I Pledge Allegiance

Have I been stuck on kindergarten stuff over the past week?

Um, duh?

The latest:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

See those words up there? They represent different emotions of varying levels of importance for each individual.

Here are a few:
1) It’s critical for the pledge to be said in public school, because reciting the words teaches children about patriotism!
2) I, or someone I know/am related to have just earned citizenship–pledging is the final stretch of the Citizenship triathlon.
3) The parts “under god” and “justice for all” are false to me, thus the entire pledge is also false.

As an Army brat, a US citizen, a sociologist, and a parent I could debate either for, or against any of the above points. Nicely demonstrative of what makes the definition of patriotism a multifaceted issue.

The Army Brat knows exactly the force of emotion when that pledge results in your parent going to a war.

The natural-born US citizen recognizes that my homeland’s “bad day/month/8-years” still looks dreamy to millions of wishful immigrants– and that saying the pledge during a citizenship ceremony marks the end of an expensive and bureaucratic battle.

The Sociologist comprehends that symbols, (symbolic interactionism) not our ability to accessorize, create cultural identity.

The student who once took both American and Women’s History knows that the words “under god” were added to flush out the commies in the Fifties, and that “justice for all” doesn’t mean everyone.

The Mother realizes that none of these subtle (or not subtle) nuances are part of my children’s experience repertoire. That saying the pledge won’t bring the same wealth of feeling that it brings to the Army Brat, or the new US citizen. That the underlying symbology of saying these words with the tribe is just that– symbology. For either of them, making a pledge doesn’t actually mean promising fealty to everyone in the United States. It just means going with the flock.

That’s it, right there– saying the pledge of allegiance doesn’t teach patriotism, it teaches children to memorize and repeat some words that some day will– or won’t– have greater meaning.

Some of the conservative-right like to trot that pledge and their (imported) flags out as a litmus test for citizenship. If you say the pledge, then you love America. If you don’t say the pledge, then you are an American-hating socialist!

During my research of the pledge’s origins (because the cool kids fact check), I realized something so delicious in its irony that I no longer feel twitchy about my kid saying the pledge.

Y’all– it was written by Francis Bellamy. Francis Bellamy, prior to entering into journalism was a religious SOCIALIST. Many of their vision statements parallel my own secular humanism beliefs quite nicely.

Again, in case you missed it: A socialist wrote the pledge of allegiance. Am-azing.

“Give me your tired, your poor, YOUR HUDDLED MASSES…” you know?

I tried to explain all of these points during an opinion debate on an online forum. I should have kown better. But when one of them decided to suggest that my patriotism is less for my ambivalence to the pledge, going on to tell me that I am incapable of teaching my children to respect soldiers unless we genuflect in front of a flag? Honestly? Makes me want to TP* your house.

*I would never TP someone’s house, because wasting that much paper kills trees and hurts my hippie heart. I might cloth rag your house though.*

I teach my children:

1) to respect PEOPLE.
2) that real life heroes– soldiers, firemen, police, teachers, EMTs, sanitation workers (Yes, garbage collectors— have you any idea the amount of disease that would spread without them?)– deserve our respect.
3) that demonstrating respect is polite.
4) that the uniform deserves respect, but that the person wearing it may not.

Teaching them to respect ALL people (as much as children can), because we are humans has turned out to be pretty darn simple.

So when the faceless internet people suggest that those of us that aren’t all yippee about the pledge are remiss patriots, I personally feel like:

I could spend the next 100 words defending myself– but to what end? My family lived the sacrifices that prompts some people to walk up to a soldier expressing their thanks.

**A lifetime of personal experience, and the memory of the man that fathered me allows me to teach my children about what it means to be a solider in the United States.
**I promised to give warning before I posted items that bring on tears. So. Warning.

They understand loss.

Finally, both of my children get life experience about what it means to be an American.

To seek truth and pursue it, not blind allegiance to the way it has always been is how we teach patriotism.

Morals without Faith: Secular Parenting

One of the supposed challenges of raising children without a specific religious doctrine* is how does one instill morals without faith. Lately, just in this country, with all of the rampant hate, violence, (yes, Tim Profitt, I chose you as my violence example. You douchenozzle.), and me first/mine only attitudes, I’m absolutely certain that faithfulness is not at all equal to the existence of one’s moral code. I consider myself to have a strong┬ámoral code and I’m also secular. But some of the “faithed” seem to interpret my lack of praying to be equivalent to a lack of morals, such that without God (whichever way you say it) my secular value system is necessarily sub-par. I don’t know, my very secular morale code/values happens to include feeling that those that have need to pony up and help those that have not. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of any child, but especially an American child, without enough food to eat, a safe place to live, and no access to healthcare and an education. Beyond America, any day that I spend more than 15 minutes thinking about what happens to children in other countries, say the Congo, I spend the night awake and tearful. I have never said, “it’s not my kid and don’t care what happens to them–let their poor, uneducated parents find a way to feed them.” In my opinion, my secular values are more than par when compared to people that can both think and say that out loud.

**I’m in no way downing all pf the religious faithful. Of those that I know personally, more of you are kind than not. But some of the stuff I hear come out of the mouths of people who claim to walk the way of Jesus is in direct opposition to anything the man said or did. So I am suggesting that there are great number of folks in our country right now (cough Glenn, cough Beck) who seem to think themselves morally superior to me just because they check “yes” in a religion box. For those folks, perhaps re-reading the main ideological points detailed in whatever book you deem holy should be the first item on your seasonal to-do list. Less time spent on the passages about homosexuality and shellfish and more time spent on the charitable giving passages would be super.**

My job as a parent is to take these impressionable little play doh brains–brains full of their own self interests, by the way–and turn them into caring, responsible, productive adults. Notice the order I listed those traits. I want my kids to be caring adults, regardless of whatever religious choices they make for themselves. I want them to care about others because a human being–regardless of housing/employment/race/gender/sexuality–has value, and not because a bigger donation gets you priority alumni seating in the afterlife.

I want them to value the person, not the brand-name. I want them to value the life, not the profit. And woe unto either of them should they grow up to resemble some of the people I’ve heard from lately. If I were the mother of Hank Greenberg, I would fall on my own dull sword as a failure to society. Of course, the result of my deep, internal need to not raise grubby-fisted, money-hungry, self-serving adults is the absolute terror that I will somehow end up with one despite my efforts. Seriously, fruits of my womb–read this now–because if either of you do resemble any of the aforementioned (or anyone like them), mama’s going to be a bitch to deal with on Thanksgiving and Christmas. And Mondays. Probably Tuesdays and Wednesdays, too.

Imagine my heartfelt pain when Zach said something along the lines of “I don’t believe in church. I believe in TOYS”. That pain wasn’t because he didn’t believe in church– no one should believe anything about a building–but rather the apparent failure of my anti-over-consumption campaign.

However, before I replaced every one of his consignment-sale purchased toy arsenal with sticks and dirt, I realized that this kind of self absorption is completely normal. For a 4 year old. Yes, he’s at that age where everything he sees is a must-have-it-right-this-very-second. I thought that by limiting his exposure to most of the popular tv (and all commercials) would circumvent this attitude. (And personally, I simply don’t want to know what new, shiny crap is being marketed to the play-doh-brained. I have only the vaguest idea of what the hell a zhu zhu pet is, and I’d like to keep it that way.) But the kid has friends and associates, and those friends and associates have stuff that is different from his stuff. They have rules that are different from his rules. I repeat “I don’t care, Jane/John Doe isn’t my kid” to Zach with the same regularity as I say “no, don’t touch/climb/eat that” to Elliot.

A few weeks ago, Zach referred to our neighborhood homeless man (who rides a bike, complete with potted ficus tree and is obviously suffering from an un-medicated mental illness) as a lazy bum. Where/how/who he heard that phrase from, in that context, is anyone’s guess. I will tell you that I spent the following weeks deprogramming it from his brain. I’m not concerned with constant PC, but making a judgment based solely on someone’s appearance is a big no-no in this house.

I want them to be appreciative and thankful for what they have, and not be that kid always whining for more. Seriously, I really, really want that. Like now. I also want Zach to understand that while he’s whining about eating chicken…“AGAIN MOM”…that there are children in our city that didn’t get to eat all day. I want him to own that knowledge for himself. And when Elliot is older, he’s going to own it, too.

I realized that I have all of these wants for them and only a few years before starting the peer pressure versus parent battle. I need to strike a solid foundation. How am I supposed to teach about excess when I have two November-borne children? Two birthdays followed by Christmas? The tidal surge of toys is just ridiculous. Even if they each only got one (which they don’t) it’s too damn much.

Which leads me right to my first lesson for Mr. Zach. Both boys unhesitatingly chose a family trip on an Amtrak train to a city that also had underground trains (subways) over a big birthday bash with their friends. The fact that the Birthday Train departs a few weeks early and corresponds with the Rally to Restore Sanity is a coincidence. Okay, so it totally isn’t– but we were going to DC in November, I just moved the trip up a few weeks. A family trip win/win type situation, in my humble opinion. What this means, in theory, for my Small People is no birthday party with their friends, thus no presents from friends. (I’m still not seeing the lose for me in this plan.) I say in theory, because I also don’t want them (and by them, I mean Zach, since Elliot doesn’t have a clue yet) to be sad on their actual birthdays that there was no balloon and sugar free-for-all with other Small People Friends and Associates. This dilemma was the price I was willing to pay to see Jon Stewart.

So here is my plan. If I actually get a party-with-friends together in the next week (snort), instead of gifts they are both going to ask for a donation to be sent to a charity of their choice. I will, of course, narrow those choices down to 2 or 3, whose purpose can kind of be appreciated by wee minds. Please don’t be concerned, there will still be plenty of gifts–they have family and parents, too. The Year of No Presents will not be a therapy conversation ten years from now.

Hopefully, I will follow that lesson up a few weeks later on Thanksgiving by taking Zach to a shelter to help serve food to the less fortunate, aka the homeless and hungry. (Moooommmm…can you find me a shelter for us to volunteer, pretty please?)

Tomorrow, he, Elliot, and I are going to sort through the vast wasteland of toys and, keeping only the favorites and second favorites, send the rest off to charity. The favorites will stay in play, the second favorites are going on the bench to be rotated in later. Less is more, people. We are going to participate with other moral, yet secular friends, and adopt a family or two from the Orange County Holiday Program for Christmas.

Will he “get it”? Probably not in 2010, but every new lesson parents teach to their kids begins with a confused, but hopefully acquiescent, Small Person. Potty training is a lovely example of this type of confusion. But since it’s important that those that are able learn to pee/poo in the potty, we dive in and convince the Small People that it’s the right thing to do, thus saith the Mommy. Well, it’s important to me that my kids know that those that are able need help those that are not. Period. End of story.

So far Zach agrees with Phase 1 of my plan for no-toys at a potential friend-party. I suspect that his little brain will mold all sorts of questions that are hard for me to answer both honestly and age-appropriately, but I do my best. For the record, I asked Elliot, too. His response was, “more pita chips and play in water table” so I guess he’s cool. I certainly don’t want to ruin the magic of childhood for my children, but childhood is also that magical time when they start to learn how to be an adult. As it turns out, not having raised self-serving, profit driven, apathetic assholes is a big parenting goal for me.