Living up to our privileges

I went to the temple for the first time in a long time on Thursday, and while I felt half imposter-sinner and half conscientious-objector while I was convented there, there was a point where tears overtook me and I felt it was a direct answer to doubts I have been having recently. Doubts about whether there is a place for me in the structural church, with my dangerous questions.

Last week I got an email from one of my favorite cousins. I wanted to defer to the priesthood authority in my home and beg my husband to answer for me (because my husband understands, and maybe the same idea from him would be conceivable?) — but the response, my only response, to that and all the other (however well-meaning) shushings I have received all my life is a barbaric and desperate yawp into the gaping maws of benevolent paternalism that I am entitled to my questions.

I am entitled to my questions. I will have and do have and have had questions. You can have my house, my shelter, you can have my books, you may take my Diet Mountain Dew, but you may not take my questions. (You can’t take my daughters, either, unless you promise to not return them when the whining starts.)

God is not threatened by my questions. He understands them, and me, and our entire church is based on the idea that asking questions is a good thing.

In the temple Eve has a small role, but she asks five extremely incisive questions. And then she sets the whole plan in motion by her actions.

With Eve as a model, the creation story as a guide (Adam is a bit of a dim bulb, yes?) and the admonitions of so many as an excuse, I am tempted to concede that it is quite fundamentally obvious, yes, that women are naturally and innately superior to men in all aspects of spirituality. We are born nurturers, we are intelligent enough to ask the right questions and we are courageous enough to do what needs to be done. Of course we do not need the priesthood or comprehensively-planned and well-funded developmental activities. Of course we do not need to approach our education with a career in mind or learn any of the things involved in heading a household. Is it the errand of angels to change tires?

We do not need lessons in leading or calls to action or reminders of duty. We have no need of entering into covenants with the Lord directly when we will always, from birth, through every stage of life, unto death, have a man at our side to mediate that relationship for us. Why would we need to speak to God for ourselves, anyway, when we are already, by virtue of our congenital chromosomes, as perfect as a man might someday hope to be with the priesthood as his aid? Even our transgressions are not our own but the responsibility and realm of the man whose rib made us. We can own no wrong.

Why would any man ever think he knows better than I what it means to be faithful and content and devout? Doesn’t he know what I am? Doesn’t he know that I am a woman, and as such, his innate superior in every spiritual way?

And that is not even counting my motherhood. Four children and two souls lost to miscarriage. In the motherhood-priesthood equivalency, that would parallel, what? Deacon for Avery, Teacher for miscarriage one (or is a miscarriage like an ordination temporarily derailed by one dissenting vote of non-sustaining? Let’s count it for now), Priest for Callie, Elder for Lucy, High Priest for miscarriage two, Patriarch for Molly.

If I embrace the “woman don’t need the priesthood because they’re naturally righteous” and the “motherhood and priesthood are complementary” arguments, it would seem that, logically (or I should say spiritually, because it is not in logic but spirit that women exceed male capacity), I am a seriously righteous Patriarch (Matriarch), who can stop apologizing for asking questions.

My kingdom for a happy baby

Last week Molly was miserable. She was fine (a different baby! said my dad. Happy to see us and quick to warm up!) when passed around from aunt to grandparents to dad while I got psyched about nutrition, organization, parenting and marriage at Education Week. And then I came home, after a week of unconcerned nights and peaceful days.

At the end of my retro-stay at BYU, I realized I hadn’t sworn in a week. And it wasn’t hard, either: I didn’t even have to try. I didn’t mumble or think or start to mumble-think a single naughty word in six whole days. And then I realized — I didn’t get mad for an entire week. No anger, no frustration, no wearing a rubber band around my wrist to remind me that the f-word was off-limits.

Just: no kids = no anger = no swearing.

Shouldn’t I be able, I asked myself, to give said self this gift all the time of not getting angry? If I simply refused to get mad, couldn’t I be happier all the time?

No. No I could not, I realized about twelve-hours post re-entry into my real life.

But now that I’m writing this (instead of making dinner, while the kids watch a movie upstairs) (post homework and swimming) (we haven’t fallen that far), instead of writing the post I sat down to write, about how Molly is, instead this has become about how I am, instead instead instead. I realize/remember/recommit that I shall simply choose to be happy (or at least not mad).

So Molly anyway. Molly has been clingy and teary and whiney, sitting on my lap at the dinner table, sometimes edging one leg over her own chair pushed up close to mine but still keeping one leg draped on me. I must turn to the empire for whinging or grizzling — is that not the best term for baby fussiness?

I took her to the doctor the week before last, worried (hoping) it was an ear infection, we aren’t demanding antibiotics, of course not, just let this horrible constant neediness have a reason and not be the new normal.

Then Molly turned two and I thought (horrified), is this the terrible twos that I blocked out of my brain, always thinking the independent threes were harder to deal with? Please bless no!

Before things could get much better (and after I felt stupid at the doctor’s with the “no visible signs of illness but she could still have a virus, you did the right thing, head-pat mommy”), we got her two-year vaccination and a flu shot and rounded the corner on another week of give-me-some-sleep-or-shoot-me enduring.

Well, all that grumbling and groaning on my part to tell you that, knock-on-wood, happy bouncing Molly is back, and if she will stay for a while at least, we need never speak of those two weeks again.


Everything you needed to learn on the way to kindergarten

We’re riding our bikes to school this year and even though it’s still quite warm (mid-90s) by the time afternoon kindergarten rolls around, I love the little extra bursts of activity I’m getting in my day. It doesn’t compare to Tom’s 18 mile each-way bike to work, but it’s a bit of fresh air. The low hills around our little valley, covered in drying grasses and small green tree-bushes against the blue sky and brilliant clouds remind me of an post-impressionist painting of Provence or something. It’s gorgeous outside, is what.

Every day I remind Lucy to look both ways, and to look up again after glancing down to get her feet aligned on her pedals. She’s still a bit wobbly on her big two wheeler, but she has relaxed her tense grip somewhat and she no longer panics (much) when other riders are within ten feet of her.

Today she pedaled right across the church parking lot driveaway without glancing to either side. When I prodded her, she said, “I was following you, Mommy. I knew you would look.”

Yes, Lucy, I will look for you every single day that I can, but you have to look for yourself too now.

Look for yourself, Lucy-goosey.


Teacher gifts, feminist edition

Yesterday we met Avery’s new teacher. She is the meanest teacher, like ever on the face of the planet. This does not dismay me, in fact she seems kind of silly, but maybe that is just a nervous, day-before-the-first-day laugh.

Avery is eager to visit with her teacher from last year, the wonderful Mr. C, who welcomed her late to his class after her forced trial of the charter school. I stand outside with the baby, waiting for Avery’s effusions to settle. Mr. C.’s window is decorated with orange basketball cutouts featuring this year’s students’ names. A border of athletic trading cards frames “Mr. C.’s MVPs.” I look closer. I look closer still. This is the first time I have scrutinized trading cards (playing cards?) in such scrutinous fashion.

They are all men.

The posters of athletes adorning his walls inside the classroom are all men too.

Later, Avery asks why this is a problem. She is blessed with a most enviable sense of loyalty. Mr. C. can do no wrong.

I say, why does he have those trading cards and posters up? Is it because he admires those players? Because he is trying to share one of his interests with you, trying to relate to you with something you might both like? Is he suggesting them as role models? Does he hope they will inspire you to try hard, never give up, be diligent and hard-working?

Do they not make trading cards and athletic posters of athletes who are female? (They do. I looked it up.)

She stonewalls me. What’s wrong with having all men up?

What if, I ask. What if all of the athletes were white and you were black? (What if they all were black and you were white?) What if they were all scientists and there were no women, no Rosalind Franklin, no Marie Curie? What if they were all writers and no Gail Carson Levine, no Shannon Hale, no Lois McMaster Bujold? All astronauts and no Sally Ride? Would it be easy to imagine yourself an athlete, a scientist, a writer, an astronaut?

I don’t think it would be easy at all, and I want it easy for my daughters to imagine themselves as anything.

2012 Topps US Olympic Team #26 Rebecca Soni Swimming ENCASED U.S. Olympic Trading Card!

(Giving Mr. C. some trading cards and posters of the female variety was Tom’s idea. Sometimes solutions are the best sympathy.)

image: Amazon

Blessings for Callie on the start of second grade

I prepare my oil. Coconut, not olive. Lavender for calm, peppermint for cool clarity, vanilla for warmth, ginger for spice. The oil warms my palms as I rub them briskly. I hold the back of her neck in my hands, sweeping from the top of her spine to the base of her skull. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. Tense your toes, relax your toes, tense your calves, relax your calves. Breathe as slowly as you can. In and out. Tense your belly and relax, up and up until you tense your forehead and relax. I run my fingers up her scalp and tug gently on her earlobes. Then brush my hand over her forehead, smoothing her hair back from her brow. I love you so much, nigh-night, sleep well, breathe slowly.

Tom blesses with priesthood, laying his hands lightly on the top of her head, the lovingest of fathers. That she may remember who she is, do her best, understand what she is taught, be kind and friendly and helpful. I bless with love and soothing comfort. Anytime of day, she can stop and breathe deeply, in and out, as slowly as she can.

My daughter.

Milk for thought

I am still mortified, almost two years later, by what I said to that newly-pregnant young college student. I was at a dinner with my husband for the guest speakers at a university’s pre-professional writing conference. Tom was the corporate drone representative. Our dinner companions were poets and fiction writers and essayists. And the newly-pregnant daughter of one of the distinguished guests. She and her husband were excited about the baby, but he was much more talkative than she. I’m afraid I let my own recent experience of natural-ish childbirth and my innate inclination to argue overcome common sense and I said a lot of things that probably frightened/discouraged/overwhelmed her. Our friend (the one who had invited Tom to the conference) tried to stem the debate over doctor versus midwife and I couldn’t stop myself from one last prod: “Well, you are going to breastfeed at least, right?”

If I could go back in time and duct tape my own mouth shut (preferably before my first response to her husband’s opinions), I would.

Now it is not-long-enough later, and my baby is weaned, officially: this time it is really true. It has been three days since our last “last” nursing. Our nursing chair is now the reading chair. Instead of patting my breasts and asking for “nur-ning,” at naptime, Molly leans happily back against my chest and looks intently at the books. The literal has become the metaphorical.

My body is, again, and permanently now after four children, exclusively my own. My mind is still not my own. What I cannot give in milk now I give in words and images and story.

Where with nursing I was able to give them all they needed from my own body, with stories I rely on others. Authors and libraries and illustrators. It is still me: my eyes reading the words, my mouth speaking the sounds, my lap cradling and my arms embracing, but the words are usually someone else’s.

And yet, or to twist the metaphor back, I must recommend nursing to you, if you have ever had any interest or desire or passing of thought of what it might be like. It is wonderful! I have loved it so much! There is nothing quite like it, as I am sure there is nothing like walking in the Lake District or practicing yoga in an ashram in India.

I must recommend it, I cannot be stopped, just as I would recommend to you my favorite novel. (Have you read The Blue Castle yet? How about some Annie Dillard? Emily Dickinson?) Perhaps my favorite novel is not translated to your language yet, or it is on hold at the library for somebody else. If so, I am so sorry, and I do not (of course I do not) disparage you for choosing a different book. Just be kind, I beg of you, when someone admits they’ve named all of their children after characters they found in the pages of their own favorite books. — And when someone you know reads their favorite book in public.

Reviewing Molly’s Birth, a natural childbirth testimony

Breastfeeding in public: What’s the big deal?



More (or less) baby

This morning Molly (aged 18 months) opened the refrigerator, pulled out a Ziploc with a piece of leftover pizza in it, opened the bag and started eating. Possibly my other children did this (they learn young to fend for themselves), but I don’t remember quite such precocity. Either way, now that she has mastered cold-pizza-for-breakfast, she’s ready to sleep through History of Civilization.

Here she is helping herself to more of the lunch of champions last week:

I try to not take my kids’ development too personally, not to feel that accomplishments or milestones reached early are due to superior parenting OR to blame myself for set-backs like Lucy’s (hopefully overcome) kleptomania, but I admit I have always felt a little proud of how self-sufficient my kids are. But there’s a definite downside. An eighteen-month old’s self-sufficiency is not the same as a thirty-four-year old’s and the biggest difference is in the collateral damage. Sure, she can feed herself and get as much down her gullet as I can, but how is the floor going to look afterward?

Luckily for the kids, my laziness in the moment is greater than my cleaner’s regret in the long run. Though I did draw the line at Molly sitting in her high chair. She thought she was ready to graduate to sitting/kneeling/standing like her sisters and for a week or so I didn’t fight that battle. Then one day after mopping (we’re talking big chunks, I’m not a cleanliness martyr) the floor three times before naps, I apologized in advance at the dinner table and then we strapped her into her seat. She screamed for what seemed like an eternity and was probably only (only!) three-four minutes, eyes bulging, forehead splotching. Since then she hasn’t protested. The funny thing about that is I know moms who would look at me like I’m crazy: “You let her eat outside of the high chair?” and from others: “You forced her to sit in the high chair?”

I’ve been a mom for eleven years now, and . . . I don’t know what to tell you. Today she worked her way around the kid table after the cake and ice cream for her cousin’s birthday, scavenging off the plates half-ravaged by children impatient to get back to playing. She was so cute and stealthy (and had sat in her seat for the mashed potatoes) that I didn’t stop her until Callie realized it was her plate Molly was pilfering and protested, loudly. I guess that makes me an Anti-Helicopter-Free-Range Parent.