Sunday, February 22, 2015

SAHM Pt. 1

I was born a feminist - a regular person who believed I could be anything I wanted to be and didn't give a second's thought to my gender. My grandmother, who was a private school elementary educator by profession, moved in with my parents before I was born. She home-schooled us during our early years giving us great academic advantages over our peers. When I went to a public school for the first time it was glaringly obvious how far ahead I was of my grade level in reading, writing, and arithmetic. I prided myself on my academic abilities. I took every AP course I could and graduated with a perfect report card. In addition, I was practicing very hard to become an expert violinist. My childhood identity was wrapped up in these two things.

On the other side was the constant church messaging about my identity as a woman.  It was drilled into me that my God-given role, my divine worth, the very purpose of my life and body was to be a wife and mother - a stay at home mother. It was the topic of nearly every Young Women's lesson. It was daily manifested in my own mother's life choices to set aside her Master's Degree to birth and constantly attend to a husband and family of nine children, even though she hates to cook, clean, and decorate, and isn't fond of kids. It was the topic of my patriarchal blessing. I read it often trying to process my life's destination of dedicated wife and mother of "many children." This role was cited often as the purpose of education for women.

I was unaware of any other messaging during my childhood. The feminist movement is not covered in history classes in Utah. The only time I can remember anything like feminism coming up was in AP Art History. We studied a magazine cover with the profile of a woman created out of the text "Your gaze hits the side of my face," which I understood as the age old temptation of men to be attracted to the body and not the mind. Yet, I battled internally with the Mormon message about women almost daily. I despised my female peers who I felt disregarded their education in favor of tanning, shopping, and flirting. At the same time, I knew they were likely to be the first to marry and that they attracted the most successful of Mormon men. I remember thinking that in some ways they were much wiser than me in their life plan. I also struggled with the thought of spending long days with children. I didn't like children much even when I was a child. I remember wanting so badly to be older than I was. I didn't like playing pretend and sitting at the kids table. I would always choose to be with adults and listen to their conversation. I also knew that I was good at academics and that many career options were open to me. Whenever I would hear talks about the importance of mothers not having a career outside the home I hoped, and mostly believed, that God wanted me to be an exception to the rule.

College application time approached and the conflicts raged inside between my deep faith and strong desire to please my parents, and my urge to continue my academic pursuits as long as possible until wifery and motherhood would take them away from me. One career choice that seemed acceptable to my parents, my Mormonism, and me was that of violin teacher, so I applied to Juilliard, Oberlin, and BYU as a back up. My Juilliard audition did not go well, but I did get into Oberlin and BYU. Oberlin gave me a scholarship, and BYU did not (until after I told them I wasn't coming.) My mom was unhappy that I was not going to BYU and would remind me regularly on phone calls from home that I really need to put myself in better positions to find someone to marry and get going on fulfilling the prophecies in my patriarchal blessing. At Oberlin I could pursue academic endeavors alongside my musical studies. I was passionate about them both and graduated with two degrees in four years, rather than the ascribed five. Continuing to do both in grad school was not an option, so I picked what I thought was the more faith/gender friendly option and continued in my violin studies.

Fast forward: I am a professional musician and violin teacher. It is one of the worst options for spending time with your children. I think it's seen as acceptable because the woman doesn't have to leave her home to teach and she is spending all her time with children. However, if I continue in this profession, I will never see my daughter one she starts formal school because my hours are all after school and weekend hours. The hours couldn't be worse?! What a strange phenomenon.

When my husband and I started dating he was already firmly established in a tenured job. It didn't make sense for him to leave his fabulous job for me to pursue more education that I might not ever use. I chose to marry and to put off further academic pursuits. In a short time, I was very unhappy with my career options. I worked and worked, and made very little money and had no job security. I felt like I was not living up to my potential and like I was living someone else's life. I went to the career counseling center at my alma mater and took aptitude testing to see what I could do to change this course. I decided I wanted to become an air traffic controller. It was the perfect job for me. I could do the schooling nearby, work only 40 hours a week, used many of my skill sets, and get paid well. There is a ATC center in Oberlin and I could even walk to work if I wanted. I would have to work nights, weekends, and holidays on rotation, but I'm a musician - I do that all the time anyway. At least this way I would be home for some nights and weekends. Also, I told my husband, it was something I could do for five years or so and put some real money away before I would quit to raise our kids. He was extremely uncomfortable with this solution. Long story short, it didn't happen.

Then we decided to have a child. I was really nervous about having children, but I thought I would always regret it if I didn't. I had a relatively easy pregnancy and a terrible labor (is there any other kind?). My child's first year was the hardest of my life. It was really hard on our marriage. One of the things that attracted me to my husband was that he has very flexible hours in his career which would make it possible for us to be equal partners in raising our children. The entire burden wouldn't fall on me. This is a post from six months in if you're interested. During that year I read a study that said that men who think that taking care of children should be a joint endeavor between a man and a woman do an average of 4 more minutes of child care a day than men who think it's a woman's job. This seemed to hold true in my situation and I was really mad, really exhausted, and all of the feminist feelings in me boiled over. I only took two weeks off of work when my child was born and I was so grateful to be back at work during those hours. I knew right away that being a full-time SAHM was not for me.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sex Ed ... (feel free to stop now)

Imagine growing up in a stalwart, conservative Mormon home where if the T.V. was on and if two actors looked like they might kiss your father would groan and change the channel. A home where any hint of p.d.a. was scorned, even between your parents. A home where even a regular t-shirt wasn't modest because if you leaned over to pick up something you dropped, some "inappropriate" skin would show. A home where your parents wrote letters to the school to have you excused from all Health classes. A home that was limited to PG movies. A home that taught if you see an "immodest" cover on a magazine Satan is tempting you to look - turn it over. Imagine your mother rushing out of her room to exclaim appallingly to a room of high schoolers, "you know what a french kiss is?!" At 21 having someone tell you that the sensation of a "pit in your stomach" wasn't Satan, but sexual arousal. At 22 still never having even held a boy's hand. At 24 hearing someone ask "can you have sex with a tampon in?" and not knowing even the most basic mechanics of sex to know why that would be a relevant question. That's me. If I hadn't lived it, I would think it impossible. Upon marriage I bought a book. I felt guilty at first, but I'm so glad I did. I am also very grateful that I married someone who had been married before and knew what he was doing.

Why do I share this? I share it because I worry about others who might live in this scenario. Although it eventually turned out fine for me, this lack of sexual education which is common in Mormon culture is problematic for a multitude of reasons. I was scared of my body. I was scared of men's bodies and any kind of physical contact. I was completely unprepared to make decisions related to marriage, thinking that everything else mattered, but sex. I didn't know enough about my own body to make informed choices about how and when to engage physically with another person. I also realize now how vulnerable I was on dates or even out dancing because I clearly knew WAY less than the other person. Also, many women in this situation feel extreme guilt about sex even after marriage. I understood "physical attraction" to be about being tall, but not too tall, ultra thin, tan, with streaked hair, perfect teeth, and fake nails. I am short, red-headed, fair-skinned, with a curvy frame and I was certain that no man would ever be physically attracted to me, so I would have to find someone who didn't care about looks. Now I know better. I wish I had always known.

Friday, February 20, 2015

At Risk Child

"At risk child." That was the phrase that hit the hardest in an email that wasn't intended for me. It was my child they were talking about. My brilliant, loving, articulate, bright-eyed, creative, curious, beautiful child. I knew what they meant, and it only made it sting more. She is "at risk" of losing her eternal salvation, everlasting life with God, a perfectly sealed family because of her "wayward" mother. That's a big loss, the ultimate one in the Mormon paradigm. But what if for one moment they could see her potential from the side of the other 99.999%? That "at risk child" has all the benefits of a first world middle-class upbringing. She also has an impressive immune system, an amazing brain, parents who love her deeply, a father with a PhD from Princeton, a mother who is a professional violinist and is authoring a book on the pedagogy of language in rearing children to be lifelong learners and empathic contributors to society. She does not lack any resource available to the likes of The Dalai Lama, Mother Thersea, or Gandhi. By any standard, besides the Mormon one, she is one of the least "at risk" children on this earth. I think also about the things that she is "at risk" of experiencing because of her Mormonism: belief that her value lies primarily in her pre-determined role of mother and wife, which she might never experience; an over-active conscious leading to extreme guilt; blind prejudice; over-emphasis on body image; shame in sexuality; thinking "the world" is evil, etc.. However, I do not think of her as more "at risk" more than any other human who experiences life in its many varieties and expressions. I am going to help her learn all she can about all the bits this life has to offer, and I believe in her soul there is great potential for self-fulfillment, empathy, joy, societal-contribution, and love. I am so proud to be her mom. I don't believe in a God that would reject her.

Friday, January 30, 2015


We had the missionaries over for dinner tonight. They've been assigned to home teach us, so I offered them food. We had a nice visit, and I thought we might make it through the night without a lesson, but no luck. The message was nicely prepared and there was only one time where I felt uncomfortable about what was being said. One missionary was talking about all the "mistakes" he's made and how many more "mistakes" he's going to make. He said he wanted to be perfect and was trying to be perfect and mentioned the frequent guilt he feels at not being able to be all he should be and that he was grateful for the atonement. I really wanted to protect my three-year-old daughter from the message that she should feel guilty for all the times she wasn't and couldn't be perfect and also that  something external was necessary for her to feel ok about herself. As the lesson was coining to a close she kicked back with her arms behind her head and said, "Listen to me, guys. I don 't make mistakes. .... Actually, when I make mistakes I just take a few minutes and calm down and take some deep breaths like this. (Inhale, exhale). Mistakes are not a big problem. I just make mistakes and then I calm down and breath. That's all. We all make mistakes. It's not a big problem." I was beaming. I seriously have the most amazing child! The missionaries were pretty impressed by her message. To that, I say, Amen.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wear Pants to Church

I mentioned in an earlier post that the beginning of spousal tension around church issues began with my participation in wear pants to church day. I wore my nicest pair of black dress pants. I bought them from Black House, White Market and I use them for formal performances on stage. They are dressier in fact than most skirts in my closet.  I initially wasn't concerned about a reaction from my ward  in part because my home ward is a wonderful, open, accepting place for all kinds of people. I've seen many a pair of jeans in the pews. I was simply wearing them to stand in solidarity with my sisters who had suffered as I had suffered. However, after the unexpected negative reaction of my husband I was worried about what would happen at church. Thankfully, it went just as I expected. Not only did no one say anything about it, I also think no one even noticed. I listened to the reports from other sisters who had a very different story to tell about their experiences.  My heart ached for them, knowing my situation in my ward, away from family and childhood friends, was unique.

Last week it was very cold and snowy here. I was getting dressed for church and did not want to wear a skirt because of the weather. I decided to dress in warm leggings, dress boots, and a dressy long top. I saw what I thought was an uncomfortable glance from my husband. At the last minute, I decided to leave the leggings on and put a skirt over the top too. I felt half glad for making my husband (and maybe me too) more comfortable, and half ashamed that I was still afraid to just wear pants. When we got to Sunday School the woman teaching the class was wearing pants. I admired her.

The Spirit

It's been a long time, but yesterday, at church, I felt for a moment what I used to think was "The Spirit." I was completely surprised, and I cried, as I always do when feeling "The Spirit." The scenario was a R. S. lesson on fasting. The conversation had turned to the good things the church welfare system does. (I didn't bring up that fast offerings stay in local wards and I believe aren't related to what happens at Welfare Square.) Anyway, the church welfare system, both on the local and international level is something I can definitely get behind and makes me very proud of my roots. The sisters were talking about experiences some of them had at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. I almost chose not to comment because I was I am attending a German ward and would need someone to translate for me. However since the topic also turned to politics I decided to share the wonderful headlines coming from America papers about SLC in past few weeks. I said that the culture of fasting which leads to mindfulness of the less fortunate seemed to seep into UT politics and that SLC as of this year has no homeless people because the city gave them homes!  To say out loud that "my people" gave homes to the homeless made me cry. Ironically, the messages I hear so often from inside the church are anti "government handouts"and berate the idea of giving someone something just because he/she needs it (teach a man to fish, etc.). Somehow, probably because it made economic sense as well, the Christian mandate to feed the hungry and cloth the naked made it through the tough politic skin in UT. 

I recognized this experience where my emotions become very tender and my heart races as what I used to identify as "The Spirit." I do not think the spirit testified to me of the SLC political policy. That's not even supposed to be His role after all. Instead I think these feelings were a natural result of experiencing love, service, generosity, charity. That's what I feel. That's what I'm feeling right now as I type about this. This is a special moment for me because I think I might be able to foster those feelings again in a healthy way for what they are. I can learn to understand and trust them again. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Story on Mormon Stories

My Story on Mormon Stories

Dear John,
First of all my heart is so much with you and your family this week.

I am experiencing marital distress because of a Mormon/LDS faith crisis. Anyone can follow my story at I just began to share this week. My husband and I are very much in love and have a daughter. He is TBM, but with a very full library of Mormon literature. (I can only assume he is familiar with most of the issues.) Our hiccups with each other regarding the church started when I participated in the first “wear pants to church day.” He was so upset by this that he could hardly speak to me for a few days. I was completely surprised by his reaction, and when I tried to talk about why I felt strongly about participating he shut down. We are a few years into this now and our M.O. is that we just don’t talk about anything church related. I attend regularly not to rock the boat and he pretends like my faith crises doesn’t exist not to rock the boat. I don’t know where this leads us down the road, but I am afraid for our future. The intimacy we once had can’t exist because the conversation is shut down on the deepest parts of us. He is intensely suffering because of the repercussions of being a TBM with a spouse who doesn’t believe, and I am intensely suffering because I feel like I must go on pretending to be something I’m not. Mormon Stories has been hugely helpful for me as an outlet for mentally processing the changes I’m experiencing since my relationship doesn’t provide a safe space for discussion.