During the pope's goodwill visit to the U.S. a friend posted a hilarious and adorable video of the pope kissing a baby dressed as a tiny pope. Um, HELL YES I want to watch that video. I tried to secretly play it on my phone with the sound as low as possible, but of course my toddler heard it and immediately came sprinting at me from another room screaming "GIVE ME YOUR PHOOOOOOOOONE!!!!!!"
Why not? If ever there was a wholesome video on the internet, this is it. Big pope kissing little pope while riding in the popemobile - harmless. Have at it little man. Binge watch some meta pope.
He then proceeded to silently watch this video MANY times. Probably 20. But who cares? We were trying to get ready and out the door so I let him indulge while I finished feeding the baby and got us packed.
"How cute!" I thought. "He must love watching the baby in a costume. He probably likes the pope's cool car too." It wasn't until the phone was taken away and we were on our way to Mall Of America (MOA) did the damage become apparent.
Toddler: "Why did that guy take the baby from his mama and give the baby to that man?"
Me: "The guy who brought the baby to the pope? Um, I guess the baby's mom wanted the pope to bless the baby."
Toddler: "Bless him? BLESS HIM??? Now baby brother is worried that guy is going to take him away and bless him. He's so scared! And who is that man?"
Me: "The man who blessed the baby is the pope. He is the boss of a big church. When you were baptized at our church you were blessed by the pastor. It's not scary." (At this point we were pulling into the MOA parking lot.)
Toddler: "Is this church??? Am I going to be blessed? I don't want to!!! I'm so scared of the pope!!!"
Me: "No! We are just at Mall of America to ride rides. This is NOT church. This is just a parking garage"
Toddler: "Oh THANK YOU mommy. I'm so happy we aren't at church. THANK YOU."
So, so many things are going through my head during this conversation. First of all, my child literally thought a giant, dark parking garage was church, that's how long it's been since he's actually been in a church. Second, how do I explain who the pope is to a child who confuses parking garages and church, and also thinks blessings are terrifying? Third, what am I going to say when my toddler starts asking more complicated questions about religion? (Basically I'm screwed.)
We do technically belong to an Episcopal church in our neighborhood. We went church (and religion) shopping shortly before our oldest was born when we realized we would need to join one in order to have him baptized. My husband was raised Catholic, and I was raised Lutheran (although I hadn't seriously gone to church since confirmation in high school). When we visited our church for the first time, one of the members joked that as long as Catholics and Lutherans marry one another, the Episcopal church will exist (others refer to it as "Catholic-lite"). The pastor is a lesbian who had recently married her partner and the congregation is small and friendly. Services are traditional but feel informal. I felt at home immediately.
We certainly mean to attend our church every Sunday, but it generally does not happen. By Sunday morning everyone is exhausted and most weeks the kids also sleep late. No way am I waking everyone up so they can be crabby terrors all day. But we intend to baptize our second child at some point, so we should probably start attending again soon.
The bigger questions is why I go to church. What do I think about the actual doctrine? What is my stance on heaven and hell and sweet baby Jesus? The short answer is that I don't know. I like the idea of church, and I like the community. I like the idea of making the world a better place. I like having coffee and chatting afterwards.
Beyond that, I honestly haven't thought deeply about what I believe. This wasn't a huge problem for my 20-something, childless self, but now I have a toddler who constantly questions me and won't accept over-simplified responses. "That's just the way it is," is never going to cut it (especially something as important and baffling as why the pope kisses babies).
I certainly don't want my children to blindly accept whatever they learn in Sunday school (or any school for that matter). I would hope they grow into adults who think critically about their beliefs, even if those beliefs aren't exactly the same as mine. But that's a pretty abstract concept to explain to a two-year-old, no matter how verbal.
I also realize that religion is just the tip of the iceberg. One day I will also have to explain the death penalty and poverty and why we go and look at animals in captivity for entertainment (recently having a moral dilemma about our zoo membership, sorry). There are an infinite number of difficult conversations about life in my future, and I'm terrified. I'm not ready and I'm not sure how I could ever be ready.
I've thought about it a lot, and I've come to the conclusion that all I can do is tell them the truth in a way that hopefully they can understand and doesn't traumatize them too badly. I want my children to know what my values are, but its ultimately up to them to decide if those same things are valuable in their own lives. I hope that my actions and the way I treat people speak louder than any perfectly articulated conversation that they probably wouldn't remember anyway.
Also, I'll try not to expose my children to any more confusing religious imagery unless I've come up with a good explanation beforehand. Amen.