And I wouldn’t care what anyone else thought of it

And so it is done. Though there were months during my blogging honeymoon that I posted 40-50 times in thirty days, this month, this November, has just about quenched my desire to EXPRESS MYSELF.

I know my youngest sister would find that hard to believe. Once Mary and Karen and I were driving along a dark road and I told them something I’d been thinking about for awhile. Karen asked if I just say everything that pops into my head, and I reassured her that I refrain from saying at least nine out of ten of the things that pop into my head.

I wondered today, as we did the usual Sunday things, what I would write on this the last day of the great NaBloPoMo (a day so significant that, yea, verily I say unto you, nearly 99.99% of all the earths’ inhabitants have never even dreamed of being aware of it).

What would you write if you only had one more month to live? And you can’t say “A letter to my family telling them how much I love them.” Pretend you’ve already done that. Or that your family, you know, knows that you love them, because you smell their panties to determine cleanliness WITH YOUR OWN NOSE.

And you can’t say “Instructions for my funeral,” because, get over it. Funerals are for the living, not the dead. I don’t know why people do that thing where they plan out their funerals. Does anyone really do that? A birthday party for six year-olds is about my limit planning-wise, so I’ll leave the funeral seating arrangements to the experts.

What would you write?

Your memoirs? Gothic poetry? That fiction story that’s been nagging at the corners of your mind for months? (years?) A rock opera? The great American novel? The great Madagascarian novel? A play? A screenplay? An inaugural speech for if you were elected president? I know, a BLOG POST. A postcard to your estranged mother in Australia?

A few things I’d like to write include:

* A romance novel that’s kind of a cross between Jane Eyre, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Suddenly You.*

* A hymn of praise/unworthiness. Take a classic measure/phrase pattern and preferably a tune that was once a Welsh drinking song, and write my own lyrics. Deep, forgiveness-inducing lyrics.

* Memoirs of that period in my life when I fell in love with completely the wrong person, about a year and a half before I fell in love again, this time with completely the right person.

* Some sort of motherhood handbook that tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Easy, because naturally there is only one right way to be a mother.

What would you write if you had only a month to live? (and you can’t say that you’d be too busy spending time with your family, telling them how much you love them. Let’s say if you have six months, okay? Surely in that much time you’d want to leave some sort of mark. What would it be?)

Jane

*I’m not recommending Suddenly You to the gentle readers out there. It’s a bit racy.

Not drinking enough, apparently

Today is the penultimate day of National Blog Posting Month, and it has been much more of an experience than I expected. An experience in the way that the week-long wilderness survival trip I went on as a senior in high school and the first few months after bringing a newborn home from the hospital and the fourth time I quit Mountain Dew were all experiences.

Posting every day for a month is demanding and specific enough that you start to hold your breath at the end, hoping you’ll make it to the edge of the pool before your arms give out. You think of all the other things you need to be checking off your To-Do list, and realize (half-guilty, half-relieved) that you can’t possibly deal with them until this thing is over.

Two quotes have been chasing each other like hamsters in my brain all month (yep, there’s a lot of space in there for hamster wheels and puppy dog tails). The first is so intoxicating, exhilarating, liberating, inspiring, and I have no idea what it really means (or, if, in fact, Ray Bradbury ever really said this):

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Why is this so appealing? Why does it make me want to run BARBARIC YAWPING to an Edenic spring, tearing off all my clothes as I go and cannon-balling into the water with a splash that ripples all the way to the shore?

The second quote, I am all too sure that I know exactly what it means, and what it means is that I will never be a genius (i.e. “one who creates”) so long as I am mired in the motherhood. (Handy, right, to blame all my un-genius-ness on the myriad mundane moorings of my morassifisic life?):

A genius is the man in whom you are least likely to find the power of attending to anything insipid or distasteful in itself. He breaks his engagements, leaves his letters unanswered, neglects his family duties incorrigibly, because he is powerless to turn his attention down and back from those more interesting trains of imagery with which his genius constantly occupies his mind.

Perhaps William James just wanted an excuse to give his wife for why he was always late for dinner.

And I am the wife. Feeling (not-guilty-but-defensive) if dinner is not on the table.

Jane

Lessons from My Father-in-law: A Story of Farm Animals and Utter Gentlemanliness

This Thanksgiving we’ve been blessed with a visit from Dick’s dad. We haven’t seen any of Dick’s family since we moved from Florida last August, and we miss them all, almost as much as the beach and Habana Cafe.

Dick’s family was not the big Mormon family I’d always hoped to marry in to. They were better than what I had imagined, just as Dick turned out to be better than I expected. Probably I should be disappointed to have so little in-law angst as fodder for the blog.

Grampa is smart, interesting to talk to, a good guest, well-read, and totally incapable of surviving a Utah winter. We’ve adjusted our thermostat so that he feels better about getting out of bed in the mornings.

At restaurants, Grampa talks to the waitress and tells the hostess as we leave that Mallory sure was friendly and helpful today.

When a clerk finally finds the jarred mincemeat pie filling for us, Grampa thanks him effusively, and regrets not getting his name so he can praise him to the manager.

Grampa bought the girls a trampoline for their birthdays and Christmas. It came with all the safety features, and the girls are pretty excited.

Though they might have been satisfied with a large plastic bovine and some chocolate rice cakes.

Some of the things that I’m most grateful for are things or people that I never anticipated would so important to me. My father-in-law, and my relationship with him, unexpectedly make my life much richer in ways that I never imagined.

Jane

But he seemed like such a nice, quiet guy

Wednesday night as we waited for Australia to start, my sisters and I discussed men. Mary’s marriage imploded earlier this year, and Karen is now much less starry-eyed at the prospect of love and romance than Mary and I were when we were nineteen. Karen asked us how she could ever know if it was the right thing to marry someone. How do you know they won’t hurt you as my sister has been hurt?

Of course you can’t know.

Dick could turn out to be a mass murderer tomorrow, and I would be the last person to know.

Not really. I keep pretty close tabs on that boy.

As I’ve told my sisters before, I knew that I had to marry Dick. That he was it. When he got cold feet after we’d been engaged for about a month (remember this is also just a month after we met), I felt that my life was over, and not just in a Twilight “I love you even though you’re a vampire and sometimes want to eat me” sort of way.

Basically, I said, Dick is my evidence that there is a God and that He cares about me.

Mary turned to Karen and said, “You’d think she’d treat him better, then.”

What? I treat Dick JUST FINE.

Maybe sometimes I get exasperated by Dick’s always dwelling in the land of never-never. In the kitchen, making mincemeat pie with his dad for Thanksgiving, Dick reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, who is always so busy daydreaming she forgets to add flour.

Sometimes I can’t revel in the nice things Dick does (like taking the kids home for bed while I see a movie with my sisters) because the next morning he brings them back to my parents looking like raggedy orphans.

You know how they say that in order to counteract one criticism you have to give seven compliments? It’s like that. Dick does or says one irritating thing, and suddenly the five or six thoughtful things he did just don’t quite make up for it.

Well, today he did one small thing that I think is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.

I called him early to remind him to bring me fresh clothes and my glasses, and he told me how Susan, after snuggling with him in our bed this morning, had a little accident. We are not amused, Susan. You can’t just go an entire year accident-free and then have three accidents in two days, including one in MY BED.

Dick got a bit impatient with the long list of things I needed from the house. And the butter and ice cream and bacon I needed from the store. He may even have snapped when I suggested he get a pen and paper to write this all down. Wasn’t I sympathetic that he had to FIND THE BAKING SODA and THROW THE SHEETS DOWN TO THE LAUNDRY ROOM?

So finally he made it to my parents. He told me where everything on my list was, and then he said, “I brought you a Mountain Dew.”

That he would think of this on his own, and actually remember it and try to shrug it off as “they were just sitting there right by the door to the garage” —

I don’t even know how many irritating things that counteracts, Dick. Maybe a million.

Jane

“To make ‘um people belong-a you”

Last Sunday a good brother got up to speak about . . . honestly I can’t remember what his gospel topic was, but I remember the story he began with:

When John was a little boy, his mother shooed the kids out the back of the house while she showed it to potential buyers. One afternoon he was charged to keep his younger brother and sisters in line while a particularly great prospect came by. John used his new pocketknife to whittle a spear. His younger brother Tim wanted a chance throwing the spear, but John convinced him that playing spear-boy, retrieving big brother’s throws, would be just as fun.

It was fun for several minutes, until John grew tired of seeing how far he could throw and aimed instead for how high he could throw. He forgot, however, to warn Tim that he was throwing up, and, as Tim raced to where the spear should land, it struck him on the head. He ran to and fro, hollerin’, the spear flopping back and forth like a bobblehead on a taxicab dashboard.

John tried to shush him and yanked out the spear himself, but the sisters heard, the mother heard, and seven stitches, one “barely noticeable” scar, and thirty years later, John’s brother has “completely forgiven” him.

The point is — story is everything. As soon as that good brother finished his story and moved on to some doctrinal explication of (forgiveness?) (choosing the right?) (listening to promptings of the Holy Ghost?), the audience as a whole sat back, turned to chat (quietly) to their neighbors, and started thinking about all the things that needed doing as soon as church was over.

My other point is, go see the movie Australia. I’m a big Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge) fan anyway, and even if you didn’t enjoy those, you will enjoy Australia. It’s got romance, adventure, Hugh Jackman, lovely music, gorgeous lush lighting and scenery, Nicole Kidman, and HUGH JACKMAN.

And, it’s got story.

As the Drover says, all of your possessions can be taken from you, and in the end, all that you really own is your story. Australia is a great story, not least because it encourages me to find, tell, write, rewrite, discover, share, never give up on, fight for, defend, live my story.

Jane

p.s. Happy Thanksgiving. I hope, if you’ve read this website for any length of time, that you know what I’m thankful for. If you have no idea, then I’ve done a very poor job of expressing what is in my heart. (And if I haven’t said it before, I AM THANKFUL for readers who stop by for a little part of my story).

Confessions of a Martha

In high school, Melinda and I petitioned the guidance counselor to waive our vocational class requirement. AP chemistry and biology should count, we said, because they are vocational if you’re delusional enough in your youth to assume that of course you’ll become a doctor. And how lame would it be to have to take Foods I and Home Economics and Shop and Finance? When are you ever going to use classes like that in real life? We wanted to focus on important things.

{insert maniacal laughter}

We were almost as serious about school as we were about church. We even went to a nursing home every week and sang. Tracey came with us, and that was good for the poor residents tortured by our efforts, as Tracey was the only one of us who could carry a tune.

When we studied the New Testament, I thought that Martha, the house-owner sister of Mary and Lazarus, the woman who would rather clean and prepare meals than sit at the feet of the Savior and hear the gospel from His own mouth, was inconceivable.

Then I had a husband, and an apartment of my own, guests coming for dinner or to stay. I had a kid and then a couple more, then a house of my own, and I wanted to say (as reverentially and humbly as possible):

“O Lord, hast thou ANY IDEA how much time, energy, anxiety, and preparation it takes to make mine hospitality ready for the succor of mine honored guests?”

Can you imagine the housework you’d undertake if the Lord were coming to visit?

A couple Sundays ago I baked six dozen chocolate cookies, two pans of rice krispie treats, and five dozen oatmeal butterscotch bars. I yelled at the kids, warned Dick away from the goodies. I scrambled to get ready for church and felt frazzled throughout the service.

When I saw Dick reading his scriptures on the couch as I slaved in the hot kitchen I snapped. (I may have said that one naughty word that Susan keeps repeating at the most inopportune of moments).

That evening, as Sally and I sat at the church ‘do (baptism preview) I’d baked for, I finally relaxed enough to listen to the hymns and feel the Spirit. I squeezed Sally’s hand and considered my life.

Holy cow, I’m a moron.

So my motto for this holiday season comes from Psalms 46:10:

Be still, and know that I am God.

I’m going to be still. Stare at my kids. Snuggle with Dick. Use paper plates. Simplify gift-giving. Bake only four kinds of pie.

And I’m going to realize that the only “experience” I need to give my kids is somehow helping them to know that He is God.

Jane

That’s what (I’m hoping) works for me.

Because They Would Do The Work Anyway

Leslie Kaufman had an interesting article about caregivers in the New York Times last week. It explored the special care that a caregiver who is related to her charge can provide. According to one such caregiver, Tracy Keil, she* can help her charges who don’t want “just a baby sitter” to live as they would like to live, to “get out and about, go grocery shopping or see a movie.”

Mrs. Keil quit her lucrative accountant job to stay home, and she wants to be “compensated” for what is now her “full-time job” of caregiving. “She sees it not only as a battle about income but also about dignity and respect.” She’s never regretted leaving her paying job, she enjoys her new role, and she’s confident in her competence, but she worries about the financial repercussions of working for nothing.

There’s a growing group of caregivers who are lobbying to not be taken advantage of anymore. Advocates for these caregivers suspect that the government does not pay them (so far) because “they know they would do the work anyway.”

Have you guessed who the charges are?

All of the issues in the article could apply to a stay-at-home mom caring for her kids, but instead it’s about soldiers who come home from war in need of full-time care. In many cases the health aides paid for by the government provide unacceptable care, so many wives of soldiers have quit their jobs to care for their loved ones themselves.

I don’t want to make light of the atrocities of war that render grown men and women in need of full-time caregivers. And, of course, the least we could do as a grateful nation is facilitate our veterans’ return to living to their full capacity.

But.

How come we don’t talk about mother-caregivers in similar terms? I’m not saying I’d like the government to pay me for being a mother, though I do find it appealing when Nora Roberts has characters choosing to accept the “professional mother stipend” in her futuristic Eve Dallas crime books.

I’ve pointed out before that the Child Care Tax Credit is unfairly preferential to working mothers (and fathers) who pay non-relatives to care for children.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about “compensating” (or at least not punishing in the tax code) mother-caregivers? After all, it’s not just a matter of income, but of “dignity and respect.”

Also, why weren’t there protests about this betrayal of feminist ideology — this suggestion that people are happier when cared for by a relative rather than a paid aide or in an institutionalized setting? Shouldn’t someone warn these women of all they are giving up and how they are setting feminism back by settling for a mere caregiver role?

Jane

*I’m not saying a man can’t be a caregiver, but all of the examples in this article were female.