God, I Hope He Understands.

I stood on the chilly beach yesterday afternoon, watching my three beautiful children collect hermit crabs and build spectacular temporary habitats for them. They ran among the other children on the beach, weaving through one another’s groups, laughing and sharing glimpses of their latest catch. The two groups interacted nicely, ours and theirs. Realizing that they shared a mission, they began working in unison to dig a special pool for their newly captured prisoners. I enjoyed watching my children respond to a new group of children. With a sense of pride I smiled at their good-natured ability to smile and make new friends.

Joe was digging in the sand near my toes when two women came to stand nearby. The mothers of the other group, I quickly realized. They were engrossed in their conversation and too busy to say hello. Joe and I were enjoying our comfortable silence when I heard one of the women sneer, “There’s no way I’m sending my Jewish child to a Catholic school. Ewwwww.” She shuddered after that last part. Actually shuddered and shook as if shaking off some invisible filth. Her expression said it all. I was shocked. Utterly speechless and, for the moment forgot that my Catholic son was at my feet. When I looked down, I saw him quietly studying the woman and immediately knew his wheels were turning. He heard what she said.

As my shock dissipated, I felt myself filling with anger. How dare she say such a hateful, bigoted thing with my children sitting at her feet. How dare she shudder in disgust at my babies, each and everyone one of whom was christened in the Catholic church.

The two women soon steered their group of children back toward the vicinity of their own chairs. I’m sure it was innocent enough, two mothers simply wanting to sit and talk instead of stand on the beach while their children played. But I was still bristling. I spent the next hour and a half washed in anger and resentment. I waited for Joe’s inevitable question, because I knew he’d ask.

He came to sit next to me and quietly began digging in the sand. Kate and Gwen skipped off to the shoreline to gather water and he thoughtfully watched them go. “Mom? Remember when that man poured water on Kate’s head when she was a baby?”

“Yes, Joe. That’s the day she was christened.”

“Does that mean she was made Catholic?”

“Yes, in a way. That was the day she was blessed by the Holy Spirit.”

“Why did that lady make that face? Like Catholics are bad?”

How do you explain hate, ignorance and bigotry to a six-year-old?

“Well…she is a different religion than we are and sometimes, people think that what they believe or how they live is better than people who are different.”

I watched his face for a reaction. Did he understand? How do I make this a teachable moment when I’m so upset?

“Does that make sense to you, Joe?”

“I think.”

“We live in a country where lots of people practice different religions. No one’s religion is better, just different. Being a Catholic isn’t bad or dirty. People with different skin colors than one another aren’t better or worse either, just different. We’re all still humans and we should be kind to eachother, even if we are different. Different doesn’t mean bad.”

God, I hope he understands. I hope that, for once, I was able to explain appropriately.

 

The day was bust. I was finally able to talk everyone into heading to the car so we could go home. In the parking lot, I saw the woman who had slurred our religion in front of me and my children. She was parked directly behind our minivan. Her Honda Odyssey was parked end to end with my Toyota Sienna. Her rear windshield wore a Sugarloaf sticker. Mine holds a Maine Running Company sticker. Her children were twisted in their seats, demanding snacks and asking questions as she packed their belongings into the back of the van. My children were doing the same thing. There we stood, similar in so many ways yet, she inadvertently told me that her family was better. She showed me with her disgusted shudder that she believed my children were somehow beneath hers. Because they are Catholic.

“Mom, what are we going to do now?” Gwen called.

I couldn’t help myself. I can never help myself when I feel that some social injustice has been delivered to my family. I inhaled deeply and in a voice that was louder than necessary, but just loud enough to be heard at the minivan parked behind me, I said, “Well, we have to go to mass to pray for all the bigots of the world.”

I know I stooped. I know that I did. But she heard me and I was glad.

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Comments

  1. This post made my blood boil. I almost did a fist pump at the end when you let her know that what she said did make her a bigot.

    Children are so impressionable. I constantly worry about what mine are picking up from ignorant people in the world. I think you explained it to your son perfectly.

    Great story!

  2. sunny615 says:

    Well done. On all accounts. 😉

  3. Lisa Steele says:

    Perfection!

  4. I get this kind of thing all the time… and it worries me to think what I’ll have to tell my future kids when they’re confronted with bigotry like that. It’ll be harder as they’ll be interfaith, so it’s like, double trouble, you know?

    But this was handled absolutely beautifully, what you said to your son. 🙂 In fact, I’ll have to hold onto this one for when my own kids are exposed to this stuff!

    Thanks, Kelli. 🙂

  5. This made me proud. You may have think you stooped and I am way over here reading this amazing post thinking that you stood up for all of us that are trying to prevent bullying, trying to raise our children in a serene environment. It’s hard to make the world a better place when even the adults can’t seem to understand how important it is to have your own beliefs, opinion, religions ect. but at the end of the day don’t we all just want the same things.
    How unfortunate that her children may be brought up in a small minded family.

    xx

  6. Perhaps she needed to be brought back to reality. Maybe you stooped… but you caused no confrontation to upset any child more than had already been done and she may think just a little more after this. In your position, I am Catholic as well and my blogs regular contributor happens to be Jewish, I could not have been so calm. I think you did pretty well. People can get away with bigotry only because we allow them.

  7. You’ve shared the perfect example of how a bully is developed; it starts with the pitiful, ignorant, narrow-mindedness of someone like this mother.

    Our oldest daughter, Jen, married into a Jewish family and we’ve been blessed in coming together and embracing the traditions of our two religions. When our first Grandson Jakob was born, there I was, in Florida, helping to put together his Bris, following every religious requirement to a “T”…me, a Shicksa Gramma! And, when his brother Jaden’s Bris took place at the synagogue three years ago, I stood, next to the Rabbi, reciting prayers, in Yiddish. Lightning did not strike me from the God I believe in as we left the temple that day but the warm sun let me know He approved completely! And, that Rabbi joked with me, asking if I’d like to come over to “the other side.”

    I’d like to believe that most people believe as we all do, aside from the pathetic bigots of our world. Good for you with that comment to that creature, Kelli and in your response to Joe!

  8. Wow. People can be so dang mean. And I love your little jab at the end. Hopefully it made her pause an think…

  9. Wow! It amazes me how people think that others can’t hear their catty conversations. I think you did a fine job of explaining things to him. In this day and age that amazes me. Nice jab at the end! I had a feeling you would give her a piece of your mind in some way.

  10. I am not a practicing catholic… but I was baptised catholic, so that makes me indeed catholic (and the few times I have gone to church, it’s been catholic) – well a friend of mine actually told me one time she hates all catholics… and went on to say how dumb the religion is. Uh …. ok. She did not know that I was catholic so I guess she didn’t think she was being offensive. I don’t know how you can say that or be so hateful towards a anyone or say something so hateful towards a general group of people. To me it’s the same as racism. You did good by explaining to your son 😉

  11. It is very sad when we run into people or overhear a conversation and they are degrading another person based on personal prejudice. There are people of all religions and while there may be things we disagree with it never gives us the right to cut a person down.

    I’m sorry Joe heard that and began to question things. I think you did a good job explaining things to him though 🙂

  12. BRAVO!!! I’m glad you said something! Sometimes people need to hear that they are wrong and I am glad you did what you did!

  13. Your explanation to your son is spot on. Good for you!! There is so much hatred in the wide wide world. Do we really need to bring it to the beach and thrust it upon the impressionable ears of children. UGH. Maybe she got a flat tire on the way home…just sayin’

  14. You’re so right. We should be learning from and embracing each other’s differences, not mocking or belittling them. But yay for the jab at the end!

  15. Kelli, I am SO GLAD you decided to write this. And that you said what you said at the end! That was an extra special surprise and I love you all the more for it!!!! And look at this amazing response. Clearly you did the right thing. And CLEARLY she is a biyotch.

  16. Good for you!! When will people learn to stop judging and hating? I don’t understand people who sit on their high horses and judge…what do they think they are teaching their children? What do they think contributing to the hate of the world is going to accomplish? Your explanation to Joe was just PERFECT. I’d love to be able to share that explanation with the world and say, “LOOK, IDIOTS, ACCEPT AND JUDGE NOT.” Ugh…our differences make us beautiful, and the day we start realizing that is the day our world becomes a better place.

  17. Kelli that was SO unfair of her! I don’t know why I even just said that, since obviously you know that. I’ve never understood bigotry. It’s the opposite of being Christlike! When I was a little girl, I had a little girlfriend at school suddenly turn cold on me one day. She literally wouldn’t talk to me. When I finally got a response from her, she said that her parents said that she wasn’t allowed to talk to me anymore because I was LDS. My parents encouraged me to attend all my friends’ different denominations growing up so that I could choose for myself how I wished to worship, and here were her parents teaching their child prejudice at such an early age.

    I eventually went totally church-less for several years in my 20s, and came back to mormonism for good. But guess what? MOST of my friends are Catholic, many are Baptist, many others are all different kinds… and even a few are completely atheist. (Although I hold a secret belief that they have a little tiny seed of hope inside them somewhere.;D) And we all love each other the same.

    Bigotry. What the heck is up with that? It’s the biggest dichotomy ever. Grrr I’m still seething for you… and yet, if I seethe too much I guess I’ll be just as guilty of hate… so I suppose I’ll calm down now. ;D You did a GOOD thing. I’m sorry if it seemed like you stooped, but in my eyes? You jumped way up high!!! Putting someone in their place without saying something cruel or belittling is totally okay. You rocked it, girl!!!!!

  18. GOOD FOR YOU!

  19. You absolutely did not stoop!! My heart aches for your son and his first brush with hate; I’m dreading this moment in my daughter’s life and I think you handled it perfectly.

  20. Just want to add that bigotry can only flourish when we stay silent. It’s awkward and unpleasant, but we can’t let these kinds of comments go unchallenged if we want our children to grow up in a less hateful world than it is now.

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