WNK? Religion (Part 1)

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I have been married for 12 years and had plenty of time and practice to help me complete and refine the list of reasons I choose to be childfree. There are things I want to contribute, create and achieve. There are plenty of predicaments, contradictions, risks and duties that I hope to avoid for eternity.  I have concerns about the environment (this video is also worth revisiting), economics, my community, and vessels carrying my genes. I want to be brave and free enough to seek the best version of me, and leave more than my DNA as a legacy…

I hope to admit and articulate my childfree motivations honestly and clearly, yet, when answering “Why No Kids?” I have barely burrowed into my own psychology, insecurities, personal history or religion. It’s complicated and scary, and the opportunity to offend so many, including my family, is not exactly enticing. Nonetheless, I think it is important, and hope readers might be inspired to share some personal stories that influenced their thinking.

My own experiences with religion have certainly contributed to my decision to remain childfree. I will offer more detail in future posts. in the meantime, the following personal essay may offer some hints about my psychology and beliefs? Thanks in advance for indulging.

SPIRITS – Part 1

We were saved. My mother made sure of it. She took my younger brother and me to churches all over Denver to find the correct way to pray and give praise, and the best places in town to do it.

We had to know the right words to say so God or the devil would listen. We learned that good prayers began like letters to God. “Dear Lord,” we would say. That was the best way to do it if we were asking for something. At the end, we had to politely remind God that “we ask these things in Jesus name” to make it more powerful. If we didn’t pray right or do the right things, God wouldn’t answer our prayers. I didn’t understand, but I thought I should.

If the Devil tried to tempt or scare us, we were supposed to be mad. When I had nightmares, mom would sit down on my bed and squeeze my hand and tell me to repeat after her. In the same loud and angry way I would say “Satan, I demand, in Jesus name, that you leave me NOW. I am saved, and I am not scared any more, in JESUS name, amen”. It worked, but a week or two later I would have another dream about “The Incredible Hulk” or “Fantasy Island”. Friday night TV scared me, but my mom blamed Satan and soda pop for my sleeplessness.

Some churches were better than others. Saint Thomas Moore was only a short drive from our blue house in Acres Green, but we only went there a few times a year. That church had good aerobics classes and free tennis courts and my dad drank beer while he played softball there in the summers; but my mom called the Catholics pagans. She said they didn’t read the bible the right way and that she couldn’t be a Catholic anymore. She couldn’t say it to my grandparents though. When they came to visit, even my dad came to church. We all pretended to be Catholic, and mom told us not to tell them about our other churches or how we learned to speak in tongues.

We learned at my mom’s favorite church, which wasn’t really a church at all. It didn’t have a name or a building or little books to tell us what to say or sing. The leader of the small group was a skinny man with dirty shoes. He was young, about the same age as my mother, but glasses and baldness, and the way he knew the bible, made him seem older. He said that a church was about people and not place, and promised that God would always find a place for us to worship Him.

In the beginning, God found us a dark empty room in an office building near the Denver Tech Center. I think one of the members worked there, but we had to enter through a side door and keep most of the fluorescent lights off. About 40 people attended regularly, but some skipped the service for Broncos games or good snowstorms.

We sat in a broken circle of folding metal chairs, facing the center and each other. The leader read the bible and led us in prayer before he sat down and waited for the Holy Spirit to inspire someone to start a song, any song. “He is the king of kings” was my favorite. When a song ended, another would start spontaneously, and the singing continued like that until the Holy Spirit filled the room and someone started speaking in tongues.

It was God’s language. That’s what we were told, that God knew exactly what we were feeling and saying, even if we didn’t. As others joined the prayer, the volume increased. Eyes closed and some stood and raised their hands in the air like they had just scored a goal. “They were getting as close to God as possible,” my mother explained later. I wondered why they didn’t stand on the chairs.  Some fell to their knees. Others bent their elbows at the waist and opened their hands to the sky as if they were carrying a lunch tray on their forearms. I followed their lead, moved my lips silently, peeked through squinty eyes to see if anyone was watching, and wondered if God would forgive me for faking.

My mother had her head tilted back, smiling at heaven. She looked happy there, something I didn’t realize until we got home, or I got older.

Her face changed when she carefully pulled her old white Volvo into the garage next to my father’s new blue one.  My dad was rarely happy to see us on Sunday. If he was awake he was angry or hungry or both.  He said he went enough when he was a boy, or stayed out too late the night before. He held his head and drank tomato juice and gin and stared at everything but us. When the shouting started, we were simply ordered to go upstairs and read our Bibles. We were saved.

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Why I Said ‘Yes’ to Kids

Today’s guest post is from Ana June, a mother, wife, writer, photographer and jewelry artist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

Tattoo (photo credit Christopher Riedel)

In the spring of 2008, I sat down late one night to write the first installment for a newspaper column I called Planet Mom. While my youngest son slept on the couch next to me, I stared out at the night sky and tried to conjure my muse. By midnight, I had it–a relatively clear, concise, and honest introduction to the life I live as a mother to four. (Full installment is here.) In it, I wrote the following:

“This act of mothering is life in the raw. There are moments that threaten to unhinge me, followed closely by those that offer a glimpse of enlightenment.”

Nearly 3 years later, the truth in this statement still holds. Being a mother, especially to a brood the size of mine, is absolutely dichotomous. It’s unhinging and enlightening, sometimes all at once!

Choosing to become a mother was, for me, a no-brainer. I always knew I would have children…. Furthermore, I always knew I wanted to have children. This desire must have been hardwired or something–I can’t explain it much better than that. Having children gave me so very much–the opportunity to lose myself and find myself… the thrill of finding and dancing on the very edge of my every possibility. Being a mother has made me more human, more frazzled, more fully alive, more tired, more fully in love, and more humble than anything else I have ever done.

That said, motherhood doesn’t define me entirely, and it shouldn’t. I am also a photographer, a writer, a graphic designer, and a jeweler, though not necessarily in that order at any given time. I own my own business, set my own hours, and have been turning a profit for several years now. Today, Wednesday, I am a writer and a jewelry maker. I am both writing this and babysitting my jewelry kiln as it sinters tin and copper into bronze (making two sets of custom wine charms!). Next to me, dull gray pendants that will soon metamorphose into fine silver await their turn in the fire. I am an alchemist.

I am also a traveler. I returned from a whirlwind trip to New York several days ago, where I was photographing a friend’s wedding. I was blissfully childfree for this journey, and it was awesome. It was awesome as well to come home and see my family again. A few years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with my husband, kidfree, to Baja to shoot the Baja 1000 with and for a group of firefighters who ride for The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (the prelude to that story is here. I apparently never posted the actual story). In a nutshell, that adventure was awe-inspiring, remarkable, incredible…. fill in the blanks. But again, it was also awesome to come home and see my family again.

Family is the absolute ultimate for me, and of course that is defined in large part by my children. Because of this, I simply don’t see parenting as duty-driven more than I see it as motivated by a deep and abiding love. It is not a job, it is my heart.

I can’t and won’t sell it to anyone, however. It is not something to do unless you feel that undeniable drive within you to create a child. It is never something to take lightly. It should never be a should. It was absolutely never a should in my own life–in fact, quite the opposite, since I was very young when I got pregnant with my son. I chose to have my children when I did–Soren, who is now 17, was born three weeks after I turned 22. I birthed him at home, with a midwife, and when I looked into his little face for the very first time I saw God. This agnostic borderline-atheist truly and absolutely saw God. You see, God isn’t some big judgmental guy lurking about the heavens waiting to smite sinners or whatnot. No… God was the design of my son’s newborn face. God was his first cry.

And I can’t expect anybody else, not even my son’s father, to understand that moment like I did. That was my moment as a mother, and I was fortunate to have three more like it in the years that followed.

It was for moments like this that I became a mother. My decision to do so had very little to do with economics or leisure or opportunity for myself. It had everything to do with feeling and expressing a love that eludes definition. It wasn’t happy happy happy, but it wasn’t sad sad sad either. It ultimately isn’t any one thing. As I recently wrote in another post on my blog (full post here):

“…motherhood is the end-all-be-all of a woman’s existence…except when it isn’t. Motherhood will thresh your very soul and lift you to heights of joy you never thought possible… except when it doesn’t. Motherhood will sweep you up to the pinnacle of beauty…. except when it’s anything but beautiful. When you have shit on your hands because the baby decided to do gymnastics after you removed the stinky diaper and the phone is ringing and the dog is barking and the older kid is whining about cookies or some such… and the diaper pail is full and the room smells like digested green beans and you haven’t showered in two days and your breasts start leaking and then the baby pees all over the changing table and all the while you suspect, in a grim sort of way, that your mortgage check will bounce this month….

Nope, that’s not beautiful at all. Motherhood isn’t always anything except raw, demanding life. Base and beautiful humanity.”

And though it is a commitment, that sometimes makes you feel like you should be committed, it can be–should be?–one gleaming facet in a multifaceted life.

It should follow the sentiment I have tattooed on my upper left arm:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

No matter what we choose in this life–parenthood or not–there will forever be more to explore, more to learn, more to love. Or at least, there should be. And that is the only should that I, personally, understand.

Postscript: For anybody who is still unsure about having a child, ask yourself this: if you attempted to place your coffee mug in the cup holder of your car, one frenetic morning, and found that the space was already occupied by a large piece of dusty, hairy, dessicated bacon left therein by one of your children (one of your teens, in fact!), how would you feel? Your answer to this may help clarify your child-bearing decision…. at least a little bit. 🙂

You can follow Ana June on her blog, Non Compos Mentis Mama, or visit her professional site, Ana June Creative.