When my daughter was three years old, we commuted together on one of the busiest interstates in the country to my job as a teacher and to the daycare center where she spent more waking hours with care providers than she spent with me. Despite the stress of having my precious cargo in a hellish commute with me, I loved sharing that time with her. She chattered away and asked a million questions, even though we left home while the sky was still dark. I knew that I needed to prepare myself for a lifetime of tough questions when she asked me, “Momma, how did God get all those stars up in the sky?”
That night, I read to her from James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation”:
Then God reached out and took the light in His hands,
And God rolled the light around in His hands
Until He made the sun;
And He set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said, “That’s good!”
I remember being happy that she had asked me that question and not the daycare providers. I remember feeling guilty that I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom. But now, she can’t remember the names of the people who cared for her, and I’m sure that she thinks more about all the things I’ve taught her than she thinks about anything that any of them said to her.
That doesn’t mean that she always agrees with me. She views the world through the lens of her own experiences and ideas. And when she does, she isn’t shy about telling me that she doesn’t agree with me or share my view of the world.
And so today, she sometimes openly challenges my thinking in ways that I never challenged my own parents. My father was a Republican who only once voted anything other than a straight ticket. He was a child of evangelicals who never in my lifetime stepped foot into a church except for the funeral of a close friend. My mother registered as a Republican and gave Dad a second vote in every election until he died, when she changed parties and cast the last vote of her life for Barack Obama. She was a devout Christian who never worshipped in a church and who worried she might be going to hell because she didn’t accept the faith of her parents and in-laws.
I never considered registering as anything other than a Democrat. I became eligible to vote in March 1974, a few months after Nixon had declared that he was not a crook. But I never told my dad that I didn’t register for his party. I never once discussed religion with my father either. And after being a practicing evangelical for all of my teenage years and young adulthood, I chose a denomination that messily debates every social issue of the day. And I eventually chose a church that shared space with a Jewish congregation and ordained a gay minister.
Like many 20-somethings, my daughter doesn’t go to church as often as I do. And she is far more accepting than I am of friends who have political views that differ from her own. On many matters of politics and religion and life, she shares my views. But she is much more quick to challenge people at the two extremes than I am and much more quick to offer her friendship to people whose views diverge from her own.
And maybe that’s a good thing in a world where we could use more people who can listen and really hear people who disagree. The danger of teaching our children to think for themselves…is that they will. But perhaps it’s our hope for the future, too.