Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fundamentally Wrong.

I don't lose my temper easily. But it took all of three seconds for my temperature to start rising yesterday while reading a CNN article. Within a couple more minutes, I realized I better walk away or else my mood would be totally upset. What caused this uncharacteristic frustration? Yet another article about the FLDS drama, making inappropriate, misleading and damaging references to my own beloved religion.

The word "fundamentalist" seems to imply that the FLDS church believes they are living the true spirit of the LDS teachings. The media play it up and report them as a "sect" of the LDS church, as if the Mormon church has many different "sects" under its wings. This is like saying the LDS church is a "sect" of the Catholic church, simply because we share some views.

I don't call myself a "Fundamentalist Catholic" and don't want to be viewed that way. Whatever the common roots are between our churches, we are in no way connected now. Similarly, whatever psychological connection the founders of the FLDS church seem to have to the LDS church, the two churches are in no way connected now.

It's time for the media to stop misrepresenting this situation and get on with some other titillating fairy tale.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A New Nephew!

Yesterday was one of the happiest days I've had in a long time. I am so excited about having a new nephew! My mom is now the proud grandma of SEVEN grandsons and ZERO granddaughters.

When my nephew was born, the OB/GYN exclaimed, "Someone call Bronco Mendenhall!" The baby weighed in at 10 pounds, four ounces! That's close to the twins birth weight combined. Wow.

Isn't he cute?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Motherhood :: Increasing Returns

I had been a mother for less than a year when I realized an awful truth: I didn't enjoy being a stay-at-home Mother. It came like a slap in the face and left me riddled with guilt. I knew that I loved my son, so why didn't I enjoy spending all of my time with him?

I had graduated from college less than a year before my son was born and had worked full-time teaching at a private school during my first trimester. Soon after I quit teaching, the pregnancy got complicated and I ended up on bedrest until Joseph was born. After being on bedrest, then recovering from a c-section and living every young mother's sleep-deprived life, I felt like I'd been sucked dry.

In the following months, I loved watching my son grow and sharing sweet moments with him, but I was just plain bored. Mothering offered few intellectual challenges and it was lonely. I didn't have the freedom to get out like I had before, and I suddenly realized that many doors were closed to me--literally. People whom I had socialized with before didn't want to come over to hang out at my place with an infant. They wanted to go out to eat then see a movie, things which I wasn't willing to take my son along for. My social life was slowly caving in.

Pretty soon, I came to that moment of crisis: wishing that there was more to my life. I envied my husband each time he came home and told me about his business lunches eating filet mignon or gourmet food. Sometimes he would bring me home a cookie from his catered meetings and I felt like I was in heaven. It was a piece of the outside world! My husband was traveling frequently and I was feeling more and more sick of Utah. My wings had been clipped and I was one sad bird.

I tried to push the feelings aside but eventually I knew I had to face up to them. I started doing intense gospel study to try to understand my role and the importance of what I was doing. After much reading, I developed a deep appreciation for my significance in the grand scheme of things. Here is one of the great articles that I discovered during my research:

Wife and Mother: A Valid Career Option for the College-Educated Woman by Sydney Reynolds

I listened to an old BYU fireside a few weeks ago titled, "A Law of Increasing Returns" by Henry B. Eyring. His talk brought much of my research on motherhood together under the idea of "Increasing Returns." To understand this idea, you need to understand the law of diminishing returns.

Elder Eyring teaches, "[Y]ou understand something called the 'law of diminishing returns.' Most of you use it when you cut a lawn. You cut it in one direction, then may cut it in the other, to get it smoother. But not many of you would cut it a third time. Why? Because you'd say, "It isn't worth it. I've gotten about all the smoothness I'm going to get. And more than that, cutting it the third time will take nearly as much time as it did the first.' "

In other words, the first time across the lawn is very rewarding. Your effort is clearly rewarded. The next time across the lawn will provide significantly less reward but the same amount of effort. And a third time across the lawn would provide virtually no reward but require the same effort.

The law of increasing returns is explained by Elder Eyring this way: "The simple fact is that there is a God who wants us to have faith in him. He knows that to strengthen faith we must use it. And so he gives us the chance to use it by letting some of the spiritual rewards we want most be delayed. Instead of first effort yielding returns, with a steady decline, it's the reverse. First efforts, and even second efforts, seem to yield little. And then the rewards begin, perhaps much later, to grow and grow."

Motherhood is the greatest example of Increasing Returns. Children are darling and fun when they're newborn, but they also demand some of the most tiring effort a woman can give. Then they reach the Terrible Twos, the "Mom will you drive me to...?" years and eventually teenagerhood! There are certainly rewarding moments, but they grow and develop through a lifetime, not reaching maturity until after they've started homes of their own. The wonderful thing about mothering is that the rewards never diminish. They continue to grow and grow and become more beautiful throughout eternity.

Of course, working mothers (and fathers) are blessed by Increasing Rewards with their children as well. Still, mothers who are able to stay at home all day have an amazing chance to have a hands-on role in the process that is incomparable.

That's not to say it isn't boring sometimes. Or difficult. Or messy. Or stinky. Or frustrating. It is all of those things and worse, but the rewards will continue to grow. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Am Isabel Dalhousie.

People have been inquiring if I'm still alive. Depends on if you mean physically or intellectually. My brain feels like it's stuffed full of marshmallows so I've been trying to avoid that old saying about keeping your mouth shut and letting people wonder if you're stupid or opening your mouth and removing all doubt. (See how I couldn't even form that thought without making it all rambling and weird? Yeah. Welcome to my universe right now.)

I have a cold. My kids have had colds. I've been stressed. All in all, things have been weird. I haven't wanted to write. I haven't even wanted to READ. If that's not a sign of some serious mental defect, I don't know what is.

I was saved from this humiliating disgrace (after starting, but not finishing about seven books) by the third installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series (by Alexander McCall Smith) finally being held for me at the library. I loved the first two: The Sunday Philosophy Club and Friends, Lovers, Chocolate. They are written at a trudgingly slow pace plot-wise but are packed full of humorous philosophizing and moralizing.

Imagine how surprised I felt when I checked out the customer reviews for these books. A lot of people HATED them. People repeatedly stated: "I expected these to be great like the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency but the characters were completely unlovable and the plot was ridiculous!"

I felt somewhat slapped in the face by the first statement there--the characters were completely unlovable???--mostly because I had decided that the main character, Isabel Dalhousie, is practically me on paper. Okay, I'm not rich like her or beautiful like her, but I can relate to her internal dialogues and arguments. So if Isabel is unlovable and pathetic... and I have decided I'm just like her... gosh, I don't always like putting two and two together.

Back to Isabel. She's a 42-year-old editor of the "Review of Applied Ethics" and freelance intellectual. The reason the book is so slow moving is that the reader is privy to the constant and thorough analysis of Isabel's circumstances. Here are a few examples from the pages I just read:

"Angie would not dress down; she would war a cocktail dress and there would be jewellery. She looked at her wardrobe, and felt, for a brief moment, despair. There were word people--idea people--and then there were clothes people--fashion people. She knew which group she belonged to."

"Was electronic memory a place? Before they appeared on the screen weren't they just endless lines of noughts and ones, or odd decimals? That, she thought, was the ultimate triumph of reductionism: Shakespeare's sonnets could be reduced to rows of noughts ... And what about ourselves, and our own reduction? We could each be rendered, could we not, down to a little puddle of water and a tiny heap of minerals. And that was all we were. Imperial Caesar, dead, and turned to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away. Or, as binary code might so prosaically put it: 010010010110110101110000 ..."

With internal monologuing like this, one day in the life of Isabel Dalhousie could take 900 pages. (But it doesn't!) If you were to look into my brain for the two minutes it took me to drop my oldest son off at school today, it might resemble Isabel in some small way:

As I pulled to a stop and put the car into park, I turned to my right and saw another car waiting. I recognized both the car and the driver, Amy. Amy looked over and, recognizing me, waved at me. I smiled, waved back at her and urged my son to expedite his exit from the car. As Amy was engaged in the same activity with her son, we were both splitting our attention between our children and the world outside the car.

Situations like this, innocent though they may seem to a confident person, rattled me somewhat. I always felt that I would somehow show either too much or too little amiability. Waving my arms and grinning would seem a bit too enthusiastic for greeting a neighbor, but was one wave enough? Should I wave at her each time she looked my way? Should I wave the first time and then smile each time we made eye contact afterward? Facial expressions are so difficult to understand when seen at a distance and through two sets of automobile glass. Perhaps if I merely smiled, she would not see it and think I was staring at her rudely without acknowledging the bond between us. So perhaps something more would be required by common courtesy or rules of etiquette.

As my son finally exited the car, I chose the coward's way out of the social encounter. I turned my head and stared off into the space on my other side. It's perfectly acceptable to glance about the parking lot, isn't it? As I began turning my head, I saw in my peripheral vision that Amy had turned back toward me and was waving goodbye. A second wave! I knew I should wave twice! But it was too late. I had already turned away and could hardly whip my head around now and admit that I had seen her. She would have already driven away, assuming that I was focused elsewhere.

I felt ashamed. My actions were not an actual rejection of the friendship between us--merely awkwardness that I always feel like I wave too often when at an audibly inaccessible distance. As I pulled away from the curb and eventually behind Amy's own car, I recognized in my peripheral vision another car driving past me. The glare on their window made it impossible for me to see the face, but as I drove a few feet further the view cleared and I saw another neighbor. He, too, was waving at me and apparently was in the final moments of the wave because his hand was starting to move back down to his side. His face had already started to turn away from me.

Gack! Another neighbor whom I had inadvertently snubbed. He had seen me staring at his car and frowning (in concentration) but no friendly gesture of greeting. He will never know that I simply couldn't see due to the sun's immediate angle to his windshield, unless I tell him, which would seem altogether too ridiculous for such a small moment. He will simply think, "Ahh yes, there's Juliana. I waved at her and she just frowned at me. Not too friendly, that one."