Saturday, December 8, 2012

No Christmas for you!

Remember how I said my family growing up was too conservative theologically for even the conservative churches we went to and how our denomination was the "1700s"?  Don't worry if you don't, it was way back in my first post, but this time of year always reminds of exactly how this was true.

We never celebrated Christmas.

Wait..... what?!  Yep, you heard right - as a family, we never celebrated Christmas.  We never got presents from our parents.  We never had a Christmas tree.  We never had decorations.  We never made special food.  We never sang Christmas carols.  We never went to a Christmas Eve service.  My dad's family were all normal and we at least went to the family get-together every year and got presents from our aunts and uncles.  But to celebrate it ourselves and have our own family traditions?  Not a prayer of a chance.

And here's why.

My parents, like I said, essentially lived in the mindset and doctrines of the Protestant Reformation through the era of the Puritans.  One of the mainstays of the doctrines of this set was that of what is called the Regulative Principle.  The regulative principle states that what is not explicitly commanded in the Bible to do/observe is by default forbidden.  Not 'left up to personal judgement'.... forbidden.  And since nowhere in the New Testament are we instructed to observe Jesus' birth, Christmas is wrong.

Yep, you heard right.  We were brought up being taught that Christmas is wrong.

When I got married, I finally had the chance to do Christmas-y things with someone else for the first time.  It was the first time I'd ever gotten a stocking, the first time I'd properly strung and decorated a Christmas tree with Christmas music playing.  I suppose I could have before - I was working and paying rent to my parents and wouldn't have gotten in trouble, but to me it wasn't worth the constant looks and sideways comments I knew I'd get.  Besides, that first Christmas I was truly self-sufficient, I was completely distracted by having gone on my first date ever with who turned out to be my husband (yes, seven years later and I still can't believe it!), and had thoroughly enjoyed being utterly rebellious and simply announcing that I was going out with a guy from work :D

But anyway, I'll never get back the opportunity to experience Christmas as a kid.  Beyond the materialistic reasons all kids like Christmas, I know I would have loved going to a Christmas Eve candlelight service filled with music and singing, and just getting to enjoy the whole thing instead of knowing that we were beyond different even in the conservative church we went to and looking wistfully at my violin teacher's huge and heavily decorated tree she had every year and all the lights in the rest of the neighborhood and thinking deep down that whole world couldn't possibly be wrong about Christmas.

And so I specifically want to make Christmas special for my kids.  Once again give my baby girl and any future siblings she might have something I never got.  Give them joy and happiness, not teach them to bemoan the secularization and backsliding of the church.  What sort of parents lay that on their children about Christmas?!  No.  We will have stockings, and ripped wrapping paper all over the living room, and delicious food, and buy toys for the Marines' Toys for Tots, adopt a family for our local Angel Tree, go to our candlelight service at church and sing Christmas carols.  And I will enjoy every minute of it more than they, or even my husband (although he has a pretty good idea), will ever know.

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's not respect

 I have a memory.

"Hold out your hand," I'm told.

I don't want to.  My heart pounds.  Every instinct I have is screaming at me to keep my hand balled up in a fist behind my back.

But the injunction comes again, more sternly this time.

"Hold out your hand."

I start to, half-heartedly and with my stomach twisting, raise it partly in front of me.  But I yank it back as I see their hand lift to strike mine and self-preservation refuses to let me be complicit to my own pain.

"Hold it out or it'll be hit harder."

There is no winning.  There's only trying as a small child to squelch every instinct and control any fear so as not to make it worse.

I don't remember how old I was.  Clearly very young as hand slapping(hitting) as a 'lesser' punishment was abandoned for exclusive spanking by the time I was six.  But being forced to be complicit never changed.

And I shudder to think the abuse and assault that kids and especially girls are essentially taught to leave themselves vulnerable to.  To this day I have problems with saying 'no' and being 'confrontational'.  It's because I don't like confrontation in and of itself - it's because it was literally spanked into me that injunctions were to be obeyed by anyone in any position of perceived authority. 

And somehow along the way when I was a kid, I interpreted it as automatically giving way and being "nice" to anyone.  Playgrounds even became a nightmare when there were more than a handful of other kids.  I remember one time when I was about eight, we were visiting somewhere and the playground we were at had this uber cool twisty tube slide.  There was a small line to go down and when it was my turn, the boy behind me who around my age was clearly exuding impatience.  Not wanting to seem pushy or inconsiderate (although it was my turn) I let him go in front of me.  But he didn't slide down.  He had a whole armful of pebbles which he dumped down the slide before running off and which, as I felt as though I couldn't not go down the slide with the other kids in line obviously watching, were waiting at the bottom for me to run into.  In that moment as I watched what he did, I hated both him and myself.  I felt so utterly powerless.

It's bad enough in our culture that girls are given the impression that if they stand up for themselves that they're being a bitch and if they turn a guy or his advances down they're being a heartless bitch, but in the patriarchal system of fundamentalism, it goes much much deeper than that, and I hate to think of the girls and women who accept a controlling and/or abusive relationship because they've been trained at the point of pain to submit.

And it's not just girls.  My brothers weren't exempt from being forced to be complicit in their punishments either.  Squirm or try to get away or flinch repeatedly and the spanking got harder.  You did what you were told by adults, no questions asked.  I guarantee if any of us had been wheedled, cajoled or told to be complicit or accept any sort of sexual abuse by an adult or anyone in a perceived position of authority, that self-survival instinct would have been squashed exactly as it was when I told, "Hold your hand out."

I can hardly think of a more dangerous thing to teach a child than blind obedience, a blind "respect for authority", and not just corporal punishment, but teaching them to be complicit in it because they were "at fault" and killing one of the only things that children possess to keep them safe.