Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"It must come true, sometime soon, somehow"

Christmas Eve was so peaceful and lovely this year, I felt like we were floating like the wispy snowflakes that fell all day. Our house was filled with music and the glowing, spicy-smelling tree that Jonathan surprised me with. It’s so beautiful even though all the ornaments are plucked off of the bottom half. We couldn’t stop smiling at each other. It was one of those days that you think your life will be like in the future when you are the most dreamy and hopeful. I had this sense of being separate from everything dark and coarse and just existing in this sphere of expectancy and memory and love for my Jonny and my baby. We went out to breakfast and Chai was more “autonomous” at the restaurant even than usual—we watched him, amused, as he hurled napkins, straws, and silverware on the floor and then howled when we wouldn’t let him throw our plates. He spit everything out; it seemed, out of spite that we were restricting his freedoms. He ran away in the parking lot. For some reason with the snow swirling outside the window even his challenging behavior seemed charming. Jonathan said, “You’re just a little ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” and we laughed. All of our movements and words seemed sweeter, more significant than usual. I think Christmas really did get into our blood. We held hands in the car driving home through the white sky and drank hot chocolate. This year, it really did feel like magic, just being us.
I loved scurrying around town on my own finishing up surprises and being able to listen to music by myself and really feel it. I miss that so much; in fact it’s been so long since I really listened to certain songs with an undivided mind that the intensity made me cry.

The kindest employee at Allen’s Photo worked a Christmas miracle for me by photoshopping something on his own laptop that I hadn’t been able to do on their company’s website and wasn’t skilled enough to create on my own. He told me he loved my idea, that it sounded like it would be super easy, and created it for me even though they were swamped with orders and it was in no way part of his job, and I was only spending $3.17 on having it printed. It was so terribly nice that it warmed me all the way through my body. I went to the dollar store to get some little things for Chai and saw families shopping there for their entire Christmas, which made me feel cold and cheap like the little plastic toys they were pulling off the shelves. Going to the mall immediately afterwards (for Teavana) was like being pummeled in the face with the privilege it is to even be able to shop there, and it solidified why I despise the Santa myth, it is so cruel. I’m grateful to be able to conjure some tiny Christmas magic tricks for my little boy. I think the “joy of human love” is just as magical and lovely as believing that elves in the North Pole know your name and planned it all for you, and I hope as Chai gets older he will appreciate that excitement that comes from being thoughtful and preparing heartfelt gifts too.

It was fun being resoundingly pregnant this year at Christmastime and gave me a lot of creative energy. It felt so good to wrap secrets and anticipate their revealing, and to remember that after Christmas we still have one more “present” to look forward to. Christmas Eve night, we each opened one present and sang a couple of Christmas songs in Spanish. We held onto each other. Those were such dear and loving moments. I didn’t realize how fulfilling it would be to celebrate with just our little family—I thought I always wanted to be surrounded by a thousand people and that having Christmas alone would make me feel old. It didn’t. I felt the most childlike wonder and happiness. 

While Chai was running around squawking and waving his cheerleader pompoms, I told Jonathan a story about the first Christmas we were dating and how vivid and bright my thoughts were, and how I felt like I was alive for the first time, and my yellow-bird dreams. He told me, “We always belonged together…right from the very beginning…didn’t we?” Sometimes it seems crazy that we’re really doing this…that we have this life together, that we have an exquisite child that we take care of together, that we’re about to have another one…my friend Wendy said once, “How has no one figured it out? Don’t people realize we’re just KIDS?” It’s not “ending up” maybe because so much of the story is left unwritten, but we do belong together, and that’s the most beautiful part of Christmas or anytime is belonging. The rest of the holiday got a little complex, so I want to always remember this Christmas Eve and how sweet and soft it was. I’m grateful for the beauty in my life and my relationships.
(This was my Gift of the Heart for Jonathan that the Allen's Photo employee magnanimously helped me create!)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas night, it clutched the light, the hallow bright

This last week I felt so much. For most of the week it was disgust with the haters on the Wear Pants to Church Event. I thought the event was a little convoluted from the beginning but the more I read the reactions of the zealous, the misunderstandings skewed sixty directions like a many-pointed star, the energy of judgmental indignation, the banal blathering of churchy platitudes over and over and over again, seeming to have completely absorbed what I see as transparent, cobwebby excuses, the more revolted I felt. It was infuriating. I didn’t engage, but I read like a crazy person and read Jonny the “best of the declines” out loud until it started making me dizzy sick and effectively (for now) made me feel loath to engage in conversation about anything related. This is my tribe?

And then yesterday…there were some fb updates about another school shooting, but I didn’t realize until I was listening to the radio on the way to postpartum group that it was little children, that it was a kindergarten class. I thought of 5 year olds in their little hats and little mittens, talking about Christmas at breakfast that morning, and how frightened they must have been, how they must have hurt. Their poor parents who were waiting at the fire station, who thought their little children were still alive, and no one came running. Their families brought Christmas presents for them, maybe already wrapped, and Christmas morning will come with those kids missing and nothing will ever be okay again. It’s too brutal, it’s too horrible. I’m so sorry! I started crying in the car, I couldn’t stop thinking about their bewilderment and the hideous pain their parents must be feeling. I don’t think I would want to survive if someone hurt my Lolly, if he were gone, just gone because someone decided to harm him in the ultimate way. I don’t know what I would do that first night, how could I bear him being gone? So much trust, sending a kindergartner off to school before they understand any of the ugly. As I was crying, a white dove flew past while I was at a stoplight. I couldn’t help noticing how beautiful it was and the gracefulness of its body as it flew. I thought, how can this exist at the same time I’m listening to someone talk about murdered kindergartners? How can there be a dove in this same world? Everything was so fiercely contrasted yesterday. The life and vitality of my little boy and even the little girl who we don’t know yet squirming under our hands. Being able to speak with and touch the people I loved. Chai’s violent affection with the postpartum kids. The Christmas music playing on the radio seemed so haunting. I kept crying all day. It was frustrating to see so many posts on facebook crying for gun control and announcing their plans to homeschool. Don’t you get it? Those won’t save you, nothing can save you, they are only illusions of control. We just hope and hope that we’re not in the building when the bomb goes off. That a predator doesn’t pick us or our little ones, but picks someone else. That we’re not in the lane when the car next to us loses control, that our bodies don’t turn against us, that we make it through without becoming victims. Those with intent to harm and nothing to lose will find a way to do it. There is no deserving, we are all so vulnerable. Ransom captive Israel.

That night we went to the MoTab Christmas concert with David, Laurel, and my parents and there were so many moments that were merry and jovial and fun. I kept wanting my mind to relax and go to this Christmas place where I could just enjoy and feel like a happy child and believe none of it was real. But instead, everything lovely and powerful about the concert seemed to highlight the pain and loss of innocence. For me, every moment of the concert was about those kids. Alfie Boe was amazing and even the cheesiest song he sang made me sob: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Little children who should be home, who should be safe and loved, who will never be home again. I kept thinking about the parents who would give anything, anything to have those little ones home for Christmas like they should have been, but now they have this grief to carry around for the rest of their lives. When he sang “Bring Him Home” it destroyed me, and I’m sure many others there felt similar emotions. It was so beautiful and so heartbreaking. I felt that the room was reverberating with grief. It felt good to participate in a moment of silence with so many hundreds of people; in a wretched way it felt good to shed so many tears from deep pain in my heart.

I don’t know if I can say that I’ve suffered for this, because what is my suffering if I cry holding my little boy safe in my arms? Yesterday I told him that someone had hurt some kids and that I was so sorry, and that I would try my best to keep him safe, but that I was scared. He looked at me solemnly with his blue eyes, touched my face and said “Soft!” which is what he always does when someone is crying. I’m just so sorry, I am aching on behalf of the families. I keep thinking, that’s exactly the way I should feel. In the midst of it I felt disgusted with myself because cognitively, I know that so many children suffer from even darker horrors every day, something like 21,000 children somewhere in the world greet death every 24 hours, but I don’t weep every day for that. I grieve for what is laid out in front of me, what I am most heavily forced to witness, hear about or know of. What does that say about my compassion? Today I forced myself to acknowledge that many times when I have spoken of a relationship with Jesus Christ, my own or encouraging others to create one, my ideas have been centered on avoiding pain, taking off the edge of the hurt, filling a troubled heart with comforting images that speak of a purpose in the madness and chaotic anguish. Isn’t that exactly what Marx meant by an “opiate for the masses?”

I read this on CNN’s belief blog: “Some religious leaders argue that modern American life insulates much of the nation from the kind of senseless death and suffering that plagues much of the world every day.“Most of the world, for most of the world’s history, has known tragedy and trauma in abundance,” wrote Rob Brendle, a Colorado pastor, in a commentary for CNN’s Belief Blog after this summer’s deadly shooting in Aurora, Colorado, which left 12 dead.“You don’t get nearly the same consternation in Burundi or Burma, because suffering is normal to there,” wrote Brendle, who pastored congregants after a deadly shooting at his church five years ago. “For us, though, God has become anesthetist-in-chief. To believe in him is to be excused from bad things.”

I'm wandering in this quagmire of my own privilege. Most of the time I am cheerful and I love my life and my family and I laugh and listen to music and even grant myself ample space to feel sorry for myself often. What I typically perceive as painful is such a light stripe. I don't think it is moral to use God as a way to be "excused from bad things", but even as I express that I know I haven't really known "bad things," so how sincere can my mourning really be? I keep thinking that maybe what I was meant to understand from Jesus is that I was NOT meant to numb out because of assurance in a divine plan, but I was meant to weep and weep hard. I’ve written blog posts before about the saddest things and I usually ended them tied up with balloons of hope, but today allowing this to float away on some na├»ve imagined string of reconciliation seems too heavy in and of itself. I just want to say that I’m so sorry, for the lonely boy as well as the lost children, and that I’m grateful for my life and for having experienced as much love as I have. I don’t want to anesthetize myself anymore. And after my eyes clear, I will remember the dove.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Joyful and Chai-umphant (18 months)

Chai turned 18 months old on December 7th. He, like Pearl Harbor, will live in infamy. My obsession with my baby boy has surpassed all reason. He is my funny, dear little friend and I love him. Jonathan and I were watching videos not even a year old of Chai when he was a fat, gormless bald baby and we couldn't believe it was him. We thought we adored him last year; now we keep telling each other, this, this is the true Chai! I don't think it would be possible for us to enjoy him more deeply. I appreciate his loving nature and all the beautiful things about life that he brings to my awareness. Here are some things I want to remember about my tiny good man at 18 months:
*He is a wonderful dancer! Whenever he hears music, at the store, in the car, and even during a movie or TV show, he bops around, tiptoes, waves his arms and shakes his shoulders and booty. He is able to recognize tempo and when it's a slow song, like Christmas music, he closes his eyes and sways with long, graceful arms. We always say he is "feeling artistic." It is hilarious and as Jonathan says, he "charms the pants off everyone." I wish I had some great video of his dances but I have this condition where I'm scared to delete anything off my SD card so whenever I record video it's only a few seconds' worth. But Chai dancing is pure joy to me. He is so expressive and so sweet and funny. Lately, he does this little celebratory dance whenever we come home from work, he starts rocking out and yelling when we walk in the door. I DIE every time.
*Chai is incredibly affectionate. I love that he is so active and independent but also so cuddly. He loves to sit backwards in my lap and rest his head on my chest. He always joins in whenever someone is rubbing my poor aching back and he will come rub my back on his own if I ask him to or if I'm ever kneeling down. 
 I can’t get enough of his deliberate, wild hugs and his sweet-smelling face and his trotting steps and his mischievous smiles. He is also great at giving kisses when the desire strikes him. He puckers his huge lips and leans in very slightly, about 5%, the recipient has to go the other 95. When he decides to kiss someone he typically kisses everyone in the room. Sometimes when he is feeling particularly benevolent he will pucker up to cashiers and the like. On mornings when we sleep in, (that's right!) he crawls over to me and will fall back to sleep with his hand on my arm or chest. 
*Chai loves aunties and uncles. His auntie "Moh" lives with us right now and every morning when he gets up he goes to look for her. If she is home, he runs to see her and calls her name over and over while his whole body shakes with happiness. If she's gone to class, he waves sadly into her room and says, "Bye...bye...Moh!" She is such a kind and playful auntie. She lets Chai wear her jewelry and indulges his demands to ransack all her possessions. She is always willing to take him on walks or dance with him in her arms. Chai has become really close to my brother Doug and his wife Emily lately as well. They come over once a week for our Wednesday "dinner party" and Chai loves having them around and falls into despair when they leave. He knows that they are the owners of "Pie" (Chai's name for their dog, Penny) and if we ever say their names around him he begins to yell for "Pie" and look around as though she might suddenly appear. I want my siblings to know that I'm so grateful for their kindness to my little boy and I don't take it for granted. Every child deserves lots of people that love them and I'm so happy my baby has that. 

*Chai loves ice. Jonathan always feeds him tiny pieces of ice from his own mouth, like a baby bird, and Chai beams and is generally full of glee. It's like his favorite treat. The first time it snowed, we gave him a tiny icicle to suck on  and he went mad with happiness. He kept crying to go outside for more until all the icicles were gone. 
*Chai is a little word sponge. I can't even keep track of all the words he can say now, and he surprises me with new ones every day. Some of the new words from the last two weeks or so are "up" "wash" "toys" "cow" "monkey" "mokey" (milk) "tankoo" (thank you) "Pie" "dance" "winky" "booger" "clothes" "book" "down" "pretty" "lights" "baby". He learned to ask for Yo Gabba Gabba and does so often: "Gabba gabba gabba!" He can identify all the parts of the face and make dog, kitty, bird, and cow sounds. He likes to name the animal immediately after making the noise, like "Hohohoho!" (barking) "DOG." He also talks in his sleep. He will roll over, sigh, and mutter, "Chai-Chai-Chai" or "shoes!" Last night he laughed in his sleep. 
*Even though it's gotten colder, Chai is still obsessed with taking walks outside. We've had so much fun with him the days that it snowed. He gets so excited when we put on his shoes that his whole body shakes. He asks to go outside constantly, even when it's freezing or late at night. He loves exploring.

*Chai is obsessed with taking baths. A few times a day, even if he's had a bath only hours before, he will become frenzied with the idea, look at me all wide-eyed and say "Bath! Bath bath bath bath!" run to the bathroom and knock on the door (which we try to keep shut all the time because of Chai's penchant for throwing things, like his bottle, into the toilet), all full of hope. If I tell him the bath can't happen right then, he collapses with despair against the door and weeps, "Bath! Baaaath!" When he actually does get in the tub, it's a serious business. He's figured out all the ways to stay warmest--huddling up against the  running faucet, or, when it gets deep enough, floating on his stomach and blowing bubbles. He also enjoys throwing all the shampoo and body wash bottles into the tub with him, and then out of the tub on the floor, and attempting to drink bath water out of various cups. 
*Chai loves to pinch us when we're feeding him a bottle. We always try to ignore it, but he gets the smallest amount of skin possible and twists. Sometimes, he also pinches in vengeance. Sometimes we call him "Pinche Chai" :) 

*Chai, like most of the good people on Reddit, likes to watch videos of kittens falling asleep and doing other cute things. Sometimes we use kitty videos as a distraction if he is getting cranky or demanding an inopportune bath or walk and it works every time. 

*Jonathan is always buying and selling tech parts and building computers. Chai loves to copy everything he does. He pulls tech parts out of boxes and blows on them and loves to "fix" computers with tools whenever he can get his hands on them. 

 *Some people have asked if Chai is aware that another baby is coming in a little while. He has started calling my belly "baby!" and he definitely knows what babies are, but I'm not sure he's put it together yet. However, he has been more attached to me lately and always wants me to snuggle and comfort and feed him (before he was less discriminating . I don't know if it's an intuitive awareness that things will be changing soon or if it's a developmental stage, but it means so much to me to be able to have extra closeness to honor the time we have left together, just us. I am so aware all the time that one day the little boy I know now won't exist anymore, he will never curl up in my lap and gently pat my face and my hair again. There won't be as many kisses, he won't always stretch his arms out to me with pure delight. Hopefully we can have a different kind of relationship that is also sweet and fulfilling, but I know I will miss my sweet baby. I remember it every time I hold him. He has my heart.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Small as a wish in a well

It's a pregnancy post! I can't believe the 3rd trimester is here already, the dark times in the summer seem like an eternity away now. 12 weeks also seems like an eternity away, but I know it will go quickly. I feel like November melted into nothingness and December always flies by too fast for my grandiose Christmas plans. Despite my angst I have really enjoyed this pregnancy. The last few months especially, I felt so glowing, youthful and alive. I loved the way my body looked and felt. I feel a different vibrancy and confidence than I did when I was pregnant before. I think I was more affected by the doubts and discouragement from people around me than I realized...and I was a n00b, I didn't know what (or how) to expect, and there was more deference to those who were 'experienced', even when I didn't want to agree with them. Now I understand better that just as "cada cabeza es un mundo," (every mind is a different world) "cada embarazo es un mundo" (every pregnancy is a world) and I can be sensitive to the fact that it is terrible for some and still enjoy it for me. I think it's funny that the alternate definition of "pregnant" (as in "there was a pregnant pause") is "weighty, significant, full of meaning." There's no arguing that I am "weighty," but I do feel significant and full of meaning. I feel this incredible rush of energy from my body being so purposeful and knowing I'm creating another human being from my genetic hash, someone who has never existed before. I wrote on facebook about how I feel like I'm carrying a Christmas present and I get to anticipate opening it all the time...it is very exciting.

I'm 29 weeks (measuring a little ahead at my last appointment) and I've gained 12 lbs so far. I think nursing Chai may be responsible for the slower weight gain, but don't worry, I am plenty big & plenty. I am just beginning to feel like a beetle that's rolled over on it's back, writhing to get up. Every day when I get dressed I think of Regina George, "Sweatpants are all that fits me right now..." I wear skirts to work almost every day and basketball shorts at home. Other than some veriscosities (spellcheck says that isn't a word, but what do they know?) and some slight sciatic back pain I have felt amazing. I wouldn't mind if Jonathan wanted to rub my back more often, but as a Dothraki warlord he has a lot on his mind. :)

Speaking of minds...I think my progesterone levels must have dropped hardcore this week because where. is my mind? This flakiness, it's really happening! I missed the exit at work the other day...I've been making absurd mistakes like grating cheese on top of the pasta instead of into the saucepan when making macaroni and cheese...I read things wrong all the time, like the schedule at work. It's frustrating. I hope it goes away soon.  

Some other things that have made this pregnancy unique: being pregnant at the same time as my friend Kelli at work! We always have a ton to talk about and I love sitting next to her in clinical team meeting with our growing bellies. A lot of my clients are excited and happy about the baby and there have been so many positive interactions and connections. One of my favorite things is when I'm holding Chai in my lap and the baby kicks him from inside. I don't think Chai has any idea what is going on, although I watch birth videos with him and talk to him about "born babies." He loves to pat my belly when my midwife is checking the heartbeat or when I have my shirt up, but he's mostly interested in my belly button (err...where it used to be) and trying to poke me there. I would have wanted more time alone with my beautiful boy, but I've been trying to be mindful and really focus on appreciating the time that has left. It really gave us a beautiful, golden fall. It's been fun to experience being pregnant almost during the opposite seasons that I was pregnant with Chai. My friend Katie made a comment that I use as an affirmation when I feel jittery about having a baby in the bleak midwinter: "From one desert girl to another, January babies bring the sunshine!" I don't know if she knows, but I repeat that to myself over and over again. 

I have a lot I'd like to say about finding out our baby was a girl and the maelstrom of issues and pain that created for me, but I feel myself still swirling and I'd rather explore it when I feel more grounded. It has nothing to do with not wanting my baby, but the idea of raising a daughter is connected to some very deep rooted pain and fear. Some of it is my own, from my past, and some of it is vicarious trauma from living in a very misogynistic culture.  Yes, I know that the world is damaging to boys in so many ways as well, and yes I understand that my daughter will be much more privileged than so many, but I'm in a very basic place where all the atrocities that we've come to accept as a normal part of life, that we must be aware of and 'survive around' feel very raw to me when I think about introducing them to a completely innocent being. Trying to explain them, to someone hearing for the first time. I don't agree with the philosophy that if you live a "righteous life" you can count on being protected from harm, and I also don't agree that unless these things happen to you, you shouldn't worry or think about them. I think we are all affected by the wounds our sisters carry, even those far away from us. This story belongs to all of us. 

I remember the moment the technician said "It's a girl," I felt like I'd been flash-frozen and I was terrified. But I looked at Jonathan's face and his eyes were shining with tears, he was so happy. I cling to that moment when I feel especially discouraged. "For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow." This is a sweet dream for him and he will be such a good and kind father to both/all our children. I'm so glad they will have him. I love feeling her move and I love when Jonathan rubs my belly and talks to her. He is so good. 

I did an art project called "womb with a view" the other day with one of my clients who is also pregnant. We painted silhouettes of a pregnant body and drew what was on the inside and the outside. I drew my little girl as a pure white, eyeless fish, then added arms, then I realized that I think of her as a bird more often than I do a fish, so I added wings to little outstretched white arms. Around her was a green and yellow jungle of shifting lights and nurturing vines that connected us at the heart. On the outside I drew tears, fire, and purple rain, a scene she has no idea even exists. I feel grief for her to see and experience it for herself. I wish she could always stay safe. I'm afraid that my own weaknesses will hurt both of us.  

 This is what I'm keeping in mind:

Let my little girl teach me about her instead of assuming/dreading/prematurely painting a picture of her life and personality in my mind. I had this idea that I had to resolve most of my anguish before my daughter was born, to be able to greet her with strength. But the truth is, she'll just be a baby. She'll want to be fed and kept warm and close to us. It's not like she will look up at me from the birth pool and demand to know how I've decided to frame the injustices of the world. I'll have time to get to know her and grow with her, and as I get to know her better, I'll have more insight on how to confront the difficult things as they come up. 

She will be her own person, separate from me, and it's important to honor that. One of my worries is that I will project my own pain onto her and cause her to suffer because of my past and my insecurities. I know being aware of that potentially being a problem will help me avoid doing that. I also want to recognize that it's okay for me to say "I don't know" and to acknowledge that I'm not strong in every area, that I am human and still figuring it out myself.   

Accept that some of my fears will inevitably come to pass. My daughter will be objectified, she will likely be  sexually harassed at some point, she will internalize some kind of message about her worth being related to her physical appearance. I want to work to be in a place of peaceful supportive energy and teach her how to be healthy in the midst of unhealthiness, instead of wasting energy being furious about the way things are.

Be here now. This has been my affirmation lately. When I can quiet my mind and hush the yelping about the future and the moaning about the past, I experience such intense beauty and fulfillment with my relationships.  I always found the play "Our Town" excruciating because it highlights how intensely lovely all the tiny details of our lives are and how quickly they shift, "the fugitive moment refuses to stay." When I make a conscious effort to stay present, I feel I'm honoring the good in my life, almost like uttering a prayer, and it feels so immensely good, like e.e cummings wrote "this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart."
  I'm looking forward to the actual labor and birth and meeting my little girl. I think it will be rough once she arrives and I have two babies, but I’ll survive, and right now I am enjoying my lovely baby bump and the prenatal confidence and connection I have with my daughter. I have hope that the universe will shift to make room again. I have hope for enough peace to live a happy life, and enough unrest to stay active in causes that bring healing and freedom. 

 So, it turns out I have been taking pictures this whole pregnancy, but most of them are topical. Ah, that's more fun anyway, right?
8 weeks...at the Farm in Tennessee! (How special to have a pregnancy picture at THE FARM! ) I swear I was already showing by then. 
At the Blessingway...17 Weeks
19 Weeks

23 Weeks, from Carolina Lindsay!
24 Weeks
25 Weeks
My baby's first-ever Halloween costume :)
27 Weeks with my little "Stallion who will mount the whole world"

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lamentations & Lemualtations on the Missionary Age Change

I have so many thoughts boiling in my mind about conference this year. Usually (well, the last 3 times or so) conference humbles me, endears me to the brethren and calms my angst. Not so this time. It was rough. It may have crumbled another entire wall of my faith. I feel troubled about the missionary age change, with the disturbance coming from several different places—the muses of my angst are Envy, Wrath, and Disillusionment.

Others have written eloquently about the policy change, some positing that it is most advantageous to the Church, based on statistics and trends in missionary numbers; some have lauded the age change as a "feminist triumph," I’ve seen other thoughts expressing amazement and gratitude for what they see as revelation and God’s hand moving on the world, “hastening the work.” Since I don’t claim to have the information or knowledge necessary to speculate on the age change from any of those stances, I just wanted to express myself through memoir.

There is a place where my Self remembers being a wistful 19 year old, longing for the next two years to rush past so it could be my turn, in deference bidding goodbye to boyfriends and peers, suddenly strong and wise-seeming with the importance of their calling. They belonged, I didn't, my inclusion in the experience was contingent on “making it to 21” still single and then I could be considered for service. It didn't belong to me. I was a guest in a man’s room. Fill up places where “we can use you if you show up, but we won’t invite you.” I felt pure jealousy for how much I would have DELIGHTED to go when I was 19—to really feel shoulder to shoulder in the Army of God instead of an awkward interloper.

Winding back, I was a girl who always said I would serve a mission, who piped up for gender inclusive language in seminary, who studied the old "discussions" with my high school boyfriend. My mother had served as well as many of my aunts, older female cousins, and my grandmother as a mission president's wife in her early twenties, and I eagerly imagined myself as part of their glorious sister missionary legacy. My religious zeal combined with a heightened awareness of what I perceived as discriminatory traditions in the Church left me petrified that perhaps God might be sexist. This made me terribly insecure, and because of that insecurity I engaged in an awkward, constant game of whack-a-mole with those around me. I was the mole. "I'm going on a mission!" I would chirp as I popped up. Immediately I would be struck with the well-aimed hammer of righteous patriarchy. "You should only consider a mission if you CAN'T find a husband first," my young women leaders insisted. "And you have to really TRY." "A mission is a priesthood duty," my bishop frowned across his desk during my birthday interview. "If you're still single at 21, then you can pray and see if it's the right thing. God would never reveal that to you at this age." "Girls who look like you don't go on missions!" teased my seminary teacher. "Some hot RM is going to scoop you right up when you're 19, you'll see."

Participating in the famous EFY Medley felt like another hammer. It was a Janice Kapp Perry delight--the girls sang "As Sisters in Zion" and the boys sang "We'll Bring the World His Truth." This came after a long day at EFY in which we were divided up as boys and girls--the boys received mission calls and taught lessons in companionships, and we girls attended several workshops on modesty. All day I felt stung by the gender distinction; to be a good man, you go out and preach, you know the scriptures, you testify of truth. To be a good woman, you make sure your clothing isn't too tight and your shoulders are covered, so you don't distract the men from their important work. Being asked to raise my voice with "As Sisters in Zion" and officially marking myself separate from the "real" future missionaries crushed my spirit. I felt completely consumed with humiliation. I was envious of the boys singing solemnly, sure of their position as Stripling Warriors, sure of the duty-bound adventure that lay before them. Although I understand better now that the mandatory service requirement for men comes with its own pressure and anxiety, at the time all I could see was that they were chosen, while my part of the song was merely about "being a girl." "But you get to be a MOTHER!" my counselor cried when I tried to choke out my frustrations, "It's the nearest calling to Godhood! Why would you want anything else?" I couldn't explain, I wasn't cognizant enough to reply with what now seems obvious, "But boys get to be fathers...AND all of this..." (If, by the grace of God, any one person is even able to have children--whether or not I became a mother was dependent on myriad factors out of my control, whereas any young man deemed worthy could serve a mission simply by virtue of what he was). I wanted to badly to feel that God knew my name and to feel that despite my weaknesses He saw my heart and my eagerness to be a "good soldier of Christ."

Maybe the jealousy isn’t clean though, because if we truly examine my motivations, some of them were rooted in the shadow parts of my heart. Did I want to declare “glad tidings of great joy” to the world? YES. Did I zealously believe that the Savior had restored truth to the earth? YES. Did I truly believe that any individual’s life would be bettered and made richer, deeper, sweeter by accepting the gospel and converting to the one true church? Yes absolutely. I believed in the Healer and that He wept when we fell like little sparrows. But there were other motivations that I didn’t recognize at the time that were “strong with me.” A desire to please my immediate and extended family, which always celebrated sister missionaries as a special triumph. I knew a mission would be a connecting point with my RM mother, with my grandparents (especially if I went to Argentina, which is another story). It was such a revered part of my family’s culture, I wanted a piece of it. There were feminist motivations, although I would not have labeled them as such at the time. My spirit recoiled in rebellion when anyone used the phrases “when you young men go on missions, and when you young women get married,” “as a young woman, your focus should be on marriage” “your home will be blessed by marrying a returned missionary” “you’ll be blessed by your husband’s missionary experiences.” I thought, no, no, no, I will have my own stories of light, my own humbling dark night anguish, my own mission stories and slang. My own call. My own adventure. My own coming-of-age experience on the mountain with God.

I recognized that returned missionaries commanded a certain reverence and respect, especially from those who had never served. I wanted what they seemed to have, both in inner confidence and respect from others. The home far away from home, the people who seemed strange at first and then you realized that they were you, that their story was your story, of a child searching for its Father. I knew I would be more listened to, that my insights would carry more weight, if I could say "When I was on my mission..." I wanted that, why wouldn’t I? I feel confident saying that there must be others who, mixed with varied intention, go after the fairy gold of personal glory/self discovery whether they are aware of it or not. In many ways I believe missionary service is a way to self-actualize within the church. That this was offered freely only to men always bothered me. My husband's companion told us after our wedding, “I could never have married a returned sister missionary…then I wouldn’t be the hero at family home evening!” I didn’t see anything wrong with having two "heroes"…despite the discouragement and the attempts to bar up the way, I planned whole-heartedly to serve a mission and never deviated from that goal. I never entertained the thought of getting married or even considered myself truly "available" until after my mission.

When I was 17 years old I wrote a letter to the current prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley. I wrote from my soul, describing my fervent desire to serve a mission and the discouragement I had encountered from my leaders. I quoted section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, "Therefore, if ye have desires to serve, ye are called to the work" and explained that I truly felt "called," but was treated "like I'm trying to go to a party I'm not invited to." I suggested that no one should be condemned for merely expressing intent to serve a mission, and that it was unlikely that harm could come to any who prepared to serve, regardless of whether they "made it to 21." I remember writing something about how I wish there were more encouragement for sisters aspiring to serve, that perhaps there were not many who needed that, but that it would mean the world to those who did. Although I know it's embarrassingly naive of me, I had been hoping for a kindly reply from a man who I saw as so dear and kind. He was inspired...maybe God would tell him about me, maybe tell him to pass along something from Above to put my heart at ease. I imagined President Hinckley replying, "Of course your leaders should encourage you...and if you still want to serve when you turn 21, we will welcome you, we will rejoice in you!"

I promptly received a reply from church secretary F. Michael Watson. He explained that due to the large amount of mail President Hinckley received he could not answer every letter personally, and then paraphrased from a talk President Hinckley gave in October 1997 (his address during priesthood session):
"We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program. Over a period of many years, we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small...some of them will very much wish to go...if the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.
We constantly receive letters from young women asking why the age for sister missionaries is not the same as it is for elders. We simply give them the reasons. We know that they are disappointed. We know that many have set their hearts on missions. We know that many of them wish this experience before they marry and go forward with their adult lives. I certainly do not wish to say or imply that their services are not wanted. I simply say that a mission is not necessary as a part of their lives."
That was in the winter of 2002. He might as well have written, “hang on another 10 years, sweetheart, and you’ll be ‘almost’ invited to the party.” I’m not even sure how to articulate that, but the stinging hurt of feeling like a door slammed in my face instead of being welcomed in by loving arms still resides somewhere in my being, like a physical pain. They hadn’t understood, they hadn’t tried to understand. Encouraging words would have cost them nothing, lost them nothing, but they would have meant everything to an anonymous super-zealous girl and still they withheld them. I felt God in it not at all (and it was mine to feel). I had reached out, tentatively, “Please tell me I matter? Please tell me my contribution will matter?” and it was as though they had responded, “You do not. It does not.” When I told my mother I didn’t want it, she fixed me with a steely glare and said “Don’t you ever say that again.” Although shamed, I stubbornly repeated, “I’m done. They didn’t see me.” She chastised me, something about how dare I base my testimony on what others say or do, why did I need the approval of others anyway, whether I served a mission was between me and God. Okay, sure. But it did matter—especially when sustaining a living prophet was such a enormous part of why my life was supposed to be so blessed, so enlightened, so lucky. Apparently he didn’t sustain me back? And I was supposed to sustain him even harder for his lack of support, which was indubitably the Right thing for me? Oh thank you, thank you for reminding me of my Divine Role! I cried. It hurt, it burned. I felt like a naughty child that had been slapped on the wrist. Of course within minutes I apologized to my mother and God for my hasty words, even muttering a quick repentant prayer in my heart—I knew, I knew, this was another one of those things that fell under “we just don’t understand everything right now,” and my lack of humility was disgraceful. I swallowed it, swallowed my pride and my humiliation, swallowed being subordinate once again.

And now it’s 2012 and the story has changed. Thousands of individual stories have changed. I read about roommates embracing each other in the dorms of BYU, running outside to weep and celebrate together. Seconds after the announcement, facebook statuses popped up like beaming faces about “Modern revelation, right there!” and “We thank thee oh god for a prophet!” Bittersweet for many who wrote, “I would have gone…I would have…” All over an announcement that if suggested by anyone else, 10 minutes before, would have been viewed as heretical. In a matter of minutes the generation of sisters I served with was on the other side of a great moment in history. My mind was reeling with the possibilities of how much this would change, how much it would have changed my own life. It seemed bizarre, like fan fiction, how could this actually occur? It was like the Berlin Wall had come down. Did God hear your prayers, or was this "get 'em while they're young"? Was this about God seeing and knowing and wanting you out in the white field now, or is the "hastening of the work" somehow connected to the simultaneous hemorrhage of members? (And why not make it 18 for both men and women? Why not make the length of service the same as has been in the past)?)

Watching the PR after the announcement stirred up those old feelings again as I watched Elder Holland becoming tearful and giddy about the prospect of more sisters being able to serve. It would have meant so much to me to hear that when it still applied. I felt he was extending the warm welcome that I had wished for so badly. So my experience of being reprimanded, what meaning should it hold for me today? I can imagine that in 20 years or so it will seem completely antiquated, one of those awkward stories no one wants you to tell. "Oh, but that was back then! When are you going to let it go?" It frustrates me that I was forced to accept something that even today would not be considered acceptable. Was it Right because it happened when it did, whereas it would be Wrong if it happened today? Was it inspired?

I feel I served in one of the most egalitarian missions (especially after speaking with many others). My president was respectful, supportive, and loving to each of his missionaries and his wife was equally brilliant, inspiring and good to us. I loved that she had served her own mission, as well. But in so many ways I still felt completely "not invited to the party". Each transfer my president invited a different companionship of sisters to attend the zone leader training. I remember my companion and I felt very honored by this when our turn came, but we had no capacity to speak for or represent specific needs of the sisters—our attendance was merely a cursory nod to the fact that there were women serving in the mission as well.

I think it’s interesting that elders and sisters receive the same calling (I’m not aware of any different wording or distinction in assignments when calls are issued other than length of service) and do the same work—finding, teaching, preparing investigators for baptism, they attend the same meetings, tract the same streets, work together with members and investigators, but leadership positions are given exclusively to men. In my experience, with the exception of talks and testimonies at zone conferences, all of the trainings are done by elders as well. This seemed to reinforce the concept that the mission “belonged” to the elders while we sisters were associates, kind of like Logan and Shannon in the Babysitters Club. The SLC temple square mission gives precedent that APs, zone and district leaders do not have to be priesthood holders, but I don’t know anywhere else in the world where sisters are given these assignments. Contrary to what some might say, I would wish for sisters to serve in these capacities not because I am power-hungry, or because I want to demean men, but I want it the same way I used to long for the stories of women to be told in the scriptures. I wanted to hear their voices. I wanted to hear about their visions and experiences with God. Because my heart was truly there, at the time. I was so happy to finally be a missionary, my whole being vibrated to the tune of tension and heartache and energy and joy in that work. My experiences felt so full, vibrant, and significant to me. And there was always this nagging feeling that those voices weren’t included because they didn’t matter. I am hoping that the age change will create some changes in this aspect of the mission experience.

Largely, my experiences with elders were incredibly positive. But there was a stigma against sisters that persisted within and without the mission. When I was a greenie, my companions sometimes pointed out “hermana haters,” venerable, stern elders who refused to shake hands or make eye contact with sisters (there's no way to know, but I have this hunch that sexual frustration may have been involved). I never made friends with these elders but their coldness seemed to support the idea that our presence as sisters was intrusive, unwanted, even disgusting. I had so many elders who became dear friends and comrades, but every once in awhile they would remark that they’d never want to marry a returned sister missionary “because she would know too much.” Another elder once told me “I’d rather be gay and marry a dude than marry a girl RM.” Would a sister, or any woman in the church, ever make the comment, “I don’t want to marry a returned missionary because he ‘knows too much’?” It seems absurd to me, as if they are really saying, "I want a girl I can be better than…I want a girl who won't challenge me."

Guys I dated both before and after my own mission never seemed to think twice about letting me know that they couldn't stand the sisters in their missions. "There are two kinds of sisters," they would tell me. "The kind that are there for the right reasons and really work hard and are so amazing...and the kind that just went because they weren't married." I also heard about how the sisters had been, invariably, too lazy, too competitive, too dramatic, too bossy, or (shudder) had "asked for blessings all the time." Elders, I was left to assume, were never guilty of any of those things, and were always there for the right reasons, then? Right? Why not just say that some missionaries were great and some missionaries were hard to work with? Why single out the sisters for general criticism?

I’m so happy for the age change as far as it may reduce those stigmas and entitlements.This is the part of the culture I feel sure will change quickly, and for the better. The shape of the land of dating will change--there will be less male= wise teacher, female = avid learner. The "old maid" stereotype of sister missionaries will be obliterated (you can't be an old maid at 19, right?). Opening the doors to more sisters and younger missionaries in general will create a different environment in the mission field, hopefully one that is more unified and truly shared. I'm excited for that. I'm so excited for anyone who whole-heartedly and sincerely wants to serve a mission, and glad they have more supportive words from the brethren to fall back on than I did. I'm excited for more men and women to have that coming of age on the mountain, to find themselves at home in a place they never expected, to deeply feel on behalf of another person, to wrest the weight of their own privilege, to find out they can do hard things. The Church is already in such a different place than when I was growing up, when I served my mission, and even when I was dating at BYU. It's dizzying to realize that the whack-a-mole game doesn't exist anymore, at least not exactly the way I experienced it. Maybe the board broke, like the Stone Table in Narnia.

But I hurt for the girl I was, and I hurt because my heart tells me that really despite what the flood of witnesses tried to convince me of, the pain I went through was arbitrary. I'm not sure what to do with that.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Honey Chai (15 months)

La-la la-la, la-la la-la, Lolly's world...
La-la la-la, la-la la-la, Lolly's world! (Lolly's world!)
 Lolly loves his mommy....

His daddy too...
That's Lolly's world!
I need to write much, much more often about my darling boy, since he morphs into a different darling boy all the time.
This is the new and improved co-sleeping arrangement (since spring 2012). I LOVE it! Chai goes to sleep in the modified crib and Jonny and I  get to do all the snuggling, stretching etc we want with all that lovely space, but he is still close enough I can touch him and hear him breathe. It is so comforting to fall asleep with my dear boys. Most of the time in the early morning hours Chai creeps over to our bed and drapes himself on or between our bodies, and I love that, too. It's so sweet to have him nearby. I know it doesn't appeal to everyone but I love, love the  proximity, especially since it's so fleeting.

Chai gets clever and tries to get outside on his own. Unfortunately the box he used to boost himself up to the doorknob also prevented the door from opening. Better luck next time little man! He was so proud of himself, though!
My goon always has designs to get outside. He loves being taken for walks (as long as he's in charge of where we go) and he would be the perfect puppy because he's always going to the door and begging to be let out. "Go-go-go!" or just "Shoos!"

Chai LOVES phones. He pants in excitement when he sees one. In addition to actual phones, he uses remotes, hairbrushes, tech parts, etc as phones and will pick them up and say "Hi...hi...hi..." unless someone is actually on the other line, in which case he will just breathe heavily. My little creeper. 

We always joke that he is very important and has to take a lot of business calls. Look how harried he is here. Hilarious. 
Chai has words! He says ‘dof’ (soft)—which he says while stroking our faces—“dog,” “Doug,” “Kee” for both kitty and kiss, “num-num” when he wants to eat, "bah!" for bath. Of course he says “Mem! Mem! Mem!” and “Maaaaaama!” and “Ded-ded.” He asks for “slow, slow, faster, faster” by kicking and demanding “Doh!” Sometimes he repeats the animals sounds in some of his books, like baa or “klopp.” He can also say “No,” but more often he solemnly shakes his head, which is so charming. He likes to walk up to strangers, stare at them and say “Hi. Hi.” He will bring us books and climb into our laps while we read. His favorites are any books with animal noises or "furry" pieces he can touch. He loves "Mr Brown Can Moo" and often repeats the sounds softly after me. "Pop...pop..." He is delicious.
. You've probably seen my fb posts lamenting Chai's irreligious ways that have affected our Sundays a lot. The social experience entirely overwhelms him and just the sight of a room full of people causes him to clap his hands and scream with delight. We spend our Sundays in the foyer and wandering around the church. Here we are playing behind the stage.

As his adoring mother, it pains me to admit that although Chai is loved intensely by many, many adults in his life, he doesn't really have any little friends. Augh! It's so sad! Not because of any lack of friendliness or sociability; but because his exuberance can be a little overwhelming. Chai LOVES other children and often screams in delight when he finds himself in a room with other little kids (he gets so excited at postpartum group!), he wants to pull children his own size or slightly smaller onto his lap, and give hugs and kisses with wild abandon. The other day he saw a little girl about his age in Cafe Rio, shrieked with joy and seized her in his arms. Of course she was horrified and started bawling. Poor Chai gets so bewildered when other kids react this way, he just wants to love them, but needs to learn to love more gently and perhaps learn to ask permission before touching others. I love his friendliness and his interest in people, and I hope the reactions of others never shame him into losing that part of himself. 

Here he is reaching out to his cousin Akane. What a grump. :)
That's a little better, but you can tell she is still spurning his advances. 

My goon loves animals and is learning to be "soft" with them. We went to the petting zoo and he tried to climb over all the fences. He is enamored with our kitties (unfortunately they don't share his regard). Every morning he asks for the "kees" and when we let them upstairs he chases them around

Chai would that all members of the party would stay in the room. He shrieks and waddles after us (also Mary and Laurel) if we get up to go anywhere. He also recognizes the signs of either me or Jonny leaving for work—me when I put on my bag, Jon when he puts on his hat—and starts to wail “Go, go!” or “Bye bye!” and he cries when we walk out the door, but soon recovers. It’s hard to resist running back to snuggle him more, he is so squishy.

 These pictures totally encapsulate how this summer felt to me. I love my sweet watermelon boy. After I climbed out of my pit of despair, we fell in love again harder than ever and had adventure after adventure. I love these "little" days and when I am mindful and remember to be present, I can't really believe he is mine. There are so many glorious moments with my little boy's innocent excitement and a lovely world I can see through his pure eyes. I love how he will laugh when I make faces at him, how he explores his autonomy through myriad choices. He is wonderful to me in every way, and he is such good company.

I love how thickly Chai sleeps and how sweaty his head gets. He leaves big wet patches on the sheets with his sweaty goon head. I love how much he loves to make eye contact and shake and nod his head with me. 

He is learning to dance…when I sing or put on music he bends his knees and bobs up and down and sometimes mutters “Da…da…” He has no rhythm just like his mama and daddy. I LOVE to watch him dance and I love when he responds to certain songs, like “Wendy.” I love his wild energy and how sometime he gets so happy that he screams, and how he goes “Pshhh…pssss…tssss” to himself and plays with his voice “Mem, mam, mom, moi, murrr…” His favorite thing is to go outside and explore and he is always leaning towards the door and begging “Go-go! Go-go-go!” He loves to somberly and deliberately give kisses on the mouth, usually alternating between me and Jonny, and usually 3 or 4 at a time. I’ve been thinking lately how despite the busy-ness, life really is pretty easy with just our Chai. I love taking him places and cuddling with him and having a little friend everywhere I go. I wish he slept through the night, but I also love how he usually ends up next to me with our bodies touching somehow and how sweet it is to wake up with him stroking my face and saying “Doff…doff…” (Soft).

Scarlet and Chai. Just trying to plan ahead for the wedding slideshow. If they get married, their child will bring balance to the Force.

Chai is lucky to have my little brothers as his tios! They are obsessed with him and take such good care of him. When we go to Ogden, Chai is treated like a king and everyone wants time with him. Sometimes Jonny and I don't see him for hours...and lately in Ogden Chai is kind of too cool for school and gets annoyed if we interrupt his hanging out with his friends.

Chai “feels handsome” when he is dressed in new clothes. He runs his hands over his body, admires himself, and struts around. Sometimes he will bring us clothes and attempt to put them on himself. He enjoys getting dressed and being accessorized. 

Chai gets a kick out of doing anything that we also do. He loves to pretend to brush our teeth and often offers us the food he is drinking or a sip of his bottle.

Whenever Jonathan and I are cuddling, kissing, embracing passionately, etc. Chai wails and demands that we stop and pay attention to him…every…single…time. If we’re close to the ground he will worm his way between us. It’s so symbolic. 

This is what’s on my mind--I need to write down every sweet detail of my little Chai because my days alone with him are numbered. I can feel the little girl thumping around in my belly and I gently press back to tell her hello…I’m still feeling the trepidation and anguish of every itchy girl-issue I have crawling under my skin, but most of the time I am calm and confident. This last month or so, I have LOVED this pregnancy. I feel incredible, I have so much energy, I love the way I look and feel, so powerful. I want to write to both of them, let them know how precious they are and how small we all are together, how simple and fresh our days will be for awhile before they discover the betrayal of the world and much later feel the weight of their privilege and the sorrow that comes with that.