This is my son’s first year in a public school. For the last 3 years he has been in a Montessori school that we adored. But, alas, they only went up to a specific grade, so I was forced to look for other options.
I chose his school carefully, I researched, I called, I toured, I crunched numbers. It was exhausting, but I wanted to make sure that I made the correct choice.
In the end, mostly fueled by a lack of funds, my choices became private Catholic school or public school.
I had really considered Catholic school for a while, but decided against it, because I had so many battles to fight at home, I didn’t want religion to become one. (Mind you, I have no experience of parochial schools save for my 3 years of experience in a Lutheran school as a child.)
We started off just fine this school year with some minor adjustments due to the switch from Montessori to traditional school. But religion never came up, at least, not in relation to his new school.
And then one day, right around Easter, two things happened. First, in our weekly newsletter was a note telling parents that, this week, the children would be learning about Easter. Say what? In a public school, my child was going to be taught about Easter? What about teaching them about Ostara as well? What about other spring rites and rituals? Where’s the equality in that?
I discussed it with my partner and with some friends and decided that they were probably just going to talk about bunny rabbits and spring. I would just ask my child what he was learning and try and keep up while making sure what he was learning remained secular. I would let this go for now and see where it went. It seemed fine and the Easter coloring pages (bunnies and chicks) were minimal.
About a month later the second thing happened, I was cleaning out my son’s backpack (because when I don’t do so on a regular basis things happen – things like two-month-old bananas – talk about gross…) and I found a little blue cross with white polka-dots in his backpack. It appeared to be a decorative cupcake pick.
So, I went into his room, where he was playing, and asked him, “Sweetie, where did this come from?” and he replied, “From Sarah’s* birthday.” “Oh.” I replied. He seemed un-phased, which I expected. We’d spoken about the symbol of the cross before. He often refers to it as “the Jesus sign” or “the heaven symbol.”
I left his room and commenced freak-out mode. I mean, wow! Wow! Now, what if I had brought in a tray of cupcakes with decorative pentacle picks or goddess shaped picks? How would that have gone over? How could the teacher allow this? Fortunately, it was about 6:00 p.m., and since storming the school in protest of a cupcake pick after school hours would probably be frowned upon by law enforcement, I stayed home and calmed down.
It got me really thinking about things.
Firstly, I’m sure Sarah’s mother meant no harm. After all, many of us tend to assume that others are like us and share our thoughts and beliefs. (No? Is it just me?) To her, they were probably just seasonal cupcakes. To her, they were probably just tradition. Though there are people out there would attempt to encourage children to study or ask about Christianity for a reward, she, most likely, isn’t one of them. At least, I’m going to assume she isn’t until she proves otherwise. Why? Because I like to see the best in people.
Secondly, I need to think about where my feelings are coming from. This cupcake pick is a symbol to me. It’s a symbol of the culture that we live in that is dominated by a faith that is not only (typically) opposed to mine, but that I feel has oppressed me, as a woman and as a Pagan. To me, it feels suffocating and limiting. But that is not what my son sees in this cupcake pick. He sees… a cupcake pick, just another sparkly item to throw in his collection of “stuff.” To him, this pick is as innocent as it was most likely meant to be.
He sees a “Jesus” or “Heaven” symbol, plain and simple. Right now, at his age, he probably sees these types of things like he sees car manufacturer logos, they just are. They’re labels and nothing more. The world is so simple to him right now.
I had to remind myself to keep my own prejudices to myself and not impose them on my child, even if my feelings are based on experience. I need to allow my child to see the beauty in faith and allow him to know that he is truly allowed to choose his own religion. Because, really, if I treat this symbol with disdain or make a huge deal about it, how will he know that I will support him if he decides to choose a Christian path? Of course, I will teach him all there is to know about my path, but in the end, it is his choice and he is my son and I will love him no matter what. I never want him to be afraid to tell me about his decisions.
Additionally, I want to make sure that he respects and loves people. I would hate to instill a feeling of resentment towards any group of people. Especially if that feeling of resentment is based on my experiences and not his own.
This does not mean, however, that I shouldn’t expose him to the harsh realities that exist for those who follow a path less taken. Nor does it mean that I shouldn’t fight for more equality, not only in the school, but in the world. But not right now. Not over a blue cupcake pick. There are other times and other ways. Maybe, if it becomes an issue, I can pull his teacher aside and have a discussion. But for now, I think I will let it be.
What kind of similar situations have you faced? How did you handle them?
*I’ve changed the classmate’s name, to protect her identity.