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[8] Religious Deprivation

When my first son was young, I remember the whole "competition" among the mom-group friends to see whose child would reach certain milestones first. We'd boast that our baby had turned-over, crawled, stood, walked. It was silly, and with my second child I didn't bother engaging in such conversations.

But in elementary school, there were similar ones: did he get into that reading group or this math group? My older son used to love golf, but it was no longer fun when one of the other moms made it a big competition, saying my son had to return after his brief break because he needed to "catch up" to her son. Ridiculous!

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(In high school I worked for our school's literary magazine. One of my favorite essays was from a classmate who wrote about the whole rat race using a fictional high-pressure, highly-intelligent protagonist. The punchline of the long list of accomplishments was that the high-achiever in question ended up getting one final "first" when he died first of his friends at a young age. I try to remember this concept whenever I get caught up in rushing milestones. There is no hurry.)

As I recounted my frustration about the recent "one-ups" that my sons' friends parents enjoy discussing, my mom laughed and said that there is always that mom who tends to focus on her child being better than yours. She then revealed the name of the woman who constantly wanted her daughter to do better than me. This woman was a serious thorn in my mom's side, even though I didn't recognize it at the time.

And I had to laugh. (And feel sad for my mom.) But also, it made a lot of things suddenly much, much clearer.

There was that time when the Girl Scouts went to a pizza parlor. I had to use the restroom, but the mom made me hold it the entire trip. And the time when "there wasn't enough room for me" in the car, so I had to crouch in the hatchback area. When I think of the mom, I think of someone who clearly didn't like me, and so it is funny that my mom saw the same, and had to endure the mom boasting about her daughter's accomplishments.

But the one event that I've remembered to this day --and use as an example when pondering respect for religious differences-- is when I slept over at the daughter's house and was denied food.

lock-fridge.jpgApparently, the family doesn't eat on Sundays. And so, I was expected not to eat as well. I've often thought about this, since of course it makes sense that there would be no exceptions to the rule --it wouldn't be fair for me to eat in front of my friend-- and yet, not informing me or my parents of this restriction ahead of time was rather short-sighted. If we had known, I could have either eaten before coming over, or I could have been prepared in advance to adhere to their religious structure. (Or, I could have declined the invitation to sleep over if I felt I couldn't handle it.)

Instead, I awakened on Sunday morning and told my friend I was hungry and ready for breakfast! The mom yelled at me that it was insensitive of me to ask for food in front of her daughter. But I hadn't been told that they don't eat on Sundays. I didn't know. All I knew was that my stomach was grumbling and I was confused as to why the mom was so angry at me.

At the time, I thought this was strictly a religious thing, but I've come to believe it was also a trap the mom set for me. She could have let us know in advance of the restriction, but choose to instead get angry at me for not knowing their beliefs.

I do find it ironic that a religious practice would be used to hurt me, or at least set me up for discomfort. Aren't these people supposed to do what Jesus would have them do? Would Jesus have smirked at me for being hungry and yelled at me for not understanding that I was not allowed to eat? Was the mom happy when she went to church that day, knowing she had forced me to comply with the rules of a church that was hers but not mine?

But, I get the feeling her motivations were less religious and more competitive.

Nonetheless, I've got my eyes open for the various ways in which other parents want to squish down my kids in order to raise theirs up. I wish it didn't get so competitive, but at the same time I'm comforted to know this is a pretty common thing, even though in many ways I wish it were not.