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.
Valentine’s Day is a colossally dumb holiday. Like a lot of “holidays,” much of Valentine’s Day’s finds meaning in how much you can spend. Supposedly we’re celebrating love and Cupid and being together. That’s nice. There’s chocolate and flowers and restaurants and jewelry. I like that singles call it “Singles Awareness Day”, and that girlfriends go out for Galentine’s. That’s fun.
This commercially dedicated day is framed in a way to appear the only day in a whole year to declare love. Or make some grand gesture of love. You don’t want to miss your chance. But it does seem to be the only day people will wait in line for hours at a decent (or even crappy) restaurant. New couples may get to see an ugly, dark side of their dates as lines stand still; seasoned couples may wonder why they didn’t stay home and cuddle in front of the television. Hello, it’s the Olympics! What’s more romantic than watching people at their peak athleticism and talking about how we’re so much cuter and stronger and, better yet, way more comfortable in our jammies? We (I) do love Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, who may be the best commentators of any event in the history of humankind.
But it’s only coincidence the 2018 Winter Olympics overlap with Valentine’s day. And that the Winter Games only comes around once every four years, and Dumb Valentine’s Day (yes, that’s the name of the entire proper noun) is every year.
It’s possible not to celebrate Dumb Valentine’s Day, to make that very deliberate choice, but this is also dumb. If I’m being completely honest with myself, despite this holiday being overhyped and spendy and chaotic and commercial and exclusionary, I actually quite love it. Mostly because my love loves it. Reilly really gets into giving me flowers and chocolate and a perfectly written card. And we have fun giving Z little chocolates. I enjoy this overt expression of his deep and abiding love. Throughout the year he does so many little things to support me and brighten my day. Like laundry: for me, folding clothes ranks below going to the dentist, but Reilly speeds through washing and folding loads of laundry without a single complaint. That’s pretty hot, and just thinking about it makes me wanna …
I don’t necessarily expect a sweeping flourish for Valentine’s Day, but I certainly relish the moments where he puts forth a greater effort beyond his daily, loving actions.
We’ve learned not to go out on Dumb Valentine’s Day itself. We might go out sometime this week, but tonight, people be crazy, so we’re staying in. Besides, I like the idea of spending a quiet evening with my family, of celebrating our love doing something non-sparkly. That’s plenty special.
I love hanging out with my family. It doesn’t even matter what we’re doing: Driving without having a place to go (sorry, environment!), watching TV, eating, sitting around. We don’t even have to be talking. It’s nice to read in the living room near (it doesn’t even have to be next to!) my honeyman, while Z plays or reads or spins around.
In true, self-contradicting, Dumb Valentine’s Day fashion, to demonstrate my love for my family, I have a somewhat grand gesture of my own. (Insert evil laugh here.)
I have been listening to Lorde’s first album–PURE HEROINE–a lot lately. Something about the second song really catches my ear, and it was on repeat for hours at a time, several days in a row. It’s a cute little song called “400 Lux,” and it’s about young love realizing it’s evolved into something deep and real. The couple in the song don’t have to be going anywhere to feel like they’re doing something together. They don’t feel unpredictable and uncertain anymore; their love is stable.
I love these roads where the houses don’t change
Where we can talk like there’s something to say
I’m glad that we stopped kissing the tar on the highway
We move in the tree streets
I’d like it if you stayed
That’s where I feel we are.
Many of my guilty pleasures are often cheesy and awkward things that sometimes cross over into being uncomfortable. I like Hallmark and Lifetime movies. I like movies about animals getting lost so they talk to each other telepathically and find their way home. I have a feeling that I would really like This Is Us. Anyway, I edited together some footage of our family hanging out with “400 Lux” as the soundtrack. Dirty windows, cracked lenses, the works. The result is a cheesy, awkward, and possibly uncomfortable video that I hope you (try to) enjoy. I love our little dog and our growing daughter and my always-super-hot husband.
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.
When our family got home from church last Sunday, Lola and Papi were already waiting inside. The first thing Z did when she saw Lola was take her hand and lead her downstairs to play.
They have been inseparable for the past nine days. I’ve heard them talking to each other every day: Mom’s gentle voice and Z’s cute jabbering or imitating. These are happy sounds.
There’s this game where Z waits at the top of her slide while Lola counts to five, and then says, “Go!” And then Z goes down the slide.
There have been multiple viewings of Trolls and Moana and Brave and Shrek, but mostly Trolls. That’s what Z has been into lately.
The entire time we walked around Temple Square to see the lights, Z—in a stroller—looked behind her to make sure Lola was close by.
Lola has experienced telling Z to stop climbing the kitchen cabinets to get a sucker. She and Papi have taken part of our tradition of Saturday donuts.
If you believe in love languages, one of them is acts of service. My mom speaks this language loud and clear. In addition to being Z’s best friend, Mom has cleaned our house, done many loads of laundry, and cooked various meals for us. She’s done many things that have allowed us to relax. Papi has supported her in this visit and has told good stories and perfectly dry jokes. He is a wonderful man.
On Christmas, we had a fun day of opening presents and going out to breakfast and then spending dinner with Reilly’s family in Payson. Having everyone together heightened our spirits and the love we feel for each other.
A few quotes from the past week:
“You need to wax your moustache.” Mom to me, after looking at my upper lip.
“Ok, Papi, all glued.” Mom to Papi, after putting gel in and styling Papi’s hair.
“Do you sell pancakes here? Just checking.” Papi to the IHOP host, while getting seated for a Christmas breakfast.
“There you go!” Something Z picked up from Lola, when Z said something correctly. Z says this quite often now.
Right now, Lola is lying with Z until she falls asleep. They are talking and singing together.
Lola and Papi are driving back to Florida in the morning. They plan on sneaking out while Z is still asleep.
There will still be crying, though.
It is the morning, and Lola and Papi have left. Reilly and I woke up to send them off. During Mom’s tear-ridden, heart-bursting prayer, we heard Z talking to herself in bed. We said our goodbyes and hugged each other. Lola and Papi got into their car, and then they drove away.
We got Z out of bed and gave her some breakfast. We’re watching Shrek now, and Z has said “Ya-ya!” several times, asking for Lola, and I’ve had to explain that Lola went bye-bye.
The house is much quieter now, and I’m still a little teary-eyed. Thanks to Papi and Lola for visiting and giving us memories to reflect upon, their voices echoing in our minds, when the silence is too much to bear.
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.
[The first part of the title is Z’s. I stepped away from the computer for two seconds, and she decided she wants to blog.]
The Saturday before Halloween our ward had a chili cook-off and Halloween carnival. Earlier in the day I had put Z’s costume on her to see if it fit and so she could get used to it. I’d taken it off so that she wouldn’t get too hot. When it was time to get ready for the party, I struggled with Z to put the costume on, but she finally relented.
She was cranky. She didn’t have much of a nap that day, and when I tried to paint her with a lion face–super simple, a short black upside-down triangle covering the bottom of her nose, a white snout, and black whiskers–she wouldn’t stay still. She looked like she’d eaten powdered donuts mixed with soot.
It’s two blocks to our church building, but we decided to go on a little drive to to fit in a little nap for Z. We drove around for about 10 minutes before pulling up to the church. Z was sleeping. We found a place to sit. Reilly held our dozing child while I stood in line to get us food.
We made it through most of our meal before Z woke up. The moment she opened her eyes, she began to cry. She saw all the people and heard all the noise. I would have been overwhelmed as well.
We tried feeding Z, but she was too upset. Reilly took her into the foyer for a little while, and when they came back, Z was no longer wearing her costume. But she was still crying.
Time to go. The instant we stepped outside into the cool air and fuzzy ambiance of dusk, our little toddler calmed down. We went home and she played until bedtime.
The following Friday I decided to get our money’s worth out of Z’s costume, so I put it on her, and we went to the library. She likes climbing the stairs to the juvenile section.
Z especially loves to play in the courtyard between wings. It was chilly outside, but the costume seemed to keep her warm enough.
We then went to Provo Towne Centre Mall, where she could play in the kids’ area and walk around. She fell asleep in the car on the way, but I brought her to the kids’ area and lay her down to let her sleep. When she woke up, she didn’t move but watched the other kids playing for a while.
After walking and playing, we went back home to walk and play some more.
We checked the mail, and Z likes to see if we received any packages.
Then came Halloween day. We were up until 1am the night before watching scary movies with Reilly’s brothers (Z was in bed), so Reilly and I were quite tired. But we wanted to do something for Halloween. We decided to accept an invitation to a party. We all got in our costumes.
We thought Z might have another tantrum, but she was actually very good. We were early to the party, so we left to get eat some pie and came back. But the person who invited us wasn’t there yet, and it was getting late (8:30!), so we just came back home and put Z to bed. I invited friends over, and we watched another scary movie and stayed up past midnight.
The following Tuesday we went to a wedding reception in Riverton. We stood in the reception line no longer than two minutes. When we got to talk to the beautiful bride and groom, Z began to cry. We wrapped up our conversation and found a seat and I got up to get some refreshments–s’mores. Perfect for a crisp evening. I thought Z might like the chocolate and graham crackers. Z ate quietly for a few minutes, but maybe it was the crowd of strangers and unfamiliar chatter and not being able to run around like she usually does before she started crying.
Again, once we stepped outside, she stopped crying.
She did really well her first time in nursery, but she’s had a rougher time the past few Sundays.
Then last night Reilly and I brought Z to a ward missionary meeting in someone’s home. She did fine playing on their carpeted stairs. She jabbered and checked in on us every few minutes. Someone else’s toddler was there. Once when he stood in Z’s way she looked at him and did something that looked like frustrated jazz hands before walking around him.
From these experiences I’ve observed:
Z likes small groups, especially with family. (Just like Reilly and I.)
Z likes being able to run around and explore.
Z doesn’t like a lot of noise or strangers.
Z isn’t sure what to think about other toddlers.
From these observations, maybe:
Z could adjust to being around people her age more often. (Just like Reilly and I.)
Reilly and I could have more creative solutions whenever Z doesn’t feel like being very social with us.
Times like these I wish I knew what I was doing, but we’re okay. We’re learning. And she’s only 19 months old, so there’s that.