Space to Grow

Last night some ladies from church came over to visit me. They knocked on the door, I opened it and invited them in. As they entered, one of them looked at my tummy and said, “Your tummy is big!”

Then she poked it. She poked my tummy.

And I thought, you did not just poke my tummy.

When she poked me/Baby, I did tilt my tummy back  just a little to reestablish space so that she wouldn’t be touching me anymore.

Now, she doesn’t know how I feel about this odd social … custom? breach? She doesn’t know that I prefer people to ask first and not just react to seeing my tummy and reflexively touch it. And she may have come from a family or culture that’s very touchy when it comes to strangers or people who aren’t very emotionally close, so I didn’t say anything. I grew up in the South where people hug each other all the time, sometimes for no reason. Whenever my husband meets my friends for the first time down there they always give him a hug. I would expect nothing less. So I can definitely appreciate friendly affection.

My irritation was brief also because I could see how excited this lady was. I didn’t slap her hand away. I didn’t take her next door to say hi and touch the non-pregnant neighbor’s tummy. I let it go because in the grand scheme of things she is very nice and we go to church together and she does want to be my friend.

The three of us had a rather pleasant visit. We covered a variety of subjects, and the same lady who poked my tummy asked how many kids I wanted.

I thought for a few seconds before saying, “Two.”

She replied, “Oh, that’s not enough! You should have more.”

Then I thought, this half-hour is such an interesting experience.

It’s interesting not because it’s uncommon. People touch other people’s pregnant tummies all the time. Sometimes in the culture of the Church people equate number of children with status or accomplishment. Or something else entirely. Maybe I should have asked this lady what it means for her to have a lot of children. (She wants to have eight. The three of us are all relative newlyweds.) Perhaps it means completely different things to us, which is totally okay. I respect that.

I wish I would have felt a similar respect towards me, though. But I get that’s not a realistic thing to expect from someone if she doesn’t know what the expectation is, much less how to meet it. So I have to be better at expressing my feelings/setting limits/establishing expectations in addition to being more understanding. I can always be better.

I have the strangest feeling that this can apply especially to motherhood.

No judgments.

What’s That Smell?

Nowadays, that’s the first question I ask myself whenever I go anywhere.  It’s like a little guessing game, where most of the odors that make my nose perk are pretty recognizable, only they’re about 47 trabillion times stronger than usual.

It came pretty early, within the first month. We’d drive around town, and the restaurants, the traffic, and Pleasant Grove would attack my nose. Most of the odors before pregnancy were relatively mild. I mean, driving past Pleasant Grove never disappoints if I crave the smell of sewage or rotten vegetables, but whenever we pass the unPleasant Gross exit now, it’s almost unbearable. No offense to anyone who lives there; you probably live away from the smell, which seems to lurk along the freeway.

There’s also some farmspace near the corner of 400 South and Geneva Road that smells like the land of fire and brimstone for about 5 seconds. Whenever we’re driving this corner, Reilly and I always accuse each other of farting.

When we drive closer to downtown Salt Lake City, around 500 South, along the freeway, it smells like nachos. Like nacho cheese. Not like sharp cheese, but definitely more mild and with jalapeno peppers. It’s not a smell I mind very much at all but look forward to whenever we get to that part of town.

I walk into church, and I can smell everyone. I can smell that woman’s lotion and that man’s aftershave and that baby’s spit-up. I can smell cooking oil on your skin and your greasy fast food breakfast from the other day.  I can smell somebody’s minty gum and that kid’s fruity shampoo and don’t even ask me what the speakers are even talking about because all the smells are speaking way more loudly and with more appeal (or repulsion) than the speakers. I mean, I do have to focus, because it’s church. And church is more important than my hypersensitive nose. We’ll just have to keep that in mind.

Not every smell bothers me. Lots of aromas are wonderful, and I’d love to spin around in fragrant air all day, but the fact is that there are also bad odors. And when they’re bad, they’re really bad.

There’s a women’s restroom in the Wilkinson Center on the second floor, close to the memorial room and ballroom. I’m sure you know which one I mean. The other day I went to campus to wait for Reilly to get out of class. I needed to go to the bathroom because that’s a pretty consistent condition these days, and when I opened the door, I felt my face scrunch and my eyes roll to the back of my head. I braced myself inside the door frame. Then I considered holding my pee to go to the bathroom downstairs by the bowling alley or to the other bathroom just down the hall. But I have more or less trained myself to go whenever I need to go, so I forged ahead into the fecal fog.

Undoubtedly, it’s a busy bathroom. The Wilkinson Center is a major campus hub, and I should have known that the bathroom would be stinky, but this complete ambush on my nosehairs convinced me that no one knows how to courtesy-flush or disinfect/deodorize. And this bathroom is a place where a lot of mothers change piles of poopy diapers. Because there are a lot of young mothers who go to BYU, y’all. There seems to be no ventilation, and when I entered that bathroom at 8:30 that one evening, all the quadrillions of microscopic, feculent particles had amassed during the day not only to form a humid, boggy marsh around the stalls, but something, somewhere that felt like another dimension. It felt like I had crossed over into an ethereal, methanous space of utter grossness, where I wasn’t stepping in it but walking through it. Think about it. (Or not.) And to think I’m growing another human that will soon contribute to the world’s sewage (who, technically, already is). I mean, there are sacrifices, and there are sacrifices. I mean, I have to do the noble thing.

Next time, I’ll just find a different bathroom.

And whatever that smell is, I probably know, but for the most part, I’d rather not.

Boarding the Frontrunner

Monday afternoon I stood on the Frontrunner platform, waiting for the train home. The train arrived, and as the doors opened, I stood to the side, because I have a very useful habit of courtesy when it comes to public transportation.

I waited for any deboarding passengers while I watched two patrons get on without waiting. The first passenger was an Asian-looking man, and the second passenger was a Caucasian-looking woman. When the man boarded first, the woman called out to him, “Hey, ladies first!” The man briefly looked over his shoulder and mumbled that he was sorry. Then the woman replied, “That’s okay; it’s the American culture.”

Maybe it was because the news of inaccurately racist comments toward the newly crowned Miss America was fresh on my mind (for instance, instead of hearing spelling bee jokes [which is somehow less offensive to me because Indian Americans have dominated spelling bees recently, and I love it], all I read were terrorist/Muslim remarks) that this little scenario rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s my slightly progressive way of thinking where I never assume “ladies first”; there are times that I’ll let men on the train before me just because I feel like being kind.

I don’t know anything about these two individuals. It’s interesting that the woman assumed the man wasn’t American, when it could be that the man just didn’t see her, or that he didn’t feel like being kind at that moment, or any number of reasons. It’s also interesting that with whatever assumptions the woman made, she felt prompted to “teach” the man about American culture, which: is this type of etiquette/courtesy a strictly American thing? Why was what the woman said so disparaging to me? Maybe the woman was trying to demonstrate to the man that she was trying to be more understanding, that she was trying to make up for yelling at him.

Am I assuming American exceptionalism where it wasn’t there, and maybe I should just conclude that the woman was trying to be more understanding of someone who wasn’t like her? Do I assume that she thought she was extending a kindness when she did not know its core was offensive (then, offensive according to whom)? Is that closer to the “American” culture?

At the same time, if I had an experience where someone had not observed an “American” custom with me, I would try to be more understanding and think that person perhaps came from a different culture.  Maybe that person wasn’t raised that way, but that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t necessarily American. And then I’m still left wondering what counts as American, and what doesn’t.

Therein lies so many more assumptions.

Butter Makes Everything Not Related to Racism Better

We look at the menu, but we both order the buffet. This buffet isn’t like Golden Corral with its vast selection of mediocre food; the heated food island at Lady & Sons carries fewer items cooked to perfection. Workers from the kitchen are constantly replacing empty trays with hot full ones with aromatic food vapors rising from them. All the food represents true Southern cooking: barbecue pork, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, caramelized sweet potatoes. We want to try everything, but we also want to pace ourselves.

Reilly returns from the buffet with a fully loaded plate. We made a reservation that day before, because Lady & Sons often has long lines. Savannah charms with its old houses and trees dressed in Spanish moss, with branches sprawling toward the sky. The town sits along a river with the same name. We had been observing the sauntering citizens and anxious tourists during our walk to the restaurant. It is nice to sit down, and we are starving.

Southern cookin'

Everything I try is delicious. Reilly and I go back for a second plate, and we know early on that we’re almost done. The food tastes so good, but we don’t know if our stomachs have any more space. We start to slow down, but we still want to experience all the textures and tastes on our plates.

We have been on vacation for almost a week; we have been indulging for nearly every meal. Our stomachs should have been sufficiently stretched for a good buffet. But I have gotten to the point where I can barely lift my fork, and all I want to do is put my head down on the table or lie on the floor and wait for someone to step on my stomach and make me barf.

At first, I don’t understand why I got so full that quickly, but then it hits me: butter. If you know Paula Deen’s style of cooking, you know that she uses butter in everything. I tasted it in all the food on my plate. Butter makes everything delicious, but it also coats everything. It adds an invisible layer that makes you think you can eat more than your stomach can hold. The next time we eat at a restaurant like Paula Deen’s, I have to remember that food prepared with butter triples the volume of food without butter.

And then there is dessert. I take a tiny taste of the peach cobbler and the banana pudding, and then I’m done. I’m beyond done. I have packed my digestive system to nearly bursting. We take a few pictures outside and shuffle to a nearby square to recuperate and for Reilly to ask John Wesley for forgiveness for eating too much.

Lucky to lift the camera to take this picture.

Forgive us for eating too much, sir.

Sometime in the weeks after we return from Savannah, we hear news of a lawsuit. Headlines are everywhere. There are sexual harassment charges. There is a deposition with racial slurs.  There is vilification and a crumbling empire.

I feel bad for Paula Deen. She built her company from virtually nothing. She’s best known for cooking everything with butter and she was even coming out with her own brand of butter. She’s tackled her diabetes gracefully in the public, and she has all but completely disarmed America with her thick Southern accent, her strong personality, and her delicious food.

It’s a shame that instead of presenting a mighty dynasty before us, she has now reminded us that racism is alive and well in today’s society. It may be that she testified to saying certain things decades ago, and we may argue that because she said those things a long time ago doesn’t mean she’s racist now. And we can’t necessarily know Ms. Deen’s thoughts from moment to moment.

Yet, the instant that people reacted to Paula Deen’s statements or the media’s treatment of her is when the story became bigger than the icon. Racism is bigger than Paula Deen and her apologists.

A few days ago, I read this blog post that uses deposition excerpts to explain how a lot of reactionaries still hold on to a racist mentality. The author makes a good argument for a civil conversation. Like Ms. Deen’s butter-style of cooking, many of her defenders coat current racism in slippery justification that seems more appealing and more palatable. They ingest each dangerous illusion. Their guts fill quickly with these exquisite excuses, but they eat more. And more. Over time they become diabetic, and they lose circulation, then limbs, and ultimately, sight. They don’t see that Paula Deen has become the whipping boy for racism, and they’re going to keep saying and thinking racist thoughts as if it’s not the same.

Or maybe they’ll learn and improve themselves for a change. Maybe they can take an antacid or something and reduce the bloating and the blindness. Let’s hope.

Just Treatment

Scenario 1: At a church women’s function there’s an activity where we have to find the oldest and youngest ladies at each table, and then from those ladies, we have to figure out the oldest and youngest in the room. When we identified the oldest lady, she stood up and announced, “Yes, I’m [somewhere in my 70s]. And I have 25 grandchildren to prove it.”

Scenario 2: In hundreds of conversations I’ve had with different people, this happens:
Me: So, do you have siblings?
Other person: Yeah, I have [at least four] brothers and sisters. What about you?
Me: Yeah, I have a younger brother.
Other person: So it’s just the two of you?

HOLY COW, PEOPLE, THIS IS NOT A COMPETITION. Yes, families are uber-central to our (Mormon) society and culture, and I know that children become our world once we have them, like how my parents focused on mine and Frank’s happiness as they raised us; how even my brother and I looked out for each other when we were kids, and we are probably more protective now.

It’s not “just” the two of us. There are two of us, and we’re awesome.

Reilly and I have been talking about when we’d like to have kids. Are we going to have “just” three, or “just” two, or “just” one? What if we end up only having one? “Just” one sounds like a disgrace, a failure, an implied incompetence. If we have one child, he or she will be awesome. If we have more, they’ll be awesome, too.

What if I can’t biologically have children? Are we going to “just” adopt, as if it’s a lesser alternative? As if parents use an inferior stash of love for children they couldn’t physically give birth to? Do these parents tell their kids that they’re “just” adopted? Will other kids tell my kid(s) “So, there’s ‘just’ one of you” or “So you’re ‘just’ adopted?”

BLEEP NO. You don’t win all the contests, because THERE ARE NO CONTESTS.

Sometimes people don’t even realize what they’re saying. And maybe I could be less annoyed. But should I be less sensitive when it comes to my family and my potential family? Are you really going to sit back and take it when I say that you have “just” a boy or “just” a girl or “just” twins or they got “just” Bs on their report cards? First, you know I wouldn’t think those thoughts, let alone say them. Secondly, you would defend your children if someone made these statements, because you love your children, and they’re awesome. That’s all it takes.

Think about what you’re saying. Think about the implied devaluing and belittling in that one little word. Be mindful of the context in which you use it. Make an effort to stop using it in the situations I’ve mentioned here.

Just stop.

On Commuting

Dear Fellow Rider of the UTA Express Bus,

When the bus back to Orem is full and I end up standing in the aisle because it’s been one of those days and no one else wants to offer me a seat and stand for 40 minutes, and when your arm is hanging over the armrest into the aisle because the seats are too small and no one in Utah has the same concept of personal space/comfort zone as people do in New York City, and when the aisle is also too narrow because the bus itself has to be narrow enough to fit in a street lane, and when I have to stand for 40 minutes and shift my weight from one leg to the other, my butt will inevitably brush against your arm.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Yours truly,

May

I love public transportation. I appreciate paying less for gas/insurance/parking and getting to sleep and/or read on my way to work/home. Of course this way of commuting has its setbacks, but overall it’s great.

Here are a few comparison points of public transportation in New York City and Utah. These points are based on my experience. You may have a different background and observations.

Crowds
NYC: Reilly got to experience this when we visited in August. We went to a Yankees game and felt how tightly packed the subway can get. It’s the same during rush hour, except that people usually look really tired and cranky. Imagine when Yankees fans get to ride with the rush hour crowd.

Utah: I haven’t really experienced huge crowds on the bus or TRAX (the SLC public train thingy), since Salt Lake City and Provo/Orem are car towns and not pedestrian towns.  Also, I’ve ridden the bus on Jazz/Ute days, and because the bus I ride mostly serves people who work in SLC, I don’t have to deal with obnoxious fans.

Strikes
NYC: In December 2005, MTA decided to go on strike (even though many of us thought they were overpaid), and the subways didn’t run for a week. Because of good neighbors and home teachers with cars (friends from church who personally visit once a month), we developed a system of pick-up and drop-off spots at specific times, and I could get to and from work and home that week. When I first moved there in 2003, the monthly pass was $63. When I left in 2009, I paid $81. Now commuters pay $103.

Utah: I have so far only heard of all the money UTA gets, and that drivers/other UTA workers are overpaid, and people are angry because a lot of taxes or something goes to cushion the salaries of UTA workers? As a student, I started paying $50-75 for a semester, then $160 per semester (some contract with BYU had expired, and BYU encouraged driving to also pay to be frustrated with crowded and faraway lots). As a current rider of an express bus, the monthly fare is $189, which provides TRAX and local bus access.

Weather
NYC: Hurricane Sandy takes the cake. I’ve only experienced relatively minor tunnel flooding or little track fires that only delayed the train, or, at the very worst, these incidents caused me to walk to another station to take a different train. Once on an especially hot day I almost got into a fight with a guy because our hands kept touching while holding on to the same pole. We were both irritable.

Utah: I have yet to sit through a major snowstorm on the bus. The rain hasn’t been bad. Since I’m not the one driving, I get to nap or read.

Traffic
NYC: One great thing about the subway is not having to deal with street traffic. However, sometimes the bus was quicker than the subway. For example, church was only two stops away, but on Sunday, I would end up waiting for a subway longer that it would take to catch the bus. Also, when I lived closer to church, even walking was a much faster (and the only) option.

Utah: The bus is part of traffic, but there’s a lane just for buses, so often we clip along faster than the cars in adjoining lanes. Yet traffic sometimes comes to a complete stop, mostly because of accidents and rubberneckers and different bottleneck exits along the freeway. And Fridays, sometimes. Last Friday, it took an hour and 20 minutes to get home. It usually takes around 45 minutes.

Drunk/High People
NYC: These folks were sometimes scary. Sometimes entertaining. Mostly annoying. Once on a crowded subway (see above) I had to stand really close to a drunk guy. He breathed in my face, and I smelled his breath, and I probably would have failed a breathalyzer test from that.

Utah: Around the university, people act drunk or high a lot. But they’re just unbelievably happy BYU students. On the express bus to work, people are sober, mellow, sleeping, or reading.

Homeless People
NYC: All the time, everywhere.

Utah: On the Provo local bus, there would be occasional drifters that got on the bus. At the TRAX stations, I have walked by a few homeless people.

In NYC and SLC, I have walked the sidewalks and homeless people have asked me to give them money.

Lewd People
NYC: I’ve seen people making out, which isn’t that bad. The worst time was when I sat across from a man on the subway during my morning commute. His pants were undone, and he was stroking himself. I was reading the paper and he was in my periphery. Everyone else was reading sleeping. I quickly glanced at the guy’s face, and he seemed intent on my seeing him and getting a reaction from me. I raised the newspaper so I didn’t have to look at him. The next stop was mine, and I got off the train as fast as I could.

Utah: The worst instance I have witnessed was on a Provo local bus when some older, special needs guys sitting near the back were making loud fart sounds with their mouths and laughing. The bus driver told them to stop. Oh, also random anonymous people who leave random milkjugs of urine on the bus.

Panhandlers
NYC: Walking through the subway, asking for money: boys raising money for their “basketball team,” kids selling (stolen) candy, trying to stay off the street. People who say they have AIDS, armless people and war veterans, blind people, very sad people holding snotty-faced kids. Old ladies with cancer. People who just want something to eat. They always announce themselves with “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen!” Sometimes I gave them change.

Utah: Outside of sidewalk encounters in SLC, none.

Entertainers
NYC: Different than panhandlers. Dancers (hip-hop), singers (all-types), mariachi bands, instrumentalists, magicians. All on the subway. All skill levels. Sometimes I put change in their hats as they walked by me.

Utah: On different corners on different days in SLC, the same cellist. On BYU campus, wandering weird students with ukuleles and unicycles. I don’t give them money. No one on the buses or TRAX yet.

Other People
NYC: Random people at bus stops who tell me their life stories. Clowns telling me their life stories. The guy on the train that tried to flirt with me when he told me the Stranger (the book I was reading) was a good book. The guy who thumbs-upped at me when he saw me reading the Book of Mormon. People that I actually know, so we chat instead of tuning out the rest of the world. Tourists that didn’t know better about talking to me. People that I accidentally fell asleep on.

Utah: Nice people who offer their seats to standers. The senior missionary who asked if I was a student then seemed surprised when I told him I worked. The woman I sat next to one morning who decided to take off her shoes and try to sleep in an actual reclining fetal position. Her feet smelled and part of her body was on my seat. The woman whose arm my butt brushed against when I was standing in the aisle, because I shifted my weight from one leg to the other, and her arm was hanging into the aisle. We were both reading and she seemed to pretend not to notice. Maybe she liked it as much as I did.

Dishes Poll Results

When I returned to the apartment Friday afternoon, the sink hadn’t changed. While it didn’t shrink, it also didn’t grow, and I can be grateful for that.

Sometimes I use that task of doing the dishes as a way to clear my mind, to meditate. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh:

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions.

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

There’s been a lot on my mind lately, and being able to focus on the dishes helps lower my anxiety. Same goes with handwashing my whites.

So. Yeah. When I washed the dishes on Friday, I noted that I might have contributed a butterknife to the pile.

When I think about being maliciously passive aggressive and contemplate leaving piles of dirty dishes on respective roommates’ beds, I also wonder how the apartment would react to a swarm of New York City rats crawling around the sink.

But the girls are busy, and I can understand how dishes aren’t a priority. They’re nice, and generally cheerful, and it’s nice when we all happen to be home at the same time and can talk for a little bit. As I rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher last Sunday, someone thanked me, and it was nice. I think I grunted, but not in a mean way.

Maybe I was too focused on the task.