My Kid’s New (And Adorably Diplomatic) Theory of Evolution

Friends
Friends

My daughter has this tendency to go all existentialist on me while riding in the car. I’m not sure what it is about this particular setting that motivates these sorts of talks. Is it sitting still with nothing else to do? Is it gazing up at the sky? Do all kids do this? Anyway, the other day, while driving Maxine and one of her friends to the pool, I listened as the two struck up a conversation about God. I can’t remember how it started (I didn’t turn on the voice recorder until later), but at some point they exchanged belief systems: The friend — a girl from a vaguely Christian, though not outwardly religious, family — said she believed in God. Maxine said she went back and forth on the matter.

When I’m adult, she told her friend, I probably won’t believe in God.

Really?, her friend asked, with equal parts surprise and confusion.

Here’s where the conversation went from there.

FRIEND: Well then how did we get here?

MAXINE: Oh I know how we got here. Long story.

FRIEND: Then I want to hear it. Tell me.

MAXINE: Okay. Well, there was this really little animal and that became a bigger animal and that became a bigger animal, then it grew to be a person. And the first person in the universe was that. Probably a cave person.

FRIEND: No, I know who the first person on Earth was: Adam.

MAXINE: Yeah.

FRIEND: And I know who the second person in the universe was. It was a girl. Eve. Adam gave birth to Eve…

MAXINE: No, I don’t think Adam gave birth to Eve.

FRIEND: No. I know that’s not true.

MAXINE: Adam and Eve had children and then they had children and then there was a bunch of universe of children. Ta-dah! Like my explanation?

FRIEND: Yes.

[Long pause]

FRIEND: But did…? How…? Wait. Okay, I don’t get this… If our families are different, who started our family? Like because there’s a big, huge generation — but how did it start?

MAXINE: Well, I think it started with cavemen before Adam. Because he’s probably the first person—like human being— and it probably started with cavemen. And then there was a weird caveman who probably gave birth to a person. Adam.

FRIEND: Adam.

MAXINE: Adam.

[Brief pause]

MAXINE: Hey, do you want to play Adam and Eve?

FRIEND: No.

MAXINE: Yeah, me neither.

I've always found it curious, as I'm sure you have, as to how some devoutly religious people can find factual truth in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve within the context of evolution.

Leave to second-graders to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Daddy, Daughter Discuss God (Again); More Cuteness Ensues

Charlie_Maxine_MountaintopMy husband and 7-year-old daughter had another totally awesome conversation about God a few days ago. They used to do that from time to time, but it's been a while since the subject has come up in much detail. I sure love it when it does. The talks are always fun, insightful, thought-provoking and, frankly, cute as hell. They also present Charlie with golden opportunities to teach Maxine about honesty, diversity  and the importance of kindness. Anyway, this one's particularly good, so I wanted to share:

Maxine: Where do you think God is? Like, which house or school...

Charlie: I don't think God is anywhere. I don't believe there is such a thing as God.

Maxine: But if you did, where do you think he is?

Charlie: Well, people who believe in God believe he is everywhere and see everything. They believe he is with everyone, watching over you.

Maxine: Is he with bad guys?

CharlieThey think he is everywhere.

Maxine: God is with bad guys?

CharlieYeah. They think God wants you to make good decisions, and even if you are making bad decisions, God is with you so when you are ready to do good things, he'll be there. They think God is there to help you and protect you. (Pause.) Other people who believe in God think he made the world and then kind of stepped back. He just watches from heaven to see what we'll do, but he doesn't interfere or help. Like the whole word is a big science experiment.

Maxine: A HUGE experiment.

CharlieWhat do you believe?

Maxine: (Exasperated, like "I've told you a hundred times") I believe in God on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Charlie: But what do you believe about God? Is he everywhere?

Maxine: (Pause) I think he stepped back.

(Pause.)

Maxine: I believe in God on Sundays and Wednesdays because Sunday is the day for church, and Wednesday so I can have a school day.

(Pause.)

Maxine: Is God good or bad?

Charlie: Everyone who believes in God believes he is good.

Maxine: I wish the biggest policeman in the world climbed a huge giant ladder up to heaven and there was a huge microphone as big as five million houses stacked on top of each other and the policeman said into the microphone, "God is real!" or "God is not real!" and then everyone would know and everyone would believe the same thing.

Charlie: It's hard not knowing, isn't it?

Maxine: Yeah.

Charlie(Pause.) What I think is it doesn't really matter what you believe. What you think doesn't matter. It's what you do that matters.

Maxine: Or say.

CharlieRight. You can think whatever you want. I can think someone is stupid —

Maxine: But don't say it to them. "Hey, you're dumb!"

Charlie: Right. It's what you do and say that matter. Think whatever you want.

Maxine: Because we don't want to hurt their feelings.

Charlie: Right.

Where's an Omniscient Policeman When You Need One?

Whenever my daughter starts talking about God, I try really hard to treat it like any other ordinary subject. But, inside, you can be sure I'm doing one of those Napoleon Dynamite "yesss" fist pumps — because, chances are, if one of our God conversations lasts more than a few seconds, I've got myself a blog post. You know where I'm going with this.

On Friday, Maxine had a playdate with a good friend of hers (who I love dearly and whose mother happens to be a good friend of mine). Both girls are in kindergarten, though they attend different schools. At one point, when I was out of the room, one of them must have broached the subject of God because when I returned a few minutes later, the friend asked me: "Is it true that Maxine believes in God four days and doesn't believe in God three days."

Now, I'm not sure if I've mentioned this to you already, but this split-week business has been Maxine's position for the last several months now. Such the diplomat, this child. Or maybe she's hedging her bets.

Anyway, the conversation went like this:

Friend: Is it true that Maxine believes in God four days and doesn't believe in God three days?

Me: Yes.

Maxine: Told ya.

Friend: I believe in God.

Me: Do you?

Friend: Yes, because babies are born every day.

Me: Oh yeah, and God makes babies, right?

Friend: Yes, God makes all the babies. Do you believe in God?

Me: No, I don't.

Maxine: Told ya.

Friend: Why not?

Me: Well, I just don't, I guess. I've never seen God.

Friend: I haven't seen God either, but I believe in him.

Maxine: I've never seen God because God is invisible.

Me: Right, and you can either believe in God or not believe in God.

Friend: But if you don't believe in God, maybe he will be sad.

Me: You think it  might make him sad?

Friend: Yes, it might.

Maxine: I wish a policeman would stand up and say into a microphone "God is real!" or "God is not real!"

Me: That would be great.

Maxine: Does your mom believe in God?

Friend: Yes, my whole family believes in God. Even my cat believes in God.

Maxine: Does your lizard believe in God?

[Note: Friend does not own a lizard.]

Friend: Hahahahahahaha.

Maxine: Hahahahahahaha.

Maxine and friend: Hahahahahahaha.

I spent the rest of the day in awe of these two children. I kept thinking about how they were walking, laughing illustrations of a near-perfect future: Two human beings able to discuss their own unique beliefs with curiosity, mutual respect, compassion and humor. I was so proud of both of them, and all they were doing was being themselves.

As soon as humanly possible, I ducked into my office to write all this down. I couldn't quite remember what it is the policeman was to have said, so I popped back in on the pair — now happily engaged in Barbies — and asked Maxine to remind me. She did, and I left.

When I was barely out of the room, I heard Maxine say to her friend: "She's going to write that down. When I say things cute, she writes it down."

Does anything get by this kid?

'But What if Santa Believes in God?'

One of the best things about writing a parenting blog about religion is that people send you their funny, insightful and just plain cute religion-related kid stories. Especially if you ask them to. People who read blogs are nice that way. So, to brighten up your Thursday, here are seven stories guaranteed to make you smile — if not guffaw. Enjoy! And thank you, readers, for sharing your lives and laughter with me.

Laura wrote:

My 5-year-old daughter, Alice, and I were talking this past December about all the big questions: Who is God? Do you believe in God? How did the world get made? etc.  I answered in my best think-your-own-thoughts vein with things like: Some people believe God made the world, and other people believe the world wasn't made by anyone.  We talked about the Big Bang a little bit, and she seemed to be agreeing with the scientists and skeptics, and then she comes out with this worried-sounding question: "But what if Santa believes in God?"

From Harry:

It was late spring, after our garden was in, when our aging cat Maggie died. My daughter, 3 years old at the time, was handling it surprisingly well. She was talking about us burying Maggie with a glimmer of excitement. She was happy to help us push the dirt into the hole to cover her up. I was feeling really proud of the incredible parent I must be to have a 3-year-old able to handle death so lightly. Later that night, she was talking to her Grandma about what we had done that day. And then I heard her say, "We planted Maggie today, and soon we are going to have KITTENS!"

Carla shared this story:

Traveling down Interstate 57 near Effingham, IL, there is a giant, white cross erected by the side of the road.  My 3-year-old son, Gareth, says, "Look, Mommy, that is a big T!"  Not ready to have that conversation, I said, "Yes, that it is a lot of people's favorite letter." 

Tiffany wrote:

My son’s name is Loki, which, for some reason, was the only name my husband and I agreed on.  Both my husband and I are atheists, but we try to expose our child to different ideas, religious and otherwise, from all angles. It’s up to him to make the decision in the end. As a result, we read lots of myths.  Interwoven with Greek mythology are stories from the Bible, the life of Muhammad, and Loki’s all time favorite: Norse mythology (of course). After reading a particularly awesome ‘Loki story’ that day, my son put it all together. “Mommy,” he said, looking at me with all seriousness. “I am—a GOD.” 

This one came from Shahzad:

Before becoming an atheist, I had been attempting to raise my son Ijaz (about 4 years old at the time) in the Islamic tradition at home and had taken him to the mosque on two occasions for annual Eid prayers, where he was able to follow along with the Islamic prayers that required multiple prostrations. My wife and I assumed that he was doing okay with these annual visits, but we learned otherwise when he heard us discussing the upcoming Eid and immediately interrupted to clarify his disdain for the mosque visits by saying, "I don't want to go to that place where people lie down." It was funny to realize that this was what my son had taken away from our understandably half-hearted attempt at following my childhood religion.

Alexa said:

The boys and I had a really funny discussion a few months ago, when I was reading Greek myths to them. Sirus said, "Wait - how come there are 12 gods here? Is Zeus the same as the God who created Jesus?" When I said no, he asked, "So were they wrong? Or are we?" It's a good thing my mom wasn't in the room for that, she would have had a coronary when I said, "The answer to that question is, what would you rather believe?" 

One of my all-time favorites is this one, which I received via e-mail some months ago. Unfortunately, I can't find the original message and no longer have the name of the writer. If you're reading this and you recognize this story, please let me know!

Before school began, I chatted with my 5-year-old before bed one night. I told him about how he was going to be meeting all kinds of new kids at school. Some will look like him, some will look really different. Some will like all the same things he likes and some won't like those things at all, and some more still will like things he can't stand. Everybody is different and nobody is wrong when it comes to what they like and don't like. Then I explained that some people believe in a man who, according to beliefs, lives up in the sky in a place called "heaven" and from up there he watches over all the people on the Earth. Not everybody believes in him, but a lot of the kids he will meet DO. He asked me the man's name, so I answered "God." His response? "I don't think God is a good name for him. His name should be Rollbert."

God, That's Funny!

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There are few things I enjoy more than hearing stories about the cute and funny things young children say. I think it's the combination of their undeveloped vocabularies, eagerness to imitate adults and dead-pan delivery that makes kids of a certain age so damn engrossing. My nephew is about to turn 3 and running at full-throttle in terms of cuteness. Every single thing that kid says or does charms me to one degree or another. I remember when Maxine was 3 — I was always reaching for my notebook to write down things she'd say.

Here are some of them:

* I was teaching Maxine to write the letter "M" and giving her stickers each time she got it right. After a while, I said, "Now I want to work with you on A's." She said: "Now I want to work with YOU on TOYS."

* One day, I found Maxine standing in front of the toilet with a pool of urine at her feet. She hadn't been able to get to the toilet in time. "Mommy," she said. "I'm so sorry I peed on the floor. That was a wrong and bad idea."

* I asked Maxine if there was anything she hoped to get from Santa for Christmas. She said, "A pink teddy bear." I suggested she go tell our "Elf on the Shelf," Johnny, so he could relate her wishes to Santa. She found Johnny and said: "Johnny, please tell Santa I want a pink teddy bear for Christmas..." Then, as my husband and I exchanged one of those "isn't-that-cute" looks, she added: "And diamonds."

I could go on and on.

And, if you have young children, you could, too. Which, as it turns out, is precisely why I'm telling you all this. Starting today, I'll be collecting stories for my book (and this blog, of course) about kids and religion, and I need your help.

If I'd thought of this a couple of years ago, I might have called it "Sh*t My Kid Says about God." Now I'd rather die a slow, painful death than write a "Sh*t My Whatever Says About Whatever." But the point is roughly the same.

I'm looking for all your cute, funny, charming, surprising stories. And, seriously, anything goes. As long as your kid is involved, and it relates to God or religion or the nature of the universe, I'd love to hear it. It could be one line — my daughter once told me: "When the moon is up, God is holding the sun. When the sun is up, God is holding the moon" — or an entire discussion, like the one I related to you in this blog last September. It could even be a picture drawn by your kiddo, or relevant piece of writing.

My only requirements:

• If you include quotes, please be sure they are actual quotes.

• Email me at relaxitsjustgod@gmail.com or message me on Twitter (@WendyRussell), rather than telling your story in a comment.

• Please specify whether you'd like your name/your child's name to be withheld.

 •••

Also, an another note, my Survey for Nonreligious Parents is going great. Thank you so much for your participation and for passing it along to others. Another few weeks like the one we had last week, and this thing will be just about wrapped up. Thanks again!

'I Love God, Even Though God Is Not Real'

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The best part about writing a parenting blog? Sometimes your kid composes the blog for you. Remember the time she drew a picture of God, and it turned out looking like a yellow cyclops with male pattern baldness and a handlebar mustache? Good times.

Well, it happened again this week when Maxine walked into my room while I was getting dressed and showed me this little goody. If you're not familiar with kindergarten composition, it's meant to say: "I love God, even though God is not real."

See what I mean? Silver platter.

So here's the story.

It's Monday morning, and I'm telling Maxine about Eid al-Adha, which I wrote about for Monday's blog. I'm explaining how Muslims all over the world are celebrating a holiday that consists of sharing meat with people who don't have food, etc. I ask her if she wants to hear the "God Story" about how the holiday came to be, and she answers with an enthusiastic "Yes!" So I tell her about Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son to God. The name Abraham rings a bell for her, and she asks if she can get down her "God Book" (which is what she calls her beginner's Bible) and flips through the pages looking for Abraham.

He's, of course, hard to find because every other man pictured in this book is a middle-aged white guy with a long beard, but we eventually find him and she's thrilled. Then she goes on to show me a picture of Noah and his ark and insist that it's a picture of "God making the world." At that point, I duck out of the room to get dressed, and leave her chatting happily to herself about God and Abraham.

After about five minutes, she comes waltzing into my room.

"Mommy, look what I made!"

She hands me the above message, and does me the enormous favor of reading that last part aloud.

My first reaction is to recoil a bit. Oh shit, I think. Are my own beliefs indoctrinating her to be a nonbeliever? Is she bothered, on some level, by my lack of religion? Is she trying, in her 6-year-old way, to open up a more serious conversation?

But my second reaction — which is almost always a better one — is to, you know, chill out. My daughter has just made me some artwork, I remind myself, and she's come to show it to me.

"That's awesome, babe! I love it," I say.

She beams proudly, and announces she's going to tape it to my bedroom door.

"So you don't think God is real?" I ask.

"Nope," she says. "Do you?"

What can I say?

"Nope."

She affixes her message to my door with tape and walks away. I swear to you, she has a spring in her step.

I know Maxine will change her mind about her belief in God — probably dozens of times! — before she's an adult. And that's great with me. But I can't tell you how happy I am that she made this.

And, no, to answer your question, it is NOT just because I was able to get a blog out of it. I mean really, people. There are lots of reasons ...

... that ...

... there would be ...

... I just need to ...

Okay, fine. It's all about the blog.

Cheers! God Can Kill You With the Push of a Button

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My 6-year-old likes to talk about God. She delights in the idea that the Big Guy upstairs made everything she sees around her. And she’s eager to explore why some people believe this, and others don’t.

I do my best to explore along with her, but sometimes my best isn't great. I misspeak and have to backtrack. Or I complicate matters more than necessary. But Maxine never seems to hold it against me, and our conversations usually fluctuate between amusing and downright enchanting.

Below is an example of one of our recent chats. I should tell you ahead of time that it might better be appreciated as a drinking game. So if you happen to have a glass of single malt scotch nearby  — and if you don't, why the hell not? — try taking a drink whenever you notice things getting messy and/or whenever my kid says something cute.

I promise you: There are worse ways to get drunk.

DAUGHTER: Some people believe God is taller than the clouds.

ME: What do you think?

DAUGHTER: I think I don’t know. I don't believe too much but a little bit.

ME: You believe in him a little bit?

DAUGHTER: After I get bigger, I won't believe in him too much.

ME: How come do you think?

DAUGHTER: I don’t know. When you get bigger, some people don’t believe in God too much.

ME: Who said that?

DAUGHTER: Nobody.

ME: You just know that?

DAUGHTER: It’s myself who told me. Or Ben told me.

ME: Oh, okay. I doubt it was Ben. Ben believes in God. Ben is Jewish, and that's another kind of religion. Christian is a kind of religion, and Jewish is a kind of religion, and Muslim is a kind of religion and Hindu is a kind of religion.

DAUGHTER: What’s Ben again?

ME: Jewish. He’s Jewish.

DAUGHTER: What am I?

ME: Well, let me tell you this. Ben's family is Jewish. And I think he has decided to be Jewish, too, but he’s just a little kid, so he has time to make up his mind—

DAUGHTER: Am I Jewish?

ME: You are whatever you are. Well, you know what? Here’s the thing about Judaism. It’s a different kind of religion that—

DAUGHTER: What’s religion?

ME: Religion? Religion is a set of beliefs about the world and about God. Like, if you’re one religion you might believe in God, but you might believe in a certain kind of God. If you’re another religion, you might believe in God, but you might believe in a different kind of God. And if you are no religion, then you wouldn’t believe in God at all. Or, well, that’s not — actually, I take that back. You might believe in God and believe in your own kind of God, and then you wouldn't be part of a religion. You would just be what we call "spiritual"... That’s the neat thing about beliefs, is that everyone has the right to believe what they want. So it’s okay that Ben believes in a Jewish God. And it’s okay that Uncle Scott believes in a Christian God. And it’s okay that Taj believes in Hindu gods. Because in Hinduism, there’s not just one god, there are lots of gods. It’s a neat world that we live in. That people can believe whatever they want. Did you know that some people fight over their beliefs? Did you know that? Some people fight over their religions.

DAUGHTER: Why?

ME: Well, because they think their religion is better than the other religions. That you should believe one thing, and not believe another. And so they end up fighting about it.

DAUGHTER: That’s not very good.

ME: No, it's not very good at all. That’s a bad thing. And even people who don’t believe in God? Sometimes they fight with people who do believe in God. Isn't that terrible?

DAUGHTER: Yeah. You know what? When some people believe in God, they can’t say, “Hey you! Do you want to fight with believing in God?" That’s not good.

ME: No, it's not. My feeling is that people should believe whatever they want to believe, but they shouldn’t fight about it.

DAUGHTER: Because you know why?

ME: Why?

DAUGHTER: God is going to get mad. And you know what? Some people believe that God pushes a button and it makes people die sometimes.

ME: Oh, is that right?

DAUGHTER: Yeah.

ME: Yeah, I think that’s right, Max. Some people believe that God has the ability to give life and take it away, right?

DAUGHER: Yeah. And Nana and Papa believe that when you die, you come back alive in God's world.

ME: Oh, in God’s world — in heaven. Yeah, that’s right. That’s really, really right.

DAUGHTER: They believe that people go to heaven and that they are awake in heaven instead of California or Sweden or Kansas or any of those places.

 

Daddy, Daughter Discuss God; Cuteness Ensues

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Since my husband and I started talking with our 6-year-old daughter about God, the cuteness factor of our conversations has pretty much shot through the roof. Most God talks are so cute, in fact, that I've decided to have my thumb surgically attached to the Voice Memos app on my phone.

A recent example:

Daughter: I believe in God. And Nana believes in God.

Husband: Why do you believe in God?

Daughter: I know what he looks like. I’ll tell you what he looks like.  He has a very white, long beard that reaches up to heaven. He has a green shirt.

Husband: A T-shirt? Or a shirt with a collar?

Daughter: Actually it’s a red shirt and green jeans. Nobody believes this, but he’s bigger than the clouds. He can fly.

Husband: Cool!

Daughter: When people prayer, they’re actually talking to God.

Husband: When they pray, what do they say?

Daughter: ‘Dear God, I want you to give me a little pail'... like that.”

Husband: So they are asking for things?

Daughter: Yes.

Husband: Cool! And do they say 'Thank you'?

Daughter: Yes.

Husband: Great.

Daughter: NOW do you believe in God?

Husband: No, I really don’t believe in God. But that’s okay.

Daughter: He’s invisible.

Husband: So you can’t see him?

Daughter: He’s bigger than the sky.

Husband: Do you know what it’s called when you believe in something but you can’t see it?

Daughter: What?

Husband: Faith. And do you know why some people believe in God?

Daughter: Why?

Husband: They believe that God takes care of you.

Daughter: (Nodding) They believe God made our babies. God made us. God made the clouds. God made the sky. God made the sun. Everything in the whole wide world. Even wood. Even seeds.

[Pause.]

Daughter: This is in the olden days, when Papa was first born.

 

So, yeah, I've gone ahead and taken the liberty of establishing a Thumb Surgery Fund. Contributions welcome.