Hot dog


I really, really, really wanted a hotdog for lunch. It’s such a simple request, and I just didn’t understand why it could not be fulfilled. We had hotdogs in the fridge. We had water and pots and a stovetop where things could be boiled, so why wasn’t I enjoying a delicious hotdog for lunch? Well, my parents said that I couldn’t have one.


I was four-years-old at the time, if that helps with context at all. My developing brain just couldn’t wrap itself around my parents’ reasoning for why I couldn’t have a hotdog. I don’t remember what they were offering me instead, but it couldn’t have been nearly as good. They were saying something about healthier and sodium and chemicals, but four-year-old me was not trying to hear that noise. A hotdog was one of the most delicious things that I’d ever eaten, and I honestly couldn’t understand why we didn’t eat them twice a day every day.


My parents just wouldn’t fold, though. My deep desire for processed meat product could not sway them, and I was powerless to make my own hotdog. Even though I couldn’t even reach the stove, I wasn’t going to take this injustice quietly. I parked myself on the living room couch, folded my arms and frowned at nothing and no one in particular…quietly.


Now that I’m an adult who regularly cares for kids in homes and schools, this sounds like a dream situation. Well, a dream situation would be a child jumping for joy when presented with celery sticks and lean cold cuts for lunch, but this is a close second. A quiet, non-destructive temper tantrum, it’s the perfect moment to let natural consequences take their course. You’re at home, not in public, so you don’t need to worry about transporting the child to a car or other second location. The child isn’t destroying anything or causing bodily harm to herself or anyone else. The child is quiet and still and not in any immediate danger. It’s the perfect time to do one of my favorite things, wait out a stubborn kid. You fire up Netflix or grab the book on your bedside table and relax, because what kids don’t know is that adults are way better at waiting than they are. In some time, you will have a hungry and reticent child surrendering to baby carrots or kale chips or whatever you’re trying to feed them. Or you’ll have a child who wasn’t really that hungry go off to play and return to the kitchen hours later, actually rather happy to see apple slices or dried apricots or whatever. The best thing about waiting a kid out is that it’s a strategy that works over and over again. You’re going to have so much extra time on your hands, you’ll probably re-tile the bathroom or finally learn French.


Waiting out a kid who’s quietly frowning is preferable over sweeping up soupy mac and cheese after it’s been thrown across the kitchen, getting whacked in the face, being locked out of the house, or hearing an ominous cracking noise as glass chess pieces are being launched into the air, which are all things that have actually happened to me while I was performing in my professional capacity. While these experiences were daunting, and I was tempted to throw a response tantrum, recognizing that I was the adult in the situation, I responded with calm, understanding and patience. Okay, full disclosure, the glass chess piece thing did make me raise my voice, but that seven-year-old was not at all afraid of me.


Recollecting my childhood while simultaneously caring for children has brought me to one huge conclusion: I was a pretty good kid. I wasn’t perfect. I definitely had my moments, but sitting quietly and frowning is about as bad as my temper tantrums tended to get. What’s confounding is why my parents didn’t then respond to me with calm, understanding and patience. My memory of that afternoon on the couch, silently protesting the withholding of a hotdog, is that my dad came over and sat down next to me. His face looked like a thunderstorm, and suddenly I was frightened. He was so angry and so scary. He didn’t lay a hand on me, but he told me that I needed to stop it and go to the kitchen and eat some broccoli florets and be glad about it or else a spanking was coming. Cowed, I complied.


I learned then, to be scared. I learned that my own anger is unacceptable. I learned that people in power can always “out angry” me, and so I shouldn’t even try. And, if I do try I should be prepared to turn it up to 11. I learned that people wouldn’t be patient with me. I learned that I was bad for expressing my displeasure. I learned that I was bad for trying to get what I wanted, for trying to feel good. I learned that I was bad. I still carry these lessons with me today. Rather, I should say that I wearily drag these lessons behind me.


Adult me wants to scream back through the years, “It doesn’t have to be that big of a deal! You don’t have to make her feel like a bad kid! Just be patient! Just be kind! Just be nice! Just let her be a normal kid! Just let me be!”


My dad was not and is not nice. My mom lived and, even though they are no longer married, still lives underneath the weight of his impossible expectations of perfect obedience and complete deference. Neither of them could give me the space that I needed and still do need, the space to fuck up and then recover. I needed to be able to be imperfect and then look around and realize that the world was still standing and I was still breathing in spite of my imperfection. Since no one gave that to me as a child, I blundered into it as an adult.


Now I can peer back through the years and whisper to that little girl. “You’re doing fine. It’s okay that you’re angry. The anger won’t make things go your way, but feel it anyway. The anger isn’t a logical or rational response to this situation, but feel it anyway. Sit and frown. Don’t talk. It’s okay. Just feel. Feel that anger. Let it burn you up. Ride on the crests of your waves of indignation. There you go. That’s it. Don’t worry, you won’t drown. You’ll rise above it. You’ll breathe, and the anger will fade, and you’ll amble into the kitchen and enjoy some grilled cheese on whole wheat bread with iceberg lettuce salad, and no one will think any less of you for it. No one will love you any less even though you were less than perfect for awhile. There you go, you’re doing fine.”


Leaving Christianity with No Regrets


I’ve always been the kind of girl who wants to follow all the rules and get all the gold stars. Well, I was. I never wanted to make mistakes or be imperfect. I needed constant tangible proof to reassure me that I wasn’t a worthless failure. Being raised an evangelical conservative Christian was the perfect environment for a little girl constantly hungry for approval and praise. I remember my parents sitting me down when I was four-years-old and explaining that Jesus had died for my sins because he loved me. They told me that I needed to pray to him to forgive my sins and accept him into my heart. Even at that tender age, I understood perfectly what they were telling me. I latched on to the narrative of good and evil immediately. I wanted, needed, to be good. I was all in, 110%. They told me it was about the love of Jesus, but there wasn’t much love in my parents’ religion. There was an exacting demand for perfection. There were strict regulations and lines to stay inside. There was the looming specter of my inevitable inadequacy, my inescapable capacity to sin, and the grim realization that I could never repent enough.


So the constraints of my reality for the next twenty or so years were set. It was like my parents put me in a cage but left the door unlocked. Looking back, this seems a little rude. My parents took away my opportunity to determine what I believe for myself. I eventually reclaimed it as an adult, but after a whole lot of grief and guilt. Now that I’m a (mostly) functioning and reasoning adult, I don’t want to do that to a child. I know they were trying to do what they believed would be the best thing for me. To many Christian parents, not raising your children as God-fearing followers of Christ is like not teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street. You’re sending them out into the world without crucial life-saving knowledge. It’s like being a millionaire and leaving none of it to your children. You have a wonderful thing of immeasurable value, and you’re not sharing it with your beloved offspring.


I understand this mindset. I was raised in it. I was brought up to think that it would be better to die a Christian than to continue living as a non-believer. I once argued with a friend in college over whether or not it was wrong for Christian missionaries to go into foreign countries and preach the gospel to people who could be persecuted or even killed for converting. In my piety, I argued that it was better to spend eternity with Jesus than to never hear the “good news”. She argued that the missionaries were forcing their religion on people and endangering the lives of people already living in a difficult situation for no good reason. Now that I’ve grown up some more, I realize that she was right. (Sorry, Samira, this is my belated apology). I also realize that no matter how hard you try to pound religious beliefs into a child “for their own good” there will come a day when they will have to evaluate what they’ve been taught and choose their own beliefs. That day came for me, and it would have been easier if I hadn’t been told that to have doubts about the beliefs espoused to me and to make my own choices was to be evil and risk an eternity of torment. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it doesn’t work forever.


After two decades spent as a “believer” I did some serious self-evaluation and realized that I didn’t like being a Christian. A spiritual path is supposed to bring you meaning and fulfillment. It’s supposed to help you find peace and ground you amid the turmoil of life. It’s supposed to connect you with meaningful traditions and allow you to bond with people who share the same beliefs. Christianity didn’t do those things for me. For a long time I hated Christianity, because it was supposed to be everything for me, and it ended up being nothing. I still get angry sometimes, but the hate has faded away. It faded, because I realized that Christianity doesn’t have to be everything for me. I don’t have to be a Christian. That fact seems really simple, but it took me forever to figure it out. Christianity was not the spiritual path for me. It works for some people, which is great, but it’s not for everyone. Coming to that realization hurt so much, because it was pounded into my head that Christianity was the end all and be all. It was hard to rip those blinders off, but I felt so much better once I did. I felt better, because Christianity didn’t make me feel like I was part of a community where I belonged. It didn’t make me feel connected to a higher power and purpose. It made me feel ashamed, confined and frightened. By the time I left Christianity, I was completely disillusioned with it, which I think was actually a good thing. Illusions can be nice, but reality will always have to be confronted.


To be honest, sometimes I do miss Christianity. Then I have to look deep inside myself and ask what it is that I’m missing. I miss the idea of being right, no matter what. That was one of the strongest messages I got from Christianity: as long I was a Christian I was safe. What I believed was right and true. I wouldn’t go to hell. That’s what I miss, the constant reassurance that I’m safe and correct. When I dwell on that, though, those feelings don’t seem particularly healthy. It is impossible to have concrete proof that one spiritual path is any better than another. So, why do I need that? It is impossible to say what will happen when we die, so why do I need to know? Why do I need to obsess over whether I’m safe from hell or not? If being saved from a punishment that may not be real is my only motivation for being a Christian, is that worth it?


I decided that it wasn’t. I really have no idea what the truth is. I may spend eternity burning in hell. Jesus could be frowning at me right now. However, it just wasn’t worth it to keep adhering to a religion that I felt wasn’t contributing positively to my life. The funny thing is, growing up, I was always told that being a Christian was the best thing that could ever happen to a person. Being a Christian was, supposedly, the only way to find peace and fulfillment. Ironically, I feel much more peaceful now that I’m no longer a Christian. Christianity was stressing me the fuck out, and I’m grateful that stress is gone from my life. When I left Christianity I finally had a chance to take a breath and think about what is really important to me, what contributes to my feelings of satisfaction in life. I realized that the most important things to me are putting positive energy out into the world, connecting with other people, doing my best not to harm others but instead doing what I can to ease suffering. Those things are definitely compatible with Christianity, but they aren’t exclusive to it or any religion. Realizing that gave me the sense of freedom in my life that I had been looking for, that, for so long, I felt Christianity actually blocked me from. It feels good.   

Chicago Missive No. 2

Dear Fellow Commuters,


It’s rush hour. It’s been a long day, and we’re all tired. What did you do all day: consulting, executive assisting, banking, lawyering, telemarketing? That’s nice. I spent the day chasing young children around. If it was a good day, they also learned something. Well, this seat I’m in sure is comfy. It’s such a shame that you don’t have a seat, too. You know what you should’ve done? You should’ve gotten on the train at 63rd and the Dan Ryan, like I did. Oh, you’ve never been that far south before? You’re worried that if you go that far south you’ll get shot? I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you. There are so few white people in Englewood, especially white people wearing business casual, that everyone would just stare at you in confusion until the CPD rolled up and asked you if you were lost or trying to buy drugs.


Wow, this seat feels nice. It was so easy to get, too. When I got on the red line, right smack dab in the middle of the hood, there were so many seats open. Every time you get on the train at Grand at 6pm, it’s already jam-packed, and you end up clutching the overhead bar and trying not to stumble over some dude’s loafer-clad feet. That never happens to me.


Oh, are your feet sore? Is your back aching? Sorry, I’m just savoring this. This is the only time that the racial and socioeconomic segregation of Chicago communities works in my favor. If only you had gotten on the train in the hood, you too could be enjoying a seat right now. Oh well, sucks to be you, attractive, well-educated white person in your twenties or thirties with a middle- to high-income job. At least, for 90-minutes of daily commuting it sucks to be you.


Here we are at Fullerton. It’s time for me to get off. You can have my seat now. My black ass kept it nice and warm for you. Enjoy the rest of your night. Hopefully, by the time I’m finishing up seeing my therapist and heading back to 63rd you’ll be finishing up dinner or an evening workout or this evening’s episode of The Daily Show. Good luck putting your kids to bed, doing some data entry left over from work today, and/or discussing with your partner whether you should buy holiday plane tickets this month or next month. Take care, and if you’re ever feeling adventurous, come visit us on the South Side. You can get some pretty nice leggings and t-shirts for super cheap at the beauty supply store and stock up on raw shea butter. I know you don’t think that you need shea butter, but, trust me, your knees and elbows will thank me. Also, parking is way easier down here. Oh wait, I guess you don’t have a car. That’s why you’re standing on a train at 6:30pm. Well, see ya later.




Wednesday Quansah