Lapsed Catholic Mother With Kids In Jewish Summer Camp




Let us bow our heads and pray.

I knew, but didn’t really know¸what putting my kids in religious school would trigger in me.  It’s been more than twenty years since my twelve-year stint in Catholic school, but its messages, rituals, dogma and secrets float inside me, mostly stable free radicals that rarely react.

But when I brush up against other religions, the past hums to life.  And thanks to the 34 hours a week my kids are spending in a Jewish day camp, all kinds of whizzing and whirring is going on.  It’s my daughter’s first exposure to religion and she’s treating it—religion—like an exotic pet that must be handled with care and examined from every single angle.  Oh, and discussed ad nauseam.  She’s the one insisting we say the blessing before we eat—not just meals but each snack in the car and stray yogurt pop on the go.  She’s all challah this and Shabbat that, and I’m struggling to learn the words to prayers the meanings of which are inscrutable to me as the inscription on the door of their school.

Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jeff knows what they are talking about—he’s only a few decades from his own Bar Mitzvah.  The prayers have returned to him like a language he never really lost, prodigal sons gliding off his tongue.  I bow my head and mimic the words they say a few beats behind, hopeful that by the end of summer, I’ll remember the Hebrew word for “bread” and that it will fall from my lips naturally like shalom, or the trickier, mazel tov.

God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.

I thought it would be Jeff who would be more rattled by this.  He was the adamant one: no religious schooling; the kids will decide for themselves.  I pictured our children dragging him unwittingly back to his own religious past, sheriffs hauling the prisoner back to his old cell.  So far, however, he is amused and good-natured that our children are learning his prayers.  “I remember that!”

Baruch atah Adonai…

I learned a whole other set of words—prayers about the Father, the Holy Virgin Mary and the ephemeral Holy Ghost, who, for most of my childhood, I pictured as Casper’s skinnier, more pious brother.  I dropped them all, like toys abandoned in a sandbox during a long, dark winter.  I’m not sure if I want to risk the frostbite and dig them out, or devote myself to the new prayers echoing through my house.  The longing is inchoate; I’m not sure it’s longing for a religion to give shape and contour to spirituality or the longing to join my voice with those of my family members.

Like the kids, I’m going to have to decide for myself.

Let us bow our heads and pray.



47 thoughts on “Lapsed Catholic Mother With Kids In Jewish Summer Camp

  1. Religion, spirituality, this can be tough stuff and, at least in my opinion, as personal as it gets. For me, the longing for religion and the longing to join my family members go hand in hand because religion for me means family and it means practice. I don’t think it has to be one or the other that pulls you and tethers you. I think you are amazing for exposing your kids to it and I know that whatever religion they, or you, choose, if any, will be the right one.

    • I think I am with you on religion and family going hand in hand. I see that clearly now and I just want to be a part of it. Even if it doesn’t yet feel like “mine.”

      On Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 1:30 PM, Outlaw Mama wrote:


    • Thank you. Now that I spend so much of my free time creating (writing), I experience god in a whole new way. It’s pretty sublime. And humbling.

      On Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 1:31 PM, Outlaw Mama wrote:


  2. When it comes to religion, faith, and spirituality, it sometimes seems that deciding for ourselves is something we must do again and again and again over a lifetime, rather than just once and for all!

  3. i am jewish, had all of my boys in the temple nursery school (8 consecutive years) and still I don’t know a dang thing. i’ve gone thru many religious iterations of myself, sometimes seeking, but mostly avoiding. i think of it now as family tradition, times to eat and talk and be together. we all find our own zig zaggy way… you’re essay on your mother talking to you about sex in the ice cream store remains one of my all time favorites.. i just thought of that. 🙂

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  5. I just adore how you wrote this! Sadly, my only knowledge about some of this comes from the Goonies, when Chunk would spontaneously pray. But perhaps it’s a longing just for that spiritual connection regardless of which faith it comes from? Either way, I’m sure you will find it. Love this

  6. I’m with Sam. Such a personal subject. Hubby and I are from (not dramatically) different religions, and raised our kids Catholic, as I was, though they went to public schools. The base is there. Up to these young adults to keep practicing. That said, I feel spirituality and religion are not tied at the hip, per se. My spiritual, believing side, the way I live my life, is far stronger than my practicing Catholic side. Been that way a while. And that’s where my kids currently are, too. So…for us it’s tied to family. Boy, do I remember those prayers. You are giving them an awesome gift. I love how your daughter is turning it over in her little hands. Hope they are having a fun summer! See you in the city soonish!

  7. I enjoy how you work this out, your own faith as well as your kids’ introduction to the world of religion. Especially the seeking, which is basically what faith is for those doing it right (in my opinion, because you know, I’m always right about everything. Snort).

  8. It’s amazing how these are stuck in our reptilian brains. I enter a Catholic church maybe 3x a decade now, and it all floods back (except I think they changed some of the rules about when to sit and when to stand, which doesn’t seem fair.)

  9. You do such a good job of leavening this post with humor while still addressing the density of introspection and the mixed and subtle feelings this whole experience is evoking for you.

  10. Oh Catholicism…it becomes a part of you doesn’t it? We decided to raise our kids Catholic, but I have to say that the start of CCD this year has awakened in me so many issues with the church that I forgot that I had. We also have Judaism from my fil so that mix is so interesting. Lovely piece addressing all of this.

  11. This post… I’m not sure what to say. I can’t relate (my husband and I were both raised Catholic and we have not exposed our son to it at all at this point). But I can feel with you how deep these thoughts are with you and your voice shines through so clearly.

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  13. My husband and I were raised Catholic but we don’t practice anymore. This reminded me of how when he was a kid he went to a Jewish day camp and he can still recite the prayers! Funny and fascinating post. My daughter’s about to turn 4 and I’m in a tumult about the role religion should play in her life vs. spirituality. Also props for using the word “inchoate.” Haha.

  14. Oh wow. This would freak me all the out as well. Does this end when they go back to school, or is this the new school they will be attending in the fall? Either way, good luck lady!

  15. I am stuck on your words “whizzing and whirring” because that is what I feel like I have been doing with family and religion since I got married. I was raised Charismatic Catholic with spirituality and faith as core and I married an Antiochian Orthodox Christian where culture, dogma and family history reigns (his grandparents name’s are on the front of the church…!) The religions are sooo similar, but feel sooo different. The whizzing and whirring inside of me is a combination of “why does it matter?” and “it does matter!” So when daddy says you make the sign of the cross from right to left , mama feels the whizzing and whirring inside! We fought for YEARS about baptizing our children (in the end, we baptized them Orthodox in the baptismal font purchased in honor of his grandmother!! My girlfriend says I didn’t stand a chance with all the family history on his side!) . During the baptism, I cried as if someone had died …. There was just so much pain and angst for me around the entire issue. But, what do I really want for my children? I want them to have a higher power who they can depend on, who is loving and kind and gentle. I want them to have a spiritual life and have faith. One day they will decide what religion they want to practice and I will love them anyway! Thanks for sharing this post. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it all week!

  16. Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub, yay G-d! Ok, I read the Hebrew at the top and followed along ‘cuz it is a routine part of my life and I have loved watching my kids learn about it.

    There was a time when I was far more religious and then I sort of fell off of the derech which the fancy shmancy Yid way of saying I took a different route.

    Anyhoo, when I became a father it was very important to me that my kids learn about being Jewish, especially because on their mom’s side most of the cousins aren’t.

    That is not a knock against any other religion at all but it is not easy to be different from others when you are a kid and I wanted to make sure mine had a sense of where they come from. At some point down the road they may choose to go a different route but my thought was that it would be better to make an educated decision.

    One of the interesting things about it all has been listening to them tell me about what they learn and thinking about it as an adult. I am so much more skeptical and cynical now. But I have kind of enjoyed the personal exercise of thinking about these things and determining what I think and how I feel about it all.

    It really is a very personal thing.

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