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.