Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Aunt Flo

Here we are, the day before my hysterectomy.  I am exhausted. (That is irrelevant to the post, it is just an observation.)

"You will wish you did it years ago."
"You will not regret making this decision."
"You will never miss having a period."

All phrases that I have heard from people about hysterectomies.
And I actually believe they are true. I am certain that never having a period will be amazing.  I have always had issues with my menstrual cycle and have had more then one doctor suggest I get a hysterectomy.  But I just couldn't do it... 

 Because of damn Oprah.

Years ago I saw an episode where a mom talked about all of her children being killed in a car accident and how horrible it was. (It really was one of the saddest episodes ever.) She said there was a moment that she didn't know who she was anymore. She was no longer a Mother. 

I bawled my eyes out listening to her story. Knowing the title Mother is my favorite title. For me, it is better than Sister, Daughter, Friend, Woman, or any of the job titles I have ever had. It is special because of the children who call me Mom.  My three unique kids are the reason I answer to  that awe inspiring name. 

The woman on Oprah continued to say how she was later able to get pregnant and have more children. I don't believe the children were a replacement for the ones that died, or could possibly ever fill that hole. But they were a gift, a second chance at love and family, and to continue to be a Mom.

I know it is irrational to worry that this will happen to me. I know it sounds creepy and insensitive when people think of replacing one lost child with another.  But sometimes I have irrational fears. Sometimes I am afraid of the things I can't control. 

I have always had at least some control over my uterus.  Sure, it has caused quite a bit of discomfort and pain for the past few years. But for as disruptive and painful as it has been, I always knew that it was there. Just in case my crazy irrational fears came true.

But the problem with many of my irrational fears, they seem to be something else entirely. 

I absolutely LOVE my kids. More than I ever imagined I could. Way past the limits that I thought were possible. I could write a whole post dedicated to how amazing and brilliant they each are. And for the individual happiness and joy they bring to my life. I could fill books and libraries with the love I have for them. They are absolutely irreplaceable. 

If something happened, I couldn't replace them. I wouldn't even want to try. 

My irrational fear, that forces me to keep a uterus "just in case" (that clearly hates me and is trying to self destruct at this very moment)  isn't about replacing them. It is about the fear of replacing me. Who would I become without my family? 

For some ridiculous reason, I think holding on to my uterus is the security blanket protection against the loss of my family. And ultimately, the loss of who I am.  

My doctor recommends I get a hysterectomy. He knows that it is ruining my quality of life. He knows that after any given period the horrible cramps will come back, and each time they have gotten much  worse, and can land my back in the ER. He knows I shouldn't have to spend a week out of the month on pain meds, missing soccer games, and snuggles because I can't stand up.  He knows it is time to let go. 

And I can finally agree with him.
In order to let go, and have the hysterectomy, I have to let go of those fears. I have to trust that everything will be alright, that my kids will be safe with me forever, that I won't have to face what the woman on Oprah had to face. And I have to accept that even if tragedy happens, I will always be able to find myself. And I will always carry the titles that have meant something to me. As much as I love being a mom, I am also more than a mom. I am so many things, and I have so much more to become. 

 I am honestly very grateful for my uterus, that was healthy enough to carry and protect my 3 babies when they were in utero, but I am ready to be done with it. 

And now it is off to the surgeon to say my final good byes to "Aunt Flo". 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Feminism 101

I have never been described as a feminist. And I never would have considered myself one. I grew up with a bit of a negative connotation surrounding feminism.  I think it was associated with some extreme behavior, that doesn't necessarily match the cause. But in recent years, that has changed quite a bit. I haven't burned any bras yet, but I am noticing more and more the injustices that women face. And I am trying to learn how to combat those injustices for myself and my daughters.  When Macie says she likes "Boy Legos" I try to remind her that Legos are for everyone, whether they are "Super Heroes" or "Elf Princesses".  And when Riley talks about growing up to be a teacher, I remind her that she could also be an engineer. These are like the kiddy pool issues of feminism. The most basic ideals of equality, and I feel like I am just now learning them, as an adult. I often joke that I am "new to this whole feminist thing" and I need some help learning what I am doing. Even just learning how to recognize the sexist things going on around me, many of which I have grown up believing were acceptable.

Blake is playing baseball this Spring.  He has played soccer for a few years, and to JT's utter happiness, has decided to try baseball. (Quick Mommy Brag Moment: He is really good! I shouldn't be surprised, a love of baseball runs in both of our families, but I am still so proud of him.) His first baseball practice was a few weeks ago. JT would have loved to have taken him to his first practice, but he was working late in the ER that night. So I took him to practice, and let the girls play on the toys at the park.  (This is basically our lives right now, the girls playing at various parks while Blake is at soccer or baseball. They both decided to take this season off from sports.)

We were greeted by a few of the teammates and their Dads.  One of the dads is kind of a tough guy. He has a thick Chicago accent, and when his 7 year old son bragged that he gets to drink beer his dad clapped him on the back and said "What did you expect?  He's Irish!" We still don't know if that is true or not. But as the season has gone on, they have turned out to be a really friendly group. Blake joined a few weeks late, so the team had already had a few practices without us.  They seemed to be pretty familiar with each other by then. However, I did not know anything else about them or the coach on the first night of practice.

As practice got under way the coach needed help, so I grabbed my glove and got out on the field. The tough guy dad came out to help, along with the coach's teenage son. And the four of us lined the kids up to practice throwing and catching.  Blake was doing awesome, especially for his first practice ever, and the team and coach were all impressed with us playing catch.  I am not a great baseball player, but I have always been thankful that my Dad taught me the basics, and the techniques.  I noticed, a little farther down the field, the coach's son was struggling. He was playing catch with the coach's teenage son, who was growing irritated with how poorly the little brother was doing.  At one point the teenager yelled out to the little brother "C'mon you are playing terrible! Quit throwing like a girl!" That is a phrase I have heard a million times. I almost didn't even notice it. In fact, I always took that phrase to mean you are stepping with your throwing arm... a mistake every child makes when they are learning to throw a baseball. But when that boy said it, I did notice, because I am a girl, throwing just as well as tough guy dad, to my son. I glanced around quickly to make sure my daughters were still on the toys and didn't hear him say that.  But a few minutes later he said it again. "You are throwing like a girl!"  This time it really stung.  I realized, that even to a kiddy pool feminist, this was not acceptable. This teenage boy was using the word "girl" as a derogatory term. Name calling. But instead of stupid, or weak, or uncoordinated he chose the word girl.  As if there are not plenty of girls that can throw a baseball harder than many boys.  This boy was using the word "girl" to shame his little brother, knowing that it is worse to be called a girl than anything else.  I was horrified. I hoped that the coach or one of the dads would say something. But no one did. I realized it would have to be me.

When I am in a situation like that, I get all panicked. If JT is around, I will often default to him, explaining "I don't do well with confrontation. I get mad, and then people think I am a real bitch! You say something!" But JT wasn't around. I pictured myself confronting the teenager. But how would I do it? How do you call out someone's kid, right in front of them and the whole team? What would I even say? "It hurts my feelings when you use the word 'girl' as a put-down." Would I get all emotional and cry? Everyone knows that once a girl cries she loses all of her power.  Would I try too hard to be tough and end up sounding angry? Or worse, crazy? After all, I am standing next to tough guy dad with a beer drinking 7 year old. What would they think? It is our first practice, would I be embarrassing Blake? What if they think I am a b****?!

With my head spinning, and checking again to make sure my little girls were still on the toys, I resolved to wait for him to say it again. Then I would go over and politely pull the teenager aside and quietly explain why that phrase is so offensive. I would be careful to not humiliate him, and to be discreet, so that the coach and tough dad wouldn't notice. I would be very nice, so that Blake wouldn't be known as the kid with the crazy mom. I would probably even be apologetic about the whole thing. And I would just explain that I have daughters near by, and how it makes them feel.

I took a deep breath, collected myself and before I even realized it, practice was over. The boys were all running off the field, my girls were coming back from the playground, and I had missed my chance. I couldn't tell if I was relieved or disappointed. I was numb.

That night, after I tucked my kids in bed, and finally sat down to collect my thoughts, I realized I was definitely disappointed. Disappointed in myself.

For those of you who don't need the kiddy pool, and are comfortably doing laps in the full length pool, you are probably disappointed as well.  And if you are a true feminist, the deep end, high dive, life guard style feminist, you were able to see the million things I missed.  You could have taken a red pen to this post and covered the page circling rookie mistakes. But for me, I didn't even realize how many things were wrong with this picture until I began retelling it to JT.

I didn't realize how much sexist commentary was in my head. I was afraid of being confrontational, or coming across like a crazy b****.  As I explained the whole scenario to JT I realized that he has never had to worry about someone thinking he is (or calling him) that type of profanity.  If JT stands up for himself or for his children, he is just being a strong guy. He isn't afraid of the label he will get. He doesn't need to be. He also doesn't have to worry about his emotions getting in the way, and being brushed off with an excuse like "it's probably just PMS".  The entire dialog that went on inside my head had been sexist.  It was all concerns that JT has never had to worry about, and fears he has never had. But the internal struggle I felt has been felt by most women. Those same doubts have discouraged many of us from doing things we want to do, and saying things we need to say. And even after all that, I still failed to stand up for myself.

But being brave wasn't the only way that I failed that night.  I thought I needed to be an example to my daughters. I was so afraid that they might hear that phrase and realize that, to many people, being a girl is being less than. I was afraid that they would believe that a girl could never throw as well as a boy, and is deserving of that phrase. I was afraid they would doubt themselves and wonder if what they are, girls, was something to be ashamed of.  The whole time that I was worrying about my daughters, who were happily giggling on the swings well out of earshot, I was playing catch with my son.

The last person I let down that night was my son. He was the one hearing "you throw like a girl". He was the one subconsciously discovering that girl = less than.  He didn't notice that I didn't stick up for girls, because neither did anyone else.  I did not even consider the damage it was doing to him, or the beer drinking 7 year old, or the boy being called a girl, or the rest of the team. In reality, boys are the ones most likely to grow up to perpetuate these stereotypes and sexist comments.  It isn't just my daughters that need to see a feminist (albeit the kiddy pool novice that I am) role model, and it isn't just women that need to stand up and be the feminist role model.  I let my son down that night, and so did every dad on the field.

Since then, I have talked to Blake about it. I have tried to make amends for my failings. But I still feel sick to my stomach that I didn't do anything in that moment. I still feel mad at the weak, scared, degraded woman freaking out in my head that night. But mostly I am sad that I wasn't braver. Some day, I want to swim in the deep end. I want my daughters to run for President, or stay home with their kids if they want, or be whatever they dream. I want Blake to see women as equals, worth fighting for and defending. I know that the best chance they have is if they see the example of a brave woman. And I really want that brave woman to be me.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Failure is the New Success

I've been hearing  quite a bit about failure the last few years. The more that I learn about successful people, the more that I learn about failure.  I've read about Albert Einstein being expelled from school, Steven Spielberg being rejected 3 times from the USC School of Film, Meryl Streep being "too ugly" to be cast in a film as a young actress , and Thomas Edison making 1000 attempts at the lightbulb before getting it right. These stories have all surprised me and I am so impressed that these people continued on, even in the face of such negativity.

What gives these people this type of resilience? To hear "no", and keep going? And how do I develop this attribute? I feel like I am the complete opposite. When the going gets tough... I give up and grab a Diet Coke. I could give a long list of the things that I have attempted and failed at, and then walked away.   I'm not talking about realizing something just isn't for me. Like quitting softball after 5th grade because I realized that little league right field is for the kids that are afraid of the ball and prefer to pick dandelions. That was a good sport to walk away from.  But I am talking about the things that I really thought were for me. Like acting, writing, being famous, running a marathon, getting a degree, the list goes on and on. I have made attempts at all of these things, and then given up at the first sign of defeat.  How do I learn the resilience and strength to never give up? Or is it too late?

And if it is too late for me, how do I teach it to my children?

Riley and I had our first real run in with failure this week.  (*side note* I have been reading about overcoming shame, it's kind of an obsession. So in the vein of being authentic, let me say that knowing others might read this is sending me into a shame whirlwind. Sharing this is really difficult for me. But I'm taking a deep breath, and putting my fingers on the keyboard.)

To set the story up, you need to know that Riley plays the violin. She has been playing for a few years now, and is really getting good.  I'm not a musician (because playing the piano was hard, so, of course, I quit) so it is difficult trying to figure out the balance of attempting to raise one. What is too hard? What is not hard enough?  Blake's cello teacher suggested a challenge to play for 100 days in a row and getting a prize at the end. She said she has seen major improvement in her students when they do this. So we adopted the idea. JT and the kids set the rules; they need to each play 30 minutes a day (preferably 15 in the morning and 15 in the evening... music friends, is this right? I can't get their teachers to be more specific!) for 100 days in a row. This has meant bringing instruments on vacation, or staying up late some nights to squeeze it in.  I've been so impressed with their dedication.
But a few days ago we hit a pretty big bump.  Riley was arguing with me about her practice. (I needed her to practice in her bedroom so that Macie could practice her piano in the music room. P.S. "music room" is the fancy way of saying the Dining room that I turned into a ping pong room, that also happens to be the piano room. But doesn't "music room" so sound much fancier? )  Sometimes Riley can get really caught up in getting the last word, or arguing for argument's sake. (If my Dad read my blog he would be laughing out loud enjoying the justice) I was getting so frustrated with her. It was already way past her bedtime, she should have practiced in the afternoon, and now she was refusing to play her violin in her room?! After the argument continued for way too long I told her "That's it! You have lost your chance to play today. Go to bed. You just lost your 100 days!"

The punishment fit the crime. (I struggled with that one for awhile, thinking I had over reacted, but have come to the conclusion that it was appropriate.) For refusing to play in her room, she was giving up her opportunity to play at all.

Did I mention it was Day 84?

The night ended with more fighting, and both of us in tears.

Now, I am terrified. I've been talking to JT about possible solutions.

Do I really make her start all over? That sounds horrible! If she has to start back at Day 1 will she think this is all too much work and just give up? Will she be so discouraged that she won't set goals like this anymore? Will I ruin her career in music? (Ok, maybe I am exaggerating here. But honestly, I'm freaking out.)

Or do I let her make it up? Play twice as long every day? Add on another 20 days? Find some way to not completely derail her. But if I do this, am I just teaching her that I don't hold to my word? Am I teaching her that I will always cave in? That failure is too scary, so I will give her a way out?

The question is: Is it merciful and compassionate to let her make it up? Or is it just me being afraid to let my child fail? (And feel some of the blame for her failure.)

I'm scared that it is the latter. I never learned how to fail. I'm still terrified of it as an adult. I don't know how or when to let her fail. But everything I know of success teaches me that it is necessary.

I can't believe I am going to ask this...

(That shame whirlwind is kicking back in, the fear of putting this out there for other people to comment. And asking for help, even though I am not sure I want the whole world judging my parenting.)

What should I do?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Throw Up

(This is another Blog Post that I wrote years ago, and forgot to Publish. I was probably waiting to have JT proofread it, and then forgot all about it. So if there are grammatical errors, just ignore them, because I am not going to wait for him to proofread it and forget about it a second time!)

JT is out of town on a hike with a friend.  So it is only fitting that today be the day that Macie eats a Chocolate Granola Bar and then throws it up all over the carpet.  I thought it was just because she was upset about losing her favorite Kitty "Boom Boom"  and was so overwhelmed that she threw up.  (It wouldn't be the first time.)  If I had realized it was flu bug I would not have put her in the car to drive around for an hour dropping off invitations for Riley's Birthday Party.  I would not have done that because my worst fear is a child throwing up in the car.

(Correction, my worst fear is actually a house fire.)

So, I guess, my Second Worst Fear is my child throwing up in the car.

Having worked for 4 years in an Emergency Room seeing all kinds of disgusting stuff (by the way,  I am encouraging him to write a blog about all of the insane things he has seen on the night shift in the ER: crazy!) JT is pretty much immune to throw up and most other bodily functions that make me want to cry.  So he is in charge of all throw up.  What?  I am underutilizing a guy studying to be a Physician's Assistant?  Yeah, maybe.

It is only fitting (with my luck) that JT would be out of town when the flu bug hit our house.  And that I would be naive enough to put a child in a car seat that has thrown up earlier that day!

And even though I said my Second Worst Fear is car throw up- I might be wrong.

It might be multiple throw up.

You see, even though I scrubbed the carpets and pulled the car seat (Why did I have to buy a Britax Car Seat?  Yeah, they are suppose to be the safest seat for my offspring, but they are a nightmare to take apart!) out of the car to disinfect and scrub down, I am still not in the clear.

My Third Worst Fear is that it will spread to one of my other two kids (who are now sleeping soundly in the same bedroom as The Puker).  I am in a constant state of paranoia.  I am throwing away toothbrushes right and left.  I am firing up the incinerator to dispose of any clothes we wore, looked at, or even thought about today that could now be contaminated.  I have scrubbed my own hands raw with antibacterial soap.  And I have reflected on everything we have eaten today and the possible ramifications of those choices!

Once the Throw Up Fear sets in (I guess it is called Emetophobia, I learned that from my Unicorn friend Josh when I read his blog about throw up, and then cried myself to sleep in fear) there is no controlling it.

If JT was here, to be cleaning it all up, he would also be quarantined.  The poor guy.  When he is sick (or even if he comes in contact with throw up, that I am aware of) I am freaked out about him touching me or even breathing near me.  ( I already have a weird, irrational, obsessive fear of breathing other people's air, so this just amplifies my insanity.) I might even quarantine myself.

But he isn't here. Tonight, it is just me, The Puker, and fear... I don't think any of us will be sleeping.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Laying It All Out There

I definitely don't have it all figured out. In fact, I think I have very little figured out. I am only one third of the way through life, so I still have a long way to go and a whole lot to learn. But lately I have been trying to figure a few things out. Namely my faith, you could call it a Faith Crisis. (That seems to be the term for it.) In the midst of this crisis I have had a tiny "ah ha" moment.

It all began a few years ago when I started to question a few points of doctrine. I struggled to find answers. I talked to quite a few people that I admire and trust in search of some answers. I always came up short .  This became frustrating to me, and I tried to just "put it on the shelf" as I have been told. But when I leave something tucked away on a shelf in the pantry, it tends to get moldy.  Which is what happened with these questions.  Soon, I was filling "the shelf" with so many questions and concerns I was beginning to wonder if the shelf itself would collapse.  After searching the resources, including friends, family and the church's website, I still felt at a loss. I soon found that it was easier to find answers, or at least discussion, about many of my concerns online. As a Mormon we have always been counseled to avoid "anti-Mormon" literature. But the problem I was finding is that it is much easier to learn about these topics on line than from attending Gospel Doctrine and searching the Topical Guide.  I have been very careful and deliberate in my studies. I have avoided things that are seeking to tear down the church, or break down my beliefs.  But I have also been searching for some answers that I am not finding at church.

Without question, this has been one of the most difficult struggles I have gone through.  It has not been easy.  And when I hear people talk about those leaving the Church "taking the easy way out" I have to cringe. For anyone who has had a deep, personal Testimony of the Church and it's teaching, there is no such thing as an easy way out. And for those of us who have had that kind of Testimony, we are not searching for a way out.  We are searching for a way to stay IN. I have been grateful to see articles, and even some talks from General Conference that are trying to change the way members perceive those who are struggling with their faith in the Church.  I know I had always heard that members only leave the Church because they want to sin or they have been offended.  But in my experience, this just isn't the case. Because of the struggles that I have been through with my personal crisis of faith, and the deep rooted perception of those who leave, this is a tender topic.

But I want to write about something that I just learned that has given me a small amount of peace in this struggle.

I have been listening to a lot of Brene Brown recently. She is a "shame expert".  Meaning; she has extensively studied shame and it's affect on people.  In her work, she tries to provide answers and ways for others to overcome their struggles with shame. She believes that shame is born out of the feelings of unworthiness. (Which might be translated to "not good enough") When I first heard this, I thought "well, that doesn't apply to me. I'm worthy." But after careful (and very painful) soul searching, I discovered how much shame I actually carry with me. One of the hard parts of overcoming shame, is finding the root of where it came from.  This is not to blame the root, or to make yourself unaccountable for it (that would just increase your shame) it is to understand and overcome it.  Most of us learn shame as children, from our families, from our surroundings, and from the media, and our culture.  I am sure that the patterns of shame that I have learned were not intentionally taught to me. This isn't a place for me to vent, attack, or deflect. It is a time for me to leave that behind.

We use the phrase "worthy" often in the Church.  I think the way we define "worthy" is slightly different than the way Brene defines it relating to shame. But I think the effects are similar. In the LDS Church, "Worthy"is a label that we use to define ourselves. Like most labels, it can be very dangerous. "Worthy" ends up being synonymous with "Good" while unworthy becomes synonymous with "Bad".

"He was worthy to pass the Sacrament on Sunday" = Good
"He was not worthy to go on his mission at 19" = Bad
"She was worthy to get married in the Temple" = Good
"She was not worthy to attend her friends sealing" = Bad

It doesn't take long before we have invisible tally marks next to our name in a contest of good vs bad.  Of course none of us wants to be labeled, good or bad. And it doesn't take long before those labels get misconstrued and slanted.  Most of the time, when it came to the word "worthiness" at church, I felt pretty good. "I paid my tithing, I am worthy" I associated it with entrance to the Temple. If you are worthy, you are good enough to go to the Temple.  But other times I can see how this label gets foggy. "I sinned, and am therefore not worthy to hear the Spirit" I can't count how many times I have heard it taught that when you are living in sin, you can not hear/feel the Spirit. This infuriates me, as ALL of us are living in sin. ALL of us. No matter how "good" or "worthy" you label yourself, you are living in sin. I know this because there was only One man who did not live in sin. And when we attach our worthiness to our ability to feel the love of the Savior, we begin to view ourselves and our Savior in a very damaging light.  Suddenly, we see ourselves as "not good enough" for our Redeemer. Or only good enough when we repent. We see the Savior as someone who withholds love.  Someone who requires us to "earn" his love. Brene Brown calls this "hustling" for worthiness. We begin to "hustle" for worthiness.  Do whatever we can to try to earn it. In the case of the Church, that can mean all sorts of things.  That can mean feeling shame about not doing our visiting teaching (oops, just lost a little more worthiness...) It often means making sure others are aware of your "worthiness".  Mommy bloggers bragging about their FHE's for approval (yay, feeling a little more worthy already!) The result can be exhaustion from trying to "hustle" for the love of our Savior. When in truth, we believe in Charity; the pure love of Christ. This means no strings attached. This means unconditional love for the simple reason that I am His. But that is a very difficult concept to learn when so much of what we do, and who we are in the Church is labeled with "worthy" or "unworthy".

Some of my deepest shame in the Church came when I was 25 years old. I was a returned missionary and single. In the Young Adult ward I was one of the "old" ones. I felt like I had to "compete" with young (and strangely more desirable) girls. Before my mission, a loved one tried to discourage me from going by voicing his concern about my age. He felt that since I was already 23, by the time I would get back I would be getting too old to get married.  Ever since I was a young child, I had looked forward to going to the Temple to be married. In Young Women's many of our lessons revolved around this topic. It was even joked about when some friends went off to BYU that they were going to get their "MRS." (instead of a B.A. or M.D. she was just going to become someone's wife) This is what we grew up with. The end result of all of our years of training in YW's would be the prize husband.  So back to me, 25, home from my mission with the words "too old to get married" haunting me, and seeing less and less men my age at church.  When getting married is the primary goal, and you are not, shame is bound to occur.

I knew that without a husband I was not "worthy" to enter the Celestial Kingdom.  Sure, I could attend the Temple... but I needed a husband to return to live with God. This was a very difficult doctrine for me to accept or understand. I knew that the longer I was not married, the harder it would become to get married (the pickings start getting slim, like I mentioned, there were far fewer single men at church than women). I also knew that the longer I was not married, the bigger failure I would become.

Now, you can argue that this isn't what the Church teaches, or the way that other people felt about me. But shame is learned from perception.  When the first question out of everyone's mouth at church is "Are you dating anyone?" you begin to believe that your only value is in your marriage potential.  It is difficult to not feel shame in the fact that "you can't get married". Who cares about my career, my hobbies, my interests?  The goal is marriage. Anything short of that feels like failure.  And failure often leads to the feelings of not good enough.

We can laugh about this now, after many years, so I don't mind sharing a painful illustration of this from when I was 20.  It was my older brother's wedding. In that same year, my best friend and three of my siblings would all get married. Have you heard the phrase "always the Bridesmaid never the Bride"? Well, I heard that a lot that year. It is hard enough to lose your best friend and your sisters all at once,  but to do it alone was even harder. We were at the reception, and my mom was enjoying taking pictures of my siblings and their new spouses, and new fiance. Of course she was making a big deal.  It was a big deal.  Love was in the air. At some point, during all of this adorable cuddly picture taking someone points out that my mom has not taken a picture of me. You could see the panic hit her eyes as she thinks But Kate doesn't have a fiance or spouse, how can I take her picture? Quickly looking around she spots a topiary tree for decoration and suggests "Kate, you can just stand with that tree."  That was it. My siblings had snuggled up, all lovey-dovey in the arms of the one they love, and me, alone, as an after thought, next to a tree.  With tears in my eyes, and a voice in my head I heard loud and clear "not enough".  With out a spouse, I was simply not enough.  Dont' get me wrong, I loved being single at the time. I like to think I was pretty good at it. I went out with lots of fun different guys.  And I knew I wasn't ready to settle down.  But that couldn't out weigh the embarrassment of posing with a plant. Luckily my siblings recognized immediately how awful that was for me.  And to come to my defense they lightened the mood by making jokes.  Thank goodness they were able to turn it into a joke and help me to laugh instead of cry. Even with the laughter, it still wasn't quite enough to cancel out the next 5 years of believing that I would not be enough until I was taking a picture with my husband instead of a shrub.

Fast forward to my 25th Birthday.  I was tired of feeling rejected in the Young Adult scene at church. Partly because I was "too old", and partly because most of the guys didn't want to date a return missionary. (It speaks volumes about the guys who are too insecure to date a return missionary...) I was frustrated because I felt like I was a pretty cool girl. I felt lovable, and yet confused that I was not being loved.  I gave up on Mormon boys and started to date a non member. I loved this.  He thought me going on a mission was cool. He liked going out to nice dinners, and buying nice gifts. He wasn't like the boys I heard in Provo who said "I'm not spending money on another guys future wife." (Too cheap to pay for dinner unless he knew he was going to marry the girl)  The bottom line, I didn't have to hustle for his attention. The night of my 25th Birthday I cried. He was obviously confused and asked why I would be crying. "I am so old and still single!"  He started to laugh, thinking that I was joking, but when he saw that I was sincere he was baffled. "You are only 25! Why on earth would you be married at 25??" I explained how many of my friends and family were already married and with kids at this age. He tenderly put his arm around me and tried his hardest to explain that 25 is young.  Very young.  And deep down inside I felt him saying "You are enough".  After we broke up I was sad, of course, but I had a new belief that I was enough, even at the old age of 25 (wink). I have always been very grateful for his love when I needed it at that time.  I am sure I would not have been in the right place (and I mean emotionally) to marry JT if I hadn't learned that lesson first.

Now that I have been happily married to JT for over 10 years, I can scratch that shame off of my list. I no longer feel shame about being three days younger than 26 when we got married. In fact, I enjoy remembering that I had some fun adventures first. But I can see that shame weighing on others as they feel the pain of not being enough because they are not married. As they ask themselves "what's wrong with me?" when we should be asking "what is wrong with this system that we base so much of our individual value on our marital status?"

I am sure there are single adults in the Church who are loving the single life, and not feeling any shame or questioning their worth because of their marital status. I am not trying to blame the Church entirely for the shame I felt. I am a product of my own experiences. This is just one area where I am concerned about the message that may be getting sent. It caused me heart ache, and led me to doubt in my own worthiness and my ability to be "good enough".

One of the dangers in using "worthy" as a label in the Church is the ways in which we determine and reward it.

Our worthiness is determined by a Bishop. He has a list of questions that determine our individual worthiness to enter the Temple. Once a member has been to the Temple, they begin to wear the Temple garment. For a seasoned member of the Church this is very easy to detect in other members. A few years ago, at Disneyland, I thought it was fun to play "Where's the Mormon?"  They were pretty easy to find.  It was hot outside and  you would see a young, perky, mom, with a stroller and some older kids, probably in matching Mickey shirts, and she would be wearing a really cute, stylish tank top with a cap sleeve shirt underneath and knee length shorts.  I was one of them. The modesty that accompanies garments is easy for a fellow Mormon to spot. But so is the perceived lack of modesty that can accompany those members not wearing garments.  Just by seeing if a girl is wearing a cap sleeve under her tank top or not is a quick way to measure "worthiness".

Another example, I recently got a nose ring. It is just a tiny piece of jewelry that I have always wanted. I think they are adorable. I have spent years wishing I could get one, but I never did because of a comment from one of our Prophets.  He said that women should only have one piercing in the ear and no body piercings. This has become a pretty hot topic.  Soon after he said that, you could judge if a girl "followed the Prophet" or not just by counting her earrings.  I was convinced that this was doctrine and that it was immodest, and inappropriate to have two piercings in your ears let alone one in your nose. I respect the many stories of how women felt blessed as they followed that counsel. I could never judge anyone else's experience with the Spirit. But as time went on, and I found myself in a position where I viewed some of the teachings differently, this came back to me.  I suddenly found myself wondering how relevant this nose piercing actually is to my Savior. I knew that the purpose of the Church is to help us become more Christlike, and I was having a hard time understanding how a second piercing in my ear made me less like Him.  Yes, I have heard all of the arguments. That we are defiling our bodies, but that seems flimsy when I think that He would say "one defilement is acceptable, but not two".  I have also heard that I don't need to understand it, if the Prophet says it, then I will be blessed for following. I have heard that in order to become Christlike I need to follow all of the counsel of the leaders of the Church. And yet, when I read and I pray, I don't feel that. I don't feel like I am being less Christian by having a sparkly little piercing. I am still charitable, honest, kind, and forgiving. Throughout the New Testament those things seem to be the major attributes of a Christian.  None of that changed when I put in this little tiny stud. It could be argued that I am being defiant, or rebellious by disagreeing with the Prophet, and therefore, I am not behaving like a Christian. (Now I am headed towards my questions about what exactly is doctrine? And what is the difference between a Prophet's opinion and counsel and the Word of God? But that is a whole other post. )  To sum it up, this little sparkly in my nose, that is just there for fun, the same way I color my hair blonde and paint my nails pink for fun,  can now be a measurement to others of my "worthiness" in the Church. And to many, it is.

One of the pitfalls of having so many physical ways for Mormons to judge other Mormons' worthiness, is that it often leads to the actual judging of fellow members. As if that is anyone else's business.  Our so called "worthiness" is between us and the Lord. And yet, on any given Sunday, you can walk into a church and hear one of these mentioned. You can hear the concern as members warn against a second piercing, or condemn the hemlines of a dress.  But are these actually the things that make us unworthy? Why do we spend so much time, energy, and breath discussing the things that have the least to do with our actual Christianity. Things that have little interference with our ability to care for the poor and needy and to love our neighbors.  Is it because we are obsessed with proving that we are worthy?  Are we trying  so hard to hustle for the Savior's love and acceptance that we think that one piercing is going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back, and keeps us from being good enough? Or worse, are we trying to hustle for the love and acceptance of our fellow members? I know I was hustling for both.

One of the hardest parts for me about moving to Las Vegas was the timing.  Here I am, in the middle of a Faith Crisis, and I move away from my loved ones.  Worthiness comes from the feelings of love and belonging, and I left that all behind in Washington.  In some ways it has been good to face this trial alone, in a new city, where I don't need to worry about my friends and family being disappointed in me. There is a freedom in moving to a new place to get a fresh start. But for me, I didn't know what I wanted the fresh start to be.

We moved here, not knowing whether or not we wanted to stay active in the Church. But, like I mentioned before, during this Crisis I have not been looking for a way out, I have been desperately trying to see if there is a way for me to stay in. (Trust me, if I was simply looking for a way out, moving out of state would have been it.) So we decided to go to Church.  But I tried to stay on the out skirts. Since I was still in a place where I didn't know what my Testimony was, I did not want to be in a position where I needed to have one. I have always loved working with youth in the Church, and it was painful for me to come here and say that I can't teach them.  I know I can't teach something I am not sure I believe. That would be hypocritical and damaging to the youth as well as to myself. But it was like cutting out a small piece of my heart.

I searched my heart to discover why I wanted to continue to go to Church.  And I found a few reasons. First, because I still have a few "undeniables", you know, the experiences and Testimonies that you just can't deny. A few things from the Gospel that I don't want to live without. Second,  I would stay at church because I had no idea where else to go.  Would I want to try to find another religion? Would it be too difficult to cross over to a new faith and a new system of belief?  Where do you even begin?  Third, in many ways, this is home and I am comfortable here in the Church. I know what to expect. I know the teachings. I know the meetings, the hymns, the routines. I knew that the members could possibly be a support to me during this struggle.  I knew that at least my kids would have instant friends with common values. In short, it was easy.

But it wasn't easy.  I have struggled to make meaningful friendships at church.  I don't blame anyone for that. At first I tried to make excuses why I wasn't finding my place here, but I now know that it is all me. I know that I can make friends easily, I always have.  But it has been hard for me to know how to engage. I don't want to appear to be a hypocrite. I don't want to sit at the park with the other moms talking about Temple Night next week, when I have no desire to go to the Temple. I don't know what to say at Girls Night when modesty comes up, and I don't share their passionate views. If I smile and nod, am I consenting that I share this belief? I don't want to do that.  But I also don't need to stand up and denounce every thing that I have doubts about either.  When I am in Gospel Doctrine and the teacher brings up the Word of Wisdom again (because you can't go a Sunday without it coming up) do I raise my hand and share my two cents, even though I know it will upset and offend some of the people in the room? I don't know where to draw the lines.  I don't know how to define myself to strangers.

Listening to Brene Brown was like having a terrible weight lifted.  It was suddenly very apparent why I am struggling at church and making meaningful friendships.  Meaningful relationships are built on vulnerability. They are built by a shared understanding and sympathy for each other.  And that understanding comes as you open up your heart to others.  Opening up my heart has never been a scary thing for me.  Mostly because I consider myself a lovable person. People usually like me. I am a good friend. I am fun to be around. I have a lot to bring to a friendship, and I know it.  But here I am, at church meeting people, and I am in a place where I need to be vulnerable.  I need to be myself and open up for people to want to be my friend. But I am also in a place where I know that others may be judging my "worthiness".  Say what you want, that we shouldn't be judging each other, or that it isn't actually happening... but I have played "Where's the Mormon". I  know it is happening.  I wasn't judging to be vindictive or to condemn anyone. I was just noticing garment lines and cap sleeves. But without even realizing it, my noticing those things was also my noticing their "standing" or their "worthiness" in the church. And subconsciously I probably made an assessment based on that.

When I was at home in Washington, I had some very good friends who loved me unconditionally. They listened to my doubts, they knew my struggles, but we already had a deep connection so I knew that they loved me.  I never had to wonder if I was enough. I never felt like I had to prove myself to them. When my back was out, they cleaned my dirty toilets out of love.  They liked me as much with make up as without. I didn't have to hustle for their love, it was never even a question. I knew that I was enough.  But here in Las Vegas, I don't have any of that. And without even realizing it, I let shame and fear creep in.  Suddenly I worried about the things I hadn't had to worry about. Things like how big or clean my house is, how old my car is, how successful my husband is, how skinny, or not skinny I look.  On top of that, I also had to worry about how strong my Testimony is, what kind of calling I have at church, what everyone would think about JT working Sundays, if they were looking to see if I wear cap sleeves,  and how they perceived my worthiness. These are all of the kinds of things that would make people like or dislike me. But since I was unsure of all of those things, I pulled back.  I stopped believing that I am good enough. I started to believe that maybe my lack of Mormon "worthiness" would cost me friendships.  I didn't trust my own convictions enough to be vulnerable, or even know how to be vulnerable with these strangers.

But I realized today, I am enough. I just am. I don't need to be "temple worthy" to be love worthy.  I don't need anyone else's approval or acceptance. The only approval I need is from my Savior. And from the deep, tear filled, painful, heartfelt talks that He and I have had over the past few years, I know I have His love and approval.  I know He is pleased with me.   To some members they would disagree, believing He could only truly be pleased with me if I kept all of the commandments and obeyed all of the brethren. But I don't believe that.

I think I am ready to give up the hustle.  It may be painful at first.  Some people who don't know the real me may not understand. And even the people who do know me, but don't know the struggles with faith that I have been going through, may not understand. But worthiness is about believing in myself no matter what anyone else thinks, or understands.

I'm not exactly sure what this more authentic self will look like.  I still don't know how to stay IN the church. But I know that I will not worry about any other perceptions of me. I will continue to figure things out, but hopefully, without shame and fear.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mixed Emotions

Last year our school told us they may be going to Full Day Kindergarten this year, but they weren't positive. I watched the school website all summer, and it continued to say Half Day.  Then today, I took in Macie's shot records, because her registration wasn't showing up on line.  And the office staff informed me that it will be FULL DAY! She starts on Monday.

Instantly I started to cry.  The office staff was so excited to give me the "good news". But I was filled with mixed emotions, my body got confused and just began to cry.

(Funny side note: when Macie has to go to the bathroom while we are driving we ask "can you hold it? or do you need to go right now?" She has started to answer "I can hold. I just make the water come out my eyes instead." Then her face gets pink from trying to hold it, and her eyes start to water. "See, I can wait".  That's when we know to pull over ASAP.)

So back to me crying in the school office.  The office staff are practically high fiving me and lifting me up on their shoulders to parade around the playground.

"They learn sooooo much more in full day!"
"She will love it!"
"You are free!"
"You will have 6 hours all to yourself!"
"You are the greatest mom on the entire planet!" (Some of this may be a slight exaggeration, like I said, I was in tears and things became a blur.)

My mind was racing. I loved when my older kids did full day Kindergarten.  When we moved to Las Vegas and I saw how far ahead my kids were at school I knew it was in part due to full day Kindergarten. (In Blake's first grade class they spent the entire year working on the sight words he passed off in Kindergarten.)

I also began thinking about how much Macie HATES going to the store or on errands. How frustrating it was to have to get errands, grocery shopping, and the gym all squeezed in during the two hours that she was at preschool or risk the wrath of Macie.  I felt sad last year that Macie didn't have many friends, and ended up with very few play dates after school. And was often tired of it just being her and me.

Suddenly I wanted to cheer and ride around on the shoulders of the teachers and principal cheering "I AM FREE! I AM FREE!" I was beaming with delight thinking about going to the gym without complaint. Running into the grocery store without a fight. Taking a nap in the afternoon!  Having her be prepared for first grade, like my others. But right when my hand went up for the first fist pump, I felt everything else crash down.

I would be alone.
I felt overwhelmed with regret.  Why didn't we do more art projects when it was just the two of us? Why did I drag her to the store? Did I spend enough time on the trampoline? Did we go on enough walks? I thought I had one more year! I thought I could make up for everything we didn't do this past year.

It's no secret that Macie has a strong personality. She can get upset easily.  And it can be very overwhelming for me.  I am not gonna lie, there have been times I have wished she would be in all day school, just because I couldn't handle one more fight or break down.

But now I wish I could have one more year. Maybe I could get things right.  Maybe I would be more present and take advantage of those last days together.  Two years ago, when Blake started school, I experienced the same type of loss. He has a late July birthday, and everything I read argued that it is better for a boy with a summer birthday to be held back. They would be bigger for sports, more mature and able to learn, the oldest, more confident and the leader instead of the follower. But just a couple weeks before Kindergarten began I felt strongly that I should enroll him, and not hold him back the year. I prayed and prayed, not knowing what to do.  But I was filled with peace and a clear understanding that Blake was ready for Kindergarten and may struggle more with boredom if I hold him back.  I cried then, feeling that I had lost a year with my son. I thought he would go to preschool with his friends, but instead he got on the bus with Riley.  Since then, I have seen how it was the right decision.  School came easy for him, and he had a fabulous Kindergarten teacher that stretched him and challenged him. And he loved it!

So I am no stranger to Kindergarten regret.  I know that this is the moment that all stay at home moms dream of.  All of your kids at school.  A quiet house that you might be able to clean, the chance to take a shower without interruption, the ease of grocery shopping, the chance to go back to work, the chance to volunteer more at school. It seems like there are so many things to be excited for. But right now, I am just feeling the loss.  Loss of time with my youngest.  Loss of a shopping partner (however unhappy she was) even the loss of my little friend and tag-a-long. At least in Washington, I would have still gone to Taco Time Tuesday and been able to spend some kid free time with friends taking walks around the pond, or at Ashlee's lake. But it is a whole different story here in Vegas.

If you see me on Monday, giving the Principal a hug, dancing around the playground, making "neener neener" faces at all of the moms with toddlers, and chanting "I AM FREE!" all the way to Starbucks, you can know that on the inside I am crying and planning on drowning my mixed emotions in a venti green tea lemonade.

Seriously going to miss that face!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Someday, When I am Liz Lemon...

Ever since I was child I have played a game every time I watch a movie or TV show.  It's "which character am I?"  I can remember playing this game watching Sleeping Beauty with my little sister when we were probably 5 and 6.  It would go something like this: Every time a new character is introduced you get to pick if that is the character you want to play.  Obviously, being the older child, I immediately chose to be Aurora.  I imagined I was a beautiful princess growing up in the woods while the townspeople were drunk/asleep back at the Kingdom. (All time favorite Disney scene is when the King's servants are drunk singing "shromps" as they clinked their cups together and passed out under the table. What the...?!) I was content being Aurora and singing with a strange prince in the woods, until the scene with the 3 Fairies trying to bake the cake.  It was imperative to claim which Fairy you wanted to be before the other sister could claim one.  I was quick to shout "I'm the PINK Fairy!" (Let's review the movie real quick.  They are 3 frumpy OLD ladies. Why would I want to be any of them?) It was important to pick the Pink Fairy, because she was obviously the prettiest. You know, cuz Pink is synonymous with Pretty. Every time this happened my little sister would cry and I would comfort her by saying "You can be the Blue Fairy".  This was decades before Elsa came along and made blue a pretty princess color.  In my little sister's ears I was telling her she was the little fat, ugly (because you know, Blue was synonymous with Ugly) Fairy.  She is still hurt to this day.  Maybe one day, for her birthday or something, I will let her be the Pink Fairy.... nah.

This tradition, of picking the character, continued and evolved over the years.  In my late teens I watched "Friends" and thought "I would be Rachel, of course".  At this point, the game wasn't just picking the prettiest character in a show and pretend to be her. I began dreaming that I was actually cast for the part.  Like, I go into an audition and they say "Look at you! You are adorable, and likable, and soooo  cute! We have this part 'Rachel' that we think you would be perfect for!" This stemmed from a lifetime of wishing I was an actress. And not just an actress, I wanted to be the beautiful lead heroine.

In High School (I hate it when people reference who they were in HS, it implies that you haven't had any experiences since then. But in this case, I haven't.) I took theater.  My Senior year we did a modern version of the Shakespeare play "Two Men of Verona".  At the auditions I desperately wanted the role of Julia, the leading lady.  She was lovely, and the audience would adore her of course.  But I got cast as some small, seemingly random, role. Which I think was suppose to be someone's father in the original play, but the Director changed it to a mom, and a friend and I played the roles of the mothers together. I was infuriated! The Director was basically saying "Don't worry Kate, you aren't Julia, but you can still be the Ugly Blue Fairy!" I hated him.  After we had struggled through weeks of rehearsals he pulled me and the other "mother" aside and tried to explain to us the parts we would be playing.  He described the ladies as being a total hoot. Crazy old ladies.  He then sent us with homework to watch an old British TV show called "Absolutely Fabulous" or "Ab Fab" about two crazy ladies who are always drunk and hysterically funny.  He tried to explain to me how these characters are brilliantly funny.  They will have the audience cracking up. "You will steal the show!" he claimed.  Long story short... we were lazy seniors.  We all somehow ticked off the Director to the point that he cancelled the show, and I was never a drunk, crazy Blue Fairy in Two Gentlemen of Verona.  And I hated him again.  Why would I ever want to be the Ugly Blue Fairy? People might think I was actually ugly!  Or that I was weird and not the pretty damsel in distress. At that point, I realized I probably don't actually have the "look" of the pretty damsel in distress, and I didn't want to be cast as an Ab Fab again, so I was done with theater.  (While I have still secretly dreamt of winning an Oscar to this day... even though I am not an actor.)

Back to the game of picking the character.  I would watch SNL and laugh my head off, but I would always think "don't cast me as Mary Catherine Gallagher! Someone might think I am actually a weirdo freak".  I still watched every movie and every show, dreaming of being the beautiful lead character. It wasn't until years later that I saw a supporting actor steal the show.

It was Les Mis, and the Master of the House was dancing around the stage being creepy, and really funny.  At the end of the show when the cast came out for the curtain call, guess who got the first standing ovation of the night? The Maser of the House. Sure, we all adored Jean Valjean. He was the hero.  But we loved the Master of the House.  He made us laugh, and somehow stole the show.  I suddenly heard what my theater teacher was trying to say.  You don't need to be a beautiful lead to steal the show.  Basically, I think he was saying "Katie, you are no Jennifer Aniston or Cameron Diaz.  Forget being the beautiful hero.  Embrace your Funny.  And just be Phoebe." (If he was saying this now he would say "Don't try to be Anna Kendrick.  Just enjoy being Rebel Wilson!")

I began looking at shows differently.  I began imagining I was the quirky side kick. I would often sit next to JT and whine about how I missed my calling in life.  I should have been "Dr Elliot Reed" on Scrubs. "I would laugh so hard working with that cast!" Could I have played the awkward, depressed, monotoned Phyllis on "The Office"?  Maybe I should have had tiny hands and been Doonise on SNL. Or what about Arrested Development?! "They cast Portia de Rossi as Lindsey Bluth? Come on.  I would have killed that! And laughed myself to sleep at night after filming each episode." I love watching these shows and picturing myself laughing on set with everyone as we film the most hilarious sitcoms of all time.

Slowly, I have let go of the desire to be the leading lady. (You are thinking, oh good, because I hate to break it to you, ... but that ship has sailed!!) And recently things began to shift again.  I was binge watching 30 Rock on Netflix.  Fighting off the desire to be the beautiful, narcissistic Jenna Maroney (who coincidentally is pretty and funny!) and loving quirky Liz Lemon.  Suddenly I didn't care if anyone thought I was weird, quirky, or say things like "Blurg!" (One great thing about playing "which character are you" as an adult, is that I never have to fight over a character!  Mostly because JT doesn't know I am playing that game, and my sister isn't there to cry.) Again, I found myself dreaming of spending the day on set with Alec Baldwin and Jack McBrayer.  We would crack each other up! (At some point my therapist and I should explore the fact that I actually think I am as funny as Jack McBrayer or Alec Baldwin.) And as I tried to imagine which character I should play, (because, you know, they might call me any day to cast me for a show that is off the air...hey, I can't help my day dreaming!) something hit me.

I don't actually think I should be stealing the show (because, remember, I am not actually an actor).  Maybe I should be writing the show! I should be sitting with Frank and Lutz cracking ourselves up as we write together. Forget day dreaming about getting "Best Actress". In this case, I can get the award for "Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series" from the Writer's Guild Awards.  (And I can still dress up all fancy, and walk down the red carpet, and take home a shiny statue to go next to Riley's soccer trophies on the fireplace mantle.) I have an all new day dream!

Screw "Best Actress" and playing the role of the Pink Fairy (who would have actually just been a supporting role anyway). I am taking home the Award for "Best Writer!"

Never mind the fact that I have never taken a writing class, or written a script, or even a rough draft... of anything.
First things first, I think I will start by writing my Acceptance Speech.