Archive for August, 2013

In The Car

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Barnaby and I were driving to camp this morning.

Barnaby: I don’t think I’m gonna get a job when I grow up.

Me: You’re gonna have to get a job, Barnaby. Everyone has a job.

B: Really? Everyone has to have a job?

Me: Yeah, dude. You know how you have to go to school every day and do work?

B: Yeah.

Me: Well, that’s what you’re gonna do for the rest of your life. You’re just gonna have to do a job forever. Gramma Linda still has a job.

B: She’s really old.

Me: Yep.

B: What if I don’t like my job?

Me: Well, that’s why we’re trying to set it up so you can make a choice. You have to do a job, so we want you to be able to decide what job you want and then if you don’t like it, you can choose another job.

There’s silence in the car for a little bit. Jordana once gave me the advice “only answer the question the kids ask”, and I’ve followed that pretty well. If a kid says “how does a car work” you can explain an internal combustion engine, or you can explain a steering wheel and gas pedal – believe me the second explanation is the one they actually want.

B: Didn’t Grandpa Morrie get me a ticket to college or something?

Me: What?

B: I thought Grandpa Morrie got me a ticket so I can go to college.

Me: Grandpa Morrie and Gramma Clara set up an account to make it easier to pay for college. Grandma Lorna and Grandpa Joe are gonna put money in it too. They want you and Marlena to be able to pay for college or anything else you want to do when you get out of high school.

B: I miss Grandpa Morrie.

Me: Sure.

B: I hope he comes back.

Me: That’s not really how it works.

Another silence. Very often it’ll seem like you’re on the edge of some Important Conversation, but it stalls out. In fact, almost always. Kids aren’t really interested in big questions as much as you might think.

B: You know how Uncle Alan’s mom died, but now Aunt Sabrina has babies coming?

Me: Yeah.

B: What if one of the babies is Uncle Alan’s mom?

Me: Well, there are some people who believe that’s possible. Some religions think you come back to life after you die as someone else.

B: Do you think that?

Me: Nope.

B: What do you think happens?

Me: Well, what do you think happens?

B: I think Uncle Alan’s mom is gonna come back, but she won’t have any memories of being his mom and she’ll be a baby and she’ll get a whole life to learn how to crawl and walk and stuff.

Me: Yeah, I can see that. Some religions believe stuff like that.

B: What religion are we?

Me: That’s something… We’re not any religion, honey, I’m sorry. That’s the sort of thing you’re gonna have to work out for yourself when you get older and you do some research.

B: Is that what you did?

This is the sort of corner you get yourself into when you don’t answer the question asked. There’s a very simple answer to his question – “None” and then if he presses, we could be here. Instead, I steered us here.

Me: Your mom was raised in a Jewish family, but they weren’t really all that religious and obsessed with it, and I was raised in a not-religious family, except that Grandma Linda’s family are all Mormon, so we had a little bit of that.

B: I thought you were Christian.

Me: Honey, there’s a difference between being “not Jewish” and being “Christian”. I’m not remotely Christian, but I also wasn’t born into a Jewish family.

B: So what are you?

Me: I’m not anything, honey. There’s a thing called “Secular Humanism” but even that implies that you think about these things, and I don’t think about them.

B: I’m Jewish though, because Mom is Jewish.

Me: Yeah, but that’s a racial thing, not a religious thing. But we definitely want to set you up so you can decide if you want to be Jewish when you’re older.

B: Like getting a job. You want me to get to decide what I’m gonna be.

Me: (laughing) Yes, it actually is quite like a job, honey.

Again, there’s a pause. He’s frustrated by something in my answers, there’s something about it that’s really making him legitimately *angry*. He doesn’t say anything for a minute, but when he talks it’s a little bit louder.

B: Why aren’t you Jewish?

Me: I wasn’t born into a Jewish family.

B: But you said it’s a religion. Can’t you decide to choose the religion?

Me: Yeah, sure. Although… Okay, it’s a little bit complicated but yes, if I wanted to be Jewish, I could go through a bit of research and devote myself to becoming Jewish and they’d totally let me be Jewish. But the thing is, I never think about that stuff AT ALL. It is all something I never, ever think about.

B: But if I’m Jewish, I want you to be Jewish.

Me: Well, you can be Jewish and we can even disagree about stuff that is really, really important but it won’t change our family and it won’t change who we are. Gramma Lorna and Grandpa Joe are Jewish and they don’t care at all that I’m not, they still love me and we’re all still family.

B: Why don’t you think about this stuff?

Me: Because it’s faith. It’s religion. I’m just not interested in religion.

B: Because you like science?

Me: Well, it’s not an either/or thing, but there’s an aspect of science that makes religion really difficult to swallow.

B: Science makes it hard to be Jewish?

Me: NO! Honey, Jesus, No, some of the greatest scientists – Seriously, most of the greatest scientists that have ever lived were Jewish. Einstein was Jewish.

B: So why don’t you think about this stuff.

By now, we’re parked at his camp. I put the car in park and check the time. He doesn’t have to be inside for five minutes but, honestly, I know he’s my kid and everything, but this has to be where you tread lightly. Because I don’t know what he will think is true when he’s older, and if I talk to him about this now and it feels like I’ve been dishonest, then it’ll mean I might be dishonest about *anything*. Believe me, once you know your parent is lying to you about stuff, you assume they could lie about *everything*.

And also… I don’t know what’s true. I have no idea. I feel, right to the center of my bones, that there’s no God, that there’s no magic, nothing supernatural. More than that, I just don’t care if it *is* true. There’s no demonstrable way that the existence of anything spiritual can change my life. BUT I see, in other people, that their lives are made better by their spirituality. It has never done anything for me but, like bungee jumping, the fact that I’ve never had any interest in it doesn’t automatically mean it’s meaningless.

Me: Listen, you put an ice cube in a cup and you wait twenty minutes. What is your hypothesis? What do you think will happen?

B: The ice will melt.

Me: Sure. The ice melts. Why?

B: Because water is liquid normally. You have to freeze it for it to be ice, but the warmth wins out against the freezing.

Me: Okay. But you’ve only done it once. You have to repeat the experiment. You put ice in the cup, you wait twenty minutes, it melts. You do it again, it happens again. You do it again it happens again. This is what makes sense to me, this is what I’m interested in.

B: But what does that have to do with being religious?

Me: I’m getting to that. Let’s say you put ice in the cup and you pray that it won’t melt and then after twenty minutes you check and the ice has *not* melted.

B: Why didn’t it melt?

Me: Why do you think?

Barnaby is silent for a minute.

B: Either because you prayed it wouldn’t melt, or maybe the cup was icy-cold too?

Me: Awesome. So how do you know which one it was?

B: You do the experiment again, but you make sure the cup is the same temperature, and you make sure you pray the same way.

Me: See, and that’s the thing. Nobody has ever had ice not melt because they were praying, and then they do the experiment a *second time* and the ice still doesn’t melt.

B: So the praying only works one.

Me: Yeah, if it works *at all*, it only works once and then you can’t repeate the experiment. People who believe in praying and believe in God and everything, they get a lot out of that first time, when the ice doesn’t melt, but they can’t ever *repeat it*. So, for me, it’s not a thing and I just don’t think about it.

B: Because you think it isn’t a thing that, like, has any effect on the world.

Me: Right.

B: Because you think it’s fiction. Instead of non-fiction.

Me: Right.

Barnaby has been drawing this distinction for a while. He’s far more interested in non-fiction than fiction at this point in his life. Not because he doesn’t like fantasy stories. I think he’s just trying to get all his shit in one pile in his brain, and he wants to know what’s what.

He’s silent for a minute, so I get him out to walk him into camp. I can tell he’s still thinking about it.

B: Dad, I think you’re wrong.

Me: I might be, kiddo.

B: No, I think you’re wrong about you. About how you think about it.

Me: What do you mean?

B: Well, you say you’re more interested in non-fiction, but you had to choose a job and you choosed a job where you had to tell stories and do plays right.

Me: Well, sure…

B: And you think that the plays are important, like, the first time someone tells the story. Like, you don’t know what’s gonna happen at the end of a story, like, when we’re reading and I don’t know what’s gonna happen and you’re always like, “What’s gonna happen!?!?!” and you’re all excited and everything.

Me:… right…

B: Because you don’t tell the story twice, right? You don’t get the same thing the second time you tell the story, right? Because this time you know what’s gonna happen. It’s like truth, but it’s fiction.

Me:… Sure.

B: So, you don’t repeat the thing and get the same outcome and you aren’t praying or anything, but you totally believe in reading the same story or doing the play again or something and you don’t get the same thing in the end, but you totally think you should do it anyway.

Me: I’m not sure that applies to religion and science, dude.

B: It does, though. Because it’s true fiction. I’m gonna call it true fiction. And you could decide to be religious if you want. If you think you can do a story more than once and if you think you can have the same ending but it’s all different every other time, then you could totally be religious.

I drop him off at camp and walk back to the car. I think my kids offer up a word salad that is *interesting*, sure, but any insight I find in it could be no more than seeing elephants in cloud shapes.

But… if I’m gonna go so far as to admit that my own total lack of spirituality is possibly a blind spot, that my utter atheism could be the same thing as my color blindness or my friends’ tone-deafness, than I also have to admit that it’s entirely *possible* that my kids understand something that I don’t.

The mormons call it “closer to the veil”, because they believe there’s a sort of fog that separates this life from the pre- and post-existence. I can’t say I believe it, I don’t. But I knew better than to just start the car and drive. I knew I should probably sit in the car for a few minutes until my heart stopped racing.