Sunday, December 30, 2007

I Want it All

As a teenager I went to a Broadway play with my mother called, "Oh, Baby!" It was about three different women who each found out they were going to have a baby. The big finale went "I want it all" drumming home the idea that having a family shouldn't stand in the way of a woman's personal ambitions.

When I had my first child, although I adored my sweet baby, I struggled with feeling lonely and intellectually underwhelmed. I thought that I'd stay home full-time for those first years but looked forward to starting a career when they started school. I even worked on a number of part-time venues but inevitably found myself pulled back home because of the needs of my children. Writing is no different. Even now I struggle with walking away from the computer when they come home after school. It is confining, even frustrating, but essential.

The other day my sister emailed with these same feelings but said she had found great comfort in the last verse of "Sweet is the Work" which goes, "Then shall I see and hear and know all I desired and wished below, and every pow'r find sweet employ in that eternal world of joy." There is no earthly way to have it all, in order to be the sort of mother, wife, writer, professional, citizen or individual we want to be- there will be things we need to sacrifice. But what comfort and joy we can have in knowing that in Christ comes "every good thing!" All our righteous ambitions will eventually be fulfilled if we hold fast and endure.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Puzzles are like Life

Every Christmas we have a tradition to work on a jigsaw puzzle as a family. It is a good tradition, not because it is that much fun or really promotes family togetherness but because it clarifies the reality of our family dynamic with such accuracy that the slightest traces of denial are completely obliterated.

When the puzzle arrives on Christmas morning under the tree the whole family feigns delight. My husband, Greg, smiles as long as there are no unicorns or flowers. The boys look at it and nod even though we all know full well they will last maybe two or three minutes. Anna and Sarah say very little because they know they are the ones who will actually do the most of it and I sit back and watch their reactions, wondering why we do this to ourselves every year.

By early afternoon when the presents are opened and the entire house is strewn with torn bits of wrapping paper, instruction manuals that will inevitably be lost and little pieces of Polly Pockets and Bionicles that will end up causing great pain when they are stepped on, one of the boys opens the puzzle box and dumps the thousand pieces in the middle of the kitchen table, ending any hope of a family dinner for the next two days.

The whole family gets in on sorting through the pile, looking for end pieces and shouting with success at their discovery. This is the fun part. Then they divide those into similar colors and in no time the frame takes shape. At this point, they all feel smart and happy but it won't last.

Next, each family member chooses their item. It could be a building or an animal or the sky. The puzzle was chosen specifically with this in mind. We don't do single color puzzles or huge jars of candy canes, there has to be a variety of colors and large, chunky items so we can each take a separate part. But once the going gets tough, the tough get going- literally. One by one the boys begin to disappear and by dinner the girls and I are working diligently on their corners or finishing their brother's ones and we end up just grabbing sandwiches and eating wherever because the table is off limits.

Then once the big parts are assembled and put in place, the background, which usually makes up half of the pieces, looms in the distance. Here is when the girls wave good-bye and I have a decision to make. If I put it away unfinished then we end Christmas with a failure or I can do it myself. So I start the long boring process of trying to fit pieces that look identical into slots that are infinitesimally different. By the time I head to bed it is in the wee hours of the morning and I plop next to my sleeping husband wondering why I ever thought this was a good thing to do. The next morning I wander downstairs far later than I should and find the boys and girls happily gathered around the kitchen table, slurping cereal and fitting in a new piece here and there. I join them and as soon as I do, they lose interest again. The morning dishes stay undone while I labor away with up to five minutes between finding a new connection. Then some magic radar buzzes through the house when there are only about twenty pieces left. Suddenly from everywhere the little red hen is surrounded by the pig and the dog and the cat but instead of asking whether they can enjoy the fruits of my labor, they begin stuffing in pieces as fast as they can and the winner who puts in the last piece throws his hands in the air screaming, "I did it!"

I sit back and smile grateful I'll have my kitchen table back and that it will be a whole year before I have to face this again.

But that isn't really so. Whether its cleaning the kitchen after a big meal, doing a school project or getting a son through his Eagle Scout project, mothers often work alone late into the night to bring success to their family. Yup, we'll do it again next year- that's our job.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sister Beck's Talk and the dog going pee

Last night I had to get up and let the dog out. She is sixteen years old and when she starts to whine, I will wake up from the soundest sleep in order to avoid cleaning up a mess in the morning. The problem is if you leave her outside, she'll scratch at the back door all night. While I was waiting for her to do her business out in the cold, I sat up to the computer and did a search on something I had heard about but never looked into. My sister lives in Alpine and knows Sister Beck. She told me that it has been a great sorrow to her to see the negative reaction of some sisters to her talk. I'm like "what negative reaction?"

At this point I know you are rolling your eyes because I live in a complete bubble, but it is a great bubble to live in, trust me. Anyway, I first pulled up a BYU bulletin board and my mouth hit the ground. Then I went to a reponse to a Exponent II article and was equally shocked. I heard about the petition but I had read enough. I know I hate child abuse so I do not need to read the details of evil acts to know I hate it worse. I stand for the safety of children and move on.

I felt the same way about every negative word and just had a few points to make.

1. "Women who know believe in having children" & "being a Mother is the most important thing a women can do."
This was the first area of contention among the sisters that were grumping out and I suppose I should just roll my eyes and pray they grow up. Do they realize how few stable families welcome new little angels into their homes, even within the church? When I lived in Minnesota my children were the only ones on the whole street. But if I went down to the projects, there were many single mothers with large families and mobs of children. Even if you don't believe families are forever, the most powerful thing you can do to save our culture, to encourage education and improve our society is to have a righteous family of well-trained leaders.
I can just imagine the little spirits waiting to come to earth, watching us and being told that they don't get to come to a righteous family because your mother wanted to have time to herself, didn't want to budget or live in a house that wasn't 'normal', which excuse are you going to tell the baby you didn't have?
In my ward I have three heros. Tammy just had her ninth baby. She is gorgeous, vibrant, talented and smart. Her husband supports her and she throws incredible parties for the children, puts on the best Primary activities days and laughs easily. Wow! There is Jenni who struggles physically with childbirth and has dealt with grief, but after feeling impressed, decided to have a third child. It will probably be her last, but the joy that this decision has brought her glows from her face as does the Spirit in appreciation of her sacrifice. Then there is Ashley who had cancer as a child and can't have children of her own. She is currently a lawyer and is doing very well for herself. On listening to Sis. Becks talk she knew that she was not actively mothering right now but used it as a pattern for her attitudes and filed it away for future reference. In her heart she said, I would if I could and she was blessed for it.

2. "Nurturing means dishes and laundry"
No one on the planet hates doing housework more than I do and unfortunately too often I don't do it. My kitchen sink is rarely empty, if ever. When she said these words it stung and rightfully so, but her point was that nurturing is doing the mundane. I am so tired of women who think it is demeaning to clean house, that their time is worth more. In doing daily tasks we are serving those we love and we are taught humility, which seems to be in short supply these days. She did not say these activities define us but they are important and should be a goal. You never see the temple messy. Our homes should have the same spirit but noisier- much noisier.

3. General Bad-mouthing of People you Sustained-
The terrifying thing for me is to look in the scriptures at the reaction of the people to a prophet. When they refuted their words, they were ripe for destruction. Now, I'm not talking about making fun of a hair-do (I'm not saying whose) or a type of phraseology, but when we refute their message after sustaining them, that is serious stuff. Besides Sister Beck never said that every women had to believe the things she said, only "women who know"- women who get it.

Lastly, I have to end by saying that when Sister Beck was in the YW I thought how unfair it was that they got her because she was so doctrinally meaty and clear. She doesn't sugar-coat messages so that everyone nods their heads softly and then forgets what she said the next day. When we got her as the new General Relief Society President, I didn't just lift my hand I waved it enthusiastically. We are so abundantly blessed to have a woman who stands up and in strong, well-crafted words clarifies truths that have been held too silent, but have never changed. I adore her for that. I consider her brave, intellegent and hope that she knows that the greatest gift she gave to the women who listened to her message, even those who didn't agree, was a chance to revisit their views about motherhood and (herein lies the rub) see if they are in accordance with gospel principles or not.

2. "

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wii, Wii, Wii all the way home

OK, so I understand the logic behind Nintendo's attempt not to over-hire for a temporary blip in production only to have to lay off employees once the market is saturated. It is also a brilliant marketing strategy to create a shortage of game systems to keep consumers hungry and willing to pay over $200 for something that is going to suck in at least twice that much in accessories and be a constant financial drain when you look at the price of games- not to mention the wasted hours of mind numbing, hypnotic, electronic-induced stupidity I will be training my children to become part of.

That said, I want one. My teenagers don't want anything else and will even settle for a raincheck, rather than have something other than a Wii under the tree on Christmas morning. I was determined not to give in but it would be a great way to spend the two weeks of vacation after Christmas since it will be raining the whole time (we are in Portland.) And, you know, the more I started looking for it, the more I fell victim to Nintendo's marketing ploy. I really want one.

So then I started looking on the computer and was amazed how plentiful they are if your want to pay twice the store price. Is anybody else angry with the hundreds of enterprising individuals who have bought extras so they could sell them for a profit on ebay or craig's list. Normally, I would shrug and say it is the American Way, but I find that now my emotions have seeped into the decision, my attitude is drifting towards thinking they are all scrooges who should be fined, forced to donate their profits to foster kids and forbidden from ever touching a Wii again. Jerks.

(I once read an article about women in politics written during the suffrage era. It said that women were so emotionally invested in their homes and children that they could never be impartial enough to be allowed to vote. Although I don't necessarily agree, on PMS-y days I can see the point.)

Well, tomorrow there are supposed to be 18 coming in on a truck at Game Stop. My son wants to camp out at 3am. When they are gone, we can pay the full price and come home with a piece of paper to put under the tree, promising that the next system to come on the truck (after the other 40 parents that did the same thing) will be ours. Just watch, it will come the same day Winter break is over- just my luck.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's Been A Year


In sitting down to look at my last year, I have to admit, it has been one of my most incredible. It started with watching my oldest son leave on his mission to Tennessee in February. We bought him Wal-mart suits for $50 and found a cheap used bike from another missionary that was on his way home who gave it away for next to nothing. Brian got out there for a bargain and has been serving faithfully- which has been awesome.

Two months later we moved from Minnesota to Oregon. My husband had been Branch President but was incredibly unhappy at work. When the opportunity for a transfer presented itself, he leapt at it with both feet. We were concerned about selling the house in such a slow market, but as luck would have it, a friend unexpectedly sold her house and asked if they could rent for a year if they could take possession in three weeks. In a blur we were packed and out the door, headed to the great Northwest.

Once here, I was BORED! All the children started school, and my empty days were driving me crazy. I found a part-time job at the local university in the Psychology department and was excited to begin working there. (They really wanted me and the money was good.) After a year, I would even qualify for free tuition. I have a secret dream of working with women who are struggling with depression, so it seemed like the perfect answer to the doldrums and I accepted just two weeks after the move. But the day before I was to begin work, I went to the temple and felt black inside. I cried all the way home because I knew the job was the wrong thing for me and my family, but I didn't have anything else and couldn't see just being HOME ALONE for hours on end, feeling like a scullery maid. (OK, I have issues.)

Well, a few weeks later after moping, crying and finally deciding to either start working in the temple or family history center, my sister called to tell me her publisher had fallen through. She was speaking at Education Week in a few months and was hoping to have her first book out on "Alfred Edersheim," a Biblical scholar quoted generously by Talmage and McConkie. She decided to self-publish and asked me to read through her manuscript. It was fascinating stuff but seemed heavy to my light-hearted brain. After I gave her my suggestions she was thrilled and together we organized the manuscript to publish it. Marianna was so pleased with the end result she decided, almost as an afterthought, to send it off to Cedarfort before having it printed. They loved it and not only wanted to publish that one, but an entire series of books on non-LDS authors quoted by church authorities. My brilliant sister asked if I would co-author them with her. It was like an answer to prayer. Now I had something fun to do!

The next week the Bishop called and I was asked to be YW president in the ward. I thought the Bishop was crazy but oddly I knew right away who my counselors should be eventhough I barely knew these women at all. The wierdest thing was that in every case they had been given the feeling that I was going to be President and they would be my counselors weeks before I had any clue that anything was up- and I'd only been in the ward a few months. AHHH!

So now my days were full (over-full)- right? The summer whizzed by and my youngest son was baptized. I sat in the bleachers at the pool watching the kids swim with my laptop in my lap, finishing the last of the editting on Edersheim and with my newfound 'success' (not mine at all but my ambitious sister's) I decided at the end of the summer on a lark to rewrite a story I had written about a women given the worst visiting teaching route ever and how it became her greatest blessing. Well, four weeks after sending it in I got two large envelopes back in the mail. I opened the first and my daughters, Anna and Sarah, grabbed the second. Deseret had sent their form rejection letter, which I am very familiar with, and I wadded it up as Sarah read, "We loved your manuscript and want to publish it." I glared at her, "Very funny," and went back to making dinner, thinking she was pulling my leg. My girls were jumping around and screaming, showing the letter to their brothers and their dad and I was getting mad that they were carrying this joke WAY too far, when they handed me the letter. It was real!

They say when it rains, it pours--- or that scripture about the windows of heaven opening so wide that "there will not be room enough to receive it." I am so grateful but so busy I don't have time to go to the bathroom-- and it is only going to get better.