Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Atheist's Dilemma

"Imagine there's no heaven...it's easy if you try...no hell below us...above us only sky" John Lennon

I have worked my way from Romanian Orthodox to agnostic to atheist throughout my lifetime.  It is not that easy because being Romanian and many of the customs that I associate with my Romanian identity are sort of mixed up Orthodox rituals. I am not alone in this - there are many who struggle to pass along a heritage to their children but a part of them no longer believes in the religion that they were raised in. 

We are a blended family.  I of the Orthodox background and my husband of the Jewish and Protestant family.  Neither of our families were particularly religious but in mine I know that it was a great ritual to do Easter.  Christmas rocks.. let's face it there is something awesome in the air about it.  I think Jesus was just a good guy and still worth celebrating a man who preached peace and kindness and (yes I read religious texts to get to my current state) who was not all that fond of organized religions.  Easter though in our house, of people who had seen the church in their country be a place that used it's power against the people in the interest of retaining that power, was BIG. The ritual of going to midnight mass, and even the funeral procession on Good Friday, were powerful to me.  They were things I shared with my friends, that made me different than my Catholic friends and the same as my Greek ones where we always found ourselves explaining why we don't celebrate the Easter they do (calendar vs time and events basically...theirs is wrong (chuckle)-- yeah I am pretty sure they think same of the Orthodox one).  There is something so binding about being able to stay up so late on that Saturday night, then go to friend's houses after midnight for that meal that is supposed to help you forget that if you were among the faithful and had given up all things that fly, swim, walk and their by products for 40 days. I think I tried that once, lasted a week and began my why would I have to sacrifice anything to belong to a club thought process?  After church we were not just breaking a fast but starting the feasting and celebrating.  There is a humility in remembering a man who died representing the idea that he did not judge us for being who we are .. flawed humans.  It was the Sunday of knocking eggs, my kids love this ritual, to break them and more time spent with friends.

None of this may be very religious but it is very spiritual.  As I began to realize that I not only did not believe in religion but also do not believe in god (God ) these rituals still pulled me.  I admit it they still do.  I miss the Saturday night mass and want to introduce it to my sons ...but how ?? I cannot pretend that I agree with the dogma.

So here is the atheist dilemma - we celebrate holidays in our family (Jewish, Christian, non-denominational) and embrace the diversity of learning about them.  Yet when my kids ask if I believe in God, heaven, hell etc... I have chosen not to lie and say no.  I have told them that to me I do not need these things to understand that I should be good to people all around me, to treat others with respect and to not expect some payout in another life for it.  I have explained that to me when you die that the earth recycles you and that you need to learn to savor every day you are alive.  They are comfortable with this.  Yet these are my choices and conclusions.  It is not easy because adults seem to have a hard time letting me have my thoughts on this (my mother in particular wants to know why I need to admit that I do not believe - irony) -- in all due respect you do not want to engage me on this if you are not prepared for a long discourse, I can stand very easily by my choice and have some serious issues with religion and what it does.  For my boys though they get asked about where they go to worship, why they don't do a communion (they wouldn't even if we practiced being Orthodox) or go to Hebrew school for bar mitzvah prep.   They have come to say that we just don't need to but sometimes they ask me if they can believe in God.

I have told them they surely can - if it gives them the comfort I do not find in it - if they use it as a guide to move forward without blind devotion to doctrine made and sold by men.  I encourage them to believe what they feel in their hearts and question it all, including me, with all that is in their wonderfully intelligent heads.  After all I let them believe there are fairies, Santa and a host of other mythical creatures that just celebrate wonder, god is no different to me.  I do not like religion but that does not preclude me from understanding why so many find comfort in it.  I do not know how my boys will see this in the future - as always what I worry about is if I am helping them make the choices that reflect their needs....For now I celebrate the spring equinox, the wonder of leaving grey short days behind as we plan for summer. Enjoy Easters (whenever they may be) and Passovers and whatever else your family is choosing - not because some piece of paper tells us to but because love is the greatest legacy we can pass on as heritage for our children.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To video game or not to video game

This is an ongoing debate in our house.  My youngest son is incredibly attracted to video games...ok addicted if we were to allow it.  He is incredibly good at Xbox,  Wii,  app games, computer games and there is something to the strategy and focus he can devote to these. Yet the worry is there ..will he start to blur the line between fiction and reality, will he become anti-social, live in his room, because a psycho, drop out ...or will this lead to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Zuckeberg brilliance..gaming billionaire - topple Google?????

The rule is that he is not allowed Xbox or Wii during the week - limiting to weekends.  They watch very little TV during the week since they leave early in the day with 2 working parents and get home in time for dinner and homework.  The hour or so left after that is all they have to unwind and start again.  My older son likes TV but video games bore him after a while.  

For every study that tells me how I am failing my child by letting them play these games there is a counter study saying that playing them can increase strategic approaches.  I admit it - I watched TV as a kid.  My parents both worked and I got home to an empty apartment, much like many or most of the kids around me, did my homework and then watched TV (especially in the winter) until my parents got home.  My Dad worked nights for a while, then owned a deli, so he got home at best really late.  My Mom had 2 nights of late hours so got home after 7 on those nights.  I did my homework, they checked it, I never thought to really rebel against that (well in high school I often did much of it between periods and lucky I have a good memory from class lessons 'cause my study skills..well they sucked - how I maintained honors classes and a good average is not something I can easily understand in retrospect).  I watched TV especially as a kid from an Eastern bloc nation, where TV time as a whole was limited and with the exception of some outdated shows from the States were devoted to drivel exalting the pathetic dictator in charge.  I watched the 430 movie after school, the after school special movie, General Hospital and cartoons.  There was no cable (did anyone under the age 30 just gasp if they are reading this?!) so really the exposure was at most to some heavy petting in an Elvis movie that ended with a song.  

I was fine - I was able to go to college and beyond - I have a successful life and I never once even entertained the idea of trying to order something from ACME to drop on someone's head - because I understood that TV and movies were not real.  My friends were all fine and they too have never re-enacted a scene from Tom and Jerry ...though we do exchange movie and TV show lines with some frequency ("she's a round..she's a flat", "you talkin' to me?" "shut up..shuttin up").

We played, unsupervised and unscheduled outside, in what was by far a much nastier New York of the late 70s and 80s.  We played video games ... in candy stores or arcades for quarters with smoke all around us (and smoking ourselves most times .. it was an art to balance a lit cigarette on a video game without burning the plastic, yourself and getting to smoke most of it...all while handling that joy stick and button until that Pac Man met Mrs Pack Man and they had Pac babies, all Space Invaders were vanquished, Caterpillar was dismantled and Qbert turned every cube a different multitude of colors).  I never thought I actually knew how to drive just because I excelled at Pole Position.  

My husband did not do the arcade or candy store (he is a sports guy and grew up in a part of Queens where unlike me you could not walk to such places -- I pity him as much as others pity what they think is my missing out on having a backyard or grass...still do not love either do I am partial to our deck).  So my dilemma like every other parenting one is how to monitor and help the boys play these games (it is a social connection ...especially with the online gaming which is another blog all together).  We have opted not to let them play games that so realistically involve killing or theft or you know skill sets they will never need....they disturb me at how real they look.  We have opted to monitor their game time.  We have opted to accept the reality that just because it does not appeal to us does not make it the wrong thing to do. I have opted to be a Mom...who makes decisions with her boys in mind but as the parent whose guidance they need....

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I blinked and they were grown...

I am not sure how it happens - my husband's slight hoarder personality, the lack of time, boxing to throw out papers that need time to actually get sifted - but somehow periodically I have a bit of a meltdown and start to purge the ever growing kid homework, bills paid, toys piles.  It feels great.  This must be done with the stealth of a Mission Impossible moment - drop down from ceiling, eliminate items, make sure the Chaos corp (my 2 sons and husband) never know you were there...tannnana tanannan ta na.....(bad attempt at the MI music).

As I was doing this the other day I came across 2 wonderful boxes of pictures -- from back in the day when I was actually getting so many more printed than I currently am.  This leads to the dilemma I face to declutter I keep pics on my laptop, unprinted but available, but I worry about losing laptop info ...cloud still does not inspire total confidence but do not want to add to what is supposed to be a job of cleaning out.  These boxes that I had were filled with pics in clear plastic sleeves, pics that I have deemed the memories I could not be without. Yes they are also the pics that I swore I would put in albums with cute captions - someday. 

I think what struck me immediately was that those adorable, toothless smiles looking up at me from the baby cheeked faces were those of my boys who are now losing teeth here and there and who have lost all cherub like qualities.  I remembered the smells of their necks, that soft powdery smell that they seem to have even when you do not use powder on them.  The soft rolls in various places that just required stroking of that incredibly soft skin.  I looked at those pics and sat back...they are only in pictures now these baby boys. 

I blinked and these boys shot past those moments to their present state -- on a course that is rapid.  I applaud the confidence they have as they tackle the world as if there is nothing they can't do but remember when their eyes, cries and chubby hands sought me as the sole source for helping do whatever they could not.

I am not a baby person, they are cute (for the most part), but I enjoy my boys more as I had to change diapers less. There is no running to offer to hold your child from me...I will smile and help if you ask but compared to other women I know it does not pull at the heartstrings to have another upon seeing one.  Yet as I looked at those pictures and remembered holding these little guys it made me a little sad that they were growing so fast.

It is easy to get sucked into work, homework, meal making, laundry, working, pick up and drop offs because they need to be done but it is so important to remember to put on the brakes and maybe watch a tv show that makes you wonder how on earth they enjoy the simplistic nature of it, to skip the dishes while they are awake and spend time listening to them, to breathe in and out as you help with homework because they are just as tired as you are and most of all to tell them how much you love being their parent.  They too will blink, as I have realized with my mother, when did she slow down and get so much older than I remember?, and wonder the same about you.  It is hard to balance the need to let go and the desire to hold on...my compromise is to hold them as often as I can so that the memories we have as they speed past me will be filled with those moments that will make me smile as we 3 close our eyes and think back upon them.