Monday, March 31, 2008

Anyone Know Where to Find a Toy God?

I have mentioned here on several occasions that I’m Catholic but if you hung out with me in real life you probably wouldn’t know that unless you asked. I have been pretty careful and pretty selective with what I’ve taught my kids about religion. Spirituality is of the most profound importance to me and when it’s dumbed down in order to teach children a list of things they should and should not do, it’s reduced to something inane and even dangerous in my opinion. (And hello, you don’t have to look very far to find many adults who never outgrew the inane interpretation and the scam artists who take advantage of them.)

So I have a Bible for my kids. I have books about saints. I say prayers with them sometimes and I answer their questions as they come up without trying to speak to them on their level necessarily. Often they give me a blank look, but I figure when they’re ready, they’ll make the connection. I don’t want them to think of God as some sort of policeman waiting for them to screw up when they do something wrong, so I don’t say, “you shouldn’t lie because it’s a sin.” I say, “you shouldn’t lie because it’s disrespectful to people who trust you, it can hurt people and particularly if someone asks you to lie to Mama, they could be putting you in danger.”

Although if I can’t get someone to behave in public I’m not above saying that SOMEONE will kick us out of the store or the police will take us to jail if you don’t get your seatbelt on!

Don’t judge - sometimes a mother needs help from on high.

Little One goes to a Catholic Montessori Preschool which is obviously fine with me – they’re a little heavy on the religion, but he’s also reading and writing (legibly) at four and a half so we just cut them some slack there. However, as I’ve mentioned my nanny is quite religious and I really really REALLY wish she would not discuss Jesus with my kids. (But she is a great nanny so I just tell the kids she doesn’t know what she’s talking about and not to believe anything she says and we keep asking her to come back week after week.) She brings them all these pappy children’s books and sometimes Little One asks me to read one and I tell him to go put it away and that Mama doesn’t read that crap. (I know, I’m mean, but unless you are the parent or have been honored with the role of Godparent you really should not give children religious items. It’s presumptuous and rude. And it really offends me.)

I rarely discuss much to do with Jesus. We do read the Bible, but we’re reading it in order and we’re at about the part where Joseph’s brothers leave him for dead. (If you’re not religious, that’s roughly like being on Chapter 1 of War and Peace - for three or four years.) We’re not even close to Jesus entering the scene yet, and at the rate we’re going he will have come again in glory to judge the living and the dead by the time we get there. (And my vehicle will probably NOT be un-manned, in case you’re wondering.) But I’m trying. Really. A little bit.

So between the nanny, preschool and Easter, Little One has really been obsessing about the “Jesus dying on the cross” story lately. He’s been picking that part from the Bible to read as his bedtime story a lot. The other night we were reading it and he kept interrupting me. First he said, “Mama, I want a toy cross and a toy Jesus.”

I said, “That’s called a crucifix, I’ve got some I’ll show you and I’ll see if I can find one you can have to play with.”

“Well, I don’t want one where he’s just stuck there in one position,” he huffed, “I want one that I can stick him on there but he comes off too.”

“Uh – I’ll see what I can do,” I said and tried to continue reading the story.

Then he said, “I want a toy Blessed Mother too and a toy Mary Magdalene and toys of all the bad guys who nailed Jesus to the cross.”

“Umm, ok.”

“Mama, I don’t want one where Jesus is alive on the cross. That’s not what I’m talking about. I want Jesus to be dead on the cross.”

“Yes, I got it, Honey, I’ll see if we can find that somewhere.” …trying to continue reading the story...

“Oh and Mama, I need a toy God too.”

“Well,” unable to hold my laughter in now, “Silly – what do you suppose a toy God looks like?”

Looking at me like I have two heads, “Well, I don’t know, Mama! I just want one!”

“I don’t know if there is such a thing, but I’ll see what I can do,” I said, trying to finish the damn story already so I could tuck them in and hit the wine bottle.

(My husband suggested we choose a white teddy bear with a Ninja headband to be the toy God or else a jar that we can close and pretend that we’ve trapped the essence of God inside. But I told him I’m not going to hell for his amusement.)

And Little One said, “I’ll just put God in the clouds when I’m playing so He can be at Heaven.”

“Ok,” I said, “But God isn’t just in Heaven, God is everywhere, in your heart, everything that we see that is good and beautiful and love is God.”

And J chimed in, “What about my Wii guys, sometimes I make girl ones and they’re beautiful.”

(My husband shrugged later, “tell J he is the God of his Wii characters, technically speaking.”)

“Well, J, I was thinking more of greater things that are beautiful, like when people do good things and rainbows and forests…”

“And flowers,” J added.

“Yes, definitely flowers.”

“And burnt up posters, sometimes I think they can be really beautiful.”

“Er, um, sure,” I shrugged.

(I had no idea what this meant and later asked my husband if we’re raising a psychopath or what, when he reminded me that this hole-in-the-wall restaurant we like had a fire many years ago and they just kept the burnt up paintings as part of the new décor because they actually look kind of cool, and we’d discussed this at length with J last time we were there. Whew.)

It’s not that I mind talking about Jesus, it’s that I don’t like to have to run around behind and clean up after what may have been said about him already. Ironically, my husband doesn’t mind in the least, because he thinks it’s all dumb and meaningless anyway and that they’ll figure that out on their own. But I care deeply about what they learn about the life and death of Jesus, even though I freely admit to them that it’s a myth and happened so long ago that nobody knows if it’s “true” in the historical event sense of the word or not. Because it’s important to me regardless, and I’d appreciate it if people would shut the hell up so I can share the reasons why that is with them as the opportunity arises naturally – or, you know, when I get around to it. Whichever.


Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

Hmmm, maybe Fisher Price can make the Easter story version of the Little People, complete with all relevant characters. I love how kids put things into their own perspective!

You know I am not religious, but I love your attitude and approach to religion. I find it offensive when anyone makes assumptions about my or my children's religion (or lack thereof). Recently, my son's teacher told him that they had to behave "as if they were in church" and he responded, "I don't go to church". (that's my boy!)

I don't want my kid to feel like he is not "in the know" for not being religious any more than I want my kid to tell someone that they are stupid for being religious.

notdancingqueen said...

Staci, I've lurked on your blog for months - I love it - but this is one of your best.posts.ever. You are hilarious! Jackie

Rebecca said...

I can't tell you how hard I laughed reading this! ;)

Anonymous said...

If you can't find a cross with a detachable jesus you might try an electric chair (easily made out of a barbie chair with some wires) or a gas chamber(put a mini spiderman inside a liter coke bottle) or a firing squad, (just a bunch of GI Joes). There are plenty of ways to provide torture death devices for kids to play with so that they can learn the values of the bible.

Mommy Brain said...

I completely had a fp little people playset in my head too! How funny.

radical mama said...

I totally agree with you. I am very spiritual but I don't subscribe to any dogma and I just can't STAND it when people try to school my children in religion.

I don't know if I could keep your nanny around, but then, I know how freakin' impossible it can be to find dependable child care, so catch 22.

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Whether it's religion or sex or death or any of the great mysteries of the adult world, it's fascinating to see how children process their impressions of what is going on around them. When my grandmother died, my six-year-old daughter spent a week stuffing her babies into brown paper sacks (e.g. "dead boxes"); the day her eight-year-old brother told her where babies came from, she spent the next week dropping babies out from under her shirt.

There's a physicality to the processing that just seems to come with the mental development that's fascinating. The thing is ... there seems to be a window of opportunity that we can miss if we blink. I remember seeing an article recently that said that a child's religious perceptions are determined by the time they are eight. Sobering ... especially for those who are determined to "let the kids decide for themselves when they are older."

Your description of your children and the crucifix request made me smile. When I became Catholic (I was 30) I came to appreciate the physicality of the faith -- the sacraments, the icons, the rosaries and holy water fonts. I was no longer a child ... but the "touchable" aspects of the faith provide useful points of connection with the mysteries.

Heidi Saxton

Mary Alice said...

Jesus was the original super hero.

Anjali said...

Yes, yes, and YES!

I couldn't have said it better!

Markus said...

Good JoB!: )