Today made up for all the Sundays I spend rolling my eyes

It has been a long time since I sat in Sunday School with hot tears splashing down onto my blouse, a long time since I wanted to jump up with a joyful shout and point and say — That was for ME!

And I hadn’t even asked the question/said the prayer out loud.

We read the story of the woman of Samaria in John 4. Jesus is at Jacob’s Well, at the sixth hour (noon), alone (the disciples are in town buying meat), and a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. We know that since she was there in the heat of the day that she had a “questionable reputation,” and was either ostracized from going with the other woman or avoided them. We also know that Jews and Samaritans did not get along, that Samaritan women were considered unclean from birth, that by every cultural expectation and custom it was completely inappropriate for the Savior to even acknowledge her existence, much less speak to her.

Jesus taught her that He was the living water, that whosoever drank from the living water would never thirst again. She believed, and asked for this water. He told her to go and get her husband and she admitted she had no husband. The Savior commended her honesty and proved He was a prophet by telling her she had had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband.

Jesus told her that He was the Messiah they waited for and she left her waterpot and went to her village and said, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

There’s a lot more we could speculate (maybe scholars know more?). For example, why had she had five husbands? Women could not initiate or obtain divorces back then, so she had either been divorced or widowed by men five times. I doubt (this is my bias about cultures where women cannot hold property or inherit or earn a living and are thus dependent on a man’s goodwill for survival as illustrated in the Ruth/Naomi/Boaz story) that she was living in sin by choice or design.

A couple of things are incredibly moving to me about this story. Jesus did not let cultural pressure stand in the way of doing His Father’s work. We are told to avoid the very appearance of evil, and yet the Savior was more often than not found teaching the lowliest, the outcasts, the culturally undesirable. In many cases the disciples remonstrated with Him when they found him eating with publicans and sinners, but in this case, they said nothing, though John suggests what questions they had.

The other thing is this woman: how Jesus treated her, not shaming her but teaching her a beautiful gospel truth, and how she reacted. She who had shunned or been shunned by the women of her village ran at once to tell them the good news, here is the Christ. The gospel changed her life.

In likening the scriptures unto me, I want to do what I know is right regardless of cultural expectation and custom, and I want the gospel to change my life.

In lighter news, I asked Lucy to get Molly a toy this morning, and she said she was already giving her the duck with breastpads:

Molly's duck

And this is what I mean when I say I teach my girls that modesty is important, but the rest is up to them:

Gray and pink striped hoody with a leopard print dress. Awesome.

Probably can’t claim to be 25 anymore

After proving that entertaining is one sure way to get motivated about cleaning

Avery is 10 today. I could write some tear jerker about how she was the one who made me a Mom all those years ago and how sweet she is despite remembering (and mentioning often) how I whacked her with a hairbrush when she was four. But I’ll just say I’m glad my baby ticker went on red alert when I was 22 and changed my mind about what I wanted to be when I grew up. She is worth it. (So far.) (I make no predictions about the teen years.)

Avery reads to her sisters, changes the baby’s diaper for a nominal fee, got an A in math last term (after terrorizing me through a summer of special Mommy-Saxon math), ensured that we had a gluten-free alterna-treat for the new girl in her class, and reminds us to have family scripture study.

She rocks her Christmas rollerblades and works hard at dance class. She doesn’t want her ears pierced but she asked for makeup for her birthday. I don’t expect her to actually wear it to school or church, but I got her some to play with. She still wears her pants out at the knee with all the horse-play (literally) at recess. I expect Sears to blacklist us from their KidVantage program any day now.

I want her to keep wearing those holes in her pants until she’s eighteen. Or thirty.

I love her.

Breastfeeding in public: what’s the big deal?

My mom nursing me in 1977. If she looks young -- she was.

Breastfeeding is one of those things that I feel differently about, depending on who I’m talking to.

My dad reported on a continuing medical education thingie they had at work (“Most of them are yawners”) with a lactation chief and a neonatology chief (“one of the best lectures I’ve been to”). He said he was emotionally moved when they presented the evidence for skin-to-skin transfer of antigens and antibodies (Because God’s design is great!) and they said that physicians should strenuously promote/support breastfeeding instead of trying to neutrally ask bottle or breast? Even formula supplementation isn’t a neutral practice, because it can hinder digestion and decrease supply.

I have a friend who got mastitis while still in the hospital recovering from an unplanned-natural birth; she hadn’t been successful in nursing her other two kids, hadn’t enjoyed it or seen that they benefited from it, so she decided to formula feed from the start.

My sister swears by feeding her babies one bottle a day so that she can get a relief pitcher when she needs one.’

In the hierarchy of things that will make both mother and baby happy and healthy, mom’s sanity trumps breastfeeding, every single time. This I am sure of, no matter who I’m talking to. Luckily, most of the time, as with everything related to mothering, what’s good for baby is also good for mom, it’s very rarely an either-or.

Me nursing Molly with the 1977 wash from Instagram.

I like to think that my feelings (how strongly I feel about breastfeeding) vary on context because of empathy, but I do know that my personal experience informs my feelings about it as much as the other way around. I know everyone comes with their own personal context, but two attitudes in particular about breastfeeding irritate me:

1- Some men in my neighborhood think that breastfeeding in public is “disgusting.”

2- A lady on Facebook wrote: “Can I just say I hate women who say they don’t have enough milk?”

Both of these absolutely baffle me, from a human-female-Christian–human– standpoint. I can see the men saying they don’t think it’s modest (move to burqa-land, please), or that it seems an intimate thing to do in public (then you can’t ever eat in public either), but the word “disgust” — it’s like the word “contempt.” It’s corrosive. And if you find something natural and female to be “disgusting,” let’s just say I’m glad to not be married to you.

The second — I’m at a loss. It assigns some attitude or motive to the woman that I just can’t fathom. It’s probably true that the woman has mistaken perceptions about her milk-production abilities (since only two percent of women suffer from primary lactation failure), but even so, it’s more important that the woman thinks this to be true (unless you’re accusing her of lying, which again, I don’t get). Her perception is more important than reality, because that is what will guide her to either get help or give up: it’s too-often a self-fulfilling prophecy and if someone is “pro” breastfeeding, shouldn’t the response to that sort of statement be compassion? It’s also word choice here that is troubling — “hate” is as corrosive as “disgust.”

The only sort of comment I ever get when I nurse in public or post a picture of me nursing is of the “I could never type and nurse at the same time!” or “I was never able to be that discreet!” variety. So I feel that I have maybe presented a misleading picture of how I do it, and I also feel (quite strongly, so many feelings in this post already) that it is important to nurse in public. I am good at doing this in real life, but I have been hesitant online. And that would be fine if I was also reticent about posting other pictures of my family life.

But nursing in public (online or in real life) is important for many reasons (besides how wrong the ghettoization of women would be):

1. You’re more likely to nurse (longer) if it fits into your life. Breastfeeding exclusively is easy for me now, because I don’t mind taking my baby wherever I go. If I can’t take her, I don’t go. I need a break from the other kids at least weekly (sometimes hourly), but the baby? Once you have more than one child, you appreciate how easy the one is who doesn’t have to be told ten times to put her shoes on. When I went back to work after Avery was born I pumped at work and she also got a bottle of formula every day, because it’s really hard to pump as much as a baby would nurse. But I know I was very, very lucky to have a workplace where pumping fit in my life (I even nursed her to sleep for a nap several times there, lying on the floor in the office of the chairman of the economics department.)

2. Women (and babies) benefit from seeing what nursing looks like. Even the way you hold a baby is radically different from bottle-feeding. Seeing how other women and babies do it helps with latching and general comfortableness.

3. Men and boys benefit from seeing women breastfeed. When they see what breasts are for, they see what breasts are for. Breastfeeding combats the hypersexualization and objectification of the female body.

I made a couple videos of nursing Molly, because I wondered what other people see if they look past the nursing bubble that usually seems to enclose me. Discretion is not my first priority when nursing in public. Getting baby fed is number one, then probably covering up my fat rolls as much as possible, but then, yes, I do nurse differently in public than I do at home, just as I eat differently myself too. At home I’m afraid I’m inclined to sit like a kindergartner and let my elbows rest on the table and I’ve even been know to let out the most delicate of lady-like burps (okay, I do that one in public, too). I’ve never used a cover, because I just never have, but I naturally don’t go for the same sort of skin-to-skin time in public that I can indulge in at home.

This first video is actually at home because I didn’t want to leave my house, and it’s shorter than an actual nursing session (I usually only nurse one side at a time, which takes about ten minutes, every 1-2 hours during the day; Molly sleeps through the night). You can see the logistics of wearing a nursing bra and that it’s easier to get to things if you’re wearing a looser shirt. I don’t own any actual nursing shirts.

molly nursing january 2011 from shannon johnson on Vimeo.

From my point of view there’s more showing, and this video is of a really successful nursing session: Molly isn’t tired or frustrated, she’s hungry but not starving. I try not to go out at all if she is going to be extremely tired, frustrated or hungry (or if I am!) during our outing, but of course sometimes this happens, and it always seems to be the case (for both of us) by the end of church. In that case, getting latched and settling down can take more time and include some crying, but one of the best things about breastfeeding is that it is almost always the solution. Even if what baby really needs is a nap or a diaper change or some Tylenol for her shots, breastfeeding will comfort her until the other things can be arranged. The other thing to keep in mind is that I spent practically the first week of nursing this kid naked from the waist up — this video shows how quick and simple nursing can be after four and a half months of daily practice.

We took the kids to the mall play place on Saturday. Tom took this video on my iPod:

Again, it surprises me how little shows from that angle. So here’s the controversial shot. Sometimes, when I’m nursing, and Molly gets distracted, or full, or tired of sucking, this is what it looks like:

You can call it anything you like (nourishing, comforting, not-something-you’d-ever-show, etc) — anything but “disgusting.”

Pork roast pearls

I love how the act of preparing to worship our Savior unites us as a family and fills our souls with joy every Sunday morning.

I’ve got a cold, so I took Molly home after the first hour. Chrysanthemum and I were talking about how whenever we’re home sick from church we feel guilty (or the house is blessedly quiet) so we usually end up cleaning or cooking something special even though it’s a day of rest and even though we’re not feeling well. So when the family got home a little after two p.m. there was freshly ground wheat bread in the oven and a pork roast with carrots and potatoes in the crockpot for dinner.

There was also leftover homemade Thai hot and sour chicken-mushroom-red bell pepper-coconut soup ready for the immediate heating. Tom looked around, disappointed, and said, “I hoped you’d put in chicken nuggets for us.”

Odds and (week)Ends

Why do men not hear when babies cry? Or know that the laundry needs to be switched? Or . . .

1. I was the pronouncer at Callie’s school’s spelling bee yesterday. It was a profound celebration of American English orthography, but I was relieved when it was over and the very-worried-looking champion crowned.

2. It wasn’t at all an exorcising of the time I was in the school spelling bee and tied for 2nd place with three other girls after we all misspelled “adios.” Cody spelled it right because he’d seen it in the Elmo book he read to his little brother the night before. Maybe it was poetic that he was rewarded for such sweetness (even at eleven I might have swooned a tiny bit), but “adios” ISN’T EVEN ENGLISH, in case you’re wondering.

3. NatTheFatRat wrote a masterful response to the Salon piece that I wrote about here. I also wanted to follow up some other comments and agree that Mormons are maybe more likely to get help for depression because we expect to be happy in this life, to find joy, and when we don’t, we are given to soul-searching and looking for answers. Too often we feel guilt for perceived failures (or honest regret for things we do need to change), but sometimes we realize that something else is needed. Or, as Dallin Oaks said in quoting Brigham Young:

The use of medical science is not at odds with our prayers of faith and our reliance on priesthood blessings. When a person requested a priesthood blessing, Brigham Young would ask, “Have you used any remedies?” To those who said no because “we wish the Elders to lay hands upon us, and we have faith that we shall be healed,” President Young replied: “That is very inconsistent according to my faith. If we are sick, and ask the Lord to heal us, and to do all for us that is necessary to be done, according to my understanding of the Gospel of salvation, I might as well ask the Lord to cause my wheat and corn to grow, without my plowing the ground and casting in the seed. It appears consistent to me to apply every remedy that comes within the range of my knowledge, and [then] to ask my Father in Heaven … to sanctify that application to the healing of my body.”

4. True confession: I don’t like comic books. I’m kind of a snob when it comes to graphic novels. But Avery got her hands on a copy of Rapunzel’s Revenge from her across-the-street bookie (like a drug dealer only more addicting) and has read it over and over, including out loud to her sisters. I am converted! Perhaps she will find a copy of Calamity Jack on her birthday pillow.


Spaghetti for breakfast, or, If Daedalus was a stay-at-home mom

Yesterday I was rocking the wax wings. I ground wheat for bread, I was happy with something I’d written. I let Tom sleep in while I took Avery to school, I got Callie into her uniform on time. I made  a video of Molly nursing in one take and didn’t even mind Lucy’s “help.” Feeling pretty good. I’d volunteered for the first time the day before (I’m about a million hours behind for Callie’s charter school on volunteer hours). I had plans to distribute updated visiting teaching routes for church (only a couple months late). Oh, and I’d dyed my hair, showered, and actually had on lipstick from the video-making.

All before noon.

Came home from taking Callie to afternoon kindergarten and realized I’d left the oven on for the rising dough, instead of turning it off after it got just a little warm. Wheat grinding, wasted. Bread making, foiled. The video wouldn’t upload. Avery brought home a paper about parent-teacher conference and wrote “I hate myslef” on it before handing it to me. I got her to laugh by asking who “myslef” is, but now I’m watching to see if she’s going to start cutting herself, or if this is just more of the “you hate me” dramatics we get when I ask her to unload the dishwasher. She was 11 minutes late to dance class because her book was more interesting than her math.

All before dinner.

I cleaned up the kitchen while Callie did her homework and Lucy colored. Tom was at church meetings. I thought, seriously and hard, about making cookies, but decided I was just too tired. I nursed Molly to sleep, read books to Callie and Lucy. Avery came and snuggled in my bed. I told her I loved her and she said, me too, I mean I love you and Dad. I let her read as I drifted off to sleep under my soft eyemask.

This morning there’s no milk for breakfast. I think this is just the beginning of a not-so-great day. Then I see the leftover spaghetti in the fridge. Callie has been asking for spaghetti for breakfast for weeks.

Maybe we can do this.

I don’t know WHY she’s worried about finding a man . . .

Self-portrait Karin left on my iPod

My sister Karin spent the night at our house for the Martin Luther King, jr holiday. I made it a true day of service by listening compassionately to her dating woes (she’s twenty-one! and prospect-less!) and giving her my finest advice: Buck up, Baby! One day you’ll meet someone and all your fears about not being able to love someone enough will seem crazy and two weeks later you’ll be engaged. It’s like in Knight and Day (a surprisingly entertaining movie) when Tom Cruise’s character does the with me/without me thing (it’s at 1:14). Someone, someday will make the “with me” thing seem like the best idea ever, an idea you don’t even have to think about.

Or you’ll stay single and travel the world. Either way.

Don’t be offended, nobody sees you clearly


I see this one clearly, but then I make a serious study of her every day.

I met Nat the Fat Rat at CBC and she was darling (that word has lost all meaning in common usage, but check it: “a person or thing in great favor, a favorite.” or ” charming, cute, loveable” or “Nat the Fat Rat”). Now she’s got a gorgeous picture on the front of Salon and the Deseret News, and some (self-describedly “overeducated, atheistic, single”) women are addicted to her blog and others like it.

(I should disclaim here that my blog doesn’t really qualify. My life is happy and blessed but I am too ungrateful or curmudgeonly or designerly-challenged to spread the shiny good news of it.).

The Salon piece is a fascinating portrait in a portrait. To Emily Matchar’s (overeducated, atheistic, single) mind, she couldn’t be more different from the Mormon women she can’t stop admiring (“Oh look at the cute pandas!” said one of my friends on Twitter, was the attitude).

But who is she talking about? Women who are “young (like, four-kids-at-29 young)” and who live in Utah. Except, they aren’t. Not really. Nat the Fat Rat has only one baby and I’m not sure how old she is, but I think it’s closer to thirty since her husband’s studying for his third graduate degree. She lives in Manhattan. RockStar Diaries is pregnant with her first kid, and I don’t think she’ll make the 4-by-29, either. She met her husband while going to school in Manhattan and now they live in Washington, DC.

(Perhaps I should disclaim here that Tom and I spent three years in NYC ourselves (Harlem and The Bronx, but who’s counting?) when we were first married. Maybe it is a young Mormon thing.)

Underaged and Engaged is … well, I’m assuming she’s also childless, although if she’s underage, she probably hasn’t gotten a chance to be overeducated yet. (turns out she got married and had a kid). NieNie probably did have those 4-by-29 of course, but she’s a little atypical for other reasons. Say Yes to Hoboken does not live in New Jersey (good thing I checked); she was born and raised in New York and now lives in San Francisco with her husband and one son.

You get the picture. C.Jane has two kids, but I know she’s over thirty, and if not overeducated, pretty-almost educated.

(Okay. The “overeducated” thing particularly irritates me. Guess they’ve never heard of Brigham Young University, which welcomed female students much earlier than some of the Ivy Leagues.)

The comments at Salon (I read a few and am going to take Nat’s advice and skip the rest) are interesting too, but I think that like the article, they reveal more about the writers than the subject. Of course, misunderstanding Mormons is practically a national past-time, and of course I am probably misunderstanding the author of this piece too. (She probably didn’t mean to be condescending when she implied pseudo-regret over being too smart and sophisticated to embrace the simplistic bliss of housewifely domestication and religious devotion.)

Why is it so hard to see each other clearly? This is a particularly egregious case in some ways, not least because Emily’s whole point is that she is addicted to reading about the lives of these women, and yet her generalizations are almost entirely uninformed by those lives. These women, on average, have one child and live in New York; they are educated and they’re married to educated men.

Seeing clearly is important, because Emily is suspicious of all the happy shininess she sees on the Mormon housewife blogs. Utah, after all, leads the nation in antidepressant use. Forget for a moment that only two of these six bloggers even lives in Utah. (And that psychologists who have studied this phenomenon attribute it to (among other things) 1) high overall incidence of depression in people of Scandinavian and Northern European descent  which makes up a large part of the state’s population and 2) the lack of self-medication with booze.) Instead, it must be because (as the author attributes without reference to the Utah Psychiatric Association) of the “pressure among Mormon women to be ideal wives and mothers.”

I don’t feel much pressure to be an ideal anything, and yet, I actually fit the stereotype (if not the pretty blog-ness) here better than any of the examples. I was thirty-three before I had my fourth kid, but maybe that was because of my two miscarriages, and we do live in Utah now. I feel undereducated as I count down the years (5 1/2) before I go back for my graduate degree, and I have wondered in the past if I experience post-partum depression (pretty sure it’s more a case of the “baby azures,” but that’s another post).

But you know who really does have the four kids and happy shiny Mormon housewife blog? Design Mom. Except she’s got six kids, and they don’t live in Utah either — they’re moving to France for the year. I read her blog compulsively, plagued by twin desires to mock the perfect magazine-layout readiness of everything about her and to pull a talented Mr. Ripley and see how I like living in Normandy at La Cressonierre.

Maybe Emily Matchar is on to something. Nobody could be as happy and color-palette-coordinated as Gabrielle Blair. There must be more to the story.

Or — maybe that’s the real appeal of Mormon housewife blogs?  Maybe the women who write them are not so different from you and I; in fact, they could be you in a couple years. Without the prohibition on the three-martini playdate.

Welcome, welcome Sunday bloody Sunday

Molly and I are mesmerized in Sunday School

Hi, we’re the Johnsons, and we’re late for church. Chronically. Excessively. As in, I gave my tip for keeping kids reverent during the seventy-minute service: “Arrive half an hour late, then the kids only have forty minutes to get restless.” Also, the sacrament’s over by then so the wait-until-the-sacrament-is-over-to-start-coloring thing doesn’t apply.

I decided we’ll take a picture 15 minutes before church starts to help us get motivated, at whatever state of readiness we’re in at that moment. I do reserve the right to throw on a robe if I’m not dressed yet. Not that that would ever happen. This morning I couldn’t figure out how to set the self-timer, so see me in the streaky mirror. I swear I cleaned that thing. I may not have been ready to go, but I did swipe at the mirror. I do have standards in what I present to the world. Ineffectual standards, apparently, but there you go.

Notice Lucy’s beautiful ensemble, Tom’s crisp double Windsor, Callie’s balletic grace, and the overall harmony and pretty-thing ness of the shot (exactly the kind of photograph you’d expect on one of those fancy lifestyle blogs, right?). What you can’t see: Lucy’s pink sparkly leggings and Elmo socks in black MaryJanes.

Verdict: We walked in during the second verse of a four verse hymn, and no one cried. (That I remember. I may be blocking something out.) I figured out where the timer is on my camera; maybe in a few months I’ll graduate to coordinating our clothes or asymmetrically-but-balancedly posing our bodies.

Somehow I missed that nativity hanging when I packed up Christmas two weeks ago.

I think this qualifies

This, in addition to the overall thinness and gray that no dye can cover for long

My mom and I had an enthusiastic discussion about wigs on New Year’s Eve. She said she’s been in the wig shop several times, but every time she goes she sees cancer survivors and feels like a poseur. (She didn’t use the word poseur, she said something about feeling ungrateful or melodramatic or something.)

If I got a wig, I could buzz my hair and never wash it again and wear the wig like I do my bra, i.e., only when I’m going somewhere fancy, like church or Chick-fil-A. I could take it off for around the house and wear hats and scarves and get a swim cap. And never wash it again, or wrestle with the blow dryer or make desperate calls to my neighbor-hairdresser after I’ve cut my bangs myself or colored it with the new foam stuff from the Walmarts.

Life, in short, would be AMAZING.

Tom was not very supportive. He always tells me, when I get a wild hair like this (get it?) that he likes me just the way I am, and while that may be very sweet (and really it’s the least he could say seeing as this has happened exactly three times before, which, if you’re counting, does indeed correspond to the number of children I have borne him) instead of being swayed by his vague blandishments, I’m pretty sure he’s just cheap.