My daughters are 12 and 13. They take a lot of classes at the homeschool enrichment center through our public school system. We joke that our homeschooling is mostly on-the-way-to-school-schooling because almost every day on the way to school something comes up in conversation on which I give some exposition.
Some months ago, early in my explorations as a recovering fundamentalist, during one of these extemporaneous lectures, one daughter summed up my explanation of growing up fundy as “living in the fear bubble”. The phrase has become a family word for the fundamentalist paradigm that results from being afraid of everything Out There and wanting to control the fear by following some magic formula.
Today on the way to school we got to talking about how living in bubbles isn’t just a religious thing. After I left Christianity, I didn’t start breathing fresh air, I simply stepped into a new bubble whose rules weren’t theological but were educational (Waldorf, Montessori) and nutritional (Nourishing Traditions, Michael Pollan). We reminisced about my days of being violently anti-Barbie dolls, plastic toys, and most television; how I maintained rather rigid rules about organic food, no sugar, making our own flour. I had, upon being pressed, to admit to continuing to hold all these ideals as virtues but we all agreed that I no longer see them in such black-and-white, all-or-nothing polarities.
The turning point, I said, came when I got sick three years ago and it became so obvious that following the nutritional advice from the expert that was guaranteed to bring me health instead made me much sicker and way crazier than I’d been before I sought help. After that, I was just too ill to maintain my bubble—everyone had to feed themselves, educate themselves, take care of themselves—and I realized that, for the most part, everyone thrived on a mixture of healthy and crap food, that how they related to their toys was much more important than what materials they were made of, and that television had an awful lot to offer.
But now that I have recognized how much of my life as a daughter and as a parent I have spent living in a bubble and I’ve consciously stepped away from the bubble, I am struggling to breathe that fresh air outside. (The fresh air metaphor is not mine; it is my younger daughter’s.) I agreed that when one has been brought up having to accommodate some deformity of environment, there is great difficulty in learning to accept and physically use the healthy environment.
At this point, general discussion wound down as I got revved up on a lecture. I brought up an experiment on cats wherein the kittens were raised in specialized environments in which there were only vertical lines or only horizontal lines. When the cats were allowed into normal environments that had both vertical and horizontal lines, the cats were functionally blind to the lines they had not been accommodated to seeing. They literally could not see what was right there in front of them. (From the back seat, there was a glazed-eye gaze and a white-noise hum, but I paid no attention and forged on.)
I extrapolated to my daughters’ upcoming teen years. My only reference points to teen-age girl development are my own teen years in fundy evangelicalism, the waldorf education paradigm that can be just as isolating and legalistic as religion that I had gravitated to for their earlier years, and the extreme negative pole of the promiscuous partier that was what the bubbles are designed to avoid. Obviously, between my reference points is the huge arena of Normal Teen Stuff that my girls will inhabit but, since I’m so entrained to the extremes, I really can’t see what that might be. I concluded my lecture with the acknowledgement that we will all three of us be exploring normal-teenager together.
The silence was complete.
“So, uh, when did you guys quit listening?” My overachiever first child assured me that she had still sorta listened because sometimes I give pop quizzes on my lectures. Both girls quickly started volunteering keywords that they remembered—cat? bubbles? blindness?—so I asked, “did you at least get the take-home point?”
“You’re not normal?”
“We’re horizontal lines?”
“She’s horizontal and I’m vertical but you’re so used to seeing crosses that you can only see half of us?”