Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Atheist, an Unbeliever, and a Baby

So, after just celebrating my one-year anniversary, on my second to last semester of grad school, 8 years on the birth control pill, and literally just after we bought our first house, I am pregnant. I found out the morning that we closed on our very first house. As of tomorrow, I will be 4 months pregnant.

Max (now nicknamed "SuperSperm")and I were not even planning to start trying for a few years. In one sense, I am so grateful that I got pregnant after we bought the house and got married, and kind of surprised that I am even able to get pregnant (I pessimistically pictured us having problems and having to struggle with pregnancy; even though my husband's family has a tradition of potent sperm, the women in my family have had mixed success conceiving). On the other hand, I feel so unprepared; I don' know what we'll do for money (I have to work), christening (the next big battle looming in the near future) and just life.

None of or friends have babies. Most of them aren't even married. My sister-in-law does, but we are not that close, and we have extremely different views on some things (she's an "earth mother" who seriously considered home schooling and loves being a stay at home mom; I, while respecting her choice, want to work and be a good mother...if only I could figure out how).

Max has been great through this whole process. He has been working like a maniac on the house, all while making dinner (I couldn't really be around most food for the first trimester), most of the chores, and encouraging me to take it easy. I don't know how I made it through finals, but I did somehow.

Apologies for my long absence, but it took me the whole of my first trimester to accept this reality!

Also, check out the new poll!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Money and Prayer

I had a nightmare last night about my parents. I dreamed (I wish “nightmared” was a verb sometimes) that my dad lost his job, and that my mom called me up crying about it. If you know my mom, you know that is very out of character.

The state of this country is scary right now. Even though I am optimistic after last night’s election, the truth is that, no matter how radically we change this country and its policies, it is going to take a long time for us to recover. With a house, and other emerging financial issues, Max and I are scared. We have some credit card debt, which is on a 0% interest card, and we are slowly paying it off. However, we just had to invest a lot of money into the house. I’m not talking about aesthetic changes here; I’m talking about fixing leaks, keeping the house warm enough to live in, and things of that nature. We are suffering with old, dirty, orange shag carpet because Max says it is protecting the floor and possibly keeping the stairs together. Could we charge it? Sure, but frankly, we’re afraid to, and maybe we should be. We also have Max’s student loans, and once I graduate, mine.

But we’re doing okay. I mean, we’re not rich. We haven’t eaten out since we became homeowners and we’ve been eating pasta and ramen noodles quite a lot, but we’re okay. Others, however, are not so lucky.

My father works for a company whose main concentration is construction. Needless to say, they haven’t been doing so well lately. They actually took back everyone’s Blackberry to save money (my dad is a mid-level manager). I don’t think he is in danger of losing his job, as he is immensely valuable to the company, but as this point, you just don’t know. Plus, if the company closes down, it won’t matter how valuable he is.

My mom works too, as a teacher. It was a late life career choice; I think she started teaching in her late 30s/early 40s. Neither of them makes a lot of money. And, for whatever reason, they do not have enough to retire any time soon. Part of it is due to the economy, but part of it is that they paid for my college education as well as the education of my two siblings. They gave us so much, and still did until this year. Now, suddenly, they can’t afford to any more. Now suddenly, they are struggling and scared. My siblings and I give them some money every month, which they hate taking but need in order to have ends meet. They feel guilty, listless, and miserable. And they don’t deserve it.

I do all I can, as do my siblings, to alleviate their burden. But not one of us is doing so well that we can afford to shower them with money, or pay off their mortgage. They probably wouldn’t accept it anyway.

So I feel helpless, and stuck. I want to help, but I can’t do much. They need help, but they can’t accept it without feeling like failures. They are the type of parents I have always hope to emulate; they gave everything for their children, but they let us make our own mistakes and choose our own way without any reproach, even when they didn’t agree. Since I am the oldest child, I feel like the burden lands especially on me.

So here’s my dirty little secret in all this: when I feel completely helpless, like I did this morning after my dream, I do something that I do not believe in; I pray. I don’t know to who or what I pray to, but I close my eyes and murmur over and over “Please let them be okay. Please let me think of some way to help them. Please protect them.” I usually say I pray to my grandparents (I’ve always loved the idea of ancestors hanging out watching their descendants and trying to help them), but I’m not sure that’s true. Maybe it’s not a prayer to anyone, just a wish spoken fervently out loud. Maybe I just don’t have the language to identify what it truly is.

When I’m faced with a situation in which I feel helpless to face, I don’t turn to God; however, I do, however, turn to something outside myself. I can only do so much. That’s something that has taken me years to learn, and I still fight against it every day. I don’t believe I just have to get it started, and then a benevolent spirit will do the rest of the work for me. I do, however, wish with all of my heart for some luck.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if I pray, grovel, hope, plead, or wish—the responsibility is still mine. I know there will likely be no miracle. But there is always hope, intelligence, and determination, and this is what I am relying on to get me through this. My parents supported me my whole life. Not to be there for them when they need me is not an option.


Apologies for my lack of updates. I just experienced a life-changing event, which I will post about after Thanksgiving. I am terrified, but am working through it. I promise a nice long post soon!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I hate moving

I hate boxes. I hate lugging heavy boxes up and down stairs. I hate trying to fit couches through a door made for shorter (and skinnier) people in the 1900s. I hate that our family not only helped us moved, but also helped us clean (I feel so guilty about it!). I hate not knowing where things are in my own house. I hate how our cat Bruce already ran outside twice, once almost getting hit by a car. I hate that my in-laws saw my underwear drawer. I hate that we spent the three days we had off working nonstop. I hate how much money it takes to move when we should be saving every penny for our first mortgage payment. I hate that we finally own property and two red cars park in front of our house, and I don't want to say something and be perceived as the bad neighbor. I REALLY hate that we forgot the garbage pick up was today.


I love that our neighbors brought us cookies and brownies. I love that our family rocks and pitched in without complaint. I love that our house is unusual, unexpected, and completely unique. I love that there are kids playing in both backyards that we can see. I love that you can hear the local baseball game from our porch. I love watching (sometimes helping) Max completely tear down a room and rebuild it. I love that our cats love the stairs. I love sitting outside at night and breathing in the cool air. I love that we were able to use our wedding money for this rather than to pay off debts, as so many of our friends and family members were forced to do. I love that Max and I have achieved our own personal American dream.

I hate moving, but I love where I now live. Even though we had termites, had mold, have ants, and have spent I-don't-even-want-to-know at Home Depot this week, I know that we are home.

Poll Results:
How did your family react when you told them you were an atheist and/or not religious?

How did your family react when you told them you were an atheist and/or not religious?

They were happy. 7%
They were not happy, but accepted it. 25%
They didn't care. 30%
They were sad. 23%
They were furious. 15%

I was not surprised that the smallest percentage were happy about this choice. I was, however, pleased to note that over half of the families either didn't care or at least accepted it. This seems to indicate a positive trend toward acceptance. It is sad that families can still be furious at those of us who choose not to follow a religious path.

Were you surprised by these results? Any suggestions about what to ask next? Let me know!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Oh Your God!

One thing that Max and I have had trouble with in our secular humanist/atheist existence is language. When I hear something shocking, my first instinct is to say "Oh, my God!" Frustration can produce a "Jesus Christ!" Then there's the simple angry, "God!"

In some respects, this is not a big deal. These are just contemporary ways to express such emotions. It doesn't necessarily indicate someone's religious preference. Still, it is something we thought about and occasionally spoke about.

Then, when watching one of our favorite shows, Futurama, we heard something that was the answer to our prayers (pun intended). Bender, the thieving, unapologetic robot with a heart of, well, silver, uttered this, "Oh, your god!"

Max and I found this perfect. It's clever, funny, and, actually, often people don't even notice what you just said. Give it a try. Not only has it replaced some phrases we'd rather not use, it also makes us smile every time we say it.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I went to church sporadically as a kid. My parents would take us to church on Sundays, but only if we didn’t have a soccer game, a party, or some other commitment. I did have to go to religion classes until I was 14 or so, whenever I was confirmed. I found both church and religion classes stiflingly boring. I asked my mom why I had to attend, after spending all day learning about “real things.” She never really answered convincingly, but basically said that it was important to my grandparents, and important in continuing the Irish Catholic tradition. She told me how Irish were persecuted when they first came to America, such as the Irish Need Not Apply signs (note: I'm not comparing this relatively brief discrimination to other, longer struggles by other groups. I'm just mentioning it because it was used as a justification for going to church). So I went, and even studied for the religion tests (sample question: Jesus loves you. True or False?). If I was going to go, I was going to get good grades!

During church time with my parents and sisters, I would put a book in my Bible and read the whole time. I was often caught by my parents, but sometimes they let it go so I wouldn’t complain. I even read the Bible itself during church, but found it full of plot holes and way too long. However, when I went with my grandparents, I kind of enjoyed it. Everybody knew them, and my grandpa acted as an usher, and my grandma would point out the candles she lit for her grandchildren every day.

The grandchildren would often sleep over my grandparents’ house on Saturday night, which is when they went to church. As I grew older, I became less and less inclined to attend with them, but I knew it upset them when I didn’t. I always wanted to make my grandparents as happy and as proud as possible, because I knew I would lose them someday, so more often than not, I went to church to please them. Every time I didn’t go, I would feel such tremendous guilt that I would much rather have suffered through the hour or church. At least I would be able to spend time with my grandparents.

The year 2000 was a real turning point for me. That summer, I had just graduated high school and was looking forward to going away to college (the first person in my family to live in a dorm) when my grandfather was admitted into the hospital. Because of his history with cigarettes (which he quit 10 years or so before he died) and weakened lungs, combined with some unforgivable hospital errors, he could barely breathe and eventually slipped into unconsciousness. I was working at McDonald’s (down the block from my grandparents’ house) when I received a call. I was to leave work immediately to stay with my younger sister, as my parents had to go to the hospital. I did so, and my mom took the car to meet my dad there. I was only home with my sister for about a half an hour when I got another call from my mom, this time to meet her at the hospital. From what she didn’t say, I knew it was bad. My neighbor, Mrs. M, would drive us.

Mrs. M is an uncommonly kind woman. I had always liked her very much, and, in fact, she had even taught sex ed at my religion classes, and in a fairly straightforward manner. I have nothing but respect for her; however, that day I hated her.

My sister and I were in the car with her, not saying much. I felt my sister gripping my hand as tightly as she could; she usually never stopped talking, but she was afraid to open her mouth that day. As we rode along, Mrs. M tried futilely to comfort us. I don’t remember all of what she said, as I tried to answer politely, but I do remember my fury when she said this:

“If it’s his time, God has to take him. God has his reasons,” she said.

If I had the brain power to kill her with my thoughts, I would have absolutely had done so at that moment. I know this is a fairly conventional and so-called “comforting” platitude offered to family members. But it was ridiculous in this case. He was dying because of two human errors. The first was his: the decision to smoke for so many years severely weakened his lungs (although, his was the era when cigarette commercials mentioned how doctors approved them, so it wasn't entirely bad judgment). The second was the serious medical error the doctors made while treating him. How could it possibly be “his time” when two human beings caused it? God forced him into smoking? God made the doctor screw up his treatment? How does this connect with the “free will” I was taught in my religion classes?

When we got to the hospital, we literally ran out of the car. I managed a civil good bye and thank you for the ride. Later, as they disconnected the tubes from my grandfather’s immobile body and he slipped into death without cracking one last joke, or even a smile, those words were never far out of my mind.

Intellectually, I had been done with religion for a long time. I loved science, and especially evolution. It was fascinating, and I wanted to know more. But my church never discussed it, so I could live with the two coexisting. I was pro-choice, but the church didn’t really talk much about that either (although it did have signs for rallies), so again, I could ignore it. But that day, under the hot August sun, my emotional break with the church came. I could no longer rationalize the divide between what I actually believed in and what I was just following because of family loyalty.

Religious friends and family who are aware of this reasoning say that I am just angry about my grandpa's death, and that someday I'll get over it and turn back toward religion. Religion will comfort me, they say. God will heal my wounds. Well, I am angry, but at the hospital, not at God. I know we all die, but he didn't have to die then. And, as I mentioned, my break was a long time coming. Grandpa's death didn't turn me against religion; it simply gave me the courage to do what I knew was right for me. And although my grandpa may not have agreed with my decision, he would have been proud that I was displaying the bravery and strength that he showed every day of his life.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

No Bread for Me, Thanks.

Max had a death in his family recently. The majority of both of our families are Catholic, but not obsessive. Most don't go to church every week, but go more than the Christmas and Easter, as well as the occasional wedding or funeral, as I used to do. So when his great aunt died (not at all unexpectedly), we took off from work and attended her wake and funeral. Max, of course, is respectful of the beliefs of others, and attended without hesitation; however, when the time came to eat the bread (receive the host), he remained seated.

Obviously, people who are not Catholic should not be forced or expected to follow Catholic traditions and laws. A Jewish or Muslim person would immediately be excused from such a tradition. As always, though, it is often perceived differently for an atheist, especially an atheist who was brought up Catholic, and who had been baptized and confirmed. Most of the people who were attending the funeral attended both of those events as well. Nobody said anything to Max, but he did get a few stares.

I'm not sure exactly who knows of Max's atheism in his family. His close relatives do. We've discussed it with his parents and sister many times. But as for cousins, uncles, aunts and more distant relatives? I don't know, and neither does he, apart from the relatives he has literally told. Max never hides how he feels and will not follow any religious traditions just because they are religious, but neither does he make a point to let everybody know his spiritual beliefs. It is not what defines him, and therefore he does not feel the need to proclaim it to the skies. So how do they know why he is not standing up? I completely support his decision not to, but I am concerned that it might seem disrespectful to those who do not know the whole story.

Atheism on a whole is very offensive to some people. I know my parents aren't thrilled about it, although they do adore Max. It is vitally important to respect others' beliefs, but what can you do if respecting others' beliefs conflicts with following yours?

What do you do in these situations? Any advice?

Poll Results:

Can a marriage between two people of different faiths work?
Absolutely: 38%
Depends on the people: 42%
If the faiths are similar, maybe: 9%
No: 9%

Thanks to all those who answered, and check out my new poll!