When E was younger I was determined to treat Christianity as a secret I could keep from him. This would be no small feat in our neck of the woods. Churches abound. Billboards and bumper stickers Praise Jesus! Grocery clerks tell customers to have a blessed day. In the heart of the south, where upon learning your name, the next question many ask is: “Where do you attend church?”
E was born in Boston where I was heavily entrenched in the Jewish community. Six months after his birth, we moved to my hometown of Atlanta and I found the pervasiveness of Christian messages overwhelming. After living in Boston for nearly eight years, I had forgotten just how much Jesus rules the South.
I went into Mama Bear mode. I was going to protect E. I was going to preserve his childhood until we had established a firm Jewish connection.
I began taking a closer look at books and other products. I wouldn’t buy or borrow books with Christian symbols. If a book about winter illustrated a guy in red with a big white beard or a Christmas tree, it wasn’t going home with me. If a spring-themed coloring book included a large bunny and children holding baskets dressed in their Sunday Best, it was a no-go.
Most of my friends weren’t Jewish, but they weren’t King James Bible-toting Baptists either. We were basically all struggling with how to insert the perfect amount of religion into our families without becoming zealots or disappointing our parents.
To be fair, you should know that A) My children do not watch television and B) I believe in a commercial-free childhood so we don’t have any characters at our house. Yes, we have dump trucks and bath toys and Legos. We don’t have Bob The Builder, Elmo, Diego, or SpongeBob. Not even on a toothbrush or a pair of socks.
So I was already out of the norm when I began my own personal crusade (for lack of a better word) against Christianity in our home/life/school.
The local Jewish preschool was out of the budget. E, at 18 months old, attended a sweet little preschool in the basement of a church. The class made Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer crafts and the teachers said: “We made deer today!” At Easter they told me it was a “spring egg.” E was the only Jewish kid in the class. At least the teachers were trying.
As the children moved into older classes, the preschool became more and more churchy–and so began the hunt for a new preschool. E landed at a green, commercial-free cooperative (satisfying my inner hippie) at which no holidays were discussed or celebrated, not even Valentine’s Day.
At a Braves game in July when E was 3, my husband and I were mortified when we realized it was a celebration of Christmas in July. We left the game early. We tried to avoid Christmas playgroups and invitations to Easter egg hunts while being polite. I was borderline fanatical about avoiding Christianity but I didn’t set out to be mean or offensive. Few of my friends understood.
One afternoon on our drive home from Kindergarten I was asking E about his day.
“I read the Billb!” he exclaimed.
“The Villeb?” I asked, clueless.
“No, Mama, the Billb. You know, it has stories in it about people and stuff like that.”
“Spell it,” I said.
“B-i-b-l-e,” he replied.
I almost wrecked the car. In an effort to remain calm and retain as much information as possible–this kid expires after about 45 seconds of questioning because he finds it boring–I found out that his “Billb” contained the Old and New Testament; he read about Jesus and Moses; he found the book in his classroom; and this was clearly No Big Deal to him.
I look back at all the effort I’ve put into growing this kid. And I’ll never truly know what worked and what didn’t or why. You can encourage siblings to take turns and be gentle, but they may not be friends. You can protect and shelter and hide, but your kid still finds The Billb and reads it. And he’s okay. And you’re okay.