Sunday, December 29, 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I really enjoyed listening to Becoming by and read by Michelle Obama. I can't say I knew all that much about the Obama's before this book, but I can say, if I knew her in real life, I'd want to be her friend. I loved in the book how she so clearly identified the struggles of being a woman/wife/mother sometimes. We obviously have chosen different life paths with her being a career woman and me being a stay-at-home mom, but our thoughts and frustrations are often the same. I love that she had such a desire to be a mom! She loved her dolls as a kid, and helped kids in an after school program in college, and always knew she wanted her own children. If I'm completely honest, a big part of us having kids was we felt we should, so we did. We were so logical and practical, that it was easy to see that kids would make life harder. I wish I'd been born with more of those maternal desires like Michelle! (I am happy I'm a mom and wouldn't have it any other way, so don't think I'm miserable or anything :) We have great kids that bring us a lot of joy!).

I saved a few quotes from the book. I don't know if I got the punctuation right as I was typing what I heard, but you'll get the idea.

(Chapter 2 around 1:04) Now that I'm an adult, I realize that kids know at a very young age when they're being devalued---when adults aren't invested enough to help them learn. Their anger over it can manifest itself as unruliness. It's hardly their fault. They aren't bad kids, they're just trying to survive bad circumstances.

(Chapter 4 around 2:18/19) Just as I never wondered what it was like for my mother to be a full-time-at-home mother, I never wondered then what it meant to be married.  . . .My mother would tell me that every year when spring came and the air warmed up in Chicago, she entertained thoughts about leaving my father. I don't know if these thoughts were actually serious or not. I don't know if she considered the idea for an hour or for a day or for most of the season, but for her it was an act of fantasy. Something that felt healthy and maybe even energizing to ponder, almost as ritual.  I understand now that even a happy marriage can be a vexation and it's a contract best renewed and renewed again even quietly and privately, even alone. I don't think my mother ever announced whatever her doubts and discontents were to my father directly, and I don't think she let him in on whatever alternative life she may have been dreaming about during those times... I don't know [where she imagined herself], but I don't think it matters. . .  (about 2:22) [And then, as you're doing your spring cleaning year after year] . . . It allows you to think, to wonder if you've missed out on other possibilities by becoming a wife to this man in this house with these children. Maybe you spend the whole day considering how to live before finally you fit every window back into it's frame and empty your bucket of Pine-sol into the sink, and maybe now all your certainty returns because yes, truly it's spring, and once again you've made the choice to stay.

(Chapter 13 8:23) I wanted a family, and Barack wanted a family, too, and now here I was alone in the bathroom of our apartment, trying in the name of all of that want to screw up the courage to plunge a syringe into my thigh. I twas maybe then that I felt a first flicker of resentment involving politics and Barack's unshakable commitment to the work. Or maybe I was just feeling the acute burden of being female. Either way, he was gone and I was here carrying the responsibility. I sensed that the sacrifices would be more mine than his. In the weeks to come, he'd go about his regular business while I went in for daily ultrasounds to monitor my eggs. He wouldn't have his blood drawn. He wouldn't have to cancel any meetings to have a cervix inspection. He was doting and invested, my husband, doing what he could do. He read all the IVF literature and would talk to me all night about it, but his only actual duty was to show up at the doctor's office and provide some sperm, and then if he chose, he could go have a martini afterward. None of this was his fault, but it wasn't equal either, and for any woman who lives by the mantra that equality is important, this can be a little confusing. It was me who'd alter everything, putting my passions and career dreams on hold to fulfill this piece of our dream. I found myself in a small moment of reckoning. Did I want it? Yes. I wanted it so much. And with this, I hoisted the needle and sank it into my flesh. [Eventually we got pregnant] Suddenly the responsibility and relative sacrifice meant something completely different. . . now everything appeared perfectly in place. I walked around with a secret inside of me. This was my privilege, the gift of being female. I felt bright with a promise of what I carried.

(Chapter 14 around 8:52) [When their caregiver got a new job] Her investment in my family had allowed me to maintain my investment in my job.

(Chapter 14 around 8:57) Our afternoons [with her mom-friends] taught me that there was no formula for motherhood. No single approach could be deemed right or wrong.
[I think young kids do best with their own mamas, but I also believe everyone has their own circumstances to work with and their agency. I love that Michelle supports everyone in how they want to do it.]

(Chapter 14 around 9:13) I now tried out a new hypothesis. It was possible that I was more in charge of my happiness than I was allowing myself to be. I was too busy resenting Barack for managing to fit workouts into his schedule, for example, to even begin figuring out how to exercise regularly for myself.
[Oh the struggle is real.]

(Chapter 15 around 9:50) At least in some spheres, I was now Mrs. Obama in a way that could feel diminishing: A Mrs. defined by her Mr.
[My husband has gotten a new job, well two this year, affirming his value in the workplace. The longer I'm away from collaborating with others, and the more I give up my hobbies and thoughts, the less value I feel in myself. I'm trying to dig myself out of this place. It's crazy the opposition in how he can feel such value and I feel so isolated.]

The rest of the book is more into their terms in office, and it's fun to remember the events mentioned, well, except I'm still sad about the gay marriage stuff when you're trying to keep God's law. It really is true that when you know someone, you don't judge them so much. I bet if a lot of the haters read this book, they wouldn't be so harsh and would see the Obamas as people, which they obviously are. I didn't vote for Barrack back then, but I'm glad to know their family story and learn more of their struggles, goodness, and dedication.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Where the Wind Leads: A Book Review

So I'm a part of a book club. . . sort of. I think I really don't like being compelled to read things others are reading, so I don't usually go to the neighborhood book club. I guess my time is too precious to read books that I'm not really interested in. Since my youngest has stared preschool, I have listened to several books. Probably my favorite so far is Where the Wind Leads by Vinh Chung. It is a crazy, amazing story about some people of Chinese descent who became refugees from Vietnam, and the author happens to be just a couple older months than me! So, if I were to host a book club, here's where I might go with it:

Chung mentions what is a "beautiful woman." In Chinese culture, it is more than just physical beauty! How wonderful! (A little before 1:03)

At 3:15 when they're on a boat overtaken by pirates who brought the threat of rape, Chung says "women who had spent their entire lives making themselves as attractive as possible were now frantically trying everything they could think of to make themselves unappealing."

Boys vs. Girls
At 1:08 Chung talks about how sons and daughters are different in marriage, well even how boys are looked at as good and girls as bad, generally in Chinese culture. This is one I'd always wondered about. In Chinese culture, it is favored to have sons because when they marry, you gain a daughter-in-law who helps with the household. When a daughter marries, you lose her to her in-laws, and that takes away from your family, which is bad. So that at least somewhat explains why sons are favored there and daughters are not.

Chung's family had a multi-million dollar rice and shipping business in Vietnam. Because of their wealth, his father felt he had some entitlements, like a mistress. At 1:36, Chung says: "having a mistress was acceptable, but still not right." How I love his morality! Just because something is accepted or even legal, doesn't make it right!

Attitudes toward Women
At 1:21, Chung talks about how his mother did so much work: Shopping, laundry, mopping, ironing, cooking, killing the chicken, and massaging grandma every day from 1966-1979. How incredibly exhausting! He says at 1:22 that serving your family and making a big contribution like this in traditional Chinese culture is a great honor. Despite the honor, at 1:31, his mother became depressed and suicidal. I'm afraid with that workload, I might become depressed and suicidal, too! We often hear the argument that if we honored women and service work more, then it wouldn't be so despised. However, here we have a culture where those things were honored, and yet, his mother was still depressed and suicidal. This is telling me that there's more to it than respecting women's work. I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's sharing the workload?

Because Chungs mother did not kill herself, at 1:30 he says: "living can be a sacrifice, too. Dying might require more love, but living takes more endurance." The mother was SO STRONG in this book.
Their family experienced so many miracles in their life/journey!!
  • mother being protected when she was separated, finding her family
  • The boat hadn't sunk, the rope of the pirates broke
  • the conversion of the Father, the praying by the father on the boat to bring rain and then make it stop
Chung shared so many lovely Chinese proverbs in this book. I didn't write them all down, but here's one:

"When you eat the fruit, remember who planted the tree." Don't you love it? There were so many more!

In the End
Chung leads out the following discussions at the end of the book:

Who do you think sent the boat?
God sent the boat
What does he expect you to do now?
Now that I'm safely ashore, he expects me to send the boat back for someone else

He goes on to another, but somewhat related topic:
  • How can I give my children all the things I never had without allowing them to become complacent?
  • How do I teach them that America is a land of opportunity that was never meant to be a place of entitlement?
  • How do I allow them comfort and ease, but instead instill in them the value of hard work?
Where we live, we are faced with so much those last three questions! I wish I had the answer!

I recommend this book to everyone! It was stirring to read such a personal account of this refugee family. I hope it opens our hearts to do and to give more.

A Bitter Realization

I used to be an optimist, then, a year or so ago, I did one of those little quizzes and it said I was a pessimist! I thought, "Whaaat? No way!!" I couldn't immediately identify things that would make me a pessimist, but a few months ago, I realized some things that have made me, well, a more bitter person. I won't go into details, but I've just had a lot of disappointments, that I guess have made me, well, bitter.

Ok, maybe I will go into a few details. Almost 4 and a half years ago we moved to another city. I lost quick access to my parents as well as my reliable friends. That left me a bit trapped and unable to do anything I might like to do, like write, or think a thought longer than 20 seconds. Now, of course, LOTS of people don't have the luxury of parents and friends, but it was new to me, and the change was hard.

Another thing that probably made me bitter was the change in culture from old city to new city. We came from a city/neighborhood where many people put a lot in to serving in church and in the school. It was like a well-oiled machine. We moved to a place where people weren't as interested in "putting their shoulder to the wheel," but were more interested in having "other people do it." When you're the "other person doing it," you realize you can't do it all, and you become unwilling to do it all to meet some imaginary (although fun and cool) expectation you used to have. The new city was more like someone dumped out the Ikea parts and wasn't sure what to do with them.

In a church sense, I've been with Scouts since we moved here: first as a Cub leader, then left without a partner for about 6 months, and also asked to be the Boy Scout Committee Chair at the same time. It was ROUGH with four kids, a new baby, and husband as Scoutmaster, then YM President. He had been my Cub partner, until he was asked to be Scoutmaster. He still filled in as my second adult, though. I did get a break from being the Chair for a while, but am doing it again now until the end. It's honestly hard working with men who don't see the value of your position and don't (well didn't) take seriously what they'd been asked to do with a Scout program. At first I pushed it and pushed it and tried to make it easy for them, but then after some major failures (like camp just not happening because leaders wouldn't come - this was even BEFORE the announcement of the discontinuation of Scouts), I realized sometimes it's just not worth it to push people into something they're not willing to do themselves, and have all the exhaustion and pain land on you. My husband now says, "you've just got to meet people where they're at." That was quite a change from trying to run the perfect program with imperfect and unwilling leaders. Anyway, I think this experience has made me a bit bitter, too.

I've also had some friendship fails the last several years. That's been rough, too. I think I'm a bit odd in that I'm not a girly, fashionable girl, I like to conserve and serve, I prefer Women's Conference over Book Club retreats, I like Relief Society activities more than book club, etc. Sometimes when friends don't work out, you get a little bitter and don't want to try again.

Well that's enough about being bitter. I hope I don't come across outwardly as being bitter, but I can see it reflected in some things I've written. Things are getting easier. The baby is now 4! Our oldest drives! We have good employment! Things are good, but life is sometimes hard and lonely.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Pulling the Handcart Alone

Last month my husband and I got to go on trek for our second time, this time with our 15 year old son! The first time we went, 5 years ago, the women's pull was very effective, so much that I NEVER wanted to do that again. We started out with just the mas pulling the handcarts. As I tried to start, I discovered my handcart was stuck on a little rock. It took all I had to get it rolling. Not soon after, I thought I was going to die. My heart was pounding harder than it ever has. I seriously wondered if I was going to have a heart attack or stroke. My breathing got very shallow and I wondered if that's what asthma felt like as I struggled for breath. I was so glad when "my" daughters were able to join me when the slope started, and then the sons and husbands as we got near the top of the hill. When we all stopped, we "processed" our experience and talked about how there are some things women do that men just can't help with. We talked about how when a woman has a baby, that's something she has to do on her own, and her husband just stands there wishing he could do something to help. We talked about other things, but I don't recall the details.

On this recent trek, they were careful to make the women's pull not too hard; however, they were so careful that it was pretty easy. The guys hiked off with some handcarts, and then women from different families joined up together. I think most of us families ended up with more people pushing the carts than we did when our men were with us. Girls complained that this was so easy, and that they'd made it easy because they didn't think we could do it. It was kind of a sad, missed opportunity. At the top of the hill, my husband and I still wanted to "process" with the kids. We talked about how sometimes we women have to do things alone, but that we CAN do it. We talked about how we are strong. We talked about men and women are different and we're meant to be that way, and it is ok to accept help from men; we don't HAVE to do it on our own, even if we are able.

After trek I was thinking about how much prep I'd done for trek, for me, my husband, and son, and even in sewing clothing with one of my daughters for others. Preparations started months in advance. Then there was cleaning up trek and returning all the borrowed stuff. Then there was preparing for the family reunion, and of course normal housekeeping and cooking, appointments, calling, kids activities, etc. etc. I was getting burned out and fighting colds and getting cold sores. I realized I was pulling the handcart alone or almost alone. My husband was busy with work and his calling and not thinking much how he could help me. I could have asked him for help, but saw he was just busy. I could have somehow talked the kids into helping more, but it's so hard when they resist. I don't know how I could have gotten more help, but the point was driven that we all have to be aware of those around us so that we can notice when they are pulling the handcart alone and do something about it.

On a related, but different note, I had the feeling on trek that youth need to feel useful. Our present culture often allows teens this lifestyle where they are spoon-fed, yet they are sad (especially where we live), and I wonder if they need to feel needed. I've heard that the teen years (and even into the 20s these days) is a new invention. Years ago, a person went from being a child to being an adult with adult responsibilities without these middle years. I realized that pulling handcarts is a really good way to make everyone feel needed, and the kids on trek were generally SO HAPPY. I now keep pondering how can I help my teenagers feel needed and critical to our family unit. I'm sure there's a way to meet their need to be needed and my need to not pull the handcart alone. But why is it easier to get your kid to pull a handcart than to vacuum out the car?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

What brings you joy?

This is weird. Three posts in three days? Things must be getting better!

I was just cleaning the massive mess in the cubbies below our tv and found this little "joy" journal that came from who knows where. I flipped through it to see if there were any blank pages left as to know whether to toss it or keep it and discovered the author's bio at the back of the book. Author, Wendy Santiano mother of small children, remembered feeling "overwhelmed and . . .  really lost in life . . . [and] numb. . . ." when she realized that she did actually remember what it was like to experience joy. Well that sounds familiar on so many levels.

I flipped to the front of the little booklet, read it and came up with my joys:

1. Service: Service has been such a part of my life for well, pretty much all of it, I guess I can say it does bring me joy. I love coordinating with people and organizing and being there to help.

2. Learning: I love to learn or discover new knowledge, which actually leads to writing.

3. Dates: I love spending time with my husband! Watching shows or going on walks and talking. Planning things together.

4. Kids: I love it when the kids are kind and make good choices. I love it when they are happy and at peace. I love it when they reach their goals. I'm trying to figure out how to react when they are mean or have sad failures. I didn't think stuff like that would affect me like it does.

5. Build: I love to build. It could be "building" dinner, ok, we usually say cooking. It could be "building" a costume; we usually call that sewing. It could be working in the yard or fixing something in the home. President Uchtdorf called this creating.

6. Adventure: Well, I used to have a sense of adventure before I got all mom-serious and bogged down. I kind of gave up on adventure, too, when the kids complained about stuff like hiking or were too small to bike and things like that.

7. Exercise: I can't believe I'm writing this, but one of the biggest joys I had was once after running. I pushed it and felt so good! I really have a love-hate relationship with exercise because it's hard, and I really don't find it fun at all. But, it makes me feel so strong when I work hard at it, and I like that! I want to do it, but it's been so hard the last 16 years to really do it, with kids.

This all reminds me of all the health classes I took in college where we talked about the different elements of health: social, emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, etc. The list varied by class. In one class we were challenged to do something from each category every day to remain balanced and healthy. As a mother, I realize I totally stink at that. I guess in college, I did, too, because I thought our assignment was to one each day, not each one once a day. I can pull off one a day, but all of them?

Every year our school has a "Sharpen the Saw" weekend based off of Covey's 7 Habits of Happy Kids. My cute first grader brought home a little book about what sharpen the saw means. Basically it's take care of body, mind, heart, and soul to stay balanced. I'm ok at making sure everyone else stays balanced, but pretty much stink at making sure I take care of myself.

So, there ya go. I'm feeling awfully vulnerable blogging again. It's been quite a while. I'll try to focus on my joys and see if my outlook improves because Santiano said, "Joy matters because you matter." And I know I do, it's just sometimes it hasn't felt like it.

Monday, May 20, 2019

"My Mother Sacrificed Everything"

This Mother's Day I saw at least a couple posts from children honoring their mothers by saying their mothers sacrificed everything for their children---they were at every game,  every recital. . . . All I know is that we TRY to be to every game, but sometimes it's not even possible because someone else has, or a couple others have, something going on. Luckily it's not that frequent as our kids aren't in that much stuff compared to many. I don't know if something's wrong with me, but the thought of mom sacrificing everything made me kind of sad. Maybe she had some hopes and dreams she was able to fulfill when she was not taking care of kids, but ultimately, I guess I hope someone had her back, too.

I guess I'm in a stage where I feel I'm drowning a bit. I am coming out of it, and we're figuring out a balance. I guess I'm just not the type who can give up EVERYTHING. I suppose some people are completely fulfilled taking care of families, but I can't say that it fills me up; right now it sucks most everything out of me. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, and obviously I'm STILL trying to figure it out.

This isn't really related, but yes, the physical demands of little children is super hard. But, I had no idea that the eventual moodiness of teenagers would affect me emotionally like it does!

I'm glad I've had a little time to have a few thoughts lately, even if they are kind of depressing. Hopefully I can get a bit more upbeat when it comes to parenting.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Can you do cool stuff and still have a family?

I've been enjoying the heck out of the What's Her Name Podcasts. However, I've realized that very few of the women reported on had children! I'm sure some of them did, but since that was such a normal thing, it wasn't worth the mention, maybe. But, it seems that in history if you were to do anything really cool, you didn't have children. Maybe if you had them, it just took you out of the ability-to-do-something-cool circle. While on the treadmill yesterday, I also turned on the Annie Oakley American Experience on PBS. Again: no children!

Is it really not possible to do cool stuff if you have kids? I was reminded tonight that yes, you can. I went to a Young Women's fireside with my daughter and husband where our mayor spoke. She's a woman, three years older than me. Her kids are older than mine; she started much sooner than I did. She dropped out of college because the babies kept coming and she felt it was what she needed to do at that time. She's back in school now working on a bachelor's with the goal to get a master's eventually.

Isn't it funny that I thought that the worst thing possible that could happen to me while in college was to get married and then get pregnant because that would ruin my educational plans? I guess for me I wasn't ready for the sacrifice of parent responsibilities, but some young people do it, and well! I would have thought people who do this were silly back then, but I admire them now, especially when they re-enter the college scene to continue their education as an older adult.

Kathryn Skaggs of Latter-day Saint Women Stand, a grandma, is doing it. My friend Emily M. S. just graduated with a law degree. How I admire them for having the guts to go back amidst having a family life!

As for women doing cool stuff AND having children, it does happen, and maybe it's more acceptable to do it now, but Carol Allen of Big Ocean Women has lots of kids and she's getting the word out there on maternal feminism. On the MWEG Facebook discussion group, there was a conversation about women who've gotten involved in the public sphere/politically who are Latter-day Saints. There are MANY MANY. My follow-up question is how many children do they each have? My hope is renewed in that you can do cool stuff and still have children; you don't have to give up family life to change the world.

I feel that the message to our local young women and young mothers is you get to choose - do what YOU want when you want, and you can really see a decline in family size because of this. So, it was refreshing to see the example of our mayor CHOOSING to have a family during those prime child-bearing years, but still eventually be involved so strongly in the community.