Human interest story – Kayla Branch

Once a year, Madison Elementary School’s gymnasium is filled with dancing students, cultural displays and traditional food.

Madison hosts a multicultural fair to educate students and celebrate cultures of the world — some of which are represented at the school.

“At the beginning of the year, we make a list of all the students we have and where they’re from and then we give each grade a culture to study,” said Mary Neff, a teacher at Madison for the last 28 years. “So there are a lot of students who are able to dress in their traditional outfits and it’s just really really nice.”

Since the 1950s, the school has been home to a diverse set of students from all over the world.

Nestled between two neighborhoods a few blocks southeast of OU’s campus, the school serves a large population of students whose parents are affiliated with the university in some way, either as faculty, staff or student.

The neighborhoods closest to Madison consist of rental properties and owner-occupied homes, some duplexes and a small apartment complex.

The most important feature the majority of these residences share is that they are cheap, which has been integral in allowing students with families to live near the university and for their children to go to school at Madison.

With OU so close and slowly coming closer, it is unknown what Madison might look like in the next 10 to 20 years, said Dominic Barone, principal of the school.


OU is collecting residences surrounding Madison as they go up for sale and has acquired roughly 10 properties so far in the neighborhood east of Headington Hall, which itself was once land that housed a small retail center and several single-family residences before being bought and torn down by OU, said press secretary Matt Epting in an email.

Nick Hathaway, OU’s executive vice president and vice president of administration and finance, said the university could see continued expansion in its future, even after the addition of the Residential Colleges and the Cross Neighborhood, located towards the east and the south of campus, that will open in fall 2018.

“It’s expected that the university might need room for expansion… And specifically in that neighborhood, that is something that is not a mystery to anyone that that is an area we see as a potential expansion zone,” Hathaway said. “So we’ve been acquiring property there very passively over the last 15 years or so.”

These houses are sometimes used as rental homes for faculty or graduate students with families, Hathaway said.

The neighborhood, formally known as Hardie-Rucker, was once home to an extension of OU housing, a grouping of apartments called Parkview, Epting said. These apartments housed a large population of OU’s international students and students with families, but were torn down in 2006 and those living there were relocated to the Kraettli apartments, Epting said.

The demolition came after the apartments were no longer useful to the university and no longer met the standard of living that OU promotes, Hathaway said.

“It makes me kind of sad to think that that’s where we housed international students or that it was known that way,” Hathaway said. “We want the experience for all students to be better.”

While the lower standard of living at Parkview posed some concerns, these apartments were cheaper, allowing student parents to pay for tuition and raise a family with less worry, Neff said.

“A lot of our families are looking for rentals or things that are really cheap because everything else is just too expensive,” Neff said. “These are students, they’ve got tuition payments and they just can’t afford these things.”

These apartments were removed and the students moved to nicer, more expensive university housing more than a decade ago. Today, roughly 79 percent of Madison’s student population qualifies for free or reduced lunches, Barone said. In 2015, 53.7 percent of students in the NPS district qualified for free or reduced lunches, according to National Center for Education Statistics data.

The issue of cost in the international community and for students with families is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by OU, though, Hathaway said.

“I think paying for housing is one component of paying for the OU experience,” Hathaway said. “But we need to make sure that in that exchange of funds where they are paying tuition and fees and housing that we’re able to provide them a housing experience that makes them satisfied and that’s something we’ll have to monitor going forward, to make sure that we haven’t put international students in a situation where they feel that they can’t afford something or that they are limited to a certain number of choices.”


Madison is one of 17 elementary schools in the Norman Public School district, and with roughly 400 students, it is one of the smaller ones, Barone said.

The school’s boundaries extend just east of Jenkins Avenue and west towards the railroad tracks, with Lindsey Street as the north border and the land south of Highway 9 as the southern border. This area gives the school only a few residential neighborhoods to draw from, even with NPS’s open transfer policy.

The school has a mobile population, Barone said, with kids moving in and out of the area because their parents are international students at OU or their housing situations forced them to move.

This international population brings diversity to the school, he said, with roughly 15 percent of students speaking a second language, with up to 13 different languages being spoken at the school in total.

The majority of students who attend the school are low-income, which qualifies Madison as a Title I school, allowing it to receive extra funds for things like tutors and teaching specialists, Barone said.

“We’re just trying to level the playing field in terms of funding for those kiddos that are coming and that are in need, some from environments or homes where they may not have as much as some of the other students have,” Barone said.

There are still some students who come from more substantial means, since the school’s boundaries stretch out towards Highway 9 where there is newer, more expensive housing, Barone said.

“We have a big mix here, as far as the different backgrounds the kids bring into the classroom,” Barone said.

Being located close to campus has its benefits, Neff said. Volunteers flood into the school, helping put on carnivals and reading to students who need more one on one time, she said.

Tami Althoff, a writer for the marketing department in OU’s college of professional and continuing studies and parent of two children who attend Madison, said her kids have truly enjoyed getting to spend time around college students and participate in events like Madison’s multicultural fair.

“The fair is one of their favorite events,” Althoff said. “Each grade learns about a different country and then they set up booths and there is food and dancing and it’s really great for these kids to be exposed to all of these different cultures.”

The school is also able to take advantage of the university as a progressive hub of ideas, Barone said, using it to have access to new techniques and methods in teaching. But even though there are benefits, being this close to an expanding university and its impact on affordable housing has been difficult, Barone said.

“It has been difficult for our families, as far as finding a place,” Barone said. “We want consistent experiences for our kids because the more consistent their housing is, the stronger they’ll be here. If a child is worried about where they’re living, they’re not going to be focused on learning the A, B, C’s.”

While it may not happen soon, the thought that the original neighborhoods surrounding Madison will someday be torn down is a sad one, Althoff said.

“These neighborhoods have always contributed to Madison, so to have it gone someday is sad,” Althoff said. “My husband lived on McKinley and went to Madison when he was younger, so that traditional landscape and how people filter into the area and the school would be lost.”

The future of the school looks good for now, Barone said, adding that he believes Madison and other schools like it help bring together the surrounding areas.

“I can’t imagine uprooting a school like this,” Barone said. “We are a pretty big piece of the fabric that makes Norman Norman. The city is unique because our schools reflect the communities they are nestled into and that speaks to the spirit of our community – a community of haves and have not’s, a community that is international – there are a lot of wonderful things about this school.”


Blocked in: One neighborhood’s journey with OU expansion


Tucked in the southeast corner of the University of Oklahoma’s campus complex sit eight blocks on the precipice of change.

East of Jenkins Avenue and south of Lindsey Street is the area known as the Hardie-Rucker neighborhood, where housing sprang up post World War II for veterans returning to school. It has since transitioned to a community boxed in by OU in every direction, according to a survey prepared for the city of Norman by Jo Meacham Associates.

OU’s main campus lines the west side of Hardie-Rucker, while athletic facilities and the Duck Pond are perched to the north. A field of OU-owned land, as well as railroad tracks, lay to the east and recreation fields partially owned by OU, along with a Norman park, make up the southern border.

There are four main streets in the neighborhood — Lincoln Avenue, Garfield Avenue, McKinley Avenue and George Avenue — and as OU has grown, parts of the neighborhood have been used for university facilities. This includes the southeastern block of Jenkins and Lindsey, which now holds Headington Hall, a freshman and athletic dorm.

Campus casts a growing shadow on Hardie-Rucker, literally and figuratively, as OU buildings inch closer and houses in the area are bought by OU’s Board of Regents.

Below are stories from residents still living in the area and their perspectives on how OU’s expansion will change the neighborhood they call home.

The students: Cheyanne Weller and Kayla Brandt

For the last three and a half months, Cheyanne Weller and Kayla Brandt have been adjusting to life inside of a house rather than in a dorm.

Weller, an early education sophomore, met Brandt, a health and exercise science sophomore, when they became roommates during their freshman year at OU in 2016. Now, the two live on Garfield Avenue with one other roommate.

After a friend of a friend graduated, the house was left open and Weller said it was a great fit.

“We only looked at this house because we knew someone who lived here before, but we really like it and how close it is to campus,” Weller said. “I didn’t even have to get a parking pass, which is wonderful because they’re so expensive so I can just walk.”

Garfield is dotted with ‘For Rent’ signs in some yards and cars parked along the street; most of the houses are close to the same size — a post-WWII square build.

Weller said rent is cheap — $1000 a month, split between three roommates — and their three bed, one bath house has a large backyard and the right amount of indoor space for their two dogs.

This is unlike OU’s recently opened Residential Colleges directly to the east of Hardie-Rucker, in which a similar floor plan would cost $5,499 a semester and no pets are allowed, not including service animals, according to the Residential Colleges website.

The street has been a welcoming place to live so far, with a mix of other students and some families, so the thought that it could be changed by the construction habits of the university is a sad one, Weller said.

“I’ll be really disappointed if that happens,” Weller said. “Dorms are OK, but you don’t get the space, you don’t get to have pets. It’s just really nice to have an actual house.”

While having more living options can be a positive, Brandt said there should be other priorities for the university, such as updating and increasing classroom space.

“You go and sit in Dale Hall with torn up seats but they build new places for people to live with nowhere for those people to park,” Brandt said. “I understand that they are trying to give students that option of where to live, but you can’t take away other options too. Not everyone can afford to or wants to live on campus all four years.”

The staffer: Kyle Davies

The dinosaur displays at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History have been through an extensive process of cleaning and filing, which was probably done by Kyle Davies.

Davies is a fossil preparator, meaning he helps collect, clean and prepare fossil specimens for study or display, and has lived in Hardie-Rucker for the last 20 years, he said.

“I came to Norman in the late 1990’s and moved into this neighborhood because it was only two blocks away from where my work building was,” Davies said.

First, Davies said he lived in a rental property on the edge of the Hardie-Rucker area, but now has moved to McKinley Avenue in his own home, which he thinks is becoming more rare in the area.

“After living here for a few years, I found that I liked the neighborhood and so when I decided to buy a house, I hunted around in this neighborhood,” Davies said. “It’s a nice, quiet neighborhood that’s close to campus. It is a little isolated, which may seem like a strange thing to say, but we’re really the only residential space left in this particular area.”

Davies said those that live on his street permanently are suspicious that OU will buy many of the properties in the neighborhood and build over it.

Currently, OU’s Board of Regents owns roughly 10 houses in the area, along with the Headington Hall dorms and multiple lots for parking, according to the Cleveland County Assessor’s website. If the area is bought and demolished by OU, relocation or retirement could be in his future, he said.

“Things change all the time and as things continue to grow, they will need to grow the university, so I’ll just have to accept it when it happens,” Davies said. “When the time comes, I’ll have to relocate or maybe I’ll even be retired by then. It’ll take time. The joke goes that we still have a few blocks before they get to us.”

The local: Steve Vixen

Handmade wooden furniture with varying price tags are positioned around Steve Vixen’s front yard during OU game days.

Vixen, a long time resident of Norman and over 20 year resident of McKinley Avenue, is a carpenter who spends his free time collecting reclaimed wood from projects he’s worked on and turning it into chairs and benches and tables.

He’s given benches to neighbors and helped renovate houses on the street, but Vixen’s ties to the neighborhood go deeper than friendly gestures.

“We bought this place because of my brother, Mark,” Vixen said. “Mark has cerebral palsy, but he’s been able to work at OU throughout the years. We got this place so he could have a home and still get to work by himself.”

Vixen and Mark live together now, and Vixen said the neighborhood is a positive place to be, mainly because of the diversity of residents.

“We’re really close to campus, so there is always an eclectic group of people who live here and I enjoy it,” Vixen said. “I like living next to the college students actually, there was a kid just the other day who’s an engineering student that came over and asked me to help him build a rocket. So that was pretty cool.”

Hardie-Rucker is changing though, Vixen said, as some of the older residents pass away and as OU collects more and more homes.

“The older man who lived next door to me recently passed away and his wife is still there, but I really expect her to sell out to OU sometime soon,” Vixen said. “If you really think about it, we’re basically on campus since we’re surrounded by OU property and they buy these houses, too. We’re all just waiting for OU to come in and buy us up.”

As that time comes closer, Vixen said he and Mark are hoping to last as long as possible in the neighborhood.

“We’re hoping to hold out,” Vixen said. “Mark is getting older and the fact that he can get out and around campus for a few hours a day is really good. We’ll miss it, we’ve really enjoyed the neighborhood.”

Story behind the story – Andrea Eger

Andrea Eger has worked in the same Oklahoma town for close to 18 years.

After working at the Oklahoman as the night and weekend cops reporter during her senior year of college at the University of Oklahoma, Eger began working at the Tulsa World.

Eger started reporting on cops for The World in 1999 and then moved on to education, and is now on the special projects team, where she spends most of her time working on in-depth enterprise pieces.

“Projects reporting is very different than it used to be because our staffing levels are lower,” Eger said. “So I still do some education reporting. Everybody ends up having some other responsibility.”

One of Eger’s most recent enterprise articles, “’I need to be disturbed’: Sex assaults around campus prompt TU president to ‘make things right,’” was published Sept. 23, 2017, and focuses on how the new administration at the University of Tulsa is trying to change the campus culture around sexual assault amid a string of sexual assault cases.

The World had been reporting on the various cases and the projects team decided to write a longer story over the issue, Eger said.

“We knew that their (reported sexual assaults) had gone up sky high,” Eger said. “As the situation compounded, we started talking about what a story would look like.”

Eger said she went to TU President Gerard Clancy first, a practicing psychologist who was the previous OU-Tulsa president and took over TU’s presidency in November 2016, to talk about what he was doing to address these issues.

“I said that I wasn’t there for any spin on the situation and I just wanted to know what they were going to do about it,” Eger said. “I asked what are some things that people don’t know that he’s done, and that’s how I got the detail about him wanting to be alerted in the middle of the night if one of his students had been sexually assaulted.”

After Clancy, Eger went on to interview the editor of TU’s student paper, the Collegian, as well as talking with various student activists, the campus’ sexual assault investigator and a victim who had written an open letter to the university. Eger also spent extensive time looking over sexual assault data that could contribute context to her story.

“I got a lot more data than I actually used,” Eger said. “There was a judgement call on what to include, so some of it didn’t make it into the final piece, but I thought the context was really vital so people could see the drastic changes in how many sexual assaults had occurred on the campus.”

The reporting process took roughly six weeks, which included some follow-up interviews and some interviews that were not included, Eger said, and the story was written in about three days.

“I think the most difficult part was making sure that I got the right attitude or temperature of how things are on the campus, because things had been heated and people were voicing their outrage,” Eger said. “Now, students all over told me that they think things will be handled differently and better by the new administration and so they want to give them a chance to do the right thing. So I had to be careful.”

Even though reporting on the sexual assaults was difficult, it was also necessary to shed light on the negative situations so close to home, Eger said.

“I’ve worked in this city for almost 18 years and when you work in a place long enough, you see this sense of investment and ownership and you really care,” Eger said. “I think most of us care when our work makes a difference and when we help our communities. I live here and it’s a terrible thing that happened and you want to hold people accountable and help to find a change.”

Q&A: Sports, dudes and Abby Bitterman by Kayla Branch

Political science and journalism junior Abby Bitterman is a self-proclaimed “hype woman.”

After coming to the University of Oklahoma from Chicago, she joined a sorority but also ended up at OU’s student newspaper, the OU Daily, where her bubbly personality has become an important asset.

Describe yourself to me – what’s one thing you think stands out?

I have a lot of energy.

A lot of energy? Okay.

Yeah, I think that’s a really accurate description. I’m involved in a lot of things, I may be a little overextended *laughs* but I enjoy having a lot to do and when I don’t, I have this sense that I need to be doing something.

I know that you work for the OU Daily as a football reporter, so tell me what that’s like, being a female football reporter. 

I feel like sometimes… Well like last Wednesday, there was availability and it was my week to go and the people were asking questions and then at one point, I thought about it and looked around the room and I was the only woman there. And it was fine, but I just thought, “Hm, that’s interesting,” and there aren’t a lot of women on the beat in general. I think it’s something where I don’t feel that I’m competing with them more or trying to prove that I’m better than them just because I’m a woman, I just think that it’s something I’ve always been conscious of. Like even though the guys are cool and I’ve made friends with a lot of them, it’s something that’s there and I’ll notice sometimes.

Right, do you think that any of the male reporters or the players notice that too? 

Yeah, I think that it’s easier for them to remember who we are because there is less of us *laughs* but sometimes people are creepy and that’s something we all notice.

So there are issues that some reporters have to deal with and others don’t? 

Yeah, as a woman who’s a sports reporter, there are definitely a lot of issues that you have to deal with that other reporters don’t have to deal with. I know a lot of women sports reporters who get harassed more than the men sports reporters. So that’s a big difference.

Definitely. And jumping back to the energetic personality you mentioned earlier, do you think that has helped you deal with those differences at all? 

I think it is helpful because it lets me connect with people better, but I’ve always just been better friends with guys. I’m not very reserved, so it’s easy for me to go out and talk with people.

Right, and why do you think you’re better at being friends with guys? 

I think I just, it starts with sports. I’m really good at talking about sports, but I’m also really low key sometimes. As much as I’m high key, I barely understand how to do makeup. My roommates are girly and I just don’t care about a lot of the things they care about. I don’t care about the Kardashians or what happened on the Real House Wives and I like to talk about sports. It’s easy to start talking about sports with dudes.

Yeah, that makes sense. Is it weird for you to live with girls who are super girly? 

It’s really whatever cause I’m used to it but sometimes they have conversations that I think, “I literally could not care less. I’m just trying to watch this baseball game.”

That’s funny. Sometimes I feel the opposite, where I don’t understand a lot of boys who are talking about sports. Have you ever tried to explain it to someone? 

Yeah. I have one friend where we would go to football games together and something would happen and she would ask what it meant and I would explain it. I think I might have turned them into big football girls. I don’t have a problem explaining it to other people cause I know not everyone cares that much about it like me but I’ll explain it if they want to know.

Essay: Within and without – my struggle with religion


“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” — Matt. 25:35-36

When I was 12, I spent a week at the office desk in my childhood home practicing for an interview.

I wrote out my favorite Bible verses, completed the applications, printed my testimony, recited what I might say.

My youth group leader was interviewing the students in our Southern Baptist church who showed the most spiritual promise, leadership, drive to further the kingdom. Those selected would go to an exclusive religious summer camp – three services a day, three small group sessions a day and an hour of free time at night.

I would attend this summer camp for six years.


“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” — 1 Cor. 11:8-9

My oldest sister is 16 years my senior. We look identical, have similar personalities, have a close bond. I remember her boyfriends, high school and college. But until much later in my life I didn’t learn that my youth group leader once pursued her.  


He lived in our small town and would call, show up at our house, corner her if they ran into each other.

How strange, that the man who is in the position to lead and teach a group of blossoming young people aggressively pursued my sister, knowing she was uninterested and uncomfortable.

The realization was gradual, but I noticed it all at once. Why do these males act entitled and feel like they have ownership of me? It probably has a little something to do with what they are taught in the church.


“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” — Matt. 5:16

When I was 15 and a freshman in high school, it was my personal duty to minister to the other girls at school. But really just the popular girls, the pretty girls, the “successful” girls. The girls who “got it,” and just understood their place.  

So I hung out with these girls and brought them to church on Sundays and Wednesdays.

Subsequently, I had meetings with the leaders of the church on the spiritual well being of many other people who visited our youth group.

I was to be a light and an example, they told me. Jesus had blessed me and I was to use these blessings – a smart brain, a pretty face – to further his reach.

It’s OK to be promote yourself if you’re doing it in the name of God, they said.

So someone is supposed to look at me and realize how good of a person I am and then trace that back to the fact that I’m a Christian and want to know more? No, people don’t do that. They do see the network of whispers and comments and ostracization when they are reported to the pastors, though.


“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” — Isaiah 30:21

People talked a lot about “being called by the spirit” and “feeling God’s presence” when I was growing up, but it never made sense to me. If God talked to people out loud in the Old Testament, why hadn’t he done it in modern human history since? Can you really know it’s God, or is it just your moral conscience telling you what to do?

“There are no morals without God,” my mom would say.

“What about all the good people who don’t believe in God?” I would respond.

An angry look usually ended that conversation.

But still, I never heard that voice my entire life. I tried and I prayed and I journaled and I sang and I read the Bible every day for a year.

Still nothing.

Once, during my year of earnest effort to live my life for the Lord, I even participated in a ritual at the special summer camp I went to where I dedicated my future to the service of the Lord. I was to go into ministry.

I stayed late after the main service ended and spoke with a special counselor who could help guide me during this moment of heavenly movement. I filled out a card and received a devotional packet to study and to send in when I completed the various questionnaires.

Everyone told me how wonderful it must be to have heard and answered the call of God.

I was really thinking this might be the best way to travel and sing in front of large crowds as a Christian musician. I never sent in that packet.

Why would a person pretend to hear something or feel something they don’t? It’s about fitting in and trying to image they don’t have real issues to deal with.


“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” — Eph. 5:22-24

When I was 16, my mom started to teach my Sunday School class. Most of the girls in my class were my friends, so they had been to my house and been around my mom.

My mom is wonderful. She would cook and clean and take care of me and my siblings and all our friends without any help from my dad. Every one of us loved her.

We told her that we wanted to learn applicable things from the Bible, not the boring stuff about who begat who and why sinners need to go to hell. So she bought a godly book on dating.

For 45 minutes every Sunday morning, we would learn how to be godly girls and how to get godly boys to like us and how we should repent after letting those boys take advantage of us. What more could you ask for?

Is my purpose to be decorative, a sidekick to better and stronger men? No, it isn’t. But that isn’t for lack of trying on the church’s part.


“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — John 8:32

A boy in one of my high school history classes who thought it was funny to tell me to be quiet when I would answer questions or interject when we had class discussions.

“The Bible says women are to be silent. Look it up,” he would say with a giggle, as I got angry.

I asked my mom about that, about why the Bible would really approve of something so clearly ignorant.

“That’s a very old verse, a lot of the things in the Old Testament don’t apply,” she said.

Except I’d always been told you couldn’t follow God only halfway, that being lukewarm was worse than being cold.

So could a ‘true’ Christian dismiss things they don’t agree with? The answer is yes, apparently. But I was so sure in my thought of all or nothing, so what was I to do?


“And Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him.” — Mark 12:17

When I was 18, I told my mom I wouldn’t be going to summer camp. We fought.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“Why are you forcing this on me?” I responded.

Instead, I spent that summer working before I went to college. This was a new freedom I had never had – to make my own decisions.

I never questioned authority while growing up. “It’s just the way it is,” I would tell myself.

But I had good ideas, I had solutions, I had compromises. So I spoke them. Why did I then become ‘bossy,’ ‘loud,’ ‘confrontational?’

I wasn’t the only one who had experiences like this, but no one else I spoke with tried to change it.

I think it was comfortable, to be told what to do. From parents to teachers to boyfriends to religion, everyone was just being told what to do, even if they didn’t agree.

Why should I give up having a say in my life? I was no longer comfortable to simply be shepherded around my own life by God and by men.


“And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” — 1 Tim. 2:14-15

When I turned 20, I went to the state fair with my mom, as was a birthday tradition.

Our relationship had become much better throughout the two years it had been since the summer I left for college, since I stepped away from organized religion.

I’d been exploring my own thoughts about what mattered and what life was about, very abstract thoughts. I wasn’t and still am not sure who I am, there isn’t really anyone I’m “supposed to be.” But I’ve found answers to some of my questions (the earth is older than 6,000 years) and I’ve become more compassionate and empathetic and I’ve begun to deal with experiences in my life that I had always been told were normal or “just the way things are.”

On our way there, our conversation kept circling back to feminism and women’s rights.

My mom had always been somewhat conservative, but her and my dad had recently separated and I think she was ready for a change.

The longer I’ve stayed away from church, the more I’ve been able to see how religion – in my hometown, in my school, in my family, in my life – was a way to be controlled, was a way to control the system in general. Was it just me?

“I think having a child is one of the most oppressive things that can happen to a woman,” I said.

“Why would you say that?” my mom asked quietly, slightly offended. She had given her life to her five children since she was 18.

I explained how women are usually expected to leave the workforce to help raise children; how every year a woman is gone, she is expected to earn less for the rest of her life, on top of the already decreased pay she has when compared to a man; how women are left to do their real jobs and most of the domestic jobs like raising the kids and cleaning the house.

“Women want to leave their jobs,” my mom said. “All the women I know wanted to quit working so they could be home with their children. They missed them so much.”

“You really think that all women want to quit the jobs they worked so hard for? You’ve told me so many times that you wished you had worked for the 30 plus years you were raising children, that you felt like you had no identity.”

I went on to explain how women are usually expected to quit their jobs because it makes sense that the person who earns less would quit, and that just so happens to be a woman; how child care is too expensive; how fathers aren’t given comparable paternity leave; how old men have made this system that supports and benefits them the most.

How I think religion has contributed to that.

How strange it was for my mom, a woman who was, who is the embodiment of a traditional woman who quit her job to raise her kids when her husband wouldn’t and who was continually taken advantage of, to look at me instead of the road and agree.

We still had 20 minutes before we got to the fair, but we had just traversed mountains and oceans in one 10-minute conversation. I was validated and she was liberated.

Was it wrong to feel this way, to have this distance between me and any religious belief? Some might say so, but I don’t.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?’” — John 16:31.