Seeking Ritual, Seeking “Special”

by Janina Chamberlain

My children are, at this very moment, writing and rewriting New Year’s Resolutions that they hope will shape their upcoming 2013.  In their lifetimes, neither I nor their father have ever made resolutions.  I’m sure I have mentioned, in passing, that “some people” do this, and somehow, it has stuck.  They have been working on this for months.

Watching them do this, I am convinced that as a species, we are drawn to marking the days, creating rituals to help us differentiate one day, one season, one year from another. We are drawn to seek something “special” from time to time.

I grew up in a family that celebrated all holidays with gusto and creativity, with education and with presents.  I learned how to say Merry Christmas in too many languages to count, and became familiar with (and even created) holiday dishes from other lands.  Music was played and sung, legends were read and carols researched (did you know there really was a “King” Wenceslas?).  The religious part of things was deemphasized and presented as simply a traditional basis for it all, not as any belief system to ascribe to.  Phew.  Dodged a bullet there, never being told I had to actually believe any of that stuff.  As Tim Minchin says, “Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords, but the lyrics are dodgy”.  We took what we wanted, and left the rest.

But even in my heathen home, there was celebration, there was tradition.  Why?  Why did I exchange cards and gifts on St. Patrick’s Day, not being a smidge Irish?  Why were there presents on Valentine’s Day?  And red envelopes on Chinese New Year, even though our Chinese ancestry is at least 4 generations back?As I aged, I was told that no one group owns one holiday–it’s fluid, it’s for rejoicing, it’s celebration for celebration’s sake!!!  I theorized that growing up during bleak times was the catalyst for my family’s overindulgence in all holidays.  A sort of “life will never be that lacking in cheer again” determination.

I, however, did not grow up in bleak times.  I don’t need to cheer myself up.  I can find joy in the smallest places, the most mundane tasks.  Every day is pretty good.  I don’t think I need to have things to look forward to.  Or do I?  This past Christmas, as part of a non-believing homeschooling family who rarely knows what day or date it is, I struggled with thinking I should do something on that all-(used to be)important C day.  (I struggled because to me, “should” is a swear word.  I don’t not want to be told that I should do anything)  We have no family close by, the kids no longer believe in Santa, but I felt I had some responsibility to do something.  Even though the kids are quite smart, critical thinkers, they still live in a preteen society where they don’t mind being different but don’t want to be toooo different.  I thought that we needed to do something to make Christmas special.

The discussion with my husband began: “It’s a Christian holiday and we’re not Christians so there’s no need to celebrate it,” he says.  I argued that it’s not necessarily a religious thing, it’s a cultural thing:  North Americans, in general, regardless of true belief, celebrate many holidays identified as Christian,, in some way or form.  This continues for a while, without much resolution.  Even coming out the other side of the discussion with my husband, I still don’t have an adequate answer as to why we “should” do something.  I know why we are drawn to it, though.  As evidenced by my children’s activity, it is human nature to keep track of time, to notice things in the world around us, and attach parts of ourselves to those happenings, even if it’s something as simple as loving the day the first leaves start to fall in autumn, because that means your birthday is right around the corner.  The Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler says all humans are primarily in search of a sense of belonging.  And so, legions of people can say:  This is what we do, (on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) this is what makes us special.  Special as a family, or as a group distinct from other groups.  The Jehovah Witnesses can say:  We don’t do anything, and that’s what makes us special.  Whatever we do or don’t do, it helps remind us who we are and helps us make connections to the broader world.

So we did “some”thing.  Doing something as a family on these holidays, whatever it is, has a stabilizing effect.  Even if what you do changes every few years.  It fulfills that desire for belonging that is so acutely felt in children.  But it benefits us all, for young people love to have something special to look forward to, and old(er) people enjoy looking back on things.  Remember that Easter when the cat bit you?  Remember when we had to go to the hospital on Christmas Eve?  Let me tell you again.  The holidays are to pay homage to the fact that we’re all stuck with each other, another year has passed and we’re still here, and we’ll do something to make it special.

Posted in Holidays | 1 Comment

Inoculating Children Against Supernaturalism

by Kevin Zimmerman

Protecting our children from religion and its symptoms—such as dichotomous thinking, the externalization of blame, and perpetual guilt—may be one of the greatest gifts that we can bestow. Some freethinking parents feel uneasy sharing their skepticism of religion with their children for fear of committing the parental sin of childhood indoctrination. But take heart—we don’t believe in sin, remember?

As Dr. McGowen has helpfully noted on his Parenting Beyond Belief YouTube channel, there is a difference between indoctrination and parental influence. Indoctrination, he says, is the presentation of only one set of ideas, and forbidding your children to question those ideas. Influence, on the other hand, is sharing your ideas with your children, but then saying as often as you can that there are other good people who have differing opinions, and encouraging your children to inquire of those other people themselves.

Although I was raised in a largely secular family, the mere absence of religion at home was not enough to prevent me from coming down with a bad case of religion as a youth. Just as keeping kids away from communicable diseases is not enough to ensure that they will not contract the diseases, we must proactively inoculate our children against supernaturalism. We do this by exposing them to innocuous strands of religion—religion as cultural curiosity rather than as the pernicious precondition of social acceptance and survival. Religious parents have traditionally been much better than secular parents at imparting their worldview to their children. Religionists know they need to “get ‘em while their young,” before their children grow up and are able to think for themselves, diminishing the chances that they’ll buy what religions are trying to sell.

Below are a few of the books, videos, and songs that my boys, ages 8, 6, and 4, have enjoyed and that I have found useful for imparting to them a skepticism for the supernatural, a recognition of some of religions’ peculiarities, and a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world. These recommendations are not comprehensive, but they are a place to start. Continue reading

Posted in Critical Thinking, For the kids, Religious literacy, Resources, Science ed | 2 Comments

More For Your Holiday: Try Chalica

by Evan Austin

Christmas is in just a few weeks. That simple phrase about one of the most widely-celebrated holidays in the world can thrill us with sugary imaginings, wet our eyes with tender memories, choke us with consumer anxiety, and more.

This fabulously complex holiday has as many beautiful and life-affirming origins as it does curious twists, unlikely engineers, and shady overwritings…but the decidedly religious and specifically Christian themes that saturate the modern Christmas are unpalatable to many – especially parents who are trying to raise free thinking young humans.

You may feel stuck between ditching the holiday completely (with all of the social implications for both yourself and your children), undertaking the task of researching, understanding, and conscientiously observing the original pagan traditions, or just gritting your teeth all the way through elementary school, when you’ve decided you’ll reveal all and have a good laugh with your kids over all the years of magic and dishonesty. Maybe there’s more; I’d like to introduce you to Chalica.

CHALICA (pronounced CHA-li-ka) is an unofficial holiday in the Unitarian Universalist tradition – it’s been made up, just like all holidays have. This one was conceived by a young woman in around 2005 as a way for she and her friends to specifically celebrate each of the UU faith’s Seven Principles – one a night, for seven nights.

The celebration begins on the first Monday of December, and is marked by the lighting of a chalice or candle each day (or evening). The focus is on mindfulness, service, and action, NOT GIFTS! Chalica is NOT intended as a replacement for Christmas, or even its competitor in the already-stuffed “holiday season”. Although it was devised intentionally as a winter holiday for the same reasons as most other winter holidays – themes of community, darkness-to-light, etc – people all over the world are celebrating Chalica anytime they want, for periods that are longer or shorter than the “official” one, and many families are reporting that it serves them well as a more deeply meaningful augmentation to their regularly scheduled Christmas observances.

Stripped only of the two occurrences of the phrase “with/in our congregations”, the Principles which we affirm and promote are (the children’s language version is in parenthesis):

  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person (Each person is important)
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations (Be kind in all you do)
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth (We’re free to learn together)
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning (…and search for what is true)
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in society at large (All people need a voice)
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all (Build a fair and peaceful world)
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part (We take care of the Earth)

Is there really any part of that which you cannot bring yourself to endorse, or even just aspire to in an idealistic way? I’m not trying to convince you that you’re a Unitarian Universalist if you nod your head while reading the Principles…just that they’re intentionally inclusive and accessible. They stand as a call to our brightest hopes for our world and for each other…and that’s something anyone can celebrate; no chalice required.

Do you have to be a UU to celebrate Chalica?

Of course not…just like you don’t have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas! While Chalica is growing out of the Unitarian Universalist tradition and celebrates the faith’s specific, official Principles, we believe that their beauty and accessibility lie in their, ahem, universal nature. The chalice itself is a classic, powerful symbol which combines fire and water to represent such ideals and practices as sharing, generosity, sustenance, love, witness, sacrifice, testing, courage, and illumination. It’s been used by Unitarian Universalists as their primary symbol since the 1940’s to represent faith in action and a life of service.

If you need something more out of your holy days; if you want a little structure within which your family can turn into action those values and ideals which you already hold dear; if you want to celebrate something beyond the accumulation of more stuff, maybe Chalica is worth a try. Join our vibrant international community on Facebook at facebook.com/UU.Chalica for support and resources. Visit chalica.blogspot.com for tons of goodies and Chalica news, and check out ChalicaVids on YouTube for some fun holiday songs.

Posted in For the kids, Holidays, Religious literacy | 5 Comments

Gift Books for Secular Families

by Mindy Rhiger

Thanksgiving is over, and the holiday season has officially begun.  In another week or so, we will put up our Christmas tree, and I’ve already started thinking about gifts for my friends and family.  To be honest, I’m a predictable gift-giver.  The librarian in me can’t help but use these occasions to share my favorite books with people I think will love them.  Here are a few books that just might make good gifts for your freethinking family (or one you know), along with a peek inside a couple of them.

I’ll start with one of my favorite picture books of 2012.  You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey is a beautiful look at the natural world beginning with the idea that every atom in our bodies came from a star that exploded long before we were born.  This is a book that will connect kids to our world, introduce them to science facts, and build a sense of wonder at it all.  The poetry of the text is accompanied by intricate diorama illustrations that are quite stunning.  I wanted to pore over the pages again and again for the art and the ideas.  Check out the teacher’s guide for some ideas on how to use this book to talk about science with your kids.

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors begins with bacteria.  Nearly 4 billion years ago, it was the first life on a newly formed earth, and it is still with us today.  Sidman introduces 13 other survivors in chronological order from when they first appeared in this book of poems.  We learn about beetles, mollusks, ants, and others in poetry, prose, and art.  It is hard to put an age-range on this book because it really is an all-ages look at life on earth that will engage anyone with an interest in science, poetry, or art, but it will probably be best received by kids ages 7-10.

I guess  I’m revealing my love of poetry because I have another science poetry pick for you with The Tree That Time Built.  It is appropriate, of course, since “both poets and scientists wonder at and about the world” as the book says.  This collection of poems draws from a wide range of poets old and new, and the poems are grouped by themes that relate to science and nature.  The book is aimed at kids in elementary and middle school, but it will be a gift for the whole family.

You want science without poetry?  Okay, okay. I have something for you too.  The Really, Really Big Questions series introduces science, philosophy, and skepticism in a question and answer format that will will appeal to curious kids ages 8-12.  Start with the first book, Really, Really Big Questions About Life, The Universe, and Everything, for an overview of some pretty heavy topics that author Stephen Law manages to make fun (and funny).  The “answers” are designed to lead to more questions and help kids come to their own conclusions.  Other books in the series take on space and time, God and faith, and existence and identity.  Fascinating information in a hip-looking package.  Any of these would make great gifts on their own, or give the whole set!

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins.  This book is for an older audience that the others I’ve mentioned, but it should not be overlooked.  It is a remarkable introduction to science questions and concepts that will engage readers who may not even be interested in science.  The connections to history, mythology, and culture are fascinating, and the illustrations by Dave McKean are striking.  It will have a place on most freethinking family bookshelves.

These are just a few of the many, many possibilities for giving books this year.  Whether you choose these or something completely different, I hope you’ll choose to share books with the people in your life this year.

Mindy Rhiger is a librarian specializing in children’s books.  She blogs about books and family life at Proper Noun Blog.

Posted in Critical Thinking, For the kids, Holidays, Science ed | 2 Comments

It’s not easy being mean

by Heather Minter

There was a moment when I turned around, and god was not there.

It wasn’t weak faith. It wasn’t temptation from the devil. It wasn’t anger. It was a glimmer of light shining in through the cracks in my hardened, solid certitude. There was another way.

But, at first, that light was blinding. And scary. And it took years for me to understand that the light was true.

When you’re in that transition period, you vacillate between anger and exhilaration. Your understanding is tentative. Your vision is still blurry. You begin to make things out, and your realizations leave you frustrated, angry, confused. You want answers. You want clarity. You want a definitive answer. And this restless searching can leave you mean.

I’ve been mean, for years. I’ve been disdainful, snarky, bitter and rude. I blamed every believer for my isolation. I pointed fingers at their belief for making me feel unsure. Since I didn’t know, for sure, on what to place my feet, having lost my footing, I tried to pull others down with me. I felt like shouting, “It’s not true, you idiots! Stop standing there so self-assured!” Sure, I wanted them to see the light that I had found, but a large part of my heart wanted them to feel bad. I wanted them to be bobbing about on this ocean of confusion with me. In truth, I wanted them to be in the same boat because I really just wanted to not be alone. And I wanted validation. I wanted someone to say, “Yes, you’re right. Yes, you’ve got this.”

But that’s never going to happen. When you really, finally, absolutely, realize that the joy and love and peace you are seeking is never, not ever, going to come from an outside source, then you can settle in to the business of finding it within.

The Buddha was said to have told a story about a man shot with a poison arrow. He refused to have the arrow removed until he found out who had shot him, where he was from, what kind of arrow, what kind of poison. He wanted to know the color and type of wood, the details about the bow. He demanded to know what clan the man was from who shot him. But the wounded man would die before he would know any of those things.

I read that and knew that I was the man with the poison arrow. I am always on the hunt for definitive truth, for explicit understanding, for the answers. I want peer-reviewed, double-blind studies to give me cold, hard facts about existence. I want explanations, and then I want to be done. Mystery leaves me itchy.

But life is mysterious. The universe (or universes?) is boundless with wonder. And the seeking is the solid ground. And the knowing, the details, the certainty, does nothing for removing the poison. I’ve let righteous indignation about orthodoxy turn into self-righteousness toward the person who believes it. My poison is the grasping for the certainty I thought I had, and that leads to a need for me to be right and for others to be wrong.

And the thing is, this poison isn’t just ruining my life. I’ve got three small people who are watching my every eyeroll, mirroring my every harumph over what someone says. They feel my judgment. They know when mom thinks something is ridiculous. I’m passing on my poison. And it needs to stop. I’m not really giving them a fair chance to determine what they think of this amazing mystery while I’m so grumpy about not being able to pin down exactly how and why. I want them to be open about learning from Grandma about God, but I can’t do that authentically, when, in my heart I’m shaking my head sarcastically. I tell them to have a yes in their hearts toward things they’ve never tried, but I’ve had a no in my heart for years.

Today, the sun is shining in that late-October way that makes everything seem magical. We’re being spun around the sun, doing our continuous pirouette, dancing in the cosmos. Somehow, I got to be here. I will probably never know why. And that not knowing is an exquisite ache that will keep me seeking, keep me searching, keep me watching TED talks and reading science magazines. But it will also keep me grateful. It’s my job then to let that gratefulness remind me to be kind. Because compassion is the only medicine for an angry heart. And it’s compassion my children need to mirror, not conceit.

The truth is, we’re all using different words to describe the same thing. We’re all just here, on this earth, wondering how we got here, and we’re all just part of the lineage of people, for thousands of years, who have been asking the same questions and raising their eyes to the same sky. I don’t believe there’s a deity that engenders compassion. I think there’s just compassion. Either way the result is the same because either way there’s love.

Posted in Coming out, Reflections | 1 Comment

Parenting with Humanistic Integrity

by Rabbi Adam Chalom, Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation

Having worked as a Humanistic community leader for 15 years, I have answered many questions about beliefs from adults and children. In 2004, I wrote an article called Dealing with the God Question, trying to give appropriate Humanistic answers to challenges like “What do I say if other kids ask me what I pray for?” “X told me we’re not good people because we don’t believe in God” and “Why do so many other people pray and believe in God, and we don’t?” Like most of my pre-parenthood theories, my perspective changed once I actually became a parent, and even more when my children began to interact unaccompanied with the outside world.

My wife AJ and I believe that honesty is the best policy, and that a clear affirmation of other people’s right to different conclusions is the best model for both getting along and for credibly demanding the dignity to differ with the opinion of the wider community. If we as humanists want to be respected while disagreeing with others, then we have to be willing to respect their disagreement with us. We believe even more strongly that a positive focus on what we do believe, what we can do, how we are responsible is a better approach than being on the defensive and defining yourself by what you are not.

A few key lessons learned from actual parenting experience:

  • Your issues are not their issues: Our daughter says the Pledge of Allegiance every day (in English and Spanish!), and has not yet asked about those infamous two words added in 1954. Before entering school, AJ felt strongly about her not participating in this ritual based on AJ’s childhood experiences; however, we took a wait-and-see approach. Perhaps someday one of our children will raise an objection, or question what those words are doing there or whether we agree with them. Their school life doesn’t have to be one test case after another. If they have questions about it, we will tell them our honest opinions; if they have an issue with the ritual, we will absolutely support their making a stink. But they might decide they are just amused, or indifferent, or come up with alternative wording that works for them. Our issues don’t have to become their issues – they will have plenty of their own to deal with!
  • Kids figure things out on their own: When it came to Santa Claus, we faced a double dilemma. We did not want to lie to our child, particularly since we are Jewish and a Santa, if he existed, wouldn’t visit us anyways! But our daughter’s best friend and his family are culturally Christian and were definitely into Santa, particularly for good behavior. Again, we took the wait-and-see approach, for example answering her occasional question with, “some people think there is, other people don’t and make sure they get gifts for people they love. What do you think?” One day, from the backseat, out of nowhere she declared, “There can’t be a Santa Claus. How could he visit all those houses, and the reindeer would break the roof. And no one can get down a chimney – you would die!” No more needed to be said.
  • Give your children real, scientific answers to their questions: As with all children, ours ask MANY questions a day.  We try to give them scientific explanations to understand their world.  The other day, AJ was discussing with our five year old why it was raining, talking about water vapor in the clouds.  He turned to her and explained the ENTIRE water cycle, a combination of lessons received over time from us and from PBS television. There is always a way to simplify a scientific explanation so children can understand it; it just takes practice to translate “condensation” into “little bits of water coming together to make drops.”
  • Kids learn by example: If you live a life of Humanistic values, doing good because of consequences and experience rather than arbitrary commands, exploring the world through reason and evidence, asking and encouraging lots of questions, then your children will get the message without didactic lecturing. It certainly works much better than “do as I say, not as I do!” I’ve found that if I have the patience to explain discipline or restrictions with why the rule is important, it works much better than “because I said so!” If that works for ethics philosophically, not obeying divine commandments just because, why not everything else?

Sometimes you can find just the right way to get the message across. My daughter still remembers a children’s discussion I led for our community on the difference between “need” and “want.” You don’t need to call it a “hierarchy of needs” to teach a lesson in Humanistic ethics to any age. Living your life as a parent with Humanistic integrity goes a long, long way.

Adam Chalom is the Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in north suburban Chicago, and the Dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. His wife, AJ, is the Humanist Giving Program Coordinator at Foundation Beyond Belief and the chair of the HuJews Committee for the Society for Humanistic Judaism Board of Directors. They live with their two children in Highland Park, IL, and they reserve the right to change their minds again the more they parent!

Posted in Reflections | Leave a comment

It’s alive!

It may almost be Halloween, but this rebirth doesn’t involve a zombie or a Frankenstein creature — it’s the resurrection of a parenting podcast!

Parenting Within Reason (link: www.parentingwithinreason.org) (PWR) was an excellent secular podcast targeted toward secular parenting that went off the air last year.  But thanks to numerous pasta prayers sent to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and sponsors Parenting Beyond Belief and Secular Woman, who signed on early in support of the podcast, PWR has been resurrected!

PWR 2.0 will have a similarly relaxed vibe as the original, but will shift focus more toward general secular topics and parenting information related to current events, with a secular parenting viewpoint and a sprinkling of general freethought news.

New host and producer Noelle George, founder of the Mothers Beyond Belief Facebook group (MBB) and Operations Manager at Foundation Beyond Belief will be joined by former host Colin Thornton.

The initial return show features a discussion with Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, and Julia Sweeney, of Letting Go of God.

Other confirmed guests include Sean Faircloth, Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation of Reason and Science to discuss this year’s political climate and how to use it to teach your kids about politics, Amanda Metskas returning to give an update on Camp Quest activities, and Katherine Stewart to discuss her book The Good News Club.

Potential show topics also include:

  • queer parenting
  • secular military families
  • secular homeschooling
  • dealing with death
  • as well as interviews with authors of various secular parenting books, blogs, and other resources

With new hosts, new topics, science and secular experts in various fields of discussion, along with the potential for calling in to chat with guests, PWR aims to be an important resource for secular parents to stay connected to the freethought community.

Please ‘Like’ the PWR Facebook page to see announcements about new guests and submit your questions for them!  If you are interested in other ways to help, whether with ideas for shows, volunteering your time, or something else, please e-mail parentingwithinreason@gmail.com.

Posted in Resources | 1 Comment

One last chance to help Foundation Beyond Belief!

18 hours left to go! We’ve already come so far, but we’ve got to stick the landing.

We’re currently ranked 48th with 2,463 votes, having dropped from 45th yesterday. With a strong final push, we’re confident we can have a $50,000 share in the Chase Community Giving program’s prize. Please: share the information to your social networks and organizations, support others spreading the word and, if you can, contact people individually asking for their help. And if you haven’t already: vote vote vote!

Keep in mind that Secular Student Alliance and Camp Quest are also in the running, and could really use your help in this final stretch. You get two votes for two different organizations if you vote on Facebook. With grants of this magnitude, all of our organizations could expand remarkably and change the face of the secular community worldwide. And of course, thank you all so much for everything you’ve already done! Let’s bring this home.

Posted in Online presence | Leave a comment

A couple clicks, and a big check

In between checking your email and the latest updates on your Facebook wall, do you have a couple minutes (and clicks) to spare? You can help Foundation Beyond Belief earn a BIG grant by participating in the Chase Community Giving program!

The Chase Community Giving program awards funding to charities based on votes from Facebook users and Chase customers, and Foundation Beyond Belief, Secular Student Alliance, and Camp Quest are in the running. The first place winner gets $250K, and next 10 get $100K. We need you to help these three awesome secular charities win $450K combined!

On Facebook, you can vote for up to two charities: please consider supporting the Foundation in our work to foster humanistic philanthropy and service across the globe. The link to vote on Facebook is here: http://on.fb.me/Rn54Xd.

Please also consider supporting the Secular Student Alliance in its mission to organize, unite, educate, and serve students and student communities: http://goo.gl/YuSMX.  You can also cast a vote for Camp Quest!

Here’s the Facebook event you can use to RSVP and let your friends online know about the contest.

Chase customers can go here to participate in the voting: http://chasegiving.com/.

Voting runs until Wednesday, September 19th. Please vote for FBB today, and help spread the word!

Posted in Online presence | 2 Comments

Faith in Science and Humanity

by Tucker Wright

I am a person living with Tourette Syndrome, married to a man with Tourette Syndrome, and we have an eight year old son with Tourette Syndrome. We are a very twitchy, socially awkward little family, and we have had a very tough few years in dealing with our son’s numerous comorbid disorders.

In addition to Tourette’s, our son has OCD, ADHD, and is displaying early onset bipolar disorder.  One manic episode of our son’s was so severe that he tried to jump out of his window and tore his light fixture off the ceiling. He was six years old at the time and was immediately prescribed a hardcore antipsychotic. Two years later, we had to withdraw him from public school due to the severity of his anxiety and behavioral problems that the school was simply not equipped to deal with.  I am now a full-time homeschooling mom to a child who is barely clinging to reality most days.

It’s during times like these that my fellow special needs moms call on God to help them and give them strength.  I hear plenty of platitudes such as, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I try very hard not to scream at my well-meaning friends who truly need to cling to that ideal of a loving deity that they feel has given them a gift to test their faith. They feel they will be rewarded in Heaven for sacrificing their own needs to care for a child that may never function in society on their own.

I cannot see it this way. I do not see Tourette Syndrome as a gift or a curse. It’s simply a neurological defect in our brains that causes our bodies to perform bizarre functions without our consent.  My son’s moods can flip like a switch, and I know that it’s just a quirk of biology.  If I believed in a god that would intentionally create a disorder that caused my son to occasionally violently overreact to minor incidents, I would be a very angry person. I can’t imagine waking up every day thinking I was being evaluated. The pressure is too great, and I would always feel like a failure.

While my friends rely on God to give them strength and support, I have had a team of extraordinary people who have been my cornerstone.

My husband, who has pushed me out of the front door to get me to take some time for myself. My pharmacist sister who councils me about medication options every time my son’s symptoms change. The phenomenal special education teacher who never gave up on him and has become my friend. The speech and occupational therapists that pushed my son to realize his potential. The moms in my support group who offer advice from a place of empathy and solidarity.

The friends of my son who accept him just as he is and never run out of patience when he becomes controlling or physical with them.  My mom who has talked me down from a ledge more than once and gives me the validation and courage to keep pushing forward every day even when I feel like running away to join the circus.

My son’s brilliant neuropsychiatrist who answers emails immediately and will stay late to help me through a crisis. My son’s psychologist who, in addition to helping him deal with his emotions, has often turned to me on days when I’m hanging on by a thread and said, “You’re doing a great job.” Those few words of sympathy have meant more to me than she could ever know.

I have put my faith in medical professionals who work tirelessly to help my son and many others with neurological disorders live productive, healthy lives. I have put my faith in the countless people on whom I can always rely for comforting words and support.

I find solace in humanity.

Posted in Homeschooling, Reflections | 1 Comment