Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Mother's Day

"Mother and Child" by Xi Pan
Last year, I wrote a Mother's Day post expressing my love and appreciation for the many women who have influenced my life. I could easily write a similar post today, but because my Mother's Day was a little different this year, I wanted to focus on that.

My Mother's Day began with little squeaks and shouts from the corner bedroom. I was happy to hear them despite the early hour, because I had to leave for work in three minutes and I wanted to get at least a kiss and a squeeze before heading off to work.

My day was filled with hanging chemotherapy and convincing teenagers to drink water and take pills. My husband texted me some cute pictures of Cal playing outside. My coworkers wished me Happy Mother's Day. I received texts from my family members. But the experience that hit me the hardest was from an unexpected source.

There is a sweet little patient on our unit whose mom isn't able to be there. This baby girl cries from the moment she wakes up until late at night, when she collapses in exhaustion. The only relief for her is having someone to hold her. Even when she is the only patient her nurse is assigned to, that nurse can't be in the room every moment -- there are tasks to accomplish that are outside the room, information to document, and so on.

Today I had some extra time, so when this patient's nurse went to lunch and this little girl's wails and cries for mama started ringing in the halls I went into her room for some snuggle time. This sweet little toddler locked her arms around me and nestled into my neck. Within minutes she was asleep, and I held her for about a half hour, until another nurse with some extra time came in to get some snuggles of her own.

As I held this little angel baby, a few thoughts were going through my head. First of all, I thought how lucky it was that this girl who was missing her mama and this mama who was missing her baby on Mother's Day could have a few moments to comfort each other. I also thought of how this lonely little child was so precious to her Heavenly Father, and that although her outward appearance betrayed nothing of her royal heritage, in reality she is a little princess beloved by a King.

And finally, I thought of the talk, "Are Not We All Mothers?" by Sheri Dew. (My lovely friend Kristin also highlighted a quote from this talk today, and it seemed meant to be as we both seem to be pondering along similar wavelengths these days). In this talk, Sister Dew states, "Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born." This doesn't mean that if we are not yet mothers we are failing. It means that if we are not yet mothers, it is simply because the fulness of that promise has not yet been unfolded to us. It also means that the nurturing, mothering love that is nascent in all of us is not limited to the children that we carry and bear. 

I think of my sweet 8-year-old niece, who already has a mother heart and spends family gatherings holding the babies and bringing them toys to play with. I think of those who teach in churches and schools and the tender ways they impart the gift of knowledge to their students. I think of the women to whom I entrust my precious boy when I am called away to "take care of the sick babies." I think of the friends I know who have carried babies and lost them; those that are still waiting for a pregnancy to appear. I am privileged to have the blessing of mothering in a small way the children that come to be treated on my unit. 

I think the lesson Mother's Day brought to me today was that in addition to the beautiful sacrifices made by my own mother, and the appreciation that I myself enjoyed from my husband and son (we celebrated yesterday), are the everyday moments of divine womanhood and nurturing that every woman has the ability to give. I'm grateful for the women who came before me, from my mother and grandmothers to Eve, and I'm grateful for the women contemporary with me, from whom I learn every day, regardless of whether or not they are "officially" mothers. I'm grateful for the illuminating moment I experienced about the spark of divinity within us all. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Reluctant Feminist

"Boundless" by Steve Hanks

I've always resisted the label of "feminist." In the past, it always conjured up images of bra-burning women who hate men and resist the beauty of home and family. Not only did I see "feminists" as angry, volatile people with a chip on their shoulder, I also didn't get it. I have been fortunate enough to mostly enjoy equality in my interactions with men, something only occasionally challenged in my male-dominated first degree of neuroscience (think "well-meaning man tries to explain difficult concept to woman, not realizing woman is perfectly capable of understanding difficult concept on her own"). Not only did I not feel a need for more equality, I also didn't find womanhood on its own particularly interesting. I liked men. I loved dating, and male attention was a constant goal. I had experienced a lot of drama in my interactions with female friends and often had more satisfaction in my friendships with boys, even platonic ones. I had no idea why anyone would choose "Women's Studies" as a major or minor in college -- I didn't see how isolating the subject matter to women only could be very interesting.

Other than my vague ideas of brash women rejecting many of the ideals that I myself held dear, I didn't know much of anything about feminism. I read "The Yellow Wallpaper" and studied critical texts about the pen as a phallic symbol in my literary criticisms class during my one semester as an English major, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Nevertheless, I was often considered a feminist in the atmosphere of BYU. I loved school and had high ambitions. I remember telling a boyfriend as we helped address wedding envelopes for another couple that when my children got married, the wedding announcement would read, "Mr. and Dr. so and so are pleased to announce..." That relationship didn't get far. Fortunately I found a man who was impressed instead of scared off by my goals.

However, I never felt like a feminist until I became a (for several months, stay-at-home) mother.

Let me pause and explain what I mean by being a feminist. The best definition that I've found that resonates with how I feel about being a "feminist," is found in the Call to Womanhood blog series by Meg Conley. I'm going to quote her here so you understand what I mean when you read this rest of this post:
Feminism is bigger than the men and women that would make it small. It is not owned by any one person, any one ideology, any one movement. Feminism belongs to every girl that hoped to make her life better. It is the birthright of any woman that has looked into the night sky and felt the heat of the stars reflected in the chambers of her heart. It belongs in holy places and in the workplace and around kitchen tables. It isn’t radical. It is right. It is the belief that as a woman I have infinite value and a desired place. It is the fervent need to help other women believe the same thing. It is so much of what I was born to be and a truth I hope my girls fold up into that delicate place where soul and mind touch.
So the answer is, Yes. I am a woman therefore I am a feminist.
There you have what I am trying to reach in words much more eloquent than I could ever devise. Keep that in mind as we proceed. 

I'm not saying you have to be a mother to appreciate womanhood, but for me, it all began with motherhood. I'd never been that interested in womanhood. I was interested in marriage, and family, and finding true love, but I'd never spent much time thinking about how being a woman related to me in God's divine plan, or how as a woman I had certain privileges and power that were unique to my femininity. I never cared much for hearing about childbirth or reading about motherhood or reading books about sisterhood and female friendship. But suddenly, after going through that ancient, universal, and yet utterly private rite of passage of childbirth, I became interested in my identity not only as a wife, mother, sister, daughter, but as something more essential than all that -- as a woman.

To me, feminism isn't about asserting superiority or gaining ground, per se. It is about respecting the beauty and power that are inherent in us simply because we are women -- the differences that enable us to do work that is specific to us as women. For me, that work has many facets -- caring for my son and teaching him to be a good person and live a happy life; loving my husband and doing all I can to be his partner and his best friend; working as a nurse to care for the sick and heartbroken, as well as provide for our family; being a friend and ministering to those around me with love, nurturing, and compassion; being a disciple of Christ and a daughter of a Heavenly King as I develop the attributes that prepare me for the eternities.

I can't write this post without making a side note about Ordain Women, the group of LDS women that believe that women should be ordained to the priesthood. While I believe they have good intentions, I don't agree with their views or their strategies. I think women's role in the priesthood is different than ordination (if you have questions about how women and men's roles interact within the priesthood, read Elder Oaks' talk, which explains things very clearly). I still have plenty to learn and understand about this subject so I'm not going to go into a detailed monologue about it -- just wanted to make a mention of it as it is on so many people's minds these days.

I know I am lucky to live in a world where women are respected and appreciated for our strengths and unique roles. I'm lucky to know the stories of strong women who throughout history have fought to decrease inequality, to protect the vulnerable, to widen the pathways of opportunity. I'm lucky to be married to a man who sacrifices his own time to support me in working at my dream job, who cooks and does the dishes sometimes, who changes dirty diapers, gives baths, and reads bedtime stories. He makes sacrifices to help me reach my full potential, just as a make sacrifices to lift him to his. I'm lucky to be the daughter of a mother who is a high-achiever as well as a nurturer.

I never wanted to be labeled as a feminist, but as I've searched my heart and as motherhood has stretched my soul, I'm realizing that it isn't the epithet I've always thought it to be. I may not be a feminist in the traditionally non-traditional sense. But here is what my heart looks like: I love being a woman. I love being a mother, a wife, a member of the workforce. I may not fit in everywhere (or some days, it seems, anywhere). My body doesn't always do what a woman's body should be able to accomplish (I wasn't able to deliver a baby naturally; I didn't produce enough milk to feed my baby exclusively on breastmilk; my brain didn't take kindly to the tumult produced by postpartum hormones). My abilities don't always match up to those considered "womanly" (I'm not crafty, my cooking skills are average, and I am not good at thinking up clever little games to keep my child entertained). I'm not fully traditional or untraditional (I work outside the home but fantasize about staying home with my child, a scenario I'm sure would be reversed if I was at home full-time). But despite my foibles and contradictions, more than any of the things I'm not are the things that I am -- grateful for the privilege of being a woman, seeking constantly to increase not only my own joy and power but that of the other women in my life.

So yes. I am a feminist.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Happiness Project

Have you heard of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin? The author chooses an area of her life each month and makes resolutions in that area in order to increase her personal happiness. I recently finished the book and the follow-up, Happier at Home, and I haven't been able to get the idea of a Happiness Project of my own off my mind.

So many ideas were going through my mind that I couldn't wait until January 2015 to get started (anyway, I have more than 12 areas I want to work on). I also am less organized than Gretchen Rubin -- I haven't made a list of "personal commandments" or "splendid truths," and I haven't plotted out all my resolutions and which month I will focus on which area yet. I feel like I should just go down the list and work on what seems the most inspiring at the time. Hopefully I will still be able to have success without being as stringent as the book is.

My focus for May is Health. I've been working on losing weight for months and it has been happening... but at a very slow pace. Part of me hopes that this means that it is really going to be sustainable, but the truth remains that I am not at a healthy weight yet and I would really like to reach that point before we have another baby. With a 5k on my calendar this month, I figured it was a perfect time to focus on being a healthier person. My resolutions are:

* No dessert
* 7 or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day
* Exercise 4 (or more) times per week
* Eat out only once per week. If I socially have to go out more, get a salad on subsequent trips that week.

I've already fudged on two of the resolutions -- I had wedding cake at a wedding (it seemed bad luck to not) and then brownies when we had a couple over for dinner last night (it seemed rude to turn them down when they brought them for us)! I also didn't eat 7 servings of fruit and vegetables yesterday, but it was Fast Sunday so I wasn't eating half the day. But the beautiful thing about resolutions is that it is a day-to-day effort -- it isn't negated when you mess up. You just resolve to do better the next day. Which I did today. So... on wards.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Inspiration for April

This post has been percolating in my mind for the last week. There are so many blog posts I found this month that were inspiring and uplifting to me that I considered splitting this post into two parts. However, it took me so long just to open my browser that I think it is better to just make one long list and have it over with. Here are the blog posts that touched my heart and/or made me smile this month: {Quick note. More than half of these posts are from the blog Meg in Progress. I have spent the last few months reading every last post that woman has written, because I find her words very inspiring. So yes, this is kind of a fangirl post for Meg this month. But seriously, read her work. You won't regret it}

:: Meg of Meg in Progress writes a day in her typical stay at home mom life as an antidote to the instagram-perfect lives we all believe each other to be living.

:: Meg in Progress also has a blog series she calls A Call to Womanhood and it resonates so much with me. In this post she talks about feminism and what it means to her. She defines feminism in a way that makes sense to me. Hopefully soon I will get out a post I have been writing in my head for months about my views on feminism. Keep this post in mind when you read it.

:: More of A Call to Womanhood. This post is about woman's intrinsic worth as a daughter of God.

:: Still more of this wonderful blog series. This post is about choice -- knowing what is right for our families and ourselves.

:: This post in the Call to Womanhood series was perhaps the most tender for me. It deals with the way sometimes, others don't see the worth that we have. They don't appreciate the contributions we bring to the table. Femaleness seems to bring with it cliques, and I know we all have felt rejected at one time or another. This post is about realizing that just because you aren't appreciated doesn't mean you aren't worthwhile -- that there is a place for you, and those who exclude you are the only ones who are losing out.

:: For book club this month, we are reading the book Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I found it fortuitous that this little article on her life was posted on the inter webs this month. Also loved this quote: "There were other values, I was beginning to learn, more important than discretion or even privacy. As I discovered the following spring, in the abyss of the tragedy, I needed to return to a deeper resource. I had to write honestly." 

:: A friend's beautiful expression of the power of the Atonement in her life. 

:: The importance of checking in with postpartum moms. Because hopefully, the postpartum experience is a glowing, special time. But it can also be a dark time of struggle, and as women, we need to help each other.

:: Trying to be positive through dark, difficult times.

:: More thoughts on how picture-perfect instagram and likes on a Facebook status don't make the woman.

:: Thoughts (from Meg in Progress again) about a Heavenly Mother.

:: A bio of an LDS woman who has been called to work outside the home by personal revelation. (Nice to know there are more of us out there).

:: This is my fantasy-dream. (Scott, are you reading this?) I would love to do this someday!

:: Okay I know this is at the bottom, but this is my favorite thing that I have read this month. My absolute favorite. I read it at work and I was crying real tears the entire time. Read it.

:: How to be awesome.

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