Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Growth of a Human Being...


“If we're growing, we're always going to be out of our comfort zone.” --John Maxwell
First off, let's please note the irony of an atheist quoting an evangelical pastor.

So noted? Good. Moving on...

Now, let's note Spike. He is the 19+ inch tall cactus you see just there on the right. When I received Spike as a gift about 6 years ago, he was two inches tall with a purple plastic flower glued to his top. He was purchased at a grocery store in that section where they retain all things green but not necessarily of the produce persuasion. I was in the hospital having a tumor removed from my spine (benign, of course), and husband knew of my love for all things plant, but not necessarily produce, related. It was one of those "I fall in love with you all over again" moments.

Spike himself won't naturally bloom until he is somewhere between three and four feet tall, as is the wont of his species of cacti. If I ever want to see Spike dressed to the nines in this fashion, I must make sure Spike gets all the things he needs to be a fully productive member of his species: water (if sparingly), sunlight, proper soil. If I fail, Spike may die. He certainly wouldn't flourish and grow. And he will never, ever bloom if I, as his caretaker, fail in any way to provide for his needs.

Moving on...

A few years ago, there was quite the bru-ha-ha in our family as we were all once again planning our giant family get-together for the summer. And I say "giant" because when you have four siblings, each with their partners and various children and the total number of people in your immediate family exceeds twenty individuals--well, not many can relate to an immediate family of that magnitude (which is why some of the in-laws have adjustment issues when they first join our clan), and it's always quite the production.

But the bru-ha-ha happened because of the youngest sibling: she wanted to take a "moral stand." She was afraid her two children would see me and the husband in the same bedroom and ask questions--questions she wasn't prepared to answer. She was afraid they would somehow be introduced to the "gay lifestyle" too early, that it would seem as if she were "endorsing" our relationship (a very bad thing to do when you're a conservative Christian, as some of you may know), and didn't think she should have to explain to her children why Uncle Jason slept in the same room as Uncle Rich...

Needless to say, they never did come on that family vacation with the rest of us...

Anyway, a recent blog post by a Catholic woman has gone viral (see here) and it reminded me very much of the incident in our own family three years ago. Some excerpts from her blog post:

At the pool this summer there were homosexual couples with children and, while I was polite as my own young daughters doted on the baby with two "mommies", I also held my breath in anticipation of awkward questions - questions I'm not ready to answer. My young daughters are all under the age of eight and they are not old enough to understand why a baby would have two women calling themselves "mommies".

...

When there were two men relaxing at the side of the pool unnaturally close to each other, effeminately rubbing elbows and exchanging doe-eyes, I was again anxiously watching my children hoping they wouldn't ask questions. They don't see Daddy do that with anyone but Mommy.

...

Two of my daughters were in the sandbox, one on the slide, the other on the swings, and as I lifted the baby out of his stroller I looked up to see four women laughing at a baby boy as he was swinging in one of those bucket baby swings. That seems harmless enough, but I'm so sensitized to the strangeness in my community that I've developed this ever-present jumpiness whenever I'm in public. Sure enough, two of the women, so happy to see a baby boy laughing, embraced and remained standing there rubbing each other's back in a way that was clearly not just friendly affection.

...

I find myself unable to even leave the house anymore without worrying about what in tarnation we are going to encounter. We are responsible citizens. We live by the rules, we pay our taxes, we take care of our things. I'm supposed to be able to influence what goes on in my community, and as a voter I do exercise that right. But I'm outnumbered. I can't even go to normal places without having to sit silently and tolerate immorality. We all know what would happen if I asked two men or two women to stop displaying, right in front of me and my children, that they live in sodomy.
Am I allowed to say how scared I am that this woman is raising seven children?

But I digress. What I really want to talk about is the rampant "sheltering" that goes on in conservative communities. As if "parenting" has come to mean giving your children "selective" information about the world instead of trying to teach them to live and cope within it. To protect them from differing people instead of trying to teach them about the differing people of the world. To raise kids in a bubble so impenetrable, so strong, that when they do hit the real world, when they do find out that there are people out there who don't share the same view that they had growing up--well, they either
  • fall back on that same mindset and continue to shelter themselves from the world (thus stunting their own growth even more than their "concerned parents" had...)
  • go crazy, not knowing how to cope, and go off the deep end in various ways (i.e., having no knowledge of the dangers of over-drinking, of unprotected sex, or any number of other, easily explained social dangers),
  • or they examine their beliefs, realize how they were failed as children by their uber-protective parents, and grow in the new sunlight of knowledge.
Did you notice the recurring fears in Stacy's post? Afraid of the "awkward questions - questions I'm not ready to answer"? "[W]atching my children hoping they wouldn't ask questions"?

One of the (misguided? misunderstood?) recurring themes in the comments is the "if you're liberal, you should tolerate my viewpoint" persuasion. But the thing the right-wing doesn't seem to understand about tolerance is the fact that tolerance does not mean putting up with nonsense, does not mean putting up with ill-thought-out beliefs, does not mean letting them believe whatever the hell they want without challenge, especially if you are putting it out in the public sphere of a blog.

Tolerance IS ONLY ever meant to be the smallest part of patience. And when the patience has been tried, tolerance goes out the window. Tolerate is what you do when your two-year-old tried again to drink from a cup instead of his sippy-cup; or you tolerate the sales person who called during dinner only as long as it takes to get them off the phone; you tolerate a visit from some member of the family you dislike for the sake of a holiday, or some-such other type scenario. Tolerance is not letting you live in fairy-tale land where you get to tell everyone else how to live and making your religious preferences the rules the rest of us have to live by. We tolerate a plethora of beliefs in this country. We do not have to tolerate you trying to tell everyone else how to live, and we certainly do not have to stop holding hands just because of your failure to answer a child's questions, if indeed they even ask any.

It is not the rest of the world's job to protect your children from life. It is not the rest of the world's obligation to shelter your children. When you decided to become a parent, you assumed the role of care-giver, of knowledge-imparter, of teacher/guidance counselor/role model, and a plethora of other hats. It is not a parent's job to shelter children--in fact, that would be the exact opposite of being a parent.

In fact, that would be more the role of jailer; prison guard; totalitarian.

And in those conditions? Nothing ever blooms... Nothing good ever comes of it... Nothing productive ever will.

Unless you think the role of parenting is to stunt the growth, knowledge, and strength of the next generation...

The growth of a human being...

3 comments:

Sage said...

I was just telling my students on Friday, that we're so insulated in our very open and accepting school and community that we think we're on the other side of this. We think we can relax and move on to other issues. But posts like this and other news remind us that "tolerance" is still a problem that requires our voices.

Aleta said...

We have a large community of various lifestyles in the greater New Orleans area, so I guess for me, I don't see it as a big deal. I don't understand why people have such strong reactions. Telling someone it's a moral issue? Seriously? That's like saying someone could force me to be a homosexual when I'm a heterosexual. Noone can force a sexuality. Being afraid of it is even worse. Bottom line is that we are all human beings. And honestly? I have aunts who are lesbian and cousins who are gays and I think they are awesome. They make GREAT parents!

mom said...

hello jason! :) i can think of at least 3 things off the bat that are far worse than having to talk to your kids about or having your kids around than gay people. it makes me sad to think that they all missed out on so much by not coming. we are in the works finding another place that can house us all for a family vacation. i really don't think being an in law to us is that bad. well, anyway, i better get going. love and prayers