Thanksgiving and Religion

I think it was fifth grade when I asked why the days we got off school for Thanksgiving were just called ‘Fall Break’. My mom asked me who people were giving thanks to. I had to think about it a minute. I knew that it must be a religious thing, since that is why it’s ‘Winter Break’ not ‘Christmas Break’ etc. It did not take me long to realize Mom was referring to God, but what took me awhile was the idea that I was supposed to be thanking a specific entity. It hadn’t ever really occurred to me. I just kind of give thanks to the world, luck, all of the people whose effort it took to bring the meal together, whatever. It never occurred to me that it was supposed to be directed any particular direction. I still don’t think that it needs to. I can be thankful without having any one thing, or person, or event to thank. 

For instance; I am thankful for my family. Who do I have to thank for that? Well let’s start with the recent past: I have to thank my husband for giving me my kids. I have to thank cancer for not taking people from me. I have to thank all of the other drivers on the road who have not killed my family members. I have to thank everyone who has made our society a more healthy place. I have to thank my parents for having me, and my husbands’ for having him. I have to thank their parents (this could keep going…). I have to thank whoever designed the school bus routes for my high school so that I could meet the boy who would become my husband. I have to thank my employers and everyone who employs my family. I could go way back in time to thank the people who moved to this country, and whoever set them up to take that path for whatever reason they did. I could talk about how thankful I am that this ‘tiny blue dot’ is able to sustain life, and how grateful I am to evolution, the stars, and the big bang.

I know that for many people “Thank God” is kind of the way to express that whole last paragraph, and that is fine. I prefer to think of it as an endless series of events that put me where I am today, this allows me to run through them and kind of say ‘thank you’ individually, or just give one big collective ‘thanks’ to the universe. 

 

I consider myself a bit of an outsider, an observer to the battle between religions that has been waging recently. When I was young, I was really very little aware of different religions, I only was really taught about Christmas, maybe a bit about Easter. I found it odd that some people did not celebrate Halloween, but hey, each to his own. I knew the concept of religion and that people believe differently, but I had no idea what they believed. It didn’t really make much of a difference, at that time it seemed like everyone was pretty okay with other people. That could be a young kid growing up with White Privilege on her side, but that is how it seemed to me. 

In middle school I started becoming more aware of politics and the state of the world. It was during this time also that 9/11 happened. The announcement that it was Muslim terrorists made very little difference to me. If I had really thought about that statement at all it would have been something like ‘Ok, so they happen to follow that religion, why mention it?’ Today I believe very much the same thing, but now I know why they mention it, because it is a scapegoat. The media tells us the answer so that we won’t go looking, and having a whole religion that reportedly wants to kill us is a great copout.

On that same note, this is not a ‘Christian Nation’. We are guaranteed freedom of religion under the constitution. This does not mean freedom of Christian religions, it means freedom of all religions. There is a lot of debate right now about the beliefs of the founding fathers, but some believe that not all of them were Christian. Throughout history, while newcomers to this country have been marginalized, they came for a new start, and many for that religious freedom. We are a nation of different people, different races, different sexualities, different ages, different beliefs, but we have all come together in a place that is better for our differences. It is this melting pot that keeps us fresh, and at the top of our game. It is the exposure to new things that allows us the ability to be the best. So why are we not the best right now? We have embarked down a dangerous road, in international policies, educational policies, climate policies, and civilian monitoring, we are limiting the very diversity that made us great. We need to stand up and make the changes that will allow us to use our greatest strength to our advantage again.

Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

Should I have Kids?

This is a common question these days, and I know I struggled with it. For many people the answer is obvious, for others it is not. I know that when I was trying to make this decision I looked to others to tell me what to do. Obviously that is not the best way to make such a personal choice, but it is easier to just do what you are told than to make a choice, or to be the one held accountable if your decision is not the best. In order to possibly help, I will tell you a bit about how I made my decision.

When I was little, I always wanted company. I lived in a small town with very few children my own age. I always wanted siblings, and I would often pretend that I had them. But I was a very bossy kid, and I found that my imaginary friends didn’t complain, so I usually pretended to be a mother. I remember imagining a line of millions of babies following me around no matter where I went.

In elementary school, most of my friends were several years younger than I was, and I spent my recesses ‘mothering’ them. I taught them some arts and crafts, as well as playground games. But really only a few of them do I really remember, they were the ones who I played with a lot, but it was mostly an ever-changing group of younger kids that were willing to listen. At this time, one of the greatest compliments I ever received was that I would make a great mother.

It may seem odd then that by high school I had decided unequivocally that I would never have children. By this point I had not really spent much time with young kids in several years, the most I had really seen of them is grocery store temper tantrums. All of the anti-teen pregnancy campaigns had worked better on me than intended. I was completely disgusted by anything baby. Pregnancy sounded miserable, and the physical changes like bigger feet and un-losable weight did not seem worth it. All for an outcome that did not sound so great to me; sleepless nights, diapers, burping, feeding, cleaning… I could go on. And the kids themselves seemed like nothing but trouble, at the time I was not a perfect angel, and I knew people who were way worse. The spoiled kids at the store didn’t help either. It all seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I enjoy my freedom, and I did not want to be tied down. That said, I had always known that if for some reason I did end up with kids, I would do the best I could for them, but I was terrified that it would not be good enough.

I kept this attitude until long into my marriage, but it was wearing through a bit. I knew that a lot of what had shaped my opinion was about teen pregnancy, and since that is not where I was in my life anymore it was not a bad thing at that point. My concerns still were there, but the more that I spent time with people my age and older who had good kids, the more my fears about spoiled kids and rule breaking subsided. I was still scared stiff by the idea that I would not be good enough. I spent several years debating whether or not to have kids. I knew my husband wanted kids, and that he would be a great father. He never pressured me, the only time it even came up was when I talked about it, but I did want to give him something special, which might be part of why the idea kept coming up at all.

After awhile of doing a lot of soul searching, internet searching, and pros and cons lists it occurred to me that I would be happy with either outcome. This may not sound like much, but for me it was an epiphany. Still terrified that I may not be good enough, I knew that I would not be as bad as many parents. I also was beginning to form ideas of how kids learn behaviors and the different things that people can do to shape them, so I told myself that I would do whatever I could to make my kids the best they can be, and they would not be the spoiled ones in the store, but rather the (probably more numerous) ones that I had never really noticed because they were so well-behaved.

We stopped trying to avoid getting pregnant. After awhile, a close friend, who was deliberately waiting, got pregnant. I was shocked to discover that I was jealous. I thought that the world had decided that I was not worthy of kids. I was rather surprised at how hurt I was. We did not change anything that we were doing, but this realization helped me to know that the decision that I had made was not a bad one for me.

Soon enough, I did get pregnant, and we had our son. Now we are expecting our second child. I am very glad to have kids, but I would never tell someone that they should. There is one argument in favor of having children that I would like to take this opportunity to dispute. I do not think that they fill any void that I had before. I know that many parents would think that is a horrible thing to say, but in reality my life was complete before I had kids, and it is complete now. Think of it like a pie chart of my family. Each family member has their own slice, but there is not some void represented that a child would fill. Each kid also gets a slice, but before the pie was still at 100%.

I know that some people are not cut out to have kids. I know that some people’s lives would be unsuitable for raising kids. I know that some people cannot afford kids. I know that some people just don’t like kids. I have been there and I respect that. If that is you and you are struggling to decide because you feel pressured by others, stand your ground. Down the line you might change your mind, or not. Either way it is okay. Right now, you come first. It is your happiness that matters. If you think that you could not be happy taking care of children, then don’t let others talk you into doing it. Your unhappiness would affect your kids, if you cannot be happy with it, they will not be happy.

I don’t care what other people say, you do not need kids to be happy. Lots of people are very happy without kids. This idea comes from the old-fashioned notion that people are supposed to have as many kids as possible. Many religions still encourage large families. I cannot say that is a bad thing, but we do have to put it into a modern context. The reason behind this is so that people would be ensured that someone would be able to take over the family business. Kids were less likely to survive into adulthood, and having more kids increased the odds that some would make it. People also needed the labor to help take care of the land, or produce whatever it was that made the family money. This is not such an issue now either. There are plenty of people already in the world to do this labor.

We are at a point when overpopulation is becoming a problem. For this reason I choose not to have more kids than would replace my husband and I. Two kids, that’s it. That said, with better health care and longer life-expectancies, we are still adding to the total.

Money is another big contributing factor. While at one point having kids made the possibility of earning money easier, today raising kids is a huge financial cost. Even though most everything that my son has is second-hand, mostly gifts, the cost in essentials like diapers and food is noticeable. If you feel the need for your kids to have all-new things and a full nursery you will be feeling the pinch a lot more. That is not to say that my kids are lacking anything, I just have a different idea of what is essential than many people do. I believe that my kids will benefit more from the time and effort that I give them than the money I spend on stuff for them. I would rather save it for experiences and college than to spend it on stuff.

Ultimately the decision is yours. Do not let others make it for you. Notice how you feel in reaction to events in your life that may play a role. Put thought into it. Consider other’s opinions, but know that what is right for some people is not right for others. Make sure that you balance what is important to you with what would be necessary for raising kids. Right now I am putting off a lot of travel I would love to do so that when I do it I can share it with my kids. Right now they are too young to appreciate it, and we are taking the time to establish ourselves so that we can do this when they are older. I realized that my life did not have to end when I had kids, but some things do get put on hold.

Remember kids are a lifelong commitment, if that scares you right now, it might be better to wait. If you are nervous about the commitment, it is healthy. It means that you are taking everything into consideration, and it is a lot. Just think it through and be patient. Not all of the fear will ever go away. I am still terrified that I will not be good enough for what my kids deserve. I am still afraid for the world that they will be inheriting. But I made the commitment, and I am sticking to it. The fear helps motivate me, but it was not that long ago when I was frozen by it.

I am not saying that this is the natural progression that everyone will follow, because it is not. Everyone is different, some people know the answer before they ask the question. I was there for a long time, on both sides. I understand both, and I know that the answers lie within.

 

Religion

I consider myself to be an Eclectic Atheistic Agnostic Pagan. What the heck does that mean?

It means that I don’t really know what is going on out there, but I do not believe that any one entity is in charge, but rather that we are all connected. I take little bits from lots of different religions and sciences and put them into my beliefs together. I know a lot of people think that religions are not compatible with one another, but I find that most religions, regardless of the details, had one point in common; Be nice to one another.

I do not understand how people have begun associating so many negative things with religions. Bad people will do bad things. They will find an excuse anywhere. There are passages in religious texts that, taken out of context give fuel to people’s hates. This is not to say that religious texts teach hate, because they, as far as I have seen, do not.

In America right now I hear a lot about two religions in particular, Islam and Christianity. The story about Islam from one side is ‘They are out to get us” and the other side says, “we just want to live our lives, we hate the nut jobs who attacked just as much as you do”. The story about Christianity also has two sides, one says “Poor me, I am being attacked!” and the other says “You are the one in power, all anyone asks is to be on par with you.”

Islam is actually very similar to Christianity. In fact the books are so similar that people can’t tell them apart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEnWw_lH4tQ

I have gotten into multiple discussions with people where they argue that there is no way that Islam has roots in Christianity (some even claim that Islam is older than Christianity). People talk about how if they are not all out to get us, why are they not standing up to defend their religion? Now I see all over facebook, ‘Blaming all Muslims for ISIS is like blaming all Christians for KKK’ and this is a much more succinct way of saying it, but I would talk about how most people just want to live their lives in peace. Today, in the face of all of this hatred toward Muslims, many are standing up for themselves. I stopped watching the mainstream media long ago, but I doubt that they are covering any of that, since they are guilty of perpetuating the myth.

This is not the only religion that is being marginalized, with all of the hatred coming from Donald Trump, many non-Christians are fearing the worst, like the holocaust kind of worst. But somehow the other big religious battle getting any media coverage right now is the ‘War on Christmas’. I know it is all over the place online right now, but I am going to say it too. There is no war on Christmas. You are allowed to celebrate it all you want. We may get annoyed with the holiday starting two months early, but we can deal with that, and I don’t think that is what they mean.

When I was little I thought “Happy Holidays” referred to ‘holiday season’, or Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. I was pretty clueless about non-Christian anything, so I made it fit with what I knew. As far as I remember, growing up ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Feliz Navidad’ were used pretty much interchangeably. (I grew up in New Mexico). I think that if that one store had just quietly switched to ‘Happy Holidays’ no-one would have really noticed. While I whole-heartedly approved of the announcement that it was done with the intention of being more inclusive, and still do, I believe that the announcement itself is what kicked off the whole thing.

I understand that part of the history of Christianity involves persecution, but I also recognize that since the conversion of Constantine, they have largely had the upper hand. Yes, some places not so much, but overall, after that Christian influence has flourished around the world. Aside from some small countries in some parts of the world and a few radicalized individuals, no-one really wants to kill Christians just because they are Christian. The ‘War on Christmas’ in America is really just a bunch of over-entitled people who have been told their whole lives that they are victims (because persecution is still taught like it’s a current issue) throwing a pity party because their entitlement is waning.

All anyone ever wanted out of ‘Happy Holidays’ or making a cup red is making people who celebrate other holidays around the same time feel more accepted. All we want is equality. We are not trying to take away your right to celebrate, we are not trying to minimize your holiday or religion, we just want to be able to celebrate ours with the same freedom.

So this Yule I want to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and Peace to the World.

Happiness

They say that being happy comes from enjoying what you have and living in the moment. I believe that, and I try my best. Overall, I am very happy. But this is a lot easier when I ignore what is going on in the real world.

The problem is that ignoring bad things allows them to continue. Some people say that the problem is that I care too much. That may be true, but I know that if we allow bad things to happen, it will affect us down the line. If by acting now I can help prevent that, I will act now.

I keep running into the problem that so many bad things are going on in the world that I cannot really be active enough in any one thing. Especially since I am a parent and I work full-time. This frustration that I have is probably part of the reason that so much of what I post are merely rants. I know full well that I am not adding anything meaningful to the debates. I just feel the need to DO SOMETHING.

I sign petitions, but so many of them ask for money after you ‘sign’ that I don’t even know if it gets counted unless I donate. I am not a bottomless pit, and I cannot donate to every worthy cause I come across.