Last week C announced that he had gotten in trouble in social studies. Not trouble, really, but called out by his teacher for making a joke about something-something that to her was sacred and serious.
I asked C what exactly happened and after twenty minutes of wandering through the story, the gist of it boiled down to this-they were watching and discussing the Pope’s visit in class and C innocently asked ‘Who is the Pope?’.
His teacher, a devout Catholic, nearly lost her head, and assumed C was being sarcastic and disrespectful. She yelled at him (his words) and told him it was wrong to make jokes like that.
But the thing is, he wasn’t joking.
In yet another great parenting fail, my child did not really know who the Pope was. I mean, he has seen him on TV, and knew him by sight, but he did not really know WHO he was, and what all of the fuss about his visit to the US was.
My family is not Catholic, obviously. I consider us to be Christians, but we do not attend church, so I don’t know if I can truly say that anymore. We did for a time, before we had children, and then for a short while after, before leaving the house took over an hour and what should have been a peaceful and spiritual start to our day became a struggle. We have drifted in and out of churches over the course of our lives looking for a perfect fit and have yet to find one that feels like home. Today, I consider us to be more spiritual than religious. I believe in being kind and authentic, in helping others when you can and being mindful and grateful always. I believe in mistakes and forgiveness, and love, lots of love. I believe we are human, flawed and beautiful. I believe I see God on a long ride on a country road, in fields and flowers so beautiful they take your breath away. He is in the ocean, and the sound of the tides lapping the sand and in the smell of the pluff mud. I hear Him in my children’s laughter, and know He is present when they come to kiss me out of the blue, hug me unexpectedly, or take my hand as we walk through the store.
But am I failing by not teaching my children about other religions? If we were attending church regularly, would they be exposed to more than just ours? I don’t recall in any of the Methodist or Episcopalian services I attended anyone ever discussing Allah, or even expecting my children to know who Allah is. Do other churches talk of Buddhism and Siddhartha Gotama? In Sunday school do they discuss Hannukah? As a parent, I am supposed to share my beliefs with him, but should I be sharing all beliefs? My parents did not, nor did we attend church as children, and yet I learned-so from where?
Part of me wonders if the internet and Netflix, streaming and DVR are part of the problem. There was endless coverage of the Pope’s visit on TV, but I doubt we saw more than 15 minutes total of it. There are so many other options, so many other channels, if you are not interested you just move on. Click! Simple as that. And I can promise you, a 12 year old boy is not interested. When I was a child and the news was so big that every channel covered that one event, you had no choice. We didn’t have 500 channels to choose from, or a dozen shows DVR’d that we could turn on. We watched the news. It preempted regular programming and you suffered through it. We talked about it and learned from it.
Today, I am lucky if I watch 15 minutes of news a day, and I can bet my children watch none. Mine is limited to the Today Show, which is less news and more entertainment daily. We don’t subscribe to a newspaper, though I do try to read(skim) the NYT on Sundays. So where would my children see and hear anything about current events? They are certainly not searching them out on their own.
I briefly considered emailing C’s teacher an apology, and explaining he truly did not know the Pope, and his significance, and didn’t mean t offend, but I didn’t. Part of me was angry that she assumed he would, that she was so quick to anger over his simple and innocent question. What if I was Muslim, or Jewish? Had she considered that? And really, the boy is 12 for Pete’s sake. Batman and Santa Clause are important to him. Not the Pope.
Part of me felt guilty and added this to my list of personal and parental shortcomings. Some days I swear I have retained very little from my high school social studies years, and honestly I am not well versed when it comes to current events either, so it felt a bit like she was calling me out as well. The worrier in me assumed she sat in the teachers lounge that afternoon and told everyone that my son ‘didn’t even know who the Pope was’, while shaking her head and ‘wondering what kind of people’ we are.
I know none of that is true, and I know that C now knows perfectly well who the Pope is and why he is such a big deal. We sat together that evening and watched the news, and discussed it. We googled a bit of information and talked about other religions. We reflected on past Pope’s and how this one is different and why that is important. Could he write a paper on the Pope now? No, probably not, and that is okay with me.
But going forward I may just renew my subscription to the newspaper, and maybe even Time magazine or Newsweek. Relying on the various apps I have to give me my news in 60 seconds or less works fine for me, but is leaving a new generation out in the cold and uninformed.