being dyslexic with my host mom on the phone last weekend and she predictably asked, “But it isn’t due to the many languages is it?” I assured her it wasn’t. “Well, it doesn’t seem like Beta is the same way, does it? She seems different.” And in a lot of ways she does. She mispronounces things (she currently says “kee-ka-poo” instead of peek-a-boo) but I understand so much more of what she says than I understood from Alpha when he was the same age. It really makes me wonder how much of what he said I missed out on and makes me feel quite sad.

As it is, Alpha and Beta are good interpreters for each other. If one says something I don’t understand, the other will usually let us know what s/he means. Beta has quickly grasped that Alpha is more capable than she is as well. If no parent is available to help her, she will turn to him and say, “Alpha, hilfe!” or her current favorite, “Help you!”

She loves babies. Whenever we go out, she yells loudly, “Äiti! EIN BABY!” whenever she sees one, even if said Baby is about the same age as her. I’ve asked her if she is a baby and she says no. I ask her what she is and she says “Beta.” It would definitely seem that girls are different than boys.