Keeping My Mouth Shut... For Now

Saturday we had a truly wonderful morning with the Taylors and the Seeleys. We had to skidaddle promptly at 11:30, and on our way home, Simon spotted a McDonald's. He immediately pulled out all the stops to let us know how much he would like to stop and partake in some of Ronald's famous fare. When he was denied his fast food request, much whining ensued. He was sad, very sad. And I was, frankly, a little annoyed. Not at him, but at one of his grandmothers, who has been taking him to McDonald's more frequently than I would like. We all know how delicious those McNuggets can be, and now, after eating them almost once a week with his gram, Simon can spot the Golden Arches from miles away. Damn those tall, tall signs that are meant to be seen from miles away. They certainly work on my three year old.

My irritation at that moment was the culmination of weeks of concern over Simon and his grandma's McDonald's dates. It's not as if I feed my kid all-organic, sprouted-grain soy smoothies all the time. I feel like I'm fairly relaxed about the food he eats, trying to balance healthy choices with perennial toddler favorites. But let's face it, that shit is not good for you. It's toxic and it's addictive, as evidenced by Simon's desperate demands in the car Saturday.

So here is my dilemma: Do I say something about it? Do I suggest that perhaps Simon and Grandma try taking their business somewhere else? Maybe to a place where his tiny arteries will return home filled with slightly less sludge? Also, maybe somewhere a little less aggressive with the branding campaign? For God's sake, we can't even turn on Sesame Street without a not-so-subtle appearance from the Golden Arches first.

My current standing on the situation is just to leave it be. I love this grandmother more than I hate the thought of my son devouring McNuggets, and the prospect of offending her is not worth the risk.

I have another speak-up-or-shut-up quandary thrown at me from time to time. It involves another grandmother. After Simon has spent any time alone with her, without fail he will come home singing religious children's songs. He tends to sing them under his breath and will sometimes jumble them with other ditties, but I always recognize them because I sang the same songs as a child. I've heard him singing, to the tune of BINGO, "and Jesus was his name-o... and God was his name-o.... and Bingo was his name-o" (that's the jumbling I was talking about). Also, there is a tricky song with a lot of spelling that I've heard him attempt. He doesn't get all the letters right, but once he learns it, this is what he'll sing:
"I am a C
I am a C-H
I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N
and I have C-H-R-I-S-T
in my H-E-A-R-T
and I will L-I-V-E E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y!"

I don't think I've written much about religion here, though it is a common topic in our home. I will give you just a little background, and you can fill in the holes with your imagination, or maybe I'll write about it some other time. For today, let me say this: I grew up as an evangelical Christian. My family members are all conservative, literal-Bible-believing Christians. I used to be a fervent evangelical along with them, but I'm not anymore.

When I got pregnant with Simon my whole world changed. I began to shift from my conservative beliefs into a more progressive model of Christianity, and now I find myself rather ambivalent toward faith in general. My family knows about this change, but I don't think they know the extent. They know that I believe God is genderless and that being gay isn't a sin. I'm pretty sure they would say I have "gone astray," and they might even believe I'm hell-bound. They definitely fear that fate for Nate and my boys, unless they get saved.

Enter the constant 'childrens' worship' music they play for Simon. Every single time Simon comes home from a visit with my family, he returns singing "praise ye the Lord, hallelujah." It seems like they use every opportunity they get to shower him with the glorious TRUTH of the Gospel. The other day he went to my brother's place and was there for an hour, hour and a half, tops. No need to wonder how they spent their time together... Simon hummed the Veggie Tales theme throughout the next day. I can't help but feel like this constant barrage of Christian entertainment is an affront to me and what I believe (or don't believe) now. But I'm sure they don't see it that way. I know they feel they are doing the right thing for his young soul. They'd probably play the same music for any child, heathen parents or no, as it's their mission here on earth to save as many folks as possible from the fiery lakes. I'm not being sarcastic.

This matter is more delicate than the McDonald's situation. How could I possibly approach my family with this complaint? "Hey, will you please stop trying to save my son from eternally damnation?" Bringing up the music would open up the whole wormy can of religious discussions that we all try to avoid. And my mom would be shocked and dismayed if she knew how far away from her path I have turned... that not only do I believe God loves queers, but I'm not sure if I believe in sin and salvation, or even in the deity of Jesus. She would be deeply saddened, and, despite some tension in our relationship, I love her and don't want to hurt her in that way.

The McDonald's and the "Jesus was his name-o" problems both test my skills as a diplomatic family member. Would I like these situations to change? Yes, of course. But right now the bigger goal is to let Simon spend time with his grandparents, allowing them to flourish in their mutual love for one another, and to maintain peaceful relations. That's why I'm choosing to stay mute in both instances. There may be a time when Nate and I deem it necessary to speak up. That time is not yet here.

I think all this also points to parents' impossible task of letting go of their children. I spend every day with this kid, pouring my heart into raising him to be a capable, happy, free person. It's so hard to accept that many, many other things and people will influence the person he becomes. Also, it can be hard to remember that the risk of raising a free individual is that they are free to choose things that you wouldn't choose for them. Like a diet consisting of all fast food, Supersize Me style. Or fundamental Christianity.

It begs the question: would I love my son if he were an obese, spinach-shunning, Bible-thumping, other-religion-condemning born-again believer? Yeah, I think I could and I would. Absolutely.

I don't know if I could take it laying down, though. I might have to teach his kids to swear and slip soyburgers into his Big Mac buns. Then he could lament how his mother is trying to sway his suggestible children with her wacky ideas. I wonder if he would say anything.


Oliver said...

A very interesting and well-considered post.
I'm hearing your dilemma and frustration.

MJ Watson said...

My love, you are indeed a strong soul for being able to tolerate those qualities and habits of your relatives that you do not want passed down to your child. I understand your situation completely, but I can offer no better advice than to say that I believe you are right in nuturing Simon's relationship with his grandparents, regardless of differences in rearing habits. It seems that these are just their respective ways of doting on children. Ultimately, his time with you and Nate will be what forms him and cultivates his religious ideology and eating habits because you are his daily influence. And in time, I think both Simon and his grandparents will outgrow these spoiling techniques. Keep strong, dear friend, as we mothers must still endure our own maternal units; before long, our children will be enduring us.

Colin Hughes Taylor said...

Laura, your posts are always thoughtful and interesting, and for that I applaud you.

For my money (and that ain't sayin much), I think that the spiritual growth of a kid is usually directed by their parents, and that the grand-parental direction, even the overbearing evangelical kind, is likely to be exponentially less influential than the example you and Nate set.
More explicitly: if you and Nate show them the wisdom and love of your way of life, that's what will carry weight, more than a billion evangelical ditties.

As for McDonalds: the fries are awesome. As long as Deb doesn't force feed them to him daily, he'll be fine I think.

Sorry to be all "unsolicited advice from childless friend," I know that's annoying. But you guys are great parents and role models --- they'll learn more from watching your indirect example than anything else.

Angela said...

Ditto what everyone else has said. As parents (and human beings) we'll always have philosophical dilemmas. If we give some time to pondering them and make informed choices (even if they end up not working), I think that's half the battle. Gotta give ourselves some credit for caring enough to put time into pondering.