Motherhood Monday: The Awakening

In order to give you context for my whole awakening experience I want to share, I’m going to have to set the scene a bit, and the scene involves some churchy stuff.  If you’re not a churchy person, just bear with me.  There’s a point to it all, and I promise the point is not to be preachy or missionary-y (I love inventing awkward, “new” words).  Having said that  . . .

Sort-of-but-not-quite recently, I was substitute teaching for a primary (Sunday School) class at church, and the lesson I was teaching was on the importance of the sacrament (similar, though not identical, in concept and practice to communion, for my non-LDS readers) (*snort* like I even have more than five readers these days).  With that in mind, I went into that week’s sacrament meeting with greater-than-normal resolve to really focus on the Savior and the atonement during the sacrament portion of the meeting, to really ponder what it all means to me and how it has affected my life.  As I was thinking these deep thoughts and praying for further clarity about how to help the children in the primary class go home with a greater understanding of the basics, the sacrament tray came down our pew.

As I took it and looked down the row, passing it to the child sitting next to me, who passed it to the next child, who passed it to the next, who passed it to the next, I thought of, as I always do, my two kids who weren’t with us because they are off at college.  But this time was different.  This time I was hit in a deep way with the realization that several people have moved into our congregation since A~ and L~ left, and so, to those people, I am the mother of Midge and Tank Boy and Quinn and Spuds.  And that’s it.  Some of them are vaguely aware there are two older kids, but they don’t know them.  And?  They don’t know me as their mother.

This made me profoundly sad.

Being the mother of A~, and L~, and Midge, and Tank Boy, and Quinn, and Spuds is such a huge part of who I am, and I realized in that moment that I was surrounded by many people who will never truly know me, because they will never really know me as the mom of all six of my kids, and they will never really know how awesome those oldest two kids are.  I was surprised to realize just how much of my identity involves my motherhood, involves being the mother of these kids, all these kids, and I immediately was taken back to a conversation I had with my own mother when I told her I was pregnant with A~, the oldest.

The pregnancy was planned, so it was not an “oh crap” kind of thing, but I was still scared.  Get ready to judge me here:  I wasn’t terribly scared of being a horrible mother, nor was I scared of the financial aspect of it all (even though I knew we’d be dirt poor for a while), and I wasn’t all that scared of the physical changes and possible dangers that accompany pregnancy.  I was scared of losing myself and my identity (here’s where you judge me for being selfish and shallow — go ahead, you won’t be the first).  I remember telling my mother that I didn’t want to “just” be so-and-so’s mom.  I wanted to be known for who I was, not for my relationship to a child, but I knew that I was going to wind up being “just” so-and-so’s mom.

You know what?  I was right.

I quit my job as a small-town newspaper editor a week or two before A~ was born, and, just like that, I was “nobody.”  There were no more invitations to join and/or speak at local clubs, judge local pie contests, or sit on local steering committees.  No one was asking about or trying to influence my opinion on local issues, and nobody was trying to kiss my she-buys-ink-by-the-barrel hiney.

A~ entered the world as an extremely colicky baby with a scream that seemed permanently attached to a well-cast sonorous spell and an Olympic-level ability to projectile vomit, if projectile vomiting were an Olympic sport.  As I was reduced to, or felt reduced to, being that woman with the screaming baby who was perpetually wiping up yack, I increasingly missed ME.  I missed using my brain.  I missed interacting with other adults every day.  I missed making my own money, meager though it had been.  I increasingly missed college and the independence, freedom, and growth I experienced there, and I would cry every time an alumni magazine came in the mail.  I also desperately missed sleep, which probably exacerbated all of my other woes.

I was, as I’d feared, “just” A~’s mom.  This left me feeling simultaneously like gum on the bottom of the shoe of life and like the luckiest person in the entire universe.  Because this colicky, vomitous little human who never slept more than 20 minutes at a stretch was my beautiful, little, extremely alert human who loved books by the time she was three days old, and how lucky was I to get to be her mom?  So, so lucky.  I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I felt: like a mushy ball of so, so lucky garbage.

Two years later, again according to (a seemingly crazy) plan, along came L~ , and I was further sucked in to being “just” a mom.  A~ never left me with free time (two twenty minute naps a day just don’t count as free time), so it’s not like I suddenly had even less time to be me.  I just had the same amount of time to be less me.

Three-and-a-half years later, and along came Midge.  Then Tank Boy.  Then Quinn.  Now Spuds.  It would be a long, long post if I tried to figure out and detail my twenty-year transformation from being “just” a mom to being A Mom, but it happened without me even realizing it was happening.  I suppose one cannot dedicate twenty years of her life to such an intense, multifaceted, and complex pursuit without losing herself to it so totally and completely that she becomes fused with it.

So I sat there in church, fused in my heart with all of my children, even (maybe especially in that moment) with those not present, mourning the fact that I am not me without them; and though I still have them in my life (thank you, gods of technology, for making that easy these days), I will spend the rest of my life knowing and getting to know people who will never fully know me because they will not know them.  Likewise, I will never fully know many mothers I meet or already have met because I will never know all of their children.

Oh, how important are the mothers of this world who pour so much of their souls into their children, and how under-celebrated is their motherhood.  I think we need to celebrate that motherhood.  I think we need to acknowledge and examine and even exalt this portion of our identity which is everything to us but, sometimes, seems to be nothing to the world around us.

I don’t care if you are a stay-at-home mom or a working mom.  I don’t care why you work outside of the home or don’t.  I want to get to know you as a mother, not as a stay-at-home mother or a working mother, but as a mother.  I want to hear about your motherhood-related hopes and fears and accomplishments and lessons learned.  I want to hear about the motherly joys and the sorrows, the mothering things you know you’ve done right and the things you would change if you could.  We’ll leave worldly employment status out of it and just talk about mothering and motherhood and how awesome you all are (even when you don’t feel so awesome).

So my goal for the blog in 2018 is to have regular (which doesn’t necessarily mean weekly —  let’s not go crazy with the goal setting) Motherhood Monday posts in which I feature a mom, “just” a mom as far as the blog is concerned, so that we can recognize and celebrate this all-important part of us, so we can recognize and celebrate each other as individual mothers, and so we can recognize and celebrate motherhood itself.

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas 2017!

I’m sitting here in front of my computer, hopped up on migraine-fighting caffeine and with a slight fever, so this is bound to be the best Christmas letter I’ve written in a long time.  You, of course, are thinking, “How many years has it been since you’ve sent Christmas cards?  Of course this is the best letter you’ve written in a long time!”  Touché.

McH is still working for The Great Mamma Corp.  Kind of.  He’s an associate director with OneBulb, and he keeps telling me he’s not in IT anymore but now works on the business side of things.  All I know is that anytime there’s some kind of OneBulb IT outage, he’s on the phone, or the computer, or both.  Seems pretty IT to me.  We think our time with The Great Mamma Corp. is probably coming to an end soon, but last Christmas we thought we were moving, so who knows?

I am homeschooling kids.  Still.  For at least four more years.  Maybe five.  I’m not saying I’m burning out.  I’m just saying that after 15 years of no promotions (unless you count my husband giving me the responsibility of more dogs and horses and God giving me more kids), no raises (unless you count my husband not questioning my Amazon spending), and no upward mobility (unless you count no longer changing diapers and wiping noses), I won’t mind “retirement.”

A~ is 20 now (next year is probably the last socially acceptable year to share her age, no?) and a junior at BYU where she is majoring in English, double minoring in editing and family history, and working for the BYU family history department.  She promises to find a job and settle close to us after graduation if we leave Canada South.

L~ is 18 and a freshman at Utah State where she is studying wildlife management and working in a Clydesdale barn.  We figure we can get her back after college as long as we provide horses and/or a place to keep them.  She’s easily bought.

Midge is 14, just got her braces off, and is in 9th grade at the local public school, which is as much of an adventure with the third kid as it was with the first and second.  After high school she plans to go to BYU or somewhere out west, probably, and study something.  She’s only 14.  I’m not worried.  Yet.

Tank Boy is 13, doing 8th grade at home, and very much looking forward to public school next year so that he can finally play football.  Hopefully.  Our schools aren’t much for academics, but they are ate-up competitive about football.  His current interests are Magic Cards and working out, and he’ll shank me in my sleep if we ever move from this area.

Quinn is 10 and doing 5th grade at home.  He loves when we manage to take a trip into town so that he can play Pokémon Go on my phone.  His favorite pastimes include Play Mobile adventures with his slightly younger brother and spending time with his family of stuffed cats.  I don’t know what he’ll study in the future, but it won’t shock me when he marries a spinster. 

Spuds is also 10 and doing 5th grade at home.  Every now and then I want to yell at him that he’s going to drive me to drink, but instead I sigh a little, smile a bit, and tell him he keeps my life interesting.  Now, when he meets new people and they start asking him questions about himself, that’s what he tells them:  I keep life interesting.  He is very much looking forward to wearing his Christmas fedora to church this year.

We hope this letter finds you and yours well, and pray that 2018 brings an abundance of blessings. 

The E. Family

Mary’s Sense of the Sacred

I was asked to give a talk in church yesterday.  Because I eventually want to get all of  my church talks from over the years on the blog (for posterity more than anything else), I figured today would be as good a day as any to publish my most recent talk.  This one is deeply personal to me because at the end I used Mary: A Mother’s Testimony which I wrote back in 2003 for a different occasion.  Writing that was a daunting and humbling experience that drove me to my scriptures and to my knees and gave me a love and appreciation for Mary that I hadn’t felt so deeply before.  I was, uncharacteristically, nervous to give my talk yesterday because I was including that piece of writing in my remarks.  Writing it was a profound experience for me, the end result sacred to me, and my current congregation . . . well, I never know when somebody is going to take me aside to tell me what a horrible person they think I am or what a horrible thing they think I’ve done, so I was afraid to share it.  I was afraid I was casting my pearls, as it were.  I was afraid I was doing exactly what Mary didn’t do.  But it’s done now.  The talk has been given, and no rotten produce has been hurled my way.  Yet.

Anyway, enough blather.  Here’s the talk:

In his April 2017 General Conference talk, Whatsoever He Saith unto You, Do It, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy said:

“The Savior performed His first recorded miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Mary, His mother, and His disciples were there as well. Mary apparently felt some responsibility for the success of the feast. During the celebration, a problem arose—the wedding hosts ran out of wine. Mary was concerned and went to Jesus. They spoke briefly; then Mary turned to the servants and said:

Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’

We usually remember this event because transforming water to wine was a demonstration of the power of God—it was a miracle. That is an important message, but there is another important message in John’s account. Mary was ‘a precious and chosen vessel,’ called by God to give birth to, nurture, and raise the very Son of God. She knew more about Him than anyone else on earth. She knew the truth of His miraculous birth . . . She had unshakable confidence in Him and in His divine power. Her simple, straightforward instruction to the servants had no caveats, no qualifications, no limitations: ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’”

Mary had an unshakable testimony of her son.  It is interesting to contemplate and try to study her testimony of and relationship with her son.  There really isn’t a lot in the scriptures to go on.  More than anyone, she would have reason to have that unshakable testimony, to know that her son was the Son of God.  At the same time, as a mother, I can see how it might be difficult at times to remember that that child whose hair you have washed, face you have scrubbed, and, let’s face it, diapers you have changed is your Lord and Savior.  On the one hand, motherhood is a high and holy calling, and being the mother of Christ himself is the highest and holiest version of that calling.  On the other hand, motherhood is filled with a lot of mundane tasks and moments that can quickly and easily dull the sparkle of it all, no matter how many times we are told we are doing the most important work we can be doing.  Yet Mary, even through the monotonous moments that must have existed, maintained not only her testimony of her calling, but also her testimony of her Son.  I think, though only in part, this can be attributed to Mary’s strong sense of the sacred.

The scriptures don’t really tell us a whole lot about her, but in Luke we are told that, after the angels appeared to the shepherds, the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to see the babe in the manger and, after seeing Him, “they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child,” yet Mary, “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”  So while the shepherds ran around sharing the sacred experiences they had just had, Mary kept her sacred experiences and knowledge to herself and pondered them in her heart.

Looking at Luke 2, verses 17-19, we read:

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

From the perspective of a writer, I think it is interesting that we are told first how the shepherds reacted, next how those that heard the shepherds reacted, and finally how Mary reacted.  The juxtaposition of the first two reactions with the third, that of Mary, emphasizes her sense of the sacred.

Now, I’m not saying the shepherds didn’t have some fantastic news to share.  I’m not even saying that they weren’t supposed to share it.  But I’m also not saying that they were.  The scriptures don’t really clarify that one way or the other as far as I can tell.  Regardless, as I read these verses, I get a picture in my mind of the shepherds eagerly saying things like, “Guess what I saw!” and “Have you heard?  Well, let me tell you . . .” as people are wont to do when they have witnessed something spectacular.  And from there, I imagine the news might have spread pretty quickly in a “Well, my cousin’s wife’s brother told my next door neighbor who told me” kind of fashion.  Then, in stark contrast, there is Mary keeping all of these things and pondering them in her heart.  She could have been saying to every shepherd and wise man that came along,  “Look!  See my baby? He is the literal son of God.  Yeah, that’s right, I gave birth to the son of God.”  But instead, she heard what the angels had told the shepherds and “kept all these things and pondered theme in her heart.”  I can only imagine that she was thinking about what the angels had said in the context of what the angel Gabriel had told her, and she knew that all of it was sacred.

Later in that same chapter of Luke, Christ was 12 years old, and his parents had traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem before realizing he wasn’t with them somewhere in their company of fellow travelers, so they went back to find Him and Mary said, essentially, “Why did you do this?  We were so worried!” We know the reply, “How is it that ye sought me?  Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (v.49).  The very next verse tells us, “they understood not the saying which he spake unto them,” but instead of a typical, “don’t talk back to me, young man,” Mary, once again, “kept all these sayings in her heart” (v. 51).

So, again, though the scriptures don’t tell us a whole, whole lot about Mary, I think we can safely infer that she was a thoughtful woman with a strong sense of the sacred.

In his 2004 CES broadcast address, A Sense of the Sacred, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in part, “A sense of the sacred should lead us to act . . . with reverence . . .”  Can we question whether or not Mary acted with reverence where her son was concerned?  I don’t think so.  Elder Christofferson also said, “. . . those who do not appreciate holy things will lose them.  Absent a feeling of reverence, they will grow increasingly casual in attitude and conduct.”  As we see later in the Savior’s adult life, Mary still appreciated the holiness of her son, she still had reverence for Him as the Savior, the Savior of mankind as well as the Savior of a wedding feast, as she said, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Way back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, in 2003, I was asked to participate in a skit in which various sisters of my ward were asked to deliver monologue testimonies of Christ as if they were a woman from the scriptures or church history.  A few years back we did this same Testimonies of Christ dinner theater activity for our Relief Society here in Canada South, so this may be familiar to some of you.  Anyway, I was asked to portray Mary, the mother of Christ.  Additionally, I was asked to write my own part, as the script had not yet been finished.  It was a daunting, humbling, and moving experience for me that involved a lot of scripture reading and re-reading, pondering, and praying, so I hope it is not inappropriate to end my remarks today by sharing with you what might have been Mary’s testimony:

Mary:  A Mother’s Testimony

Mine was the unparalleled privilege of bearing the Son of God and watching over Him as he increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.  I would not have chosen to bring Him, or any child, into this world in such surroundings as I did — a stable, a manger; but looking back, I understand that He who is greatest among us all had to descend beneath us all in order to complete His mission, and so this was a fitting beginning to His mortal life.

Mine was a unique role as I was His mother, responsible for his care and upbringing; and He was and is my God, responsible for my eternal welfare.

I watched Him turn water to wine, heal the sick, bless the children, and raise the dead.  No other mother can possibly know the profound joy I knew in the presence of my son.  Yet, through it all, the words of Simeon the prophet came to my mind, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.”

As we fled Egypt to escape the slaughter ordered by King Herod, I thought perhaps I was understanding Simeon’s prophecy.  Then, as we had traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem only to find my son was missing, I felt sure a sword was piercing my soul.  Finally, I knew I understood his prophecy as I watched my tortured son dying on the cross.

No mother will know the pain I knew, for I was not merely watching the agony of my son, I was watching the agony of the Son of God — agony that I knew was being suffered on my behalf, and even on behalf of those who were inflicting it.  Even as God in Heaven left Him to suffer His final agonizing mortal moments alone, I, his mother, stood helplessly watching, and a sword truly pierced my soul.

What do I think of Christ?  He is the son of my flesh, the brother of my spirit, the father of my world and the author of my salvation.  He is the son of the Living God.  He paid the price for my sins, and your sins.  He overcame death for us all.  It is by Him and through Him that we can reach our full eternal potential and return to live with our Father in Heaven.

I hope this is an at least somewhat accurate portrayal of Mary’s testimony.  I can say with certainty that it is my testimony.  I am so thankful for Mary and other faithful women who have come before us and set the unshakable example: Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.