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.