*

“YOU HAVE HOW MANY KIDS????  HOW OLD ARE YOU????”

So, I don’t know this woman.  I’ve never met her in person.  But?  I did hear her speak at a conference of sorts for the young women (ages 12-18) and women (ages 18-dead) of our stake.

Mormon lingo refresher:  A stake is a geographical region comprised of several wards and/or branches (congregations of various sizes).  Think Catholic Diocese but without, as my formerly Catholic son said, “God on a Stick.”

She was all very put together, well made-up, younger than I am but not super young, cute, you know, all that good stuff, and I thought, “I can see why she works with the young women’s organization in the stake!  The girls probably just eat her up.”

Then she started talking.

The theme of this conference for all of these women and young women was, “You don’t have to walk the plains to be a pioneer.”  This is a very good theme, actually, especially since some of the young women (those ages 14 and up) were preparing to go on a pioneer trek re-enactment camp thingy for three days, handcarts and all.  Mormons in general have a deep respect for the early pioneers because they sacrificed and suffered so much so that they could worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences.  They were very noble people, and I am grateful for their sacrifices because they made it possible for the church to grow and the gospel to spread and, ultimately, for two young missionaries to find my mom in, of all places, Presque Isle, Maine.  Unfortunately, the flip side of all this pioneer reverencing is that there is this undercurrent in Mormon culture (not doctrine, culture — there is a difference) that if you don’t come from good pioneer stock who stood with Brother Brigham when he declared, “This is the place,” or who suffered mightily as part of the Willy and Martin handcart companies, or who at least buried a baby in a shallow grave as they crossed the plains, then you are somehow lacking in the heritage an ancestry department.  It’s kind of this, “You’re enjoying the fruits of my ancestors’ labors” attitude.  You know, kind of like how conservatives look at welfare recipients as they are chatting on their iPhones and flashing their blingy salon nails while handing food stamps to the grocery store cashier.  I guess the best way to describe it would be derision, but with more love and lots of pity.

I actually met a guy at BYU who swore he wouldn’t marry anyone who didn’t come from pioneer stock.  Well, actually I think he said he wouldn’t marry anyone who wasn’t at least a third generation member of the church (would that be lDS3?), which, back then in the dark ages of the early 90s, might as well have meant he wouldn’t marry anyone who didn’t come from pioneer stock.  I guess I should note here that he was only a second gen himself.  Yeah, BYU guys could be pretty screwy at times.  In all fairness?  So could the ladies.

Anyway, so the theme was “You don’t have to walk the plains to be a pioneer.”  Good theme, right?  Right.  My own mother is a pioneer in her/our family in the sense that she was the first to join the church.  She left the religion of her youth behind, much to her parents’ disappointment and dismay, to embrace what she believed to be Truth, and she raised her children in that Truth, and now we are all raising our children in that Truth, and I consider it to be the biggest blessing in my life.

The main character of our little story here shared a similar tale as she spoke at the conference.  She waxed emotional as she talked about how important her grandmother was to her, and what a pioneer her grandmother was.  You see, dear old granny was the first in her family to join the church (what a pioneer!) and she was the first in her family to get divorced (umm . . say what??).  She then went on to talk about how she, herself, was a pioneer in her family because she was the first to get divorced and remarried.

And, of course, I was sitting there thinking, “Do you even know what church you belong to?  I mean, congratulations for being able to get on with your life after whatever happened happened, but this is a conference for, at least in part, teenage girls. Is divorce really the pioneering moment we want them shooting for??  Please, do not tell us your new spouse is a woman.”

As she went on, I read between the lines and sensed that maybe her first marriage was abusive and she was a pioneer in her family because she ended a multi-generational cycle of abuse and married a stand-up guy the second time, but I was kind of piecing different things together and reading between lines, and I majored in English in college so I kind of have some training in piecing things together and reading between lines.  But the youth who were there?  Not so much.  And?  Maybe I was just giving her the benefit of the doubt (or, at least, trying to).  I mean, if the whole abuse ending thing was the case, you go girl! You rock!  But even I don’t know if that was the case, so I doubt any of the youth had any inkling that it might even be the case.  You know?

On the up side, there were only about five youth in attendance, and three of them were my daughters.  Yeah, our stake really knocks things out of the park that way.  I mean, I’m not sure how many hundreds of young women we have in our stake, maybe even only somewhere around one hundred or a bit less, 70 actually seems like a realistic number if we’re only counting those who actively attend church on Sundays, but still . . .  Normally this kind of turnout for stake events makes me profoundly sad, makes me want to move back home where the church members actually seem to enjoy their church membership, and makes me want to do some heavy duty training in the areas of communication and publicity, but this time I think it was all for the best (plus?  the communication and publicity hadn’t been so bad for this one).

When the whole event was over and we were leaving, the girls and I got into the trusty Suburban, I locked the doors, checked to make sure all the windows were up, and said, “Before we even exit the parking lot, before I can possibly forget, I feel like we need to do a little debriefing here.”

“We caught it, Mom,” said Midge (can you believe Midge is 12 now?  I sure can’t) “and we know divorce is not the best way to be a pioneer.”  The other two nodded with incredulity.  I think I laughed with glee at the sharpness of my girls.  You know, one of those crazy-ish laughs that come out involuntarily when you experience great and profound relief upon finding out that you haven’t done such a half-a$$ed job of raising your kids after all, despite all of the insane things and people around them who are working, either intentionally or unintentionally, against you?  Yeah, one of those laughs.

“I think,” I said to the girls, “that maybe what she really meant was that she was a pioneer because she ended a cycle of abuse in her family, so the fact that she was the first one to get remarried . . . ”

“Ummm . . . mom?  How did you get that out of what she said?”

See, people don’t realize just how positive I actually try to be.  All they see is this horribly negative person saying, “You should not give kids rides in the trunk of your car!” and, “Why does this stupid state have dirt roads?”  But I do try to be positive.  It’s not my fault when people come along and make it so dang difficult (seriously, Canada South, pave your friggin roads).

Anyway, when the husband was telling me the story of Sister So-and-So who couldn’t believe he has six kids, and I said, “I have no idea who that is,” he said, “The divorce pioneer.”

I’m sure she is a delightful, lovely person who would be mortified to know that that is how she is known in our, or any, household; but, like I said at the beginning, I’ve never actually met her.  I only know what she said.  About herself.  Publicly.

Tewt the Newt thinks he’ll never speak in public again.

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