A few nights ago right after Charlie's bedtime, I took to the sofa for a long evening of loafing. I'd gotten everything situated just so when I realized I didn't have a book. Charlie's copy of Ramona the Pest was on the table, though, a book I'd loved as a kid, so I thought I'd revisit it. I enjoyed Ramona's spirited highjinks. I felt a sympathetic anguish when she thought she'd been forsaken by her beloved kindergarten teacher, Miss Binney. And I verified Paul's astute observation: Beezus is kind of a bitch.
I read through the place Charlie had marked and went on to finish the book. When I got to the end — spoiler: Rosebud was the name of Ramona's sled — I paged through to see that this edition included the first chapter of the next book in the series, Ramona the Brave.
It was this passage that made me reconsider this whole reading thing:
Ramona, eager to be the one to tell the story but reluctant to repeat the words, hesitated.
"Said what?" Mrs. Quimby was baffled. "Said what, Ramona? Beezus, what did he say?"
Beezus wiped the back of her wrist across her eyes and tried. "He said, 'J-j-j—'"
Eagerness to beat her sister at telling what had happened overcame Ramona's reluctance. "He said, 'Jesus, Beezus!'" Ramona looked up at her mother, waiting for her to be shocked. Instead she merely looked surprised and — could it be? — amused. [...]
"And then Ramona had to get into the act. Do you know what she did? She jumped out of the swing and preached a sermon!" [...]
Ramona, who had flopped back on the couch, sat up straight. "I told them they were not supposed to take the name of the Lord in vain," she said in her most proper Sunday School voice. "That's what my Sunday School teacher said."
And just like that, Beezus was the reason for uneasin'.
Charlie, as befits the child of an atheist and a sometimes-agnostic-but-mostly-antagonistic, has yet to be exposed to some people's Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There are times I feel a faint uncertainty about this, that maybe we should be teaching him something, just so that he can eventually make his own decisions about such things. But that uncertainty never lasts. I know this is...well, what's the opposite of reductio ad absurdem? Amplificatio ad ohjustshutupladyum? But I always reason that I don't feel any corresponding need to expose Charlie deliberately to other beliefs I don't hold — say, homophobia, or racism, or sexism — so why should religion be different?
(Those of you who are sure I just called Jesus a gay-bashing Klansman who keeps his wife in the kitchen where she belongs, please file quietly left. There are matches on the table just outside the door, and my effigy can be found swinging merrily in the breeze on that gibbet near the swingset.)
Paul and I do a lot of "some people believe," where "some people" is understood to mean "some jackasses." In discussing, for example, Martin Luther King Day, we've said things like, "Well, some people used to believe that children with darker skin shouldn't be able to go to school with all the other kids," and then followed that with the obvious. When possible, we let Charlie supply the outraged conclusion, "...but those people were wrong!" In cases where it's not so obvious to his still-evolving moral sense, we supply the "...but some people are bastard people" for him.
It gets a little murky with religion, though. I don't know what it says about me that I'm willing to go all black-and-white absolute about matters of sexual orientation or human rights, but not on religion, not to a child. Although I may believe that a particular tenet is nothing more than angel food horseshit — relax, surely it's nothing you believe — I can't see myself saying to my kid about religion, "Some people believe, but they're wrong." I don't know if that reluctance comes from rudimentary good manners, which do occasionally surface in me, or cowardice.
Not that it ultimately matters; if Charlie is half as sharp as I think he is — and we will examine the many sparkling facets of his special, special snowflakiness at a later date, but feel free to begin rolling your eyes now if you want to beat the rush — the fact that I don't believe will carry its own implicit "...but they're wrong." No matter how polite I'm trying to be. And I'm a slightly uneasy with that.
We've lightly scratched the surface with a conversation about the afterlife prompted, of all things, by a temporary tattoo of the Egyptian god Anubis. (I was all for calling the guy Cross-Dressing Dog-Head, but Charlie stoutly insisted on reading the accompanying caption.) "Some people believed," we began, as predictably as ever. "We don't know if there's an afterlife," we told him, "but no one's ever come back to tell us one way or the other soooooooo..." And then quickly changed the subject to something less alarming, like those long wicked hooks they used to pull the brains out of dead guys. Mummies: Talk to your child...before someone else does.
Help me out here, please. I'm really feeling my way. If you're not a believer yourself, how have you talked to your kids? And if you are, when you talk about your faith with your children, do you also talk about the "some people" who don't share your faith?
The question's going to come up here soon. It's like The Monster at the End of This Book, only with the Son of God starring as your pal, lovable, furry old Grover. By my count we have thirty-two pages until Ramona forces the issue. Beezus was right: Ramona is a pest.