“Boys, what do you think about this bumper sticker? Can I put it on the car?”
“Mom, could we have no bumper stickers?”
When I was driving my sons to their soccer practices and games, they preferred to keep my politics under wraps. No bumper stickers without their approval. While other cars proudly announced that the drivers were part of the military or members of the NRA or had children who were honor students or had children who could beat up your honor student, my kids asked me for plain vanilla bumpers. I honored their wishes.
Quakers Kids in a Military Town
It could not have been easy to be a Quaker kid in a conservative, military area. What we talked about at the dinner table and with other Friends was often at odds with what was happening in the community around us. While we talked about dismantling the military, the city worked to expand its several bases and attract more military contractors. We discussed honoring the rights of all people while a local school board banned clubs in high schools that supported gay and lesbian students. We also talked about how we can have different values from our neighbors and still see the Light of the Spirit in them.
As a parent, I want my kids to form their own views and grow into their values and politics. As a person of faith, I want to stay out of the way of the Spirit working in their lives. My commitment to nonviolence was no secret. Nonetheless we had conversations about the wars going on and the families we knew who were affected directly by them. The military families of their teammates were not the bad guys; they were people we stood on the sidelines with, shared rides with, laughed and cheered with several times a week for three seasons a year. Instead of shielding my sons from the military, I stood by them as they experienced different perspectives and attitudes.
Sure, we had some awkward moments. I had to retreat to my car one day when a parent made a “joke” about sexually assaulting a female peace activist. My son politely stepped out of conversations about what a fine officer he would make. Didn’t he want to attend a military academy for free instead of paying for college? My sons finally asked me to quit cheering on the sidelines. The aging hippy mom yelling, “You are marvelous and wonderful, go have some fun!” instead of “Get aggressive!” embarrassed them. I stopped.
Find Their Own Place
Eventually both of my sons stepped away from competitive soccer and fell in love with Ultimate Frisbee, a game much more in line with our family’s values. And it became just fine for me to have a bumper sticker or two. I still live in a very conservative area, and I don’t need to make my aging station wagon a target for road rage. But a “Peace for All” bumper sticker seems mild enough.
As my sons find their places in the world, I watch as the Spirit moves them to form and reveal their values. In some situations, they reveal their values in the ways that they live and treat others, and on other occasions, they openly express their opinions by opposing the death penalty or supporting immigrants’ rights. I listen and stay quiet as they tell me about what they are experiencing and coming to understand. The Spirit moves in my life as I learn from my children and get a glimpse into their worlds. I can’t wait to see what bumper stickers they put on their cars.