Tag Archives: questions

Back to School Salute: 6 Questions You Won’t Get Answered in the Classroom

Many kids don’t go back to school until after Labor Day, but mine started this past Wednesday. Yes, the body of August isn’t even cold yet, and the grind has started. And no, it’s not starting this early because of Boston’s record snow fall last winter. The district decided to be democratic and give all the religious holidays off—Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, so the kids are only going to school for like five days during the month of September. I wish I could get me some of that for work. If we all got all the religious holidays off and participation was optional, we’d all be a lot more tolerant, don’t you think? Politicians, if you can take a break from nay saying and being extreme, maybe you could get working on that idea.

But I digress. Regardless of the start date, for many people back-to-school means posting annoying (to the rest of us) pics of your favorite student all bright and shiny with a brand new back pack and big smile. I’m not jealous in the least, and don’t worry, you won’t find me clogging up my Facebook page with that rubbish. You see, for my teen school has always been a grueling event to grimly endure like a Dust Bowl farmer. Believe me, nobody wants or needs this documented, with the exception of the Dust Bowl farmers above. We’re both just waiting for it to be over.

But I didn’t come here to bellyache about school, well I did a little, but I did want to acknowledge that school is starting and in honor of that and in lieu of smiling happy students, I present here 6 questions my friends and I have been pondering lately. I submit to you that they are way more useful and interesting than questions you get in school, which is why we never got the answers.

  1. Are blue balls a real thing? My friend insists that this is a real and dangerous condition, and I say it’s a condition guys made up to get laid. So I looked it up, and yes, it can happen and involves restricted blood flow and oxygen getting absorbed during an extended erection, blah, blah, blah. But it won’t kill you, and the website I consulted described it as more of a “minor pain.” Soooo I’m going to give you that it’s an actual medical condition, but that it’s dangerous? Um, yeah, no.
  2. Do hamsters change their sex? Another friend as a kid had two hamsters that were both female, and the next thing he knew there were baby hamsters everywhere. Based on that experience, he claims hamsters can change their sex by necessity. I seriously doubted that because it’s such an anomaly, it would have been used in a biology class as an example of whatever that’s called, and we all would have remembered it, even a word girl like me. When I Googled it, you’d be surprised at how popular that question is. Sorry to disappoint, but it’s not a freak of nature. The main culprit seems to be pet stores’ lack of skill in 1) identifying males and females correctly and 2) the corollary result of that misidentification, which is that you can bring home a hamster that is already pregnant. Hence, the amazing sex-changing hamster. Not.
  3. If a tree falls in the forest and you see and hear it, does it count as a philosophical event, or is it just falling deadwood? Yes? No? Discuss.
  4. What does a typed period look like in italics? In a discussion about whether to italicize the punctuation that goes with italicized text (the answer is yes), my friend and I wondered about this. I made the font really big and in Palatino it looks ovally. My friend used Times New Roman and described it as not oval, but rather “smaller and more delicate looking.” Typeface and word aficionados could easily while away an entire afternoon doing this. Left side of the internet room, serif; right side, san serif. Get crazy with it, and bonus points for posting the description of what it looks like.
  5. What exactly does “telling tales out of school” mean? As opposed to telling tales “in school”? And why is that OK? What tales are we talking about? Gossip? Literature? Urban legends like alligators in the toilets? Tails? Inquiring minds want to know.
  6. When you go to a bar’s “underwear night” and they say to wear something you could wear out in public and not get arrested, what does that mean? Can you get arrested for wearing actual underwear on the street—say, tighty whities or women’s Hanes? Or a bikini swim suit for that matter? And if so, what is the difference, besides the type of material? I see people wearing their pajamas in public and see through tops, is that also a crime? I mean besides a crime of fashion?

Some these queries like the one about the tree falling in a forest may be unanswerable, but I think it’s still important to ask these piercing questions. After all, isn’t that what education is all about?

Photo note: I mean no disrespect to people who lived, struggled, and died during the Dust Bowl. The image is a good reminder of how lucky  we all are.

My Family Was Catholic Until the Almighty Got a Hold of Us

Ever wonder how all the different religions came about? Well, wonder no more, because I have a highly sophisticated theory. I think entire families stand in a long line before they are born, and a deity hands out religion like an ice cream truck guy hands out SpongeBob SquarePants bars, strawberry shortcakes, and fudgsicles. How do I know this? It’s the only way to explain my family.

I can see a long line of families snaking off into the distant puffy clouds. I imagine even an omnipotent being could get bored doling out religion all day, passing out Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hinduism, Buddhism and all the other isms. And maybe it gets monotonous and s/he wants to mix it up. But s/he’s omnipotent, s/he knows not to get too crazy—these things must be done delicately. S/he’s feeling cheeky when s/he spies my family in the line—some even-keeled French Canadians on one side and some tolerant Dutch on the other. All are headed for the US, and the American generation will be born in the late 1950s and early 1960s. S/he smiles mischievously. With a wave of her/his celestial hand, s/he respectfully hands the older generation Catholicism. Over the American-born generation, however, the wave is different. Spirituality falls like jimmies over us and we gaze up radiant and expectant. Then s/he moves us along. No religion is given. “See what you make of that!” s/he chuckles.

Cut to life on Earth: The French Canadians make their way from Lac Noir, Quebec through New Hampshire and Vermont, and they land in Bristol, Connecticut. As predicted, that generation and the next are hard-core Catholics. As a teen, my grandmother recovered from a serious illness by believing in Mary, (aka the mother of Jesus, and no I didn’t just swear). When my m other was a teen, she entered the convent. The conditions in the late 1940s—working long hours in a hot laundry, washing priests’ vestments, and eating meals that would make Oliver Twist seem gluttonous—wore her down. She got sick enough to be sent home to recover. Twice. Mother Superior believed it was a message from God that this is not her path. My mother was crushed, but maybe dealing with that blow helped her through what her kids were going to put her through.

My mother met my father, a Dutch-born Catholic, and they married in 1957. The babies came in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1965, and for a while things were looking pretty good. Our family of six attended Mass every Sunday morning and every holy day. We kids went to Catechism and the sacraments were all distributed like clockwork: baptism, communion, confession, confirmation.

Then came the 70s. I imagine the omnipotent being was chuckling.

My father jumped ship first, having had more years to contemplate spiritual matters than us kids and becoming disillusioned with organized religion in general. He began to study the many facets of Eastern philosophy and was soon talking about the universality of life and the idea that the separation of man and god were human constructs. A favorite theme of his: we are the watcher and the watched.

And then there were five.

Once my Dad opened the door, I think maybe we all started consciously or unconsciously to hear the Catholic Church rap differently. The faith of my grandmother and mom transcends the words of the church. While the words can be lyrical, they can also be contradictory and absolute. My siblings and I were born to be people who listened to the words and thought too much about them. We also asked a lot of questions—not really traits the Catholic Church was looking for at that time.

When my oldest sister, Julie, left home about a year after high school, she found a religion that not only invited questions, but could provide answers, with footnotes. And so she became a Jehovah’s Witness. At first it was hard for the rest of us to understand—we were a little afraid it was a cult. But over time we could see that it made sense to her. Except for missing holiday gatherings (they don’t celebrate any holidays except wedding anniversaries), she was still pretty much the same person. The weirdest part was that all the Jehovah Witnesses she introduced us too were always super nice. Being close-to-the-vest New Englanders, we had a hard time with that, but we got used to it.

And then there were four.

A year after Julie left home, Sharon went off to college. By her fourth year, she met a nice Jewish boy and decided to marry him. Although many interfaith marriages work, Sharon felt the pull of the Jewish faith. She liked the Jewish emphasis on family and being a good person (as opposed to say, burning in hell for transgressions). The final piece was the idea that children must be born to a Jewish mother be considered Jewish, so she converted. It was toughest on my mom. Julie’s religious departure was still based in Christianity, but for my mom, Sharon had left the fold entirely. As for my brother and me, we were now getting pretty experienced in this religion switching thing; my greatest concern was figuring out the Jewish holidays. It also helped that Marty, my brother-in-law, had no problem celebrating Christmas and Easter.

And then there were three.

By now, my brother Mark and I were teenagers, and we picked religion as our rebellion. Mark pulled the age-16 card, “If I’m old enough to drive, I’m old enough to make my own decisions.” He stopped going to church and finds his spirituality in the cool wind of a mountain peak after a long hand-over-hand climb and in the stillness of a snowy wood on a crisp January day. We accept that it works for him, but the rest of us still prefer a little heat with our holy moments.

And then there were two.

Around this time, my mother became a lector, which is a layperson who reads the scriptures during the Mass. She sat on the stage up front, while I sat alone and stewed and sulked by myself in the folding chairs. Yes, we had Mass in folding chairs, in the Catholic school gym because the congregation had outgrown the church. Being in an actual church wouldn’t have made a real difference—I think it just hastened the end. Sitting in my hard metal chair, I had plenty of time to review the all the things I didn’t like, starting with my fourth grade Catechism teacher—did I mention I can hold a grudge?

“You have a choice,” she said, one day. And I perked up, because I liked choices. “You can be good,” OK. Not very compelling, but not a deal-breaker either. “Or, you can go to hell.” Well, even a fourth grader knows that’s no choice. For me it was downhill from there, so when I turned 16, I also declared my independence. My poor mother tried to dissuade me, but she knew she was on thin ice. She let me go. I have since become an agnostic, with Eastern leanings, who is more comfortable considering celestial questions than finding answers.

And then there was one Catholic left.

The Catholic Church is still a major part of my mom’s life, and it has given her the grace and generosity to accept us all. And we’ve accepted each other. Oh, sure, I may have glossed over some of the hand wringing, regrets, and recriminations we’ve had with each other over the years, but heck we would have had those even without being the religious United Nations.

Earlier this year, my mother accepted an award for her many years of volunteering at her parish. The event was held at the Hartford Cathedral and honored parishioners from all over the diocese. The Jehovah Witness wished she could have made it, and the rest of us were there—the Eastern philosopher, the questioner, the Jew, and the cold nature guy. Because, you know, that’s how we roll. It was a testament to our love, respect, and acceptance of our religious diversity. That, and we had taken bets on whether we would burst into flames. Obviously we didn’t, otherwise I would have written about that. I do believe, however, I could hear a deity stifling a giggle. Well played, my friend. Well played.

Photo credit: My own photo of the ice cream truck near the Public Gardens in Boston.