Friday, October 23, 2015

I'll Tell You the Truth About Sending off a Missionary

Sam is going on a mission to Birmingham, England in a few days.

He's my first missionary. I didn't go on a mission and no one in my family went—so it's a pretty new experience. It's quite wonderful and I am proud of him. There is an element of bittersweetness to this. When he gets home he'll be all grown up. Sending him on a mission marks the end of an era with him. It's a little sad, but mostly I look forward to being a mom to young-adult-Sam. Of course I am 100% committed to the gospel and I think that serving a mission is the best choice Sam could make right now. I never waiver on that in the least. I believe in missionary work. I believe in service. I believe in Sam.

But it's also quite gut-wrenching and difficult in some ways. If you have little boys who may be mission-bound some day and the thought of that makes you cry, here's my advice: Don't think about it. Try not to think about it. Trying to raise them with the thought of them one day leaving constantly at the forefront of your mind is too much pressure and loads every moment with an unbearable weight of inevitability that is too much to bear. 

Even now with only a few days left before Sam leaves, I try not to think about it because if I think about these numbered days I will ruin these last few days and make them weird. Probably I shouldn't even be writing this. 

I have daughters, too, who plan to go on missions. I feel like what I am saying might be son-specific, even though it probably feels the same to send a son or a daughter on a mission, because there is a gravity to the responsibility for boys to serve whereas girls have a bit more wiggle room to opt-in or opt-out of a mission. 

Here's what's hard about it.

First of all, there's a lot to do. There's paperwork, visas, medical and dental appointments and records, documents, TB tests—all sorts of stuff to help with as missionaries gets their papers in and receive their mission calls. It's pretty busy. There is a lot of shopping to do as well, but to me this is not hard. The shopping is really fun and exciting—I have loved that part of getting ready. Although you do worry about money a little. We'll probably spend around $1500 in upfront costs. Having all this stuff to do before they leave can be stressful. 

The other thing that's hard about it—and this is really the thing you most expect—is worrying about sending your son away for 2 years. They're leaving, and they are teenagers who still need help sometimes. They are going somewhere new and possibly far away. You'll have very little contact with them and they will meet strangers every day who might not like them or treat them nicely. You know they are in for some hard work, which will be good for them, but you're still the mom and they're still the baby you used to worry about every little thing for. It doesn't feel any different than that first night home from the hospital, the first day of school, or the first sleep-away camp they go to. Even though he's older and competent and prepared, it feels the same. There is no difference.

Sam's mission president wrote a letter to him. And that really was the first mission-related correspondence I was able to look at without crying (and I'm not a crier). It's reassuring to think that President and Sister Leppard will be in charge of him now. My son is their stewardship and I take some comfort in that. 

Those are the parts I expected to feel but there's another part, too. It feels like—and I want to be careful not to overstate this—what Joseph Smith described feeling in the Sacred Grove before Heavenly Father and Jesus show up. Sometimes (not all the time) I feel ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction. It's sad. I cry. It doesn't feel good. It could just be me being a weirdo, but other moms (and Maggie) admit to feeling the same way.

I'm not saying it's Satan trying to suck out the optimism and joy I should (and do) feel about Sam going on a mission but I'm not saying it isn't.  I have wondered if the excruciating pain parents are feeling about their children leaving for missions has anything to do with the all-in, attachment, helicopter parenting we've been doing for the last 20 years. (Thanks A LOT Dr. Sears.) I don't know.

I think, maybe, the reason for the pain is that for the first time ever my core beliefs feel like they are at odds with each other.

I believe in the gospel and that Sam should serve a mission with every fiber of my being.
I believe in keeping my kids close and taking care of them with every fiber being of my being.
My being fibers are being split.

I think that's what I'm feeling. It doesn't feel good but I do think it will get better and I'm really into the idea of receiving a WHOLE SLEW of blessings like everyone always talk about.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

What College Students Miss About Home and the Essence of Parenting

Freedom From Want by Norman Rockwell
I am teaching two sections of a business writing class this semester at BYU. On the first day of class I had my students fill out a get-to-know-you questionnaire in class that I use to assess their writing ability. FYI, no one can spell anymore without Spellchecker – including me.

One of the questions is this: What do you miss most about home?

When I started teaching as a graduate student I was very intimidated by my students who were often close to my age. I was always trying to assert and maintain my authority over them because it felt so tenuous.

Now my oldest son is just a few years younger than my students who are mostly juniors and seniors. I think of them just like the grandmother in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" thinks of The Misfit who shot her family and is about to shoot her, when she looks at him and says, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!"

Once you've had kids it's hard not to look at other people and see them as someone's child, which is one way being a parent can make you more compassionate.

So these students in my class who could be my children or your children and who are certainly the children of someone wrote that what they miss most about home is the food. They miss someone else making it for them or buying it for them. One student mentioned missing Costco shopping days, especially.

I'm not very good at domestic arts and feel conflicted about some of them because of feminism. Also, as your kids get older you really want to buck the notion that you are just there to cook and clean for them. There's so much more to parenting than that. It's complex and multi-faceted. You have to teach them how to work, show them how to serve, be an example of a good person. You read to them and make sure they do their homework. You refine them and help them be their best. It's important to do all of this. But they don't miss it when they're gone. What they miss is being taken care of.

My students' responses underscored for me that parenting is essentially selfless. What I want to instill in my kids and do for them is not just food-based. But some of the things I do for them that make them feel most cared for like ironing their clothes or cooking their food (servile things) are the things that mean the most to them. My own mom parented me in multi-faceted and complex ways, but now what I mostly want is for her to cook a delicious Sunday dinner for me once a month and I do miss eating sandwiches that I didn't have to make myself, just like my students miss having their food prepared for them at home. There is more to parenting than feeding your kids, but feeding them is a really big part of it and according to my students that's what they miss most when they are away from home.

More Boooooooks

I don't mean to inundate you with book recommendations but I have a lot to catch up on. Anyway, what's better than starting Fall cozily with a big pile of to-reads? I thought so.

My favorite book that I've read (listened to on Audible) this year is The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. It's about collegiate competitive rowing. You're thinking, how can a book about rowing be compelling? It's masterfully done and I gave this book 5 stars. Learning the background of the boys in the boat makes you love and root for them, especially considering most of the competition in rowing is rich frat boys from the Ivy League. 

The University of Washington trained a scrappy team of lumberjacks and miners who made their way to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin — the Olympics with Jesse Owens and Adolf Hitler. When they were set to travel, coxswain Bobby Moch (spoiler alert) received a very serious letter from his dad telling him he had a secret to finally share with him: He was Jewish. I mean, can you imagine this time in history? Leading up to WW II the triumph of these boys in the boat is wonderful and feels important. You'll root for them too. It's such a great book and you can give it to everyone for Christmas. Dads, especially, will love it. Look at Bobby Moch. What a guy.

The Americans wore their old sweatshirts for the race because they didn't want to get their new Olympic uniforms muddy. I have a theory that they didn't want to give up their new jerseys if they lost (that was the tradition). Either way, the emotional appeal of the scruffy underdogs beating some nazis is pretty powerful.

Speaking of underdogs, another one one of my favorite books lately is David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell. This is a great little book about how the quality that makes someone an underdog can actually be a strength. David was quick and better at fighting than the loping-probably-partially-blind Goliath. Kids with dyslexia or some other disadvantage can fail, but when they do succeed they do better than people who have an easier time in school. Malcolm Gladwell is always interesting and this is no exception. It's pretty inspiring too if you need a pep talk on turning your weaknesses into strengths. The end of the book made me cry. I loved this book and you should read it. 

I read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch last year and it stuck with me in a troubling way for a long time. I can't say that I whole-heartedly recommend this book. The worldview presented in this story is much bleaker than my own. It seems to be saying that life is ugly and horrible so we need art. I tend to believe that life can be ugly and horrible but that it can also be beautiful and that art is something that inspires us and helps us to see that beauty. This book is amazing and awful. It's sad and has some long R-rated stretches, as many coming-of-age stories about teenage boys often do. (Ew.) I could not stop thinking about the main character, Theo, for days after I read it. The story is centered around this painting, which is real. A bomb goes off in a museum and Theo, as a child, saves the painting. Then he has it for years while everyone else (including the art curator who becomes his guardian) thinks it was stolen. If you've read this and you are having PTSD as a result, we can talk about it here. 

The Migraine Brain by Carolyn Bernstein and Elaine McArdle is a must-have for my fellow migrainuers. (I know there are a lot of you.) Exhaustive, informative, and useful, this book will help you figure out what's going on and what do do when you get a migraine. Having a plan in place and friends who understand reduces the anxiety and fear of getting a migraine and will probably actually help you get fewer migraines. This book is really helpful. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

I Hug Now

I initiate hugs now almost indiscriminately. I used to be more stand-offish about hugs. I don't mind the hug itself, per se (except for letting people feel my fat), but I never wanted to impose a hug on someone who didn't think we were close enough to hug. I used to always let the other person initiate a hug. It works great and cuts down on awkward "should we/shouldn't we?" situations. But since I've been a Stake YW leader I have changed my policy. Now I initiate hugs with anyone at any time. Here's why.

I'm the grown up. When I'm with 100 teenage girls, I am the old lady who should have it together enough to decide whether we are going to hug. It just isn't right to be sitting there waiting for a 12-year-old girl not only to validate me but also to set the tone and intimacy level of our relationship. Also, I no longer care if the person I hug doesn't want a hug for two reasons: (1) It takes up time in case you have nothing to say to them so the small talk goes better. (2) Even if we aren't close enough friends to be hugging, there's (usually) no harm done.

In some ways my hugs mean less now that I give them out so liberally. Refraining from promiscuous hugging used to be one of my reasons for hugging so selectively—that way you could be sure the hug really meant something. On the other hand, perhaps people find it a pleasant surprise (even if they are at the same time slightly repulsed) that I like them enough to hug them. It all evens out. I guess I've decided to trade being thought of as a weird over-hugger for the possibility of making people feel like I really like them. They may be squirming to get away, but there is no question that I think of myself as their buddy. They might even be thinking, "Wow. I'm surprised she thinks we're such buddies," but it doesn't bother me anymore.

In short, at this point in my life it feels really lame to be insecure about hugging. By initiating hugs with everyone I feel like I am the captain of my own ship and like I set the terms for all my relationships. I don't know where you fall on the hugging spectrum, but I hope that when I see you you surrender completely to my embrace.

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