Friday, September 16, 2011

Festivus for the Rest of Us (November 2010)

Until you entrust your children to other people, you alone decide what information to give to them. Once they stray further abroad you remain the primary example setter, but the information highway gets hijacked by teachers and equally ignorant classmates. I understand why people homeschool when they want to, in the words of George Bush Jr. “control the message.” One sticky point in the general maelstrom is religion; it crops up early and sticks around.
I am culturally Jewish, so although we didn’t belong to a synagogue nor was I bas mitzvahed, I learned Yiddish and being Jewish is part of my personal identity. However, for the Pater, religion doesn’t feature. When we first met, he told me: “I think we’re Presbyterian.” What do you mean you don’t know? Your parents met in church! Which one? If I’m going to marry a goy, I’d like to know what kind.
My grandmother advocated marrying within your religion purely for the ease of decision making; “one less argument,” was her theory. We have never argued about religion (it was the Pater’s idea that we get married under the huppah but I think stamping on the glass was the big draw) but decisions have to be made regarding holidays. And because of our different nationalities further decisions have to be made about whose family we visit and when. This is why I created Hanukmas , a fast and dirty version of Hanukah which only lasts 4 days : two candles, two prayers and two presents a night and leaving us free to travel during the festive season (frequently in different directions). On Christmas morning, Mister Baby wakes to one gift from Santa at the foot of his bed. This already sets up a dichotomy because the Hanukah presents are from us, but the Christmas present is from Santa and Santa only, which I found out when we were visiting my father in North Carolina. Post present opening, Mister Baby was fairly obnoxious all morning so I tapped into the time honored tradition of emotional blackmail. “I don’t think I got a thank you for that present,” I prompted.
“It wasn’t from you, it was from Santa”
“Well, I told Santa where to find you, ingrate!”
Another sticky religious point, which we have been forced to face is the afterlife. We have discussed the current whereabouts of his two grandparents and grand uncle who have died but not those of our upstairs neighbor because Mister Baby has never said her name aloud since the morning following her suicide. I have been steadfast in my denial of all knowledge of their current locations. However, due to the mandatory religious education in the UK, Mister Baby has a GPS lock on them.
“Where’s your mommy now?” asks Mister Baby, possibly rhetorically. “I don’t know, baby.” “I do, she’s in heaven. She is.” This last is said with the same singsong and much nodding of the head that he employs when trying to convince me he’s washed his hands and face when there is abundant evidence to the contrary.
On Remembrance Day, I was roped into bringing the 40 children of all creeds and colours from the two Year 1 classes to the memorial which is a quarter mile from the school. This journey takes 45 minutes and 10 adults to negotiate. Once there, the children were posed a few questions. “Where are the soldiers now?” asks the religious education /art teacher. “In heaven, “ is the fervent reply. For some reason this question is asked not once but twice.
Religious education is both valuable and interesting but I thought it was the job of schools to teach facts and the distinction between fact and opinion. Can you tell me definitively that the soldiers are in heaven? Since it’s supposed to be religious education and not indoctrination, I fail to see what’s wrong with saying that some people believe that we go to heaven when we die and some don’t, which is what I say every time the subject comes up. London is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and this school is a microcosmic reflection of that. I have to wonder what the other parents there make of the information being spoon-fed to our children. On this occasion, I don’t ask but instead roll my eyes at my friend whose husband is also a secular Jew to which she says: “M would be livid.”
I understand Mister Baby’s need for black and white information so having recently discovered David Eagleman’s new religion, Possibilianism, I’m signing up. It allows me to change my answers from the wishy-washy ‘I don’t know’ to the more positive ‘It’s possible! ‘ And really, anything is possible.

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