Barbarella
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Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children. — George Bernard Shaw

Bella was the first to notice me. She waved one hand high above her head and used the other to pull her mother away from the koi pond. Jane’s eyes were hidden behind a giant pair of dark glasses, but when she did see me, recognition was apparent in her upturned lips and quickened pace. It was a gorgeous day in the park — a perfect 75 degrees in the shade. When they reached my side, I greeted my niece with a hug that lifted her into the air and gave my sister a kiss on each cheek.

“Do you have everything?”

Jane gestured to the prodigious red purse balanced on her back. “Yes, of course I do. That’s why the huge bag.”

“Right,” I said. Jane rolled her eyes and repeated for the umpteenth time that she had it covered. I should have known it wasn’t necessary to check; if there’s anyone I can rely on to deliver on a promise, it’s my sister Jane. Even so, on the off-chance that she’d been overwhelmed while bustling her daughter out the door that morning, I’d stashed a baggie full of nail-polish remover and cotton balls in my purse before heading out to meet her.

Every good salesperson knows the key to closing a deal is to correctly answer the one and only question about which every buyer cares: What’s in it for me? Jane, a woman who understands this basic tenet of sales, had proffered a pedicure as a way to lure me to the park for the hour and a half she’d have to kill while Bella attended Junior Theatre. But Jane was wasting her people-reading skills on me. Sure, I was looking forward to applying that 1950s-red polish of hers to my toes, but I would have agreed with just as much alacrity had she simply asked me to keep her company. Balboa Park is down the street from my place, and Jane is one of the few people in my life for whom I’m always game.

Before retiring to a shady spot on the grass with our coffee and grooming implements, all we had to do was deposit Bella safely in her class. Jane’s eldest daughter is two months into her fifth year of life, and this was her first day attending “big girl class” for five-to-seven-year-olds. As Jane explained, after attending this course called “Annie” each Saturday for ten weeks, the children should be able to perform a number from the hit show.

Due to lifestyle choices, I rarely find myself in the company of children. When I do interact with the human sprouts, it is always with my sisters’ pipsqueaks. It’s fun for me to play the part of shrewd aunt, doling out truth in small and mysterious bits so as to leave them hungering for more. Things such as “No, Liam, mascara is not only for girls” and “You know, Bella, not everyone believes in God.” I have so much wisdom to impart that I sometimes find it difficult to contain myself.

Because I had entered into that sunny afternoon uncaffeinated, I decided to engage Bella in a more innocuous way. “Hey, Bella Boo, are you excited about your class?” I took the up-down shaking of her flaxen curls as an affirmative. Before I could ask a follow-up question, a little girl in an Annie-emblazoned shirt approached us, followed closely by a woman carrying a toddler. Bella’s entire demeanor changed — the appearance of a peer transformed her from indifferent to engaged. As the girl drew nearer, Bella struck little poses (a hand on the hip, a toss of the hair), the way I’ve seen birds on National Geographic flash their plumage as warning or welcome to other creatures of the forest.

“Hi, I’m Sarah,” said the newcomer. “I’m here for ‘Annie.’” She pointed at her shirt. Bella reacted in a peculiar fashion — she fake-fell on the cement and said, “When you fall, it’s good to land on your tukas.” Jane laughed.

“What’s a tukas?” the child asked her mother.

“It’s another word for rear, honey,” answered the woman.

“Bella, introduce yourself,” Jane said. But Bella instead dropped to her bum again in an attempt to elicit more laughs; when that didn’t satisfy, she hopped back to her feet and rattled off random fragments she thought might be of interest to her new cohort. Things such as “I have a fish named Sarah.”

Two more girls appeared outside the classroom, one whose head was a conflagration of red-orange curls. They both wore Annie shirts. In a bright, clear voice, the redhead announced that she’d also seen the play. I could tell by Jane’s horrified smile that she believed she’d failed her daughter by not taking her to the production that had just come and gone at the San Diego Civic Theater. Also, to look at these children, the girls with their Annie shirts and their beaming smiles, their maturity, their “Annie-ness,” it was apparent to all that if casting were done on the spot, the little outgoing girl on her tukas was the least likely to play the lead role. She had the energy and the flair, but not the dedication. Annie wasn’t even one of her favorite shows — Jane had only just bought the movie that week.

But my mind soon wandered from Bella’s potential devastation at not being front and center, as I was suddenly up to my knees in Annies. It’s one thing to hang out with my sisters’ kids at my mother’s house, quite another to see them gathered together, backed by their handlers, awkwardly interfacing with their own kind. It pained me to witness the unintentional displays of arrogance or offense as each vied for his or her place in the hubbub. There was more social ineptitude in that little cluster of kids than in all of Comic-Con. The reticent children, their stoic faces slowly roaming through the crowd, were more unnerving than the talkative ones. I’ve seen too many horror movies featuring kids like that. Silent, staring children give me the creeps.

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Comments

pete78 Jan. 29, 2009 @ 6:08 p.m.

The music in that video sounds like Fitty cent should be rapping to it.

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Sportsbook Feb. 3, 2009 @ 3:14 p.m.

totally would be upset if you said to my kid, at 5 or whatnot, "Some people don't believe in G-D" What kind of effed up message is that to put in her head when it's a notion her parents have taught her about. I would be royally irked if my non religious, gay brother told that to my 6 yr old.

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Dulcinea007 Feb. 3, 2009 @ 4:14 p.m.

I guess Sportsbook is anticipating that his/her child will never interact with anyone who does not believe in God. Sounds like the makings for a very close-minded human being, which is a pretty effed up notion to me.

I hope the non-religious, gay (does sexual orientation matter here? What was the point of that?) brother tells the six year old that mascara is not only for girls because that is true too! :)

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angelp Feb. 3, 2009 @ 4:16 p.m.

Every one is allowed their opinion and we have the freedom to express it. That is why we live in America.

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Barbarella Fokos Feb. 3, 2009 @ 4:19 p.m.

Thank you Dulcinea! (great name) I happen to think boys look quiet dashing with a bit of eyeliner, especially if their eyes are as bright blue as my nephews. ;)

My point in the story was that there are many different walks of life, not only the one in which one is indoctrinated, and I will always be honest with my nieces and nephews. And all children for that matter. So if anybody out there wants to protect their kids from the truth, you know what to do. Keep 'em away from me.

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Barbarella Fokos Feb. 3, 2009 @ 4:20 p.m.

For that, God bless America, Angel! And I mean that in the figurative, not literal sense. ;)

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Barbarella Fokos Feb. 3, 2009 @ 5:15 p.m.

Got this great comment on my Facebook page: "We raised great spiritual, moral, ethical kids, partly because of "my non-religious, gay brother's" influence and partly because they were always bright and free enough to decide about their own godstuff without parental influence. Hugo, Grrrrrl!"

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LunaFemme Feb. 3, 2009 @ 6:10 p.m.

I hate to be the voice of dissension (well, not really) but I think that @sportsboo has a point. It has been very important to my sister that she raise her children in a Christian faith. Out of respect for her, when my nephews were five, I kept my mouth shut. I waited until they were a little older (twelve’ish) to start explaining that differing Christian sects embrace different versions of the Bible and pointing out some of what I believe to be the more obvious fallacies with the Christian faith. And out of respect for me, my sister tolerated my introduction of other belief systems to her children.

For me this is more of an age appropriate issue.

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David Dodd Feb. 3, 2009 @ 6:33 p.m.

Honesty is relative, Barbarella. I was surprised to read the sentence about telling the five year old, "Don't want 'em", when it came to having kids. I wouldn't be upset at all if my brother had told the same thing to one of my kids when they were five, but I would have certainly felt compelled to sit down and explain it to the kid. Five year olds want everyone to want them.

God might as well be Santa Claus to most five-year olds. Kids are amazing when it comes to realizing at what point that the grown-ups might be screwed-up. They figure it out. Your example is always less confusing than your words. And by the time they're twelve, they are going to tell you whether or not God exists.

I understand why Sportsbook is upset. He probably shouldn't be, but I do understand why. Although the need to mention the sexual preference of his brother is quite baffling.

I reckon that my response would have been along the lines of, "Hon, you might have heard by now that some people don't believe in Santa Claus, either." The look on her face would tell me everything that I needed to know about where to go with the conversation from there. With my youngest daughter, it was around ten years old. And this is what I told her about God: Nobody knows except you, and what you think is right, and you don't have to listen to the adults.

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Barbarella Fokos Feb. 3, 2009 @ 9:21 p.m.

That's great advice for children, refried: "Nobody knows except you, and what you think is right, and you don't have to listen to the adults." Regarding what I "actually" tell my nieces and nephews, I don't lay things out to torture them. If they ask questions, I give honest, thorough-but-simplified-for-a-child answers. I told my niece that I liked being an aunt so much, that I loved my nieces and nephews so much, that I didn't need any children of my own. My delivery isn't as harsh when I'm speaking to the kids, but the message is still coming from an honest place. I certainly don't want to traumatize them, which leads me to Luna's comment...

I appreciate your thoughts, and can understand the decision you made to respect your sister and make things easier. Personally, I don't think children need to be a certain age before they can accept information. They glean much more from television by age 5 than we imagine. If kids can understand the concept of love (mommy loved daddy and married him, then we had you), then they can understand the concept of homosexuality (sometimes boys like boys and girls like girls, everyone is different, and you can like who you like). Same with religion. Some people believe in God, some don't. Mommy and Daddy believe in God, and this is why. I don't see how that's any more difficult than most of the complicated stories laid out in church (I was raised Catholic) on Sunday mornings.

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Fred Williams Feb. 4, 2009 @ 6:54 a.m.

Religion, especially Christianity, is child abuse.

How can you justify telling children that they were created inherently evil?

What kind of parent would insist on teaching their kids to ignore science and the myriad proofs of evolution, and replace that with a bronze-age creation myth featuring a talking snake?

Why would you want to terrify kids with tales of eternal damnation, or inflict pointless guilt on them for having bodies with both genitalia and alimentary canals?

What benefit comes from believing that this "loving" God must resort to torture and murder to "save" us from the sins He allegedly imbued in His creations?

What part of this is moral? What part of this is healthy?

The evolution of "morality" lies in the obvious benefits of mutual reciprocity. Religion hijacks this natural shared cognitive facility and claims to have invented it.

Nope. Tell kids early and often that there's NO magical sky-daddy. The real world really is real. We're not the creatures of an imaginary space being who predetermines our lives. We come from the same stuff as the rest of the universe, and have to live responsibly in our world. We're not the special favorites of some all-powerful being.

Anyone who teaches kids differently has serious problems with understanding the nature of reality, and would be better off not reproducing.

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angelp Feb. 4, 2009 @ 7:03 a.m.

back to putting in my own two cents... I have to say I do believe in the 'higher power' my self. I thought that GOD told us to be excepting of all people. No matter their sexuality, race, gender, ect. We should not push our opinions on others; and "shun" those who are to disagree with us. So Barbarella Cheers to you being so open minded and expressing yourself to all big and small. Sportsboo- you also have the right to your opinion. So again as stated earlier "Every one is allowed their opinion and we have the freedom to express it. That is why we live in America." Don't sweat the small stuff everyone.

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magicsfive Feb. 4, 2009 @ 7:08 a.m.

omg...fred- i couldn't agree more. may i have your permission to blog this letter on my page, minus your name, of course??? Please? this is exactly why i am offended by christianity (I was raised christian baptist). I await your response and i will not copy this unless i have your permission. Thank you.

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Barbarella Fokos Feb. 4, 2009 @ 8:04 a.m.

Damn, your intelligence is hot, Fred. Thank you for gracing the page with your eloquence and syntax. Rowr.

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David Dodd Feb. 4, 2009 @ 8:07 a.m.

Wow, Fred, that's pretty heavy stuff for a five year old. If you really want to be honest with them, be sure and mention that they could die at any given moment for no apparent reason and that the World could get hit by an asteroid and that nuclear bombs could be launched at the snap of a finger and wipe out all of humanity.

A smart five year old might challenge you to prove that God doesn't exist. When you couldn't, then twenty years later that same five year old might reach the conclusion that atheism is every bit of a religion as any other belief.

To all children, I say this: When it comes to the existence or non-existence of anything unproven, the adults don't know anything either, they're all just guessing.

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david Feb. 4, 2009 @ 8:54 a.m.

Senor Gringo, so then are you suggesting that a Christian's version of honesty would be to tell children that they could die at any given moment for no apparent reason and that the World could get hit by an asteroid and that nuclear bombs could be launched at the snap of a finger and wipe out all of humanity AND they could burn in Hell for all eternity if they screw up?

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Fred Williams Feb. 4, 2009 @ 9:12 a.m.

Magic, feel free to use as you see fit. When I comment, I assume it's in the public domain.

Barbarella, you are very welcome. Keep on writing your good stuff.

Senor Gringo, you're committing a juvenile fallacy. You claim that anything that cannot be proven NOT to exist, must therefore be assumed to exist. That's nonsense.

Bertrand Russel long ago explained it this way. If I claim there is an orbiting teapot spinning around Mars, there is no way for you to ever disprove it. Does that mean it's true? Of course not.

That's why the burden of proof lies with those making extraordinary claims. You claim there's a angry sky monster who made heavens and earth and is going to punish you for each and every time you masturbate.

Okay, prove it.

Otherwise, admit that there is substantial proof of everything else on your list EXCEPT that angry sky god of yours. Then you can teach your children about how to avoid REAL dangers while ignoring superstitions made up by goat herders thousands of years ago.

Smart five year olds know that Santa Claus is a hoax, but they go along with it for the presents and cookies. Same with Sunday School...without the hand clapping, music and cookies, no kid in her right mind would sit through that nonsense.

Religion is child abuse.

Telling kids the truth, especially when it's unpleasant, is a parent's highest duty. Telling them make believe stories about animals on arks, faith healings, and tongues of fire descending from the sky that make you multi-lingual...well, that's the way to turn your child into a credulous slave to anyone with a good story.

Best,

Fred

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snackycakes420 Feb. 4, 2009 @ 4:04 p.m.

Geez Sportsbook - It's not like she said, "There is no God." She said, "Some people don't believe in God." Why should parents mislead children into thinking that everyone has the same beliefs they were taught to have?

Refriedgrino - I love your take on what to tell children about God and religion, about adults not having all the answers and to find your own path.

Barberella - You can hang with my 2-year old and drop nuggets of wisdom/truth on her anytime!

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Barbarella Fokos Feb. 4, 2009 @ 5:16 p.m.

Thank you for the confidence in my ability to not F-up your 2-year old, snackycakes! ;)

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David Dodd Feb. 4, 2009 @ 11:26 p.m.

Oh Mr. Williams, I am so disappointed! I expected something better than for you to combine the words “religion” and “masturbate”. Stellar, enough for a twelve-year old to rally around. Please report me immediately to your government, for I have given my child permission to believe in a God if he or she wants to. As for me, I dislike being preached to - and, with all due respect, you’re preaching. Please enjoy your religion.

Best,

Gringo

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Fred Williams Feb. 5, 2009 @ 5:18 a.m.

Gringo,

Thank you for your reply.

But you've misstated your case. You don't "allow" your child to believe in a fictitious "Father in Heaven"...

You've TAUGHT your child to believe in falsehood, wish-thinking, and demonstrably ridiculous myths.

To call a lack of belief "religion" is just another lying trick from nervous worshipers of the invisible nothingness. It's called equivocation.

Here are the facts:

Evolution is a demonstrable fact...unless you don't "believe" in things like agriculture or fancy dogs, you'll have to admit that we humans have been using evolution to adjust and adapt plants and animals for thousands of years.

The Bible is filled with utter nonsense that is easily disproved, calling into doubt the entire text.

What good stuff is in the Bible was culled from classical stoicism and other ancient sources. There's no biblical teaching on morality that is in any way unique or unprecedented in philosophy...those ideas were around for thousands of years.

The Bible itself wasn't written and compiled until hundreds of years after the events it describes. The old testament in particular is filled with rape, incest, slavery, and genocide.

Do you teach your child all the rules in Deuteronomy and Leviticus? Including the bits about how to sacrifice oxen, or ritually purify yourself in the event you happen to touch a woman who may be menstruating?

Is that what you're equivocating with my way of thinking?

Or is it that you've subsumed this nonsense since childhood as part of your identity and feel threatened by anyone who dares to point out how ridiculous it all is? Is that why you make the outrageous equivocation of "lack of religion is the same thing as religion"?

Get to a community college and enroll in a science class. You really need it.

Barbarella and others who have bothered to learn even the smallest amount of science and logic are entitled to a good long laugh at your silly prejudice and credulous belief in such fairy-tales and logical fallacies as you're promoting.

While it's impossible to prove a negative (Russell's teapot) it's very easy to completely disprove the existence of your Christian God, the angry sky father who created all children evil, and uses talking snakes or burning bushes to communicate with us all.

As I said before, religion is child abuse, polluting kids with false promises, counterproductive myths, and outrageous lies. The few sprinklings of wisdom were culled from other sources.

It looks like your parents were especially cruel to you, my unfortunate friend, since they didn't love you enough to teach you about logic and science.

Best,

Fred

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angelp Feb. 5, 2009 @ 7:51 a.m.

I expect everyone to be at Lips for their Sunday Gospel Brunch this Sunday. If I am going to hell i want to go drunk at the drag show;)

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Barbarella Fokos Feb. 5, 2009 @ 10:06 a.m.

Ha! Angel, that sentence is a gem. "If I am going to Hell I want to go drunk at the drag show." Here here, sister. I have my book club this Sunday, so I'll have to put off my drinking/drag debauchery for another holy day. ;)

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David Dodd Feb. 5, 2009 @ 11:47 a.m.

Fred, you are quite insulting. You're assuming that I am religious. You're assuming that I don't believe in evolution as a scientific fact. You're assuming that I am not college educated. Those assumptions would be entirely inaccurate.

Didn't your parents teach you not to assume anything?

Your view is so intolerant, I have to wonder if you've been traumatized by religion at some point in your life. Also note that preaching logic while personally attacking me is immature. Pull your nose out of your Nietzsche, Fred, and take a look at yourself. You preach as well as any minister, and since I don't buy what they're selling, I'm not buying what you're selling either.

Belief or non-belief is a choice. I have no problem with either. I do have a problem when someone tells me what I should or shouldn't believe, especially when the message is self-righteous and arrogant. In your World, Einsetin's theories would be invalid because of his religious beliefs. This is as ridiculous as a Christian who would toss out Ayn Rand's philosophies based on her atheism.

The difference between you and me is that you are hell bent on disproving a celestial teapot, while I am pointing out the fact that a whole lot of people believe in the teapot. It really doesn't matter if there actually is a teapot orbiting around the sun, it matters that most of humanity throughout history have based the direction of their lives on it. In other words, did God create man, or did man create God?

It doesn't matter.

Two books you should read, assuming that care to enlighten yourself. Grab a copy of Plato's Republic and pay close attention to all dialogs involving religion in Plato's ideal society. Also, get a hold of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle and note the spiritual interaction that the characters have with each other, rather than with their God.

Best,

Gringo

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David Dodd Feb. 5, 2009 @ 12:01 p.m.

david,

No, of course not. I am suggesting that a Christian's version of honesty would be to tell their children, simply, that they don't know for sure what is going to happen next. I also recommend that the honest Christian tell the child that the child's beliefs or non-beliefs are valid. Most children believe in Santa Claus until they don't anymore, I don't think it's dishonest to let a child believe in it.

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magicsfive Feb. 5, 2009 @ 1:30 p.m.

lol lol angel.....that was awesome....damn i miss san diego...i love you all.

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