What is Mother’s Day to these groups? I may have missed some categories, but in general this is what I have observed:
Married women with children
Single women with children
Women with special needs children
Single women without children
Married women without children
Women who have lost children through tragedy: war, accident, illness, other circumstances
Women who have lost mothers
Women who don’t want children
Women who can’t have children but want them
Looking at this list, I know what it’s like to:
be married with a child
have a (relatively high functioning) special needs child
want another child but unable to have one (yet)
be single until the age of 36 until marriage stabilized my life enough to have children
This is my life experience so far, and I admit my empathy is limited to women who fit into these categories. Some fit neatly, for some the lines are blurred. I do my best to understand that, too.
I know women who:
are single with children
are single without children
have special needs children across a very broad spectrum
have lost children through tragedy
have lost mothers
don’t want children
can’t have children but want them
Every Mother’s Day I think about these women. What are their struggles? How do they cope? Is this holiday something they even care about, or is it just another day? It seems the world praises mothers as women who have children, but I’ve always felt strongly that to be a mother you do not have to have children. I’ve always cringed at that part of that (cultural/societal) definition of motherhood; I’ve always felt to side with those who may fall in the shadows of the child bearers.
Not that child bearers shouldn’t be standing tall, because they totally should. Raising children is never easy, and devoted moms everywhere should be extremely proud of their hard work. My mom is wonderful. She sacrificed and taught and nurtured and scolded and guided me to learn really important lessons about life. I will always be grateful for everything she’s done and is doing for me.
I know many wonderful women who qualify as “super moms,” because they’re doing it all. They overcome all obstacles; they push aside excuses. They bend the universe around their will. These women have determination and passion, and I know they have their own trials and internal conflicts, but to me they are unstoppable. I admire them, because I know they also have to be super tired all the time.
But you guys. YOU. GUYS. I probably know even more women who deeply suffer when Mother’s Day comes around. It seems they feel a lot of traditional moms look down on them. They feel inferior, less than; their divinities/self-worths don’t measure up because of their different life experiences. Feeling this way, year after year — or even every day for some — is really hard.
If we don’t dedicate this day only to women with children, are we dismissing them? Is this their one day to feel better than the women without children? To say, “I’m so much more like Christ now because I have children”? Is motherhood the only thing that matters to our (eternal) happiness?
Wouldn’t the womanly and motherly thing to do is to include and love women for their differences and experiences, no matter what they are?
Every ten years or so a good thought graces my soul, and four years ago on Mother’s Day I posted this on Facebook, and it still holds up:
As women are all descended from Eve, we all should remember our nobility as Mothers of All Living. Our stewardship, however we currently define it in our lives, is divine.
Happy Mother’s Day.
To my glorious mom, happy Mother’s Day. To all mamas everywhere, happy Mother’s Day. But especially to my dear women friends who face pain, loss, and sadness, and live with heartbreak: at the very least, you have nurtured and guided me and helped me heal in profound ways. If that isn’t being a mother, I don’t know what is. Happy Mother’s Day to you.
2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.
Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.
Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.
After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.
Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.
I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:
The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.
The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.
I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.
Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.
She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.
This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.
My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.
Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.
Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.
Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.
Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.
How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?
Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.
This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.
I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.
I have marched.
Contacted my senators and representatives.
We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!
Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.
It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.
This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.
I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.
Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.
About a month ago I was feeling nostalgic about NYC, as I sometimes do, and I remembered that my friend Brook started a lecture series there where she would invite various experts to talk about their specialties. It all started in her living room with a small group then grew into an impressive crowd. She called it the Living Room Lecture Series.
This memory sparked in me a desire to copy her. I texted some friends to see what they thought:
Hey, friends! I’m thinking of starting a quarterly lecture series at my house. Maybe 20-minute talks, followed by discussion and treats. The lectures would come from us and cover a variety of topics. Reilly could talk about Family Guy, Maddie could discuss writing copy or songs, Kylie poetry or Ndichie, Jon film, etc. You don’t have to lecture if you don’t want to. Does this sound fun? Would you support this?
OH MY HELL. I would ADORE THIS.
I strongly support this message.
If kids are welcome I’m totally interested. We used to do something similar in DC and I love that kind of thing! Also I’m also interested without the kid. Both ways, totally interested.
So we set a date and time, which was February 18 at 7:30pm. I thought about holding these meetings in our basement, which has wood paneling and strange patchy brown carpet from the ’80s. I decided to call this thing the ’80s Basement Lecture Series. Genius, I know.
This past Saturday the guests arrived, and we gave them a tour of our home. Then we ate some pizza and got really drunk. JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO PIZZA. Just kidding, we had a lot of pizza and zero alcohol.
We headed down to the basement. I introduced Reilly, and he gave a terrific lecture about satire and its evolution on television over the past 30 years. He defined indirect and direct satire, using Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as examples. He hinted a quick comparison of Tomi Lahren and Samantha Bee. He showed clips from the Simpsons and Parks and Recreation. We had a fascinating discussion about the current political climate and people who don’t get satire. And we discussed the purpose of satire: in what ways does it motivate us to act/speak/think? It was a lot of fun.
I looked at the group of us and wondered: Are THESE the people I like hanging out with, slightly strayed, slightly jack-Mormon AND incredibly faithful, moderate-to-left-leaning, super smart, extremely big-hearted; socially conscious, ever eager agents of change to make the world a better place?
Yes, YES. A frillion times yes.
The conversation, their presence, their intelligence and spirit: I basked in it all.
I’m not gonna lie. It’s great bringing people together to share ideas and foster and strengthen friendships. But I may have started this lecture series just for me. Selfish little me.
There is a scene in the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out where Bing Bong is sad because his space rocket has been thrown away. Joy needs to get to headquarters and tries to cheer him up by being happy and silly, but Bing Bong keeps being sad and won’t tell her how to get to the Train of Thought. Then Sadness walks up to Bing Bong and tells him she’s sorry that his rocket his gone, that it must have meant a lot to him. She gives him a hug, he cries on her shoulder, and he opens up to her. Joy tries to interrupt to say there’s not time for that, but once Bing Bong has someone to sympathize with him, he says he feels better and points to where they can catch the Train of Thought. On their way, Joy asks Sadness, “Hey, how’d you do that?” Sadness starts, “Well, I just -” and then the train arrives.
We know how she did it.
Sometimes all I want is to talk about my problems. My feelings. It helps me feel better to have someone listen and not want to jump in with solutions. Just to be there, to reassure me, to be supportive or say something like, “I’m sorry that happened.” Or “I know how that feels.” Or “What a sucky situation.”
I know what the solutions are. It’s not like I haven’t done the research, and the new information often can overwhelm me with yet more things I can do wrong or have failed at. More often than not I have applied this new information and am still frustrated. There are situations where I feel utterly helpless; there are times when I need to feel the uniqueness of an experience in my life before understanding that others have traveled a similar journey. This is when I can best feel the support of humanity, once I peek out of my self-involved bubble and am reminded that I am not alone.
It might just be certain personalities to offer fixes right away. And it’s definitely my accommodating personality to accept these people while still feeling horrible inside. Yes, thank you for trying to help, but that’s not what I need. Yes, I will feel better soon, but I first need to be allowed to feel sad/helpless/frustrated/embarrassed. That’s a part of my process, and it helps me in the long run if I don’t dismiss it or diminish it in any way.
Of course I try not to be melodramatic or overreact, and I’m resilient.
A not-so-heavy example: Yes, I’ve been complaining the past seven weeks about my cold. But should one suffer with a cold for that long? Should I rearrange my life around coughing, since it has wedged itself into my schedule? Should I just say “Oh, well” when my ribs are bruised from coughing so violently and for so long? No. But these things have happened to me, and I plan to get through them and to rise up stronger and more determined than before.
But for now, my body still needs to expel phlegm. But when I do this, or laugh, or take deep breaths, it hurts my ribs on the left side.
What’s my process? First, whine about it. Check: I’ve told several people, who range in sympathy, from: “Have you been checked for pneumonia?” to “Oh, man, I’m sorry. That sucks.”
Next, process this feedback. I’m glad that I could tell people who were willing to listen. I’m grateful for those who stepped back and truly sympathized/empathized. And I’m learning to be grateful for the form of concern people offer as suggestions or solutions. People mean well. And people have different points of reference.
Next, question myself: Wait, what am I doing trying to understand the people I want to understand me? Why does this feel like a bigger effort from me all of a sudden?
Next, return to feeling grateful: People love me, and they care.
Next, keep on keeping on: I’m going to make sure I get plenty of sleep and food and exercise. I’m going to work hard at work and be a good mom and wife and friend, one day at a time. Hopefully enough days pass to heal my ribs and make my cough go away.
Any time along the way, this process could repeat itself any number of times.
I’m well aware others are in far worse situations. The not-so-heavy example of my bruised ribs partly serves to imply that much heavier issues are going on in my life. I’ve talked to some people about those issues, implemented these very steps of handling my emotions and becoming stronger and moving forward with my life. The sadness, helplessness, and frustration would be a much greater burden without this process.
It’s a blessing to share these clunkier and unpleasant parts of my life with the people who mean the most to me. Thank you for being there.
Something sad happened today. The youngest child of two of my high school friends passed away. They posted a photo of their daughter on Facebook. The little one was in a wheelchair, smiling. Sending her off with a farewell full of both sorrow and joy.
I never met this impressive little girl, but I know my friends. Over the years they shared photos and let us get to know of their daughter’s fighting spirit and cheerful personality. I stared at the one photo today and wept. I commented with condolences, trying to be strong for these friends who have to be so heartbroken right now.
Before today’s photo, my friends posted photos of their other children posing with their sister. There was so much love, and I was hoping and praying so hard for her to pull through. It was not meant to be. I am grateful to have seen these precious last moments of her life, so full of joy and compassion and love. Her family surrounding her, cherishing their time left with her in mortality.
At this moment I’m thinking of bedtime. You know the routine: go potty, change into an overnight diaper, brush teeth, say prayers. Dadda gives you a big kiss goodnight, and I lie with you for a few minutes as you wind down for sleep.
Usually you take my hand and lead me to your toddler bed. I lie down, and you lie beside me. The soft purple and pink beams of your night light roll in a small circle on the ceiling, and Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” plays softly in the background.
We talk for a little bit. I ask about your day; I describe mine. Sometimes one of your legs rests on top of me; sometimes we hold hands.
This is my favorite part of the day.
When I try to get up, you grab my hand or hold my head down to make sure I stay with you.
A few more minutes.
A lot of people consider turning 30 years old a major milestone in their lives. This week you turned 30 months.
You’re getting taller.
You tolerate a crowd of children, but most of the time you’d rather play alone. You’ve shown this numerous times at daycare and in the church nursery.
We won’t force you to make friends. You might be a lot like me in this regard. I either reach out, or I don’t. I either reciprocate friendly gestures, or I don’t.
I hope that you become better than I am. For that to happen, I need to be better than I am.
I told you about these friends tonight, as we lay in your little bed, trying to sleep. I was blinking back tears in the darkness. I told you my friends were sad, that you would have loved their daughter. I squeezed you a little tighter, a little longer, hoping the embrace somehow would reach my friends.
As we snuggle every night, I think about this, how the time passes. I dread the moment when you’ll no longer want me lying beside you, talking about our day. You’ll hurry me out of your room instead of getting me to stay. I will yearn to find warmth and comfort in the pride I have for our wonderful daughter. Wonderful you.
This abstractness worries me. I equate it with a void of a little body beside me in a little bed. The absence of gazing through the dark at each other, eyes connecting the way only a parent and child’s can connect.
Until that moment, I will lie next to you. I will enjoy the space you occupy, the warmth you emanate, for as long as you let me.
Whenever I think about resolutions, there are the standard goals of exercising more and eating better, reading more books and eating out less, waking up earlier and writing more, but my greatest desires for improvement always lie in relationships.
Back in August, Reilly and I gave talks at church about the complementarity of gender roles. We had moved to a new area of town at the beginning of June, and this was a way for us to bear our testimonies and for our fellow ward members to get to know us better.
(This reminds me that we forgot to tell people we’d moved, so we’ve received a lot of Christmas cards this week with yellow stickers reminding us to tell people our new address. Sorry, guys. If you still need our address, let me know.)
When the day came to give our talks, we’d already been in the ward two months, and that gave me a chance to observe the members and relate my thoughts on gender roles to our ward, which consists of a large number of nontraditional family situations. We were specifically instructed only to use the scriptures and General Conference talks in our remarks. This makes sense because I’ve heard people say some truly outrageous things from the pulpit. I referred to this talk by Sister Chieko N. Okazaki and emphasized this quote:
Here are two quilts. Both are handmade, beautiful, and delightful to snuggle down in or wrap around a grandchild. Now look at this quilt. It’s a Hawaiian quilt with a strong, predictable pattern. We can look at half of the quilt and predict what the other half looks like. Sometimes our lives seem patterned, predictable in happy ways, in order.
Now look at this second quilt. This style is called a crazy quilt. Some pieces are the same color, but no two pieces are the same size. They’re odd shapes. They come together at odd angles. This is an unpredictable quilt. Sometimes our lives are unpredictable, unpatterned, not neat or well-ordered.
Well, there’s not one right way to be a quilt as long as the pieces are stitched together firmly. Both of these quilts will keep us warm and cozy. Both are beautiful and made with love. There’s not just one right way to be a Mormon woman, either, as long as we are firmly grounded in faith in the Savior, make and keep covenants, live the commandments, and work together in charity.
The ideas in this analogy include and not exclude, and I want to apply them not only to my family but to every interaction I will face.
I described ways in which Reilly and I are compatible. We love books, music, good television and movies. We’re both short. But is compatibility the same as complementarity? Being a complement takes effort, it requires work to observe and a desire to understand; deep and meaningful relationships go beyond what we have in common. Commonalities are a good place to start, though.
At the beginning of November, we attended a friend’s wedding reception. We didn’t stay long because Z was struggling with the big unfamiliar crowd. It was wonderful seeing the beautiful couple so happy, so fresh. I’d seen pictures that hinted at a fun courtship; I’d seen participation in a well-meaning but poorly executed web reality show. The culmination of their experiences together ended perfectly in a new beginning.
Reilly and I reminisce about our courtship and wedding all the time. This discussion has expanded to reflections on our continued dating and pregnancy and major milestones with Z. The past makes me hopeful for the future and grateful for the now. This process of thinking and remembering makes time seem not as relentless and life much more enjoyable.
The end of November presented me with attending a friend’s father’s funeral. He taught at the same middle school Reilly attended, though Reilly was not in any of his classes. I made it to the last hour of the funeral, where family members told stories that demonstrated the remarkable life of a good man. The chapel was packed, and it was obvious that he was loved and that he left the world a better place, at least for those who knew him.
As tears streamed down my face as I listened to these stories, I realized again just how beautiful and uplifting funerals can be. Mount Timpanogos backdropped the quiet and sprawling cemetery where I had a chance to see my friend and give her a big hug. She lives in New York, and it had been a few years since I’d seen her. While I’m grateful to connect to friends through social media, I’m especially grateful a huge part of the legacy a man left for this earth manifests itself in his phenomenal children.
There is still so much to learn in this life, and I only took a few experiences out of the past year to discuss. I look at my husband and daughter and wonder how my attitude and philosophy and convictions will influence them. I wonder about my friends and other family. I wonder how I will become better in areas where I am inadequate. I want to be more thoughtful, a better listener, to solve more problems. My imprint on this world needs to mean something.
The last song in Patty Griffin’s most recent album, Servant of Love, is called “Shine a Different Way.” Some of my favorite lines read:
In more ways than one
Shine a different way tomorrow
Tomorrow is a new year–2016: Olympics, election, other significant stuff. But more importantly, it’s tomorrow, a new beginning, a fresh start, a way to contemplate and become a better person. There’s no one right way.
Let’s be better together, bask in inevitable cognitive dissonance, lift each other up. Let’s solve and re-solve and resolve with civility and love and kindness and find all the different ways we can shine.