A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — No. 29 “Treatment”

Dear daughter,

I am writing this letter at a treatment center for eating disorders in Chicago — four hours away from our little house in Toledo.

Deciding to come to treatment and leave you behind was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. While it hurts right now, I know I will be a better mom when I am well.

Daughter, I hope you are never in this situation. If you are ever struggling, know that you are never alone. Don’t wait to reach out for help.

I love you more than anything. You are beautiful inside and out and you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.

I think about you every day and I can’t wait to come home.

Love,
Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 28 “Kindergarten”

Dear daughter,

You’ve been in kindergarten for three weeks now and we are still getting used to the new schedule. You and I wake up bright and early and get ready for the day. We are both painfully aware that neither one of us is a morning person. 

Despite that, I shower and put on make-up while you get a little breakfast. We get dressed and I drop you off at school. Every day I fight back tears as I walk you to the door. I really hope you haven’t noticed. Sometimes you cry, too.

Letting you grow up is hard. I want to keep you in my arms but I have to let you go. 

I think about you during the day. Are you making friends? Did you eat lunch? Did you have fun in gym class? 

This is a big deal right now, but I’m hoping the anxiety will soon die down. Pretty soon I’ll be dropping you off at school and we won’t think twice about it.

Daughter — despite the drama of the mornings, I want you to enjoy school. You’re going to learn so much. Be a sponge and take it all in. It’s so important.

I love you but now it’s time for you to gain a little independence and learn. 

 

Love,

Mom

Secular Parents vs. Religious Parents

Is it harder to be a secular parent than a religious one?

When you were little and asked where babies came from, what did your family tell you?

Storks? Angels?

I got a ridiculous story about a garden.

Surprisingly my daughter hasn’t asked that question yet. She turned five in April. When it comes up, I plan on giving her a simple and straightforward explanation of sex. I don’t think she’s too young for that and hopefully, it’s a conversation we can continue throughout her childhood.

As a secular parent, I feel I am tasked with telling my daughter the truth. I think it would be easier to be a religious parent always having these ready-made explanations.

Sex, babies, death, the afterlife, gender roles, marriage — you name it, religion has an answer for it.

I always want to give my daughter real answers and I want to encourage her curiosity. If I don’t know an answer, I want to help her find it. I know that will come up. I don’t consider myself worldly or well-read so I think it would be just fine to learn alongside her.

So what do you think? Is it harder to tell your kids the truth? Is it easier to rely on a religion that has all the answers?

Well, one thing I can tell you is that telling my daughter the truth sits a lot easier on my conscience. 

 

So I thought this meme was really fucking funny and it’s actually why I wrote this post. Inspiration comes from everywhere!

I’m so sorry — I don’t know the original artist to give credit to. I see a little watermark but can’t really make it out. If you know the artist, please let me know and I’ll post it.

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 27 “Pink”

Dear daughter,

As daddy and I waited to welcome you into the world, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to raise a little girl. We wanted you to grow up to be strong and independent. Did that mean we should steer you away from traditional “girly” things? We weren’t sure.

Eight months into the pregnancy, Pop-Pop and Grandma threw us a baby shower. Everybody loves to buy adorable little baby clothes when they go to baby showers, however, I asked everyone to stay away from pink. Daddy and I were going to do everything gender-neutral. Your room was an “under the sea” theme and we wanted to dress you in yellow, green, and purple. (No pink.)

Gender-neutral is surprisingly hard to pull off in America, but we did our best. However, it wasn’t going to last.

Things changed a couple of years down the road. As soon as you learned your colors, you knew you loved pink. Shit! Really kid? How did this happen?

As soon as you could walk in the store, we let you pick out your own clothes. You wanted pink everything. There were many days that you were dressed from head to toe in pink. 

Three years later and nothing has changed. Your clothes are pink. Your shoes are pink. Your bed is pink. You come into mommy and daddy’s room and steal mommy’s pink jewelry and hair things. Everything is pink.

I’ve caught hell for it. “You shouldn’t dress your little girl in pink every day.” The thing is, I didn’t dress you. You picked out your own clothes and dressed yourself. 

So I started to think, is pink really that bad? It’s your favorite color and it was never forced on you. It’s just something you like.

I’m learning, daughter. Pink isn’t bad — it’s just another color.

On June 18th, 2021, you graduated from preschool. Your graduation was a special event, but you refused to wear a dress. Instead, you wore a pink shirt with a doggie on it, gray leggings, and pink unicorn snow boots — and you looked absolutely adorable!

So now I say, as long as you are comfortable and your clothes make you happy — wear whatever the fuck you want. That’s all that matters. 

I hope you remember this if you decide to become a parent one day.

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 26 “The Pledge”

Dear young and impressionable daughter,

Two days ago I learned that you start every day at daycare with the Pledge of Allegiance. 

What? Kids still say the Pledge of Allegiance?

It was at your preschool graduation. I watched you all recite it and my stomach dropped to the floor. (Or maybe that was my jaw.)

I am against you saying the Pledge for a few different reasons.

First, and probably the most obvious reason, is for the phrase “under god”. We are raising you in a secular home and hearing you say “under god” goes against every fiber in my being. One day soon I will tell you why the separation of church and state is so incredibly important and why this phrase completely undermines it. 

Second, hearing your preschool class — made up of kids that are only three, four, and five years old — mindlessly recite words they can’t even begin to understand makes me cringe. Little ones are taught the Pledge completely unaware of its meaning and motive. They’re too young to question it.

And finally, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Just because someone is in charge doesn’t mean they’re right. It is totally fine to question authority — I even encourage it. I don’t know how strong they are encouraging you to recite the Pledge, but you have every right to say no — to sit down and not say it.

I had no idea you were saying the Pledge at daycare and I’m afraid I have addressed the issue too late. This is already part of a routine for you and your classmates. I’m scared of you feeling ostracized from the rest of your class if I call your teacher now and tell her you can’t say it.

However, we will revisit this discussion when you’re a little older and can understand the words you are reciting. At that time, it will be up to you whether you say it or not.

Question everything, daughter.

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 25 “Anxiety”

Dear daughter,

We’ve hit a point where shit gets real. 

I struggle with anxiety every day. It’s probably my most debilitating mental health issue even though my primary diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder. For schizoaffective disorder, I take medication and my symptoms go away, but with anxiety, solutions aren’t as clear cut. It is a daily battle for me consisting of some exhaustive highs and lows. It’s a terrifying rollercoaster ride and I think I would do just about anything to get the fuck off of it.

One of my worst fears is that you inherit this awful mental health disorder.

But now I watch you — you’re not as outgoing as you once were. You’re shy. Your teachers say you cry at preschool and you hide in the bathroom when you’re nervous. Yesterday was your preschool graduation, and you looked scared. I look at you and see my own anxiety that I had in childhood and it’s painful.

I’m so sorry, daughter. You come from a line of nervous people. Pop Pop worries constantly and I’m socially awkward. I prefer to isolate myself and stay home alone rather than interacting with others.

Even though I struggle, I still have some advice for you. Recognize when you are struggling and reach out for help when you need it. Don’t wait. Even though anxiety medication didn’t really work for me, that doesn’t mean I gave up. 

I found that meditation helps me. While it doesn’t seem to prevent anxiety, it has definitely made a difference in how I cope with it. I was actively searching for solutions — still am really.

And maybe I’m socially awkward but that doesn’t mean I don’t have support. I don’t have a million friends but I’m very close to my family. That’s very important to me and my mental health.

Maybe I’m jumping the gun here. You’re only five years old. Maybe you won’t have problems with anxiety, but there’s still a lesson to be learned here:

Reach out for help. Don’t wait and don’t give up. Find support. We all struggle with something and I hope you find these words useful. 

I will always be here for you.

Love,

Mom

My daughter graduated from preschool last week!

Racism and the KKK: What I’ve Learned from My Family’s Dark Past

My family has lived in Northwest Ohio since the Great Black Swamp was drained for farmland in the mid-19th century. It’s quiet here. My childhood was peaceful and sheltered. When I was growing up, everyone’s grandpa was a farmer and most of us were of German heritage. 

One night, while sitting around the kitchen table at my grandparent’s farm, my grandma revealed to me that they paid membership dues to the Ku Klux Klan. I was only a teenager at the time. She said it was for protection — they threatened to burn down their property. My grandma acted like they were a band of thugs trolling the county’s farms, but with the hate speech that spewed from her mouth, it’s pretty hard to believe my grandparents weren’t more active in the Klan. Either way, there was some serious racism there that shouldn’t have been. I should have never heard those words as a young child — or ever.

To know your grandparents were dues-paying members of the Klan is pretty fucking horrible, but to be honest, I didn’t just feel anger — I felt a lot of confusion. My dad was a single parent and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I loved going to the farm and I have some wonderful memories of them. There were times when they were loving grandparents and I enjoyed spending time with them. I am learning there were many sides to my grandparents and I probably only know bits and pieces of their story. To put it simply — I was hurt, but amid the confusion, I condemned their hateful actions and words.

Family Secrets Verified in Print

Fast forward to now — just a couple of months ago actually. My husband and I were now fully vaccinated and enjoying a night out — dinner and shopping at Barnes and Noble. I was browsing a section of local books when I came across something that really grabbed my attention. It was titled, “The Ku Klux Klan in Wood County”. That’s where my family has lived for generations. I glanced through it. My great-grandpa and four other relatives were listed as Klansmen in the 1920s and ’30s. I bought the book and shared it with a few family members. We were all shocked to learn that more than one generation was involved in the KKK. My grandparents died several years back and none of my living relatives share these hateful beliefs. 

Of course, this discovery inspired a poem:

 

My Time

 

Embarrassed —
I hesitate
before the words
slip past my tired lips.

Ashamed —
a stubborn kink of actions
in our line
that can’t be undone. 

Hate on their mind.
Love engulfing mine.
Birds of a feather no more.
I see a new way.

Sheets and arrogance
free in the summer breeze,
flames of ignorance
climbing high in the oak trees.

Crosses ablaze,
crossroads in the haze —
it’s my time now
and times will change.

 

The Klansman’s Granddaughter is an Atheist in the City

We live in Toledo, OH, a truly amazing city — gritty and vibrant with a very diverse population. A lot of people put Toledo down, but there’s such a strong sense of community here — like we’re all in this struggle together. I’m so happy to be raising my daughter here. My daughter’s urban upbringing is very different from my childhood in the country. She’s going to meet so many different people and try so many different things. I will tell her to be a sponge and absorb it all. 

It’s amazing that this whole diverse world in Toledo exists only a short drive from my childhood home in rural Northwest Ohio. My life is so different now. I’m an atheist in the city — a far cry from my family’s conservative roots.

I work for a nonprofit organization where the majority of the employees are black. I’m not going to be one of those people that say, “I have black friends so I can’t be racist.” I do, but that doesn’t make me perfect. White privilege is real and it’s important that I analyze and challenge my own thoughts. Listen to others. I am surrounded by a lot more diversity than I was growing up, and I’m learning. 

I’m also not going to be one of those people who say, “I don’t see color” because color is definitely there and it has a huge impact on people’s lives. With all of the current events, I notice it now more than ever. I wish I could relate in some way or understand but I can’t and I’m not going to pretend to. I will never know what it’s like to be black in America, but I want to help, so I listen. Then I show my support by spreading the word and having conversations with friends and family. Our color shapes our experiences. It is so important to listen and to learn when others share their stories. 

Showing the Full Story

I shouldn’t bring the whole family down. I also have plenty of ancestors and relatives that were loving people who did amazing things. I look to those family members for inspiration. I am really exploring my family’s past right now and using it to write another poetry book — the good, the bad, and the ugly will all be included. I’m not going to gloss over my family’s dark past and I’m also not going to leave out the stories of the good people in my family doing good things. 

Don’t like your family’s legacy? Change it. Set future generations on a new path. My daughter and I are shaping the future of this family and we are listening — we are learning. I will never repeat my grandma’s hateful words or my ancestor’s hateful actions. I won’t hide our family’s past from my daughter. She needs to learn from their story. My daughter will know love — to give love and be loved. 

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 24 “Boundaries”

Dear daughter,

If someone makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to be polite. You don’t have to smile. You don’t have to nervously giggle. You don’t owe anyone anything. Set boundaries and don’t let anyone cross them. 

Daughter — I’m not good at this. I’ve put up with so much shit in my life. Creepy guys. Abusive bosses. It’s hard for me to say no and I avoid conflict even when it’s necessary. People have used me — taken advantage of me. 

With time, I’ve gotten a little better at standing up for myself but it’s never easy.

Remember — you always have the right to leave. Set boundaries and don’t waver. Good people will respect them. The rest don’t deserve your time. 

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 23 “Holidays”

Dear daughter,

By now I’m sure you know, I hate Christmas. I hate Christmas shopping. I hate Christmas carols, and I absolutely hate that Christmas seems to last the whole damn month of December. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Eat. Hang out with family and friends. Simple.

You are turning five at the end of the month, and this year you really enjoyed Easter. We had a couple egg hunts at home and at Pop Pop’s and you had a party at daycare. You even said it was your favorite holiday. (I know that’s subject to change.)

Our little family celebrates Christian holidays but not in very Christian ways. Older generations of our family were Christian so Easter and Christmas are traditions, but these days the traditions are secular and we’ve made them our own. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fun parts of childhood; Jesus is not required to give Christmas and Easter meaning.

My favorite part of any holiday is getting to spend time with our family.

My beautiful daughter — you are growing up and soon will start a life of your own. Make holidays your own as well. Whatever you do, celebrate what makes you happy.

Love,

Mom