Tag Archives: divorce

Talking God and religion with fifth graders

For eight months of the year, for the past seven years, I have spent nearly every Wednesday evening in the company of about two dozen 10 and 11 year-olds. I volunteered to teach the fifth grade CCD class at our church. This is a religious education program for the kids who do not go to a parochial school. In a Protestant church, it would probably be called “Sunday school,” except we have the classes on Wednesday evenings.

Mrs. Poolman is not at all certain why I continue to do this. I’m not really sure myself. I am a practicing Catholic, but I’m not a particularly devout or religious person. I do get some sense of satisfaction from filling a definite need in the parish. While I don’t think I’m a particularly good teacher, I do show up with some reliability and fill the space. Our CCD coordinator, Paula, is not overwhelmed with people knocking her doors down to teach a class.

I think I’m also providing a service to the students. It is been clear over the years, that for many of my students those Wednesday night CCD classes are the major source of their education / indoctrination in matters of God, religion, morals, ethics, values and life. My big question is: “How much of this is actually sticking with the kids?” I don’t have an answer to that. I suspect the answer is “very little.” We don’t have much time. Nor do we have the repetition to drive it home. Those 45-50 minutes a week are easily lost in the midst of busy lives of school, sports, school activities, dance, friends, and so on. I try not to dwell too long on that depressing note

Mostly, I think I like the kids and the discussions we have. The curriculum for this grade is to cover the sacraments.  It leaves us lots of time to talk about all kinds of subjects. Once they get comfortable in the class, fifth graders are not at all shy about asking questions and offering their opinions. I have a co-teacher, Sherry. Between the two of us, we try to get the kids engaged and maybe thinking about things that they haven’t thought of before.

By this point in the year, we have gotten to know the students fairly well, and they have gotten to know us. We know who is quick to raise their hand and those who we to be coaxed into participating in a discussion.

During our class this week, we covered the Sacrament of Matrimony. While this sounds innocent, it actually is fairly tricky. The Catholic Church teaches that a wedding vow is permanent, and divorce is not an option. (The issue of annulment is much too involved for this age group.) This fun part is to teach the kids that this is what they should seek to achieve in their adult lives, without appearing to criticize their divorced parents, cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles, etc.

The other interesting issue is we are never quite sure how much our students of this age have learned about sex from their parents, school, friends, TV and so on. If we were dealing with 13 year olds, we could be fairly certain they have at least been exposed to “Birds and Bees 101.” But for ten and eleven year-olds, we aren’t as certain. It makes it difficult to answer a question about a pregnant bride, which is one query we received last night. To make life very interesting, it just takes one student to ask, “What do you mean that they had sex before they were married? What does that mean?” Then we have opened a can of worms, and they are crawling all over the place.

We are fairly certain one girl was trying to “work us” last night with this exchange.

Her: I see all the pictures of the brides here are wearing white dresses. Why do brides always seem to wear white?  

Me: It’s a tradition, but you can wear whatever color you like.

Her: Even black?

Me: Yes, even black.

Her: But why do they usually wear white?

Me: It symbolizes purity or innocence.

Her: Innocent of what?

Sherry (jumping in to help out): It symbolizes that she is a virgin.

Her: A virgin? What’s a virgin?

Sherry: You know the answer to that.

Her: No, really (laughing). I don’t know. What is a virgin?

Sherry: Ask your parents.

We have just a few more weeks of class remaining for this year. This has been a good group. I’ll miss them when we break for the summer. Then I’ll take my chances with a fresh class in the fall.

‘Why don’t I have a mother?’

Last week it was same-sex-marriages. This week it is same-sex-parents.

I heard on NPR this morning that actor Neal Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) and his partner have gotten together with a surrogate mother to produce a set of twins (who are yet to be born.)

Neal Patrick Harris (l) and partner David Burtka

I’m not a homophobe. I really couldn’t care less what someone does in the privacy of their bedroom, so long as they aren’t hurting someone else. That’s the problem I have with this trend of gay and lesbian couples having children. There is potential harm.

I believe both mothers and fathers matter to children. Children absorb and learn different things from the different genders. In this case, why would you go through an incredible amount of effort and expense to create a child who will not have a mother? Did your mother not play an important part in your life? Why would you deny your child the benefit of having both a mother and a father?

The nephew of some of our friends went through the same process about a year ago. The two guys ended up with twin girls. While I’m sure these two guys will love and care for their daughters to the maximum extent of which they are capable, but they are limited biologically in what they can provide. Neither is female. The two girls will be raised without a mother or mother-figure. How will that affect the girls? I don’t know, but it can’t be ideal.

It seems like an incredible act of self indulgence. The same-sex parents get a baby to play with, but the child is the one who is missing one parent.

Of course, in today’s climate of “starter marriages,” “no-fault pregnancies” and high rates of divorce, missing parents are all too common with “straight” families.  The difference is that, usually, the parents do not plan to make it that way from the outset.

I feel the same about single women who elect to have a baby without benefit of a functioning father?  I don’t understand the benefit to the child of not having a father.  I guess some mothers really think you are going to be so good as a parent that they can fill both roles. Some of the time, and maybe even most of the time, many parents I know feel they stretching their abilities to handle one job, let alone two.

It may sound contradictory, but I don’t have any problem with gays or lesbians adopting children. Why? Because usually they are improving the lot of a child. By adopting, they are providing a child with a set of parents. While a male-female set of parents would be ideal, same-sex parents are better than no parents at all.

The question is simply this: In the grand scheme of things, is a would-be parent’s desire to have a child of greater importance than that child’s need for both a mother and a father? It’s something to think about.

Ironically, Harris is also the star of the CBS sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother.” That is one story he won’t have to tell his real-life kids.

An ugly break-up and an empty house

We lost our across-the-street neighbors this week. Actually, they have been lost for awhile. The couple is in the process of getting a divorce; the wife and daughter moved out several months ago. Apparently neither party paid the mortgage so the bank stepped in and foreclosed. What a mess!

This was not a pretty, amicable split. This was more of a “Come around here again and I’ll call the police” break-up.

I remember a St Patrick’s Day evening about two years ago. A storm had knocked out power in our section of town, so we were sitting around the candle-lit house. There was a knock at the door and the wife, “Joan”, practically fell through the door. She was quite drunk and her clothes were askew. She said that her husband, “Sam,” had hit her.

Mrs. Poolman tended to Joan, while I went to find Sam, who was also quite drunk. He denied hitting Joan and said she was the one hitting him until he pushed her away and she fell down.

The “discussion” flowed back and forth across the street. Eventually, Sam’s mom and step-dad showed up, along with Sam and Joan’s 11-year old daughter. We all tried to get Sam to go home with his Mom, just to get the fighting couple separated until they sobered up. Sam went back to his bedroom; got into bed; and refused to budge while his mother screamed at him.

In the middle of all this, a major thunderstorm broke out. I have jokingly described the entire episode as a Jerry Springer Show stuck in the middle of a Stephen King novel.

I don’t feel terribly sorry for the couple. They made their own bed. However, I do feel for their now-13 year old daughter. She deserves better than that.

Our hope now is the house moves quickly, and we get a good set of neighbors across the street. Fingers crossed.

Entering the home stretch

Our CCD season is in the home stretch, and it isn’t coming any too soon. I think both the volunteer teachers and the students are starting to burn out.

I was a little concerned about how last night’s class was going to go, but it worked out fine. We covered the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony. Each year, I worry about teaching the Church’s position on marriage. Officially, the Church looks at marriage vows as a life-long commitment, and does not sanction divorce. The trick is to get this idea across to my 5th graders as something they should strive for without seeming to take any  shots at their possibly divorced parents, siblings or other relatives.

At the beginning of the year, I sent a note home to all the parents, asking them to advise me of any family circumstances of which I should aware, so I did not say anything to present a difficult or embarrassing situation to one of my students. I mentioned that we would be covering both the Ten Commandments (ie: adultery, coveting your neighbor’s wife, etc) and the Sacrament of Matrimony.

One mom sent me an email saying that she was relatively recently divorced and remarried and she had some concerns about the effect of those class sessions on her son.  We communicated back and forth throughout the year. Last week, I sent her an email to advise her that the class on matrimony would be this week. She would be most welcome to sit in on the class, or alternately to hold her son out for a week. I was really very flattered when she responded that, based on the information she had received from me and her son, she would be comfortable having her son participate in that class.

In any case, we got through last night’s class without any major bumps in the road.

We have one more regular class session, and then an end-of-the-year party. It’s too bad 10 and 11 year olds can’t drink margaritas. I think we’ve all earned it.

Married forever, or not

The issue of marriage and divorce seems to be a very delicate subject in Catholic circles. Fortunately for us, Mrs. Poolman and I have been married just once and to each other for 33 years, so we haven’t had to deal with the issue personally. Officially, the Church doesn’t recognize divorce. However, there are plenty of divorced Catholics out there. I see them receiving and distributing the Eucharist at Mass on Sundays. And again, fortunately, I’ve never needed to figure out exactly how that whole annulment thing is supposed to work.

Although, I don’t have personal experience with divorce, I do encounter the issue from time to time. As I mentioned before, I have been teaching 5th grade CCD (religion) classes at our church for the past four years. The 5th grade curriculum deals primarily with the seven sacraments and the Ten Commandments, with a few side excursions towards the Apostles’ Creed, the story of Creation and other material. You would think this would be fairly harmless, vanilla religious material. Mostly that’s true, but….

10-commandmentsOne of the seven sacraments is matrimony and we cover the Church’s teachings on the institution. Also, among the Commandments is that “Thou shalt now commit adultery.”  (“No, young 10-year old, adultery isn’t something that adults do. Or, well, maybe it sometimes is.”)

There is hardly a child there who doesn’t have a friend or a family member affected by a divorce. Some of the students’ parents are divorced themselves. So the challenge is to teach the Church’s views on marriage without seeming to condemn the students’ parents, relatives, family friends, or whomever.

Knowing this can be a touchy issue, I always let the parents know that we will be covering this subject, and ask them to advise me if there is a family situation of which I should be aware. I have already heard from one divorced and remarried mom who is concerned how we would treat marriage and divorce in class. We will talk before we get close to that chapter.

Interestingly, the Gospel this past Sunday was directly on-point to the Church’s position. In Mark 10:2-12 Jesus is asked directly about divorce.

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Not much ambiguity there.

Our pastor was presented with a very teachable moment, but, for whatever reason, decided not to pursue it in his homily (sermon.) Interesting. I wonder what his thinking was.