The “Out” Parent
guest column by Noell Hyman
This column also appears in the March 19 issue of Humanist Network News.
I walked into my child’s preschool one day right before class was to let out. There was a lobby full of parents and one of them raised her voice above the crowd to say to me, “I noticed your license plate says AGMOM. What does that mean?”
Those of you who have read my articles or blog will recognize it as my blog name, Agnostic Mom. While most of my friends know about this, it wasn’t something I wanted to shout across a crowded room of parents at my child’s preschool. Yet there they all were, staring at me, curious.
I had figured out an evasive strategy for these types of situations. It goes like this. 1) Give a vague, answer, like “Oh, it’s just a blog name I used to use.” 2) Immediately change the subject. For example, “What are the kids doing? I was so worried I’d be late today because I was…”
My strategy, which I only used in the most threatening situations, seemed to work until the principal of my older children’s elementary school took notice of the plates. Thanks to my state’s Open Enrollment policy, my kids attend a progressive public school that is outside of our district. But don’t get the wrong idea. The school is progressive by Mormon-dominated Mesa, Arizona standards, and most of the students are Mormon or active in some other Christian religion.
As I was dropping my kids off at the front of the school one morning, the principal, always happy and enthusiastic, swung the car door open for the kids to get out and asked me, “What does AGMOM mean?”
I gave my usual “blog name” response, but before I could move on to strategy step number two he persisted, “But what does the AG stand for?”
I had one of those moments where the world somehow pauses for you while a page worth of thoughts and images swim through your mind. This is the argument happening in my mind during that moment:
He can easily kick my kids out of this school or not allow them back next year.
Yeah, but he’s progressive and liberal in his philosophies.
Progressive or not, he’s a Mormon and a believer.
But he has filled the school with non-Mormon teachers…he’s got a reputation for openness.
I blurted it out, “It means Agnostic Mom.”
He got a look on his face that suggested a realization he had probed in the wrong place; as if to say, “Sorry for making you answer that. It’s really not my business.”
He waved goodbye, and immediately the librarian stopped me to say hi. “What does your license plate mean?”
I couldn’t believe it. Twice within a minute? But the worst was done. The man with the power to end the type of education that is perfect for my children already knows what it means. Nothing else matters now.
“It means Agnostic Mom,” I said, and flashed the librarian a big smile.
Surprised, he let me go, and life has continued as usual. My children were accepted to return to the school next year and even my preschooler will get to start in August for kindergarten.
While Arizona is conservative, the state leans libertarian. Even most Mormons follow a “Live and Let Live” mentality. Things might have gone differently if we were living in Kansas, a part of the less-tolerant Bible-Belt where I finished high school. But after five years of telling people I’m atheist or agnostic (whichever term I feel like using at the time) I have not lost a friend and neither have my children. They have chosen to be open about not believing in gods, as well.
Once in a while there is even a surprise response. Like the time my daughter replied to a cafeteria discussion of Jesus with, “I don’t believe in Jesus.” Her closest friend, whose mother I befriended more than two years prior, answered, “I don’t either.”
In all those play dates when we swapped ideas on vegetarianism, environmentalism, travel and arts, religion never came into our minds. I had no idea. So when my daughter told me her story, I called and the mother was just as surprised and delighted as I was.
Then last week, my washer repairman asked me what my license plate means and I told him, “Agnostic Mom.”
A smile grew on his face and he practically shouted, “You don’t believe in god?” I laughed, “No.” And suddenly he wouldn’t stop talking, like I was the first person in years he could share his stories with.
I can’t think of a circumstance now where I wouldn’t feel comfortable answering a question about my license plate. Venturing into that territory has been a positive thing for me. Introducing believers to a happy godless person is a positive thing for everyone.
Noell Hyman (pictured with son Aiden) is a stay-at-home mom of three children, living in Mesa, Arizona. The once-blogger for AgnosticMom.com, was a regular columnist for Humanist Network News. She is the author of two articles in Parenting Beyond Belief. She now blogs and podcasts on her favorite subject, which is the visual art of story-telling through scrapbooking. Visit Noell at Agnostic Mom or at Paperclipping.