I get alot of questions, from atheists and Christians, about how I raise my children and how atheism impacts their childhood. Unbeknownst to me, before the Winter break, my daughter had been asked to write a "pop essay" in her language arts class. "Pop essays" are like pop quizzes, in that the topic is not known before hand and the assignment generally comes when the teacher has failed to plan well and needs something to fill a gap in the lesson plan. In any case, the day before winter break, possum#1 was asked to write, for ten minutes, an essay on the following question: "What do you want for Christmas?"
Out of the mouths of babes...
What I want for Christmas, by Possum#1
There's a movie that's frequently shown in twenty-four hour blocks in which the main character, Ralphie, wants nothing but a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Ironically enough, he's asked to write an essay about his Christmas desire by a slightly shrewd teacher and told that he'll shoot his eye out. As I glance around this classroom, I see that many of my friends are feverishly pumping out manifestos dictating what gadgets and goodies they wish to find under their Christmas tree on the morning of December 25th. My mind, however, is reeling over the presumption that my public school teacher has addressed our classroom and assigned an essay in which she presumes that the entire lot of us are Christian or celebrate Christmas.
I take another look around my classroom and notice that Mahmeed is absent-mindedly cleaning underneathe his fingernails with the cap from his pen. Emily is feverishly trying to catch my eye and, having done so, mouthing the words, "I don't celebrate Christmas...I'm Jewish." in a quizzical manner. Jayden is doing what he normally does during such pop essays: he's looking out the window- probably wondering where his parents will get the money for January's rent and feeling guilty for daring to think about a gift. He's pretty sensitive.
I have never admitted it to any of my friends, but I think I must be an atheist. My mother is an atheist and has always told me to find my own path to spiritual comfort. I think I must be an atheist because I can't fathom any God who would allow the celebration of the birth of his son to become a time when my friends are consumed with thoughts of how they can convince Grandma to buy them a new Nano Ipod while other kids are wondering how their parent will manage the rent. What do I want for Christmas, I want a less assuming teacher. I want a teacher who thinks past the standard "What I want for Christmas..." assignment when she's aware that three out of her twenty students probably don't celebrate Christmas. I want a world where my friends will be asked to write essays about how they might use their winter vacay' to help other people. I want my mom to be healthy again. I want my grandmother to quit smoking. I want my grandfather to quite bugging her about it. But most of all, I want to not get an "F" on this assignment because you get angry with me for saying all of the above. Merry Christmas, Mrs. "X"* (name changed to protect identities).
Can I just say that I love my kids!?!?!?! I love that my daughter is getting to an age where she can make observations like she does. I love that she recognized the banality of the assignment and the injustice of her less recognized peers and cohorts. And, most of all, I love that- despite her usual shy demeanor- she had the courage to say what needed to be said.
Her teacher wrote this at the end of her essay:
"Possum#1*, thank you for your thoughtful remarks. I don't think you're an atheist but I respect your empathy for your friends. Please see me after class today. A+"
After class, possum#1 said that her teacher told her she couldn't be an atheist because her "ability to care for others feelings isn't an atheist trait." and that her "attitude was very Christian." WTF?!