This will probably sound self-righteous and/or defensive, but what the heck

(Updated: This post won’t make sense unless you read the previous one. When I said it might sound defensive or self-righteous (really I mean judgemental) it was because I feared it would sound like I am judging those who I consider to be judgemental about clothing/appearance and that it might sound defensive because it is a response to the comments on that previous post, NOT a response to anyone’s appearance. So when I say in the second paragraph that dress standards would be superficial, I am poking at those in the church that I see as elevating modesty to the pinnacle of righteousness, NOT at people who want to wear pants to church. Make sense?)

I know a couple who investigated the Church very seriously. Like, “read the entire Book of Mormon AND Doctrine and Covenants and attended church regularly for months” seriously. And in the end they didn’t join the church because, the wife said, she didn’t want to give up tank tops and wine.

So, that’s a pretty silly, superficial reason to not join the church, right? I mean, if you had a testimony, you wouldn’t let something so trivial stand in the way.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so on the wrong side of the consensus of my self-selected peer group, and really, I agree with everything you said. Missionaries should be modest, well-groomed, attractive-as-can-be, professional, confident, etc. Color and choice are good! Style and first impressions are important! Makeup is not the devil! Probably!

But here’s the other thing I heard several times: that the Dress and Grooming standards are great and necessary for someone else. My mission companion who was a frump, those skanks at my cousin’s wedding/Relief Society last week. A few people said they would’ve appreciated the guidelines when preparing for their own missions, but the overwhelming agreement was that someone else needs to dress differently.

In fetishizing modesty and lionizing good grooming for our missionaries, we are fostering a culture in which prospective investigators may not feel welcome. This is a little counterproductive, no?

We are obsessed with appearance and perception. The I am a Mormon campaign highlights outliers to prove we are not Amish, but rather just like you! In all your diverse wonderfulness! Then General Conference shows that we are white, male, middle-aged-to-elderly and like to wear dark suits, white shirts, and red ties. What happens when someone sees one of the cool I am a Mormon ads, joins the church because they thought they’d fit in, then attends church after the honeymoon activation period and realizes that they’re actually not gonna be acceptable until they buy a new wardrobe?

Here’s my theory on why we care so much about what we look like: we know we can’t see what is inside other people, we believe in personal revelation, in private relationships with our Heavenly Father unmediated by anyone other than Jesus Christ, but also, we have to know, we need a way to tell who else is one of us, who else believes as we do, who is devoted and sincere and obedient, and since we can’t see the heart, we see the face, the clothes, the hair.

After all, we should see His image in our countenances. The light of Christ should be recognizable. If someone has had that mighty change of heart, that awesome, life-altering witness, surely it must leave some mark. It should show.

#Mormsandmakeup (hashtag by @ThatFig)

A couple weeks ago the Primary President pulled me out of my Sunbeam class to talk about Avery. It had been reported to her that Avery does not sit like a lady in class, and the boys are commenting on it. I will note first that my daughters dress even more modestly than I did when I was their age (and my mother was a STICKLER on modesty), and that the particular skirt Avery was wearing that day reached an inch or so below her knee and was not tight, but yeah, she sits with her knees far apart, in a fairly slouchy manner. Avery has two male teachers; the one who did the reporting is a very nice childless man who probably felt awkward about talking directly to her but wanted to fix things. (When this happens in Sunbeams, I just tell the girls to pull their skirts down. Sometimes I say that ten times in twenty minutes.)

On our walk home from church I reported the conversation to my sensitive ten-year old and told her she had four options: 1) continue as she is, and realize that boys talk about things like underwear when it’s visible (and probably even when it’s not), 2) wear leggings/bloomers/shorts, 3) sit “like a lady,” or 4) go shopping for some nice trousers to wear.

Giving her that fourth option was a little like reverse psychology, hoping she wouldn’t go for it or balk at the other choices if she knew that (as far as I’m concerned) wearing pants wasn’t forbidden (and therefore desirable), but not really like reverse psychology because if she had given me a spiel about it not being fair that boys can sit however they want and that she wanted to wear pants too, I would have taken her to get some nice pants to wear. (Note: I didn’t point this out to her; the world is sexist and unfair and she’ll figure that out and be bothered or not by it in her own time.)

She thought it over for awhile and the next Sunday she wore leggings under her skirt. We haven’t talked about it since.

Yesterday I read a BCC post (it’s really just two links and a provocative comparison) that pointed me to the new dress and grooming guidelines for missionaries on The other link was to an interesting article on Huffington Post about how, if we want to encourage girls in the life of the mind (my awesome phrasing), we should ask them what book they are reading rather than telling them they’re pretty upon first meeting. (I have thoughts on that too, because I tell my girls they are cute all the time, but maybe that’ll be another post.)

I hadn’t seen the dress and grooming pages, and when I did, I was flabbergasted. Flabber-gasted. Really, you have to go there now and flip through all the pages. Don’t forget the makeup gallery and the makeup tips and the hair style gallery and the accessories page with the colorful ballet flats that would be so practical for walking on cobblestones for ten hours.

Then I got on Twitter and said that the pages seem superficial, condescending and creepy to me, and they are not the message I want to send to my daughters. Several women chimed in for the next two hours (though mostly they disagreed with me). Someone on the original BCC post said they recognized some of the skirts as costing $120 at Anthropologie; someone else calculated how much this kind of wardrobe (all “outfits,” no coordinating separates) would cost ($10,000). Most interesting was that two women who served missions in Belgium said the pages were great and necessary. Then one of those ladies went back and actually looked at how extensive and detailed they are and said she felt like she was on Pinterest (a website where design/crafter/hipster-types collect images of things they like).

A friend on Facebook echoed other comments that the pages seem necessary because immodesty is such a problem. I was surprised that many thought the pages were an attempt to get sister missionaries to tone down their appearance and makeup, when I thought they were clearly sending the message that women need to spend more money, time, and energy on their appearance in order to be good missionaries/Mormons.

Are the pages a call to frump up or frump down? Probably depends on how (non)frumpy you consider yourself, so my umbrage may certainly have to do with feeling inadequate and plain ugly (and middle-aged) compared to the models.

And I haven’t even mentioned that the Dress and Grooming guidelines only showcase women. I know there are strict guidelines for men, but they are not online (yet?) for some reason. And even when they are published, I doubt they’ll have an equivalent to this nugget of advice:

Tinted moisturizer with SPF is another quick way to get color and base. To minimize the appearance of dark circles under your eyes, use a yellow- or pink-toned concealer lighter than your skin tone to blend.

More subtly, the makeup section does have an “If you choose to wear makeup, here are some tips,” disclaimer, but this is the front page:

Huh. I wonder if makeup would help you look your best for the elders at zone conferences?

I have nothing against preaching modesty (so long as it’s taught as something a girl does for herself because she loves and honors herself and appreciates the wonderful body God has given her, not as a means of saving boys from themselves). And I also think it’s pragmatic and whatnot for the Church to have missionary guidelines and standards, to encourage/require a professional, be-your-best-you missionary force. But these pages go too far in suggesting that looks and clothes and accessories are all-important for women.

And here’s where I morph into a comment on the priesthood and how I feel about women not holding it. Doctrinally, it’s not a big issue for me. I like being able to do the things I can do as a woman that men can’t do, and I’m okay with different gender roles and biology and etc. But the practical ramifications that seem to follow, in our culture, from the fact that men, by virtue of holding the priesthood are in charge of correlation, in charge of what gets approved for curricula and the website and policies, in charge of telling women how they should look — it seems really unfortunate that women do not have a similar say in these matters. Can you separate doctrine from practice? Can I be a good Mormon if I don’t shop at Anthropologie?


(If you’re on the Twitter and want to catch our next impromptu chat on #mormsandmakeup (TBA), you should follow @imaginaryzina, @compulsivewrtr, @grouchyteacher, @andrea_aka_mom, @hollywillnot, @oneinamelia, @jet_set, @suedonym, @thatfig, @lesliehatch and @emihill   There are many, many other cool Mormon women on Twitter, and, of course, all heresies and infelicities of thought are my own. Just to give credit for lovely ladies helping me think this through, hope I didn’t miss anyone. I’m @seagullfountain.)


And don’t tell me that this whole set of pages was done at the inspiration and execution of women — I don’t think I could handle the disillusion.

Attack of the Sanctidaddy

A couple days before Father’s Day, I read the CNN article A father’s day wish: Dads, wake the hell up, which at some point on Saturday had been shared on Facebook over 55,ooo times. It’s basically a rallying cry for fathers to spend more time with their kids, and to appreciate their stay-at-home wives more. The piece has humor and oomph because it’s written by a stay-at-home dad who isn’t afraid to call out the deadbeat dads. Deadbeat as in, wants to play golf on a Saturday morning instead of getting up with the kids at dawn.

I confess, it made me cheer a little inside, especially the parts about changing diapers, washing dishes (repeatedly), and giving Mom free time. I tweeted that my husband is fantastic, but I’d be willing to try out polygamy for the writer of that piece. (Not really. Okay, almost.)

Tom finally read it during our special dinner at my parent’s house Sunday night. He didn’t laugh at any of the funny parts, and the first thing he said afterwards was, hadn’t I told him about some research that shows parents are spending more time with their kids nowadays rather than less? I said, “You feel kinda defensive, huh?” He agreed.

“How that article made you feel, that’s how Mother’s Day is for mothers every year. Even if it’s superficially an inspirational piece about how self-sacrificing and wonderful some mother is, that only makes you feel guilty for whatever that mother does that you aren’t doing.”

Tom said he’d never felt guilty on Father’s Day before.

And let me be clear: he has nothing to feel guilty over. Tonight he showed Callie how to sew a button back on her shirt, read bedtime stories, and is even now (at 10:07 pm), still talking with the girls about how to handle hurt feelings and how to know if an impression is from God.

Earlier today I read a guest post at Feminist Mormon Housewives by another stay-at-home father. It’s another funny piece, funny in the gender-role-reversal, he-knows-what-it’s-like, preach-it-brother, sort of way. He takes some light (easy, and reasonable) shots at past hardline patriarchal nonsense and turns some prophetical parental advice to his purposes, and then, oh then, at the end is an emotional zinger I did not see coming. About how, when one parent is the money-earner, the other parent’s life (and self) unconsciously comes second in priority and importance.

The comments I’ve seen on both of these expose-type pieces have been over-the-top adulation and gratitude for highlighting the common plight of stay-at-home mothers and unsung parenting in general.

The only thing is, these posts work on the trope of traditional-gender-role-reversal, but if either of them had been written by women for women, by mothers for other mothers, the writers would’ve been tarred and feathered as mongers of the mommy wars, fanners of the flame killing feminism and, worst of all, sanctimommies.

Which means that a) men really are just as good at being stay-at-home parents as women, even up to and including trying to shame and guilt their co-genderists, b) sancti-fyification of one’s own experience is inevitable and is either 1) a valuable cognitive-processing tool or 2) will be the end of civilization as we know it, or c)”staying at home” is a a really, really odd role: awkward, isolating, un-externally-rewarding/validating, and impossible to inhabit joyfully without telling oneself one is serving a (much) higher good than wiping the baby’s bum one more time.

I have no idea what the solution is, and it’s also easy for me to see that these men had fine (not malicious) intent. Much easier, in fact, than when I come across a sanctimommy post. (Of which, of course, I have been guilty in the past. It’s just so tempting, after all.)



The Church Handbook of Instructions versus the Unwritten Order of Things

The clerk called to ask Tom and I to give the prayers in Sacrament Meeting last week. I told Tom I’d do it as long as I could give the opening prayer.* Tom said the clerk said that was fine, and we were on. And then we forgot. But through some weird karmic time warp thing, we were early to church anyway. For the first time in several months. It might have had something to do with my getting up early and then not starting any new books, and having my Sunbeam lesson all ready the night before. (I know, the on-top-of-things-and-on-the-ball-ness is almost scary.)

*For my in-laws and others who might be baffled by Mormon-speak: some people think only priesthood holders (i.e. only men of a certain age and standing) should open meetings, while women are free to benedict them. The official Church handbook says it can go either way. I was pleasantly surprised that the clerk was un-fazed, because in my recollection I don’t recollect a woman invocating, but of course that could be because I have been late for several months. a-hem.) Also, as an explanatory note, Sunbeams are three-year old children we’re trying to indoctrinate into the gospel. Indoctrinate has a negative connotation, but I think it actually is what we’re doing, right? This morning I read them the Jamie Lee Curtis book “Today I Feel Silly.” I edited out the part where she mentions having diarrhea on the day she doesn’t feel well, and didn’t tell my teaching partner it was by a Hollywood-type, but other than that I feel it was perfectly appropriate. So was Wemberly Worried. This was for lesson #21 “I have feelings.” Perhaps I should start a primary lesson resource blog? (We also talked about the Prodigal Son. I never before realized the vast scope for emotion in that story.)

No wonder I never get Molly’s name right on the first try

My mom says Molly doesn’t look much like my other kids. To me she looks exactly like them and only like herself. (I am getting too fond of the “this and exactly the opposite of that” construction, I know.)

Molly at nine months. Avery wore that dress exactly ten years ago.

My Dad says (in a letter to my brother on his mission in Texas) that Molly isn’t as expressive as her cousin Eliza (my other brother’s first daughter), who isn’t as mobile as Molly. Tom has been a bit miffed ever since that letter (which I think is the cutest thing — Tom feeling a bit miffed on his daughter’s behalf. “Too bad she isn’t very expressive” he smirks as he tickles her into fits of laughter.) This convinces me of the perils of comparison. I try really hard not to compare my daughters (especially in their hearing). But I compare myself to other women all day long, mostly in my head. And it’s probably just as fraught.

Avery at six months at Tracey's reception. Those cheeks! Those arms! Mom's black eye!




Lucky Thirteen

Here is my first world problem a few months ago: my stupid iPod Touch keeps going offline so I can’t watch my shows and surf my interwebs and buy more ebooks. I tell myself this isn’t a big problem, of course it isn’t, and then I think how this little rectangle of metal and glass and technological wizardry is the only thing tethering me to the rest of the world when I am cocooned at home in my nursing chair, baby attached to my breast, four-year old clamoring for drawing supplies.

One minute I wallow wonderingly in the smell and feel of baby and the next, I must read something not written or thought by my own hand or I will die.

I will die.

The message “Cannot connect to the network” flashes again, and my rage simmers. The thought that Tom switched our internet provider so he could get March Madness streaming creeps in, joined by his friend the angry thought that Tom has been stealing my contacts for months and now I am out of lenses for my left eye, while my right eye is well-stocked for the forseeable future. I will walk in circles as my half-corrected vision lists me ever to the center. “I thought you knew” he sends by instant message. I send a word that I don’t print here, which shocks the computer he types on at work, I am sure. There is no obvious reason that the computer can go online and the iPod cannot and oh my goodness I hate technology.

He types something about trying the user manual for the router/modem with the internal PPOI protocol something-something password and it infuriates me that this man who cannot find clothes for his daughters in their dresser drawers speaks technology when I do not.

Then he sends me a link to a funny video and, wait I’ll look for it. I know this chat session was in March because that’s when I started writing this post, and I’m looking at the transcript of instant messages and I’m astonished at the escalation of crazed frustration and how patiently Tom keeps suggesting different passwords for resetting the network and calling the helpdesk to get it elevated to a second-level ticket and then he tells me to take a relaxing bath, which I treat with the scorn it deserves, because: pleasant bath with kids wailing at the door? Right.

He sends the video “speaking of feeling stabby” to me. The song (King of Carrot Flowers) is cute, but there are some f-words in the illustrations, so be warned. I think it’s worth it, even though I’m sure my parents would be shocked that that was something Tom sent to me instead of the other way around. But I can’t even describe how that video, Tom sending it to me with the f-words (I adore the f-word in certain contexts, like in Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha), and the apropos-ness of it, it vanishes my whole filthy awful mood and makes me laugh and cry and love him so much.

His knowing me, knowing what I need, what I like, giving me something I know he probably disapproves of (he is much stricter about that kind of thing and R-rated movies, for e.g. than I am), it’s everything. It is the glue that holds my life together, even when I fear I’ll fly apart.

A couple weeks later we were getting ready for Family Home Evening and one of the kids chose the story of The Good Samaritan for the lesson. Tom comes and whispers in my ear that he wants me to send all the kids upstairs on an errand and he will pretend to hurt himself on the bottom stair and we’ll see if they stop to help him or if they rush back to me to complete their task. We must have bribed them, because it’s not like they jump to fulfill my every request normally.

So they run upstairs and he dramatically falls and Callie rushes down the stairs and jumps over his body to hand me the book I asked for. Avery comes slower and asks him if he’s okay. We unveil the analogy and Callie is so upset that we tricked her, and I reassure her that she gets points for being helpful/obedient.

Sometimes Tom slurps his soup and sometimes he snores all night long. Sometimes he is bashful about calling someone to follow up on something that I want done and sometimes he watches Ultimate Fighting Championship (I guess his standards aren’t that high).

But every single day for the past thirteen years I am so (beyond words, even the f-word) grateful to be his wife.

Happy Anniversary, my love.


Heirloom To-mah-toes

The other night when I intoned my daughter’s full name in the you’re-in-big-trouble-Missie voice, my mother was there, and she said, “So that‘s why you gave her my name.” And I had to admit that there is something satisfying about emphasizing Avery Danielle when my ten-year old has committed some egregious crime of ten-year-oldness.

Danielle is my mother’s first name. Avery comes from a short story by L.M. Montgomery called White Magic, and although Avery is the shallow older sister of the heroine Janet, I picked it for my first daughter’s name about ten years before she was born. (Janet is my grandmother’s name, but it seemed a little prosaic at the time.)

Callie Louise has my mother-in-law’s middle name as her middle name, and Callie comes from another book (okay, a Nora Roberts book, if you must know, but it’s one of her better ones, I promise, and initially I wanted to name her Catherine Louise, after the Catholic saint memorialized in Egypt since she was conceived there, but my mother-in-law said we should name her what we were going to call her, and what do you know, she was right). We also had a great friend in Japan named Maria Louisa (called Lou; all of her sisters were Marias), and I think of her when I say Callie-Lou-Lou.

Lucy Grace has my great-grandmother’s name for her middle name, and Lucy is for L.M. Montgomery. When my family was going through our Would You Rather? phase, I made up the dilemma: Would you rather have 50,000 dollars or discover 50 new books by your favorite author? Now, I like money. I would really like $50,000 to finish my basement and pay off some debt. But I would take 50 books by L.M. Montgomery over that.

By the time Molly came, we had a theme of sorts. Not the cool one my friend Andrea has — her sons’ initials spell the word TREE. But we have two syllable first names ending in a long “e”. And they’re alphabetical. I did work in the library at BYU. So we thought of Sydney and Zoe also for Molly, but finally Molly it was. Zoe would have been cool as a bookend, A-to-Z, thing to signify our done-ness, but it seemed a bit too trendy. I always like names that are around the 300s or so in the Social Security records, as found on the Baby Name Voyager. (That is the coolest name tool. I can spend hours on it.)

We had decided on Molly Shannon for several months, because if fathers can pass on their names, why not mothers, but then I really, really wanted to use the name Marilla, after the woman who adopts Anne Shirley in the book by (can you guess?) L.M. Montgomery. If only Valancy were as moving a name as The Blue Castle is a book. I would have four daughters named Valancy. Valancy Jane, Valancy Marie, Valancy Anne, Valancy Claire.

I like the M.M. thing for Molly Marilla because of M.M. Kaye, too, of course.

So there you have it. Why we named them what we named them, and I confess that I chose each and every one of those names with almost no input from the second x-chromosome contributor. I always said he could name the boys and I would name the girls. How was I to know that would severely limit his influence? In fact with several of the names (especially Marilla), he was quite in opposition, even to looking up names online as I was filling out the birth certificate paperwork just before leaving the hospital after Molly was born, hoping to find something I’d like better. He did not and I did not. Weeks later he told me (as he did with the other names), that it was actually rather cute and he liked it.

I should probably end there, but as a matter of public record, here are my pet peeves associated with the naming of children: weird spellings, weird names, not giving females a middle name (yes they can use their maiden name as a middle name later, but does that mean if they never marry they are never a full person?), listing women only by their first (and middle if existing) name on wedding invites (as if a half person is marrying a whole person, I don’t care how traditional/etiquette-bound it is).

I realize the wedding invite thing doesn’t really pertain to the initial naming of the child, but it seems all of a piece. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t give your daughter a middle name, you’re probably going to say that “Betsy married Jonathan William McNaughton III” too.

I think it’s good to choose an uncommon-ish name and spell it the most common way, to choose a name that has meaning, especially from books and the family tree (yes, even for girls!), and to not listen to anyone else (except me*) when thinking of a name for your child. I like strong consonants and long vowels, and “m”s and “l”s that roll off the tongue.


*that was a joke, kind of. Mostly.

**this post was inspired by a #nayme conversation on twitter that inspired a post on DIZZLEFIG months ago. I hesitated to post it because, full names, ack, but I’ll break the birth dates and social security numbers into several other posts, so we should be okay.

The five best decisions I never made

When it's too cold for swimsuits in the summer time

Lately I’ve been thinking how I really should have had only one child. If Avery was my only child, I’d be set. I’d have my graduate degree (in something) by now, and I’d be pursuing a fabulous career (in something). In Cairo we knew a couple with one child who was about Avery’s age now. At the time (up until Avery was three), I was happy with one child. The husband in this couple told me they’d decided to have one child because that way they wouldn’t have to change their lives. They could have all the good parts of being a parent: the wonder, the love, the perspective expansion, etc, without having to make any serious lifestyle changes. And he was right. With one kid, you don’t even have to choose between your daughter’s swim meet and your other daughter’s soccer game.

Also, each of my children are much pleasanter to interact with one-on-one. I’m lucky in that generally-speaking they all four play pretty well together, but generally speaking somehow glosses over the fights that break out when someone pops a Polly Pocket head off or someone breathes on someone else in the car. Even splitting them down the middle (I prefer taking the oldest and youngest, leaving Tom the middlestest) is a big improvement when you’re trying to get something done.

But then yesterday when Molly woke up from her nap her head had grown three inches. Tom (who notices nothing) even remarked on it as he changed from his work clothes, he even tried to call her his little toddler when she bear walked over to him. I told him we preferred the term baby until the child is at least four years old (this is one of those birth order things: Callie was a baby until 2, Lucy until 3). And then I thought, we could have another one. The minivan has one empty seat, after all. And Mama needs a small baby head to sniff.

Having your own children, creating a being with your own DNA, is maybe the most selfish, self-centered things you can do. Creating someone in your own image, someone who will take up space, eat food, burn fuel, read books from dead trees. It’s almost profoundly arrogant and selfish. I almost can’t get over it.  It’s also the most self-less too, of course, however parenting comes about, because suddenly you’re not the most important thing, even in your own life.

I’m glad I didn’t think of that when I made those decisions I never made. I probably would’ve still had my four children. They are at once three too many and seventeen too few. A horrible compromise, as if you could compromise and have nine-halves of a child, but probably the best number choice for me.

Just like I’m glad I never had to make the decision whether to marry Tom or not. I never thought about it, never once. We thought about Molly before getting pregnant with her. Three seemed good, it seemed like we should think about it before changing things. Until one day I woke up and I didn’t have to think about it, it just had to be.

Why do I think I only need to make better choices to fix my life? Why do I think it matters what I think about things? Why am I certain that if only I could think the right way, think about things carefully throughout the day, everything would be better? The five best decisions I ever made, I never made, they just had to be. David Brooks says (in The Social Animal) that to make good decisions you should flip a coin and then make your decision based on how you feel about the coin flip result.

I guess the only real problem left is, why am I so frustrated, why do I regret so many of my small day-to-day choices (to not exercise, to eat three brownies, to be mad at the kids, to snip at my husband)? How do I get them so wrong when I did so spectacularly well not-making those five most important decisions?

*I have long considered it one of the dichotomies of motherhood that I wish almost simultaneously for only one child and for just one more, but today’s Motherlode epiphanized the non-choice choice thing. The comments are fascinating.