Alone, lone, lonely.

This post has been in my drafts for a long time. I’ve edited it over and over again, sometimes at times when I’ve felt angry, sometimes when I’ve been particularly mellow… At one point it was more than twice as long as it currently is. If it seems slightly jumpy and non sequitur, well, that’s because that’s how my thoughts on the matter are.

I finished reading Parenting Beyond Belief.
The sub-heading reads ‘On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion’, but it’s not so much a how-to as a collection of essays regarding the subject of secular parenting. I’d recommend it to anyone who is non-religious, and in fact anyone who is religious and would like to understand more about atheistic approaches to life.
Being a book largely aimed at US readers, I did find certain aspects less identifiable – I don’t think the divide between religious and non-religious people is as big in Australia, and I don’t think religion (specifically Christianity) is as deeply ingrained in the national identity. So for a start, I don’t particularly feel as if I’m fighting against anything – or if I am, it’s not such a large hurdle as if I was living in America.

The book covers a lot of ground, with a lot of different approaches to issues that arise while raising children in a secular household. The appeal of the book, for me, isn’t so much in those approaches (although they are certainly potentially helpful and thought-provoking), but in the mere fact of it being. That is, I like having in my possession a book, a well-composed book, that was made by atheists for atheists. I don’t agree with it all, of course. I find Richard Dawkins in particular quite harsh and condescending. But the fact that I could open to almost any page and read a sentence or paragraph that so perfectly puts into words the beliefs and thoughts that I often can’t express… it’s just a good feeling.

The one thing I envy religious people is that they have at their disposable an instant community. Enter any church, say, and you immediately have at least one huge thing in common with everyone there – the belief in God.

Secular families have scarcely any of the resources that Christian, Moslem, Jewish and other theistic families in this country have in abundance. Religious communities have attractive places for families to gather every week to be spiritually uplifted and share community, youth groups built around their family’s beliefs and values, and trained personnel to guide them in their spiritual lives and help them work through problems in ways consistent with their beliefs. They have libraries with inspiring reading and songs handed down by a variety of music traditions, with spiritual messages seasoned over many years. Pete Wernick, p.257

Obviously, atheists have none of that, not least of all because the definition of an atheist is, rather broadly, ‘a person who disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings’. That’s it. As quoted in Parenting Beyond Belief, “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby”.
Nonetheless, feeling an active and welcomed member of a community is important and desirable to the majority of people, regardless of what some (like me) might try to insist. (“I prefer to be alone, I don’t need people, I don’t like people, I’m a loner, I’m better alone.”)
Before I had my own family I may have been happy to carry on independently and detached, but I’m finding myself wishing more and more that we had the kind of infrastructure that theists have, that avenue to use as a stepping stone to creating and expanding our circle of peers and friends. Support.

I did say above that I don’t feel as surrounded by religious practise as I might if I lived elsewhere… But there are still opportunities for feeling awkward and isolated. Easter and Christmas are big events, most people celebrate them in some way, but I’m not sure what to do with them. Whole months of the year are dominated by these events that have no real significance to me.
If you’re having a hard time, I’m never “praying for you”. You’re not “in my prayers”. How can I appropriately convey condolences and hope? It might seem a silly thing, but I do struggle to think of ways to express genuine concern without sounding cheesy or trite, to really impress upon someone the meaning behind my words. I don’t, after all, have a known, conventional system of belief as a referee.
When Devin goes to school, even a public school, it’s likely that, at some point, I’ll have to expressly state that, no, I don’t want him to attend the weekly scripture class… I would be much happier if such lessons were general studies and discussions of religions, philosophies, morals, and ethics.

The crux of the matter is that I, as an atheist, often feel lonely. I sigh wistfully at the community resources and tradition that religious families have, and I frequently feel adrift in a sea of mostly complacent Christianity.

(To be honest, I don’t particularly identify with the label ‘atheist’, though I certainly don’t believe in any supreme being/s. I might consider myself a Humanist, I suppose, but it seems silly to call oneself something that should just be a given. I’m just not religious. That’s all.)

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Book it in.

Devin has, somewhat recently, started saying, “again!” when I finish reading a book. Sometimes I oblige and read it again, and at the end, once more… “Again!” I have to remind him that he does have other options… Here are a few that have taken our fancy.

Green Eggs and Ham; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; Fox in Socks; Hop on Pop – Dr. Seuss was clearly intent on killing me when he wrote these. They are great books, but man – my voice is not my strongest asset. I also have to suppress the urge to speak and write in rhyme after a big Seuss-ing. I also can’t stop myself from pronouncing it ‘Zeus’.

Everywhere Babies, Susan Meyers; Marla Frazee – Devin recently went through a phase in which he was very interested in babies. Two mothers at our library Story Time happened to have newborn babies at the time, and he spent much of the hour each week watching them intently. I started looking for books about babies for him, and bought this one because of the easy rhyming and the realistic illustrations and portrayal of how babies are cared for. He’s not quite so fascinated at the moment, but he can still pick a baby out of a crowd as if it has a flashing fluorescent sign above it.

Itsy-Bitsy Babies, Margaret Wild; Jan Ormerod – This has plenty of actions that Devin (or I) can do, such as “That itsy bitsy baby goes clap, clap, clap” and “All the itsy bitsy babies want to kiss, kiss, kiss”.

Tree Ring Circus, Adam Rex – I mentioned this on this blog before, when I first bought it for a bargain price. It’s still in my favourites. I can recite it by memory now.

Bee-bim Bop!, Linda Sue Park; Ho Baek Lee – A little girl helps her mum make dinner. The pace is hurried but fun, it’s a favourite for all of us. There’s also a recipe for bibimbap/bee bim bop in the back.

Sophie Bakes a Cake, Tina Burke – This is the first book for which there were tears when we had to return it to the library. Sophie is baking a cake with her doll, Scarlett. Sophie’s mum has laid out all the ingredients, but Scarlett has her own suggestions about what should go in the cake. I liked that one of those suggestions is Vegemite – it’s nice to see something blatantly Australian in a picture book. I will have to add it to our Book Depository wishlist (which is already outrageously long).

The Black Book of Colours, Menena Cottin; Rosana Faria – Describes colours without colours. Each page is written in type and Braille, and the pictures – all black on black – are raised from the page so that they can be felt. It’s a really lovely book, and a great way to get seeing kids thinking from a different perspective.

Cork on the Ocean, Mark Sommerset – In much the same way as Dr. Seuss, this is enjoyable to read out loud, though probably too old for Devin at the moment.

Clara Joins the Circus, Michael Pellowski; True Kelley – Neither the writing nor the illustrations are anything special, but it’s colourful and there is plenty of slapstick humour to keep Devin amused. It’s an old book – I found it at a market stall.

A Bit Lost, Chris Haughton – We all find this one rather amusing. A little owl falls off his perch and searches for his mummy, with the ‘help’ of a well-meaning rabbit.

Thomas & Friends mini books (Thomas, Jack, Kevin, Charlie, Stepney) – The picture-to-word ratio in these is too big for Devin’s patience, so we summarise the story as we go through. He tends to latch on to specific pages – a bridge collapse in Jack, Thomas losing his carriages in Charlie, a giant claw about to grab Stepney… The funny thing is, he’s only seen the television show a handful of times. He mostly only knows them from his train set.

Where Is The Green Sheep?, Mem Fox; Judy Horacek – This book must be in practically every household with children in Australia. For valid reasons.

A Bear and His Boy, Sean Bryan; Tom Murphy – Devin seems to either really love a book, or really not care. This, unfortunately, was in the latter category, but I really liked it. A bear wakes up to find a boy on his head. The bear has a long, long list of things to do that day, but the boy eventually makes him stop to smell the flowers. Literally.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy, Oliver Jeffers – Honestly, half of the picture books I borrow from the library are more for me than Devin, and this was one of them. I don’t expect him to be interested in those ones. But he was interested in this one. He actually really liked it. Possibly more than our other Oliver Jeffers books.

Fizz the Fire Engine!, David Wojtowycz – Plenty of onomatopoeia, colour and action. It’s not my favourite, but hey, I don’t read them aloud for me.

Waiting For Mummy, Tae-Jun Lee; Dong-Sung Kim – The first time I read through this on my own, I missed a vital part, and I was heartbroken. I actually got teary. The pictures are the most beautiful I’ve seen in a story book. I just want it in my house. If Devin happens to like it one day, that’s a bonus. It’s not an easy or cheap book to get a hold of, though…

Go Bugs Go!, Jessica Spanyol – I really don’t like this book, but Devin really does. I first borrowed it from the library, and he loved it so much that we felt obligated to purchase our own copy. It’s basically just a bunch of bugs having crazy, deliberate mishaps in their silly vehicles.

Dig Dig Digging, Margaret Mayo; Alex Ayliffe – one of the first books I ever borrowed from the library for Devin, and it’s still one of his favourites. I could also probably recite this one from memory. Each page is a dedicated to a different big machine – diggers, fire engines, garbage trucks, tractors etc. – beginning with what they’re good at. “Cranes are good at lift, lift, lifting…”

I will cut it off there, though I could easily recommended the majority of books on Devin’s shelves – I try to consider additions carefully. When Jene brought up the fact that so few books feature fathers at all, let alone fathers portrayed positively, I spent a few nights trying to find appropriate books to fill that gap. It turns out, it’s a surprisingly large gap in the genre in general, but I did buy two books – Daddy Calls Me Doodlebug by J.D. Lester, and Mitchell’s License by Hallie Durand – that make a satisfactory beginning to the ‘dad book’ category. For now.

An ill-conceived post.

– Urgh, I’ve been sick since Sunday afternoon. Basically, I think my stomach is trying to kill me or something. Let’s not even talk about it, except to say, it hurts it hurts it hurts, ouch, and I’ve been swinging between pain, nausea and migraine for the past two and half days. So hooray for that.

– I still haven’t finished reading A Game of Thrones. It’s a difficult book… I mean, it’s really violent and horrible and there’s children involved and nothing ever goes right for the good guys, it’s just depressing. That’s not to say I think it’s a bad book, it’s just not something I find easy to dip in and out of.

– I told myself I had to finish it before I could start my other books – The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry, Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, and Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan. I also said that when I got Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent in the mail, but I finished Baby Catcher within the week… It was so easy to read, such short chapters. You know how it is. Parenting Beyond Belief is heading the same way, because it’s a collection of essays, essentially. Darn it.

– Jene and I went to the optometrist a couple of weeks ago. On the plus side, our eyesight hasn’t deteriorated since our last eye checks. On the negative side, spectacles are expensive. Jene legitimately needs new frames, whereas I have perfectly reasonable glasses already, but never wear them because I hate the frames. And I only need them for reading. So we’re both getting sweet new glasses… eventually. When, you know, we finish paying for them.

– Here I was feeling all confident about writing this post, but my body lulled me into a false sense of smugness. I feel ill again, and I need to go to bed, so quick, what can I use for the title. Oh ok, I’ve got one. See you later – hopefully when I’ve stopped dying.

Vague thoughts on Tuesdays With Morrie.

I started reading Tuesdays With Morrie on a whim at my parents’ place a while ago. I was eating breakfast and I saw it there and picked it up, because yes, I can’t even sit and eat without getting bored.
I kept reading it in little pieces over a week, and I finished in bed one night. And yes, I did shed some tears.

I wouldn’t say it was life changing. None of Morrie’s philosophies were huge revelations to me, at all, and I think that’s why I have such a problem with everyone else, the world…
I am, of course, not really anything like Morrie, apart from sharing his view of how people should be. But, you know, I get so confused and so, so frustrated, because I can’t understand why people are horrible to each other. Why we ended up with such a screwed up culture, an everyday normal. Why everyone is so desperately seeking ‘happiness’ lately, when it’s so obvious that it’s all the normal, average things about our lives now that are making us so miserable.
The end product of the work that most people do, for instance, is completely removed from them personally. They are given money in exchange for their labour, but they’re missing the satisfaction of working for a real purpose, you know? One thing that came up a few times in the book was the materialistic race that everyone is in to always buy new things. Buy the newest things. And of course it’s not their fault. They work, they make something, they don’t get that product, but they do get money, and what are they supposed to do with that money? Keep themselves alive, and try to find some meaning in life. They’ve got this money, they’ve worked for it, surely it must mean something?

I am digressing a little, though. The book was enjoyable. It was a nice read. It was nice to read about someone who was a little more compassionate than the ‘average’ person.
And while I know that it’s not supposed to be a self-help book, I was a little disappointed after reading the one-sentence reviews that occupied the first few pages of the book. Maybe it would have been life-changing to someone like Mitch Albom who was all about career and money. I found it a little light. Plenty of ideas. Not much elaboration. Enjoyable enough, all the same.

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.

Jene and I both love books. I feel hesitant and guilty to say that I do, because I haven’t actually read a whole book in… *cougheighteenmonthscough*. The fact that that makes me sad, and that I am still adding to my list of Books To Read One Day reassures me slightly that I haven’t lost the spark completely. I just need to stop being intellectually lazy.

We would own many, many more books if Australia didn’t have ridiculously inflated prices and a simple paperback didn’t cost $25, although since we found The Book Depository, the collection is growing again. (Jene’s collection, mainly, since he’s the one still doing the reading.)

I recognise the importance and joy of books, but I am really not concerned that Devin isn’t interested in books yet.

I think it’s great that parents introduce their children to books so early, but it tends to create panic in some people when their 10 month old won’t sit and listen to a story, and would rather rip the book than look at it. “How do I get my baby to read with me?!” come the frantic cries over parenting forums.
The oft-repeated advice is to just keep reading out loud, even if the baby isn’t actively sitting and reading with you. And that’s good. Jene sometimes reads aloud to Devin from the books he’s reading, while Devin runs around doing his own thing.
When I used to try and read to Devin, though, all he wanted to do was flip and tear the pages, and grab the book from my hands and throw it dramatically on the floor. Yeah, try reading aloud to your kid when it’s impossible to keep anything in your hands.
He just wasn’t interested in the stories or pictures, and I wasn’t worried, because he was a baby, and there was still plenty of time to instil an appreciation of books.

Lately, he has become slightly more interested. He has easy access to his board books, and he has started to pick them out and bring them to us to read. At the moment it’s mainly just the first words books, nothing with a story. But that’s ok. His paper books are up higher so he’s not so tempted to pull them down and tear them apart. (Because he will do that.)
His favourite part is still turning the pages, but now the pauses are longer so that I at least have a chance of reading and pointing out what’s on the page. Sometimes, he even sits on the floor in front of me, and just watches. Sometimes.

He’s still only 14 months old. There will always be books around the house, and we will always buy books for him, and we will always try to read to him, but I’m not going to force it. I guess I’m kind of thinking that he might inherit the interest from us, in much the same way that I’ve always assumed that he’ll like a wide variety of music.

Green legs and fan.

Today,  Devin got some new pyjamas. Nothing special, but he seems to like the terry towelling fabric, which he hasn’t worn since he was very new.

First he admired his terry-clothed legs…

Then he admired the fan…

Then back to really examine those legs…

Then he started planning his move to grab the camera…

And then he got cranky and the jammie admiring session was over.

I also found two picture books that, admittedly, I mainly bought because I liked the illustrations. The Night Eater and Tree-Ring Circus. You might notice that on Amazon, they are thirteen and eleven US dollars respectively. I got them for eight and five Australian dollars, from a discount book store. Woo. (We once found a brand new, new release Jamie Oliver book there for ten bucks, as opposed to $40 at the Big W in the same shopping mall.)

The little master is asleep now, so he can look at his new books – from a safe distance – tomorrow. Hopefully they won’t incite a response similar to the last picture.