I grew up in a religiously mixed household: My mom was a devout, conservative Catholic who dutifully attempted to pass on her fear of hell, fire and brimstone to her spawn; my dad was a bawdy agnostic who refused to set foot in a church and believed the word “fuck” should be used at least once in every sentence.

Obviously, for the mutts their union produced, it could have gone either way.

It did.

My older sister is a youth leader for her church, hosts a weekly bible study group and her kids (ages 10 and 14) listen only to Christian music. Get her really mad and she might unleash an angry “Fiddlesticks!” on your ass.

Far as I know, my younger brother hasn’t pondered the idea of God long enough to form an opinion on His existence. Neither of us has seen the inside of a church in the past decade, our collective children know way too many Gwen Stefani lyrics, and we both throw around the word “fuck” like so much rice at a wedding—although only one of us feels bad about it.

I believe in God. Mostly because without Him, the world would be too painfully complicated for me to inhabit. The rest of the Christianity stuff? Not so much. When I’m scared or worried or sad, I pray. (I also try really hard to pray in thanks when good things happen, because you don’t want God getting all sick of your constant whiny-ass carping and blacklisting you completely, but I’m only marginally successful at remembering to do this.) I taught my kids the “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” prayer, opting for the replacement second-verse—“thy love guide me through the night”—that gently leaves out that bit about unexpected slumber- death.  I mean, what kid needs that as her last thought before being tucked in? Fuck. They also attend a Christian preschool (because it’s within convenient walking distance to our home and because the teachers are phenomenal, not for the holy curriculum), so they understand it’s important to include both Jesus and Santa when drafting your “things I’m thankful for” list. Thanks also, I suppose, to preschool, occasionally we have conversations in my house that sound a lot like this:

Sasha (3 years old): “Mom, God is Jesus’ dad, right?”

Me: “Yup, he sure is.” (I say this confidently, as after thirteen years of Catholic schooling I am pretty sure I nailed this one.)

Sasha: “Who was Jesus’ mom?”

Me: “Mary. Jesus’ mom was named Mary.” See how much of this stuff I remember? Like riding a bike, I tell you.

Sasha: “So God was married to Mary?”


Me:  “Actually, Mary was married to Joseph.”

Sasha: “Joseph? Jesus had two dads? Hey, Nola has two dads! Did Mary un-marry God or Joseph first?”

Me: “Well, Mary and God weren’t actually… See, Mary and Joseph sort of… You know what? It’s kind of complicated. I know! Who wants to watch Phineas and Ferb?”

The whole messiah baby-daddy question certainly wasn’t the first tough issue one of my children ever raised (I’ve spent days hemming and hawing around the answer to, ”But mommy, when I was in your tummy, how did I get in there?”), but it was the first one that required an intimate understanding of something I don’t really believe in to answer properly.

Occasionally I feel tiny guilt pangs over the fact that I opted not to baptize my children. You know, because if I’m wrong, they’re totally screwed and will never get into heaven and it’s all my fault. The pangs turn to stabs only when I allow myself to imagine them standing at the infamous pearly gates, only to be sent away with a sad nod by heaven’s mean old bouncer, St. Peter. (“If only your mum had seen fit to have you anointed,” he laments.) Still, engaging in the sacred ritual just in case just seemed wrong. And hypocritical. And since I’m pretty sure hypocrisy is a sin (I should probably check on that), it would have been a wash anyway.

When they ask religion-based questions (“What happens when you die?” is a common one of late since we lost two cats recently), I start a lot of my replies with, “Well, some people believe…” So far this has been good enough.

I’d guess the first religious doubts crept into my brain somewhere around the time they were trying to convince us that the Eucharist wasn’t a symbol of the body of Christ but was the actual body of Christ. Because a) that was totally gross, and b) I was pretty sure eating human flesh constituted some sort of sin. I knew I wasn’t supposed to covet my neighbors’ things, but damn it, they had a pool and a trampoline, and what seven-year-old could be expected to resist the temptation to pine for such material delights? And since my mom insisted that I clean my room even on Sunday—which was supposed to be a holy day and God had very clearly stated, right there in the Commandments which were written in stone, I might add, that no one was supposed to do any work on the Sabbath—it occurred to me that religion could be manipulated to suit your personal tastes and preferences. 

When my daughters are a little older, we’ll explore the planet’s vast spiritual landscape together. I’ll explain to them that the world is divided into lots of different groups who all believe something different, and that even though they can’t all be technically “right,” each wholeheartedly and passionately insists that they are. We’ll visit churches, temples, mosques and synagogues and they can decide what rings true for them. Hopefully, something will ring true for me, too. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing: Teaching them that the basis of all religion is to be kind and good, say “no” to drugs, pick up your room without being asked and never, ever talk back to your mother.