17 August 2015

For Grandma

Of my grandparents, my dad’s parents had the less kid-friendly house by far.  They didn’t have cable or toys or Disney movies like my mom’s parents did.  Grandma Newman’s house was the kind of place that was full of discussion and politics and good posture.  It smelled and felt classy.  I remember sneaking into my grandpa’s upstairs office and creeping around it like it was the west wing in the Beast’s mansion.  There was an enormous desk and bookshelves and it felt like (and probably was) forbidden territory.  It was clear to me from a young age that my grandparents' house was a fancy place where you treated things carefully.

My grandma did what she could to make us feel welcome.  While the adults would talk politics, she would sit on the floor with the kids and play cards.  She taught me Old Maid and played endless rounds of Go Fish and Rummy and War and any number of other games I can’t remember the names of anymore.  She was a master of cards, and a master of making sure that everyone, everyone, felt welcome in her house.

She was an intensely spiritual woman, who spoke openly and often of her love of Christ.  Most of the gifts I ever received from her were linked in some way to developing my spirit - music and books and tools to surround myself with and to grow with.  There are two exceptions that I can think of: 

The first was a book.  When I turned nine, she sent me the first beautiful book I ever owned.  It was a large, faux-leather bound book with perforated pages that smelled delicious.  It was a copy of Heidi, along with a card telling me that it had been one of her favorite books as a child and she hoped that I would like it too.  I did.  I devoured that story over and over again until milk from a bowl and a hunk of bread and cheese were my preferred lunch option.  It was the book that got me going to the bookstore.  I wanted more pretty books.  I didn’t want just any copy of Little Women - I wanted the beautiful hardback version with the ribbon and the soft fabric on the cover.  I've often thought that when you share a favorite book with someone else, you're sharing a piece of your soul with them.  I think I took good care of that piece.

The second gift was a quilt.  Last year, she gave each of her seven grandchildren a hand-made quilt.  She’d never quilted before, but she wanted to learn how.  She called each of us and asked what our favorite color was (but wouldn’t tell us why she wanted to know), and spent hundreds of hours sewing and tying these quilts.  She even enlisted the help of my grandpa, to the surprise of everyone, who, so I’m told, was obsessed with making sure the quilts were perfectly square.  She wrote each of us a letter to tell us what she thought about as she made the quilts for us, and shared her love of the gospel, as she always did.  I think it’s one of the most beautiful quilts I’ve ever seen.  It isn’t the most technically intricate, but it was infused with hundreds of hours of love and care.



My grandma had a hiccup that was loud enough that everyone in the house could hear it. 

She had a laugh that lit up her entire face and shook her whole body with mirth.  It wrinkled her nose and her eyes and left her breathless if you really got her.

She had an impeccable sense of fashion.  She took great care of herself.  I never saw her without her toes painted and her hair done. 

She was an incredible cook.  The only thing she didn’t really trust herself to make was pie.  The last time I saw her, I taught her how to make a lattice crust top for an apple pie.  The pie tasted absolutely amazing (thank goodness).  She followed me around for every single step of the pie, studying carefully so that we could make them again this Thanksgiving.  (I promised we’d make more than one for Thanksgiving.  I'm really sorry she's going to miss out.)

I will never forget her courage.  The day of her son’s funeral, she and my grandpa announced that they were going to serve a mission for the church.  They’d been called to go to Austria.  My grandfather spoke German - my grandma didn’t.  Now, only a few short months after the tragic death of her son, she was going off to a foreign land far away from the comforts of home and family to serve the church and the Lord she loved so much.  It was so telling to me that in this time of grief, she looked outward.  She always looked outward. 

The only time she ever got mad at me that I remember was the last time I went to see her.  Grandpa covertly asked me to vacuum the guest rooms before I left because it tired grandma to do the job, so I did.  As soon as she heard me vacuuming, she came hustling in to the room.  

“You stop that!” she said.  

I shrugged.  “Sorry, grandma.  I have my orders.”

“You stop that!” she said again.  

I ignored her.  She wasn’t happy.  So she insisted instead that she make me a hot breakfast before I drove back home.  It was so typical.  She couldn’t let any act of service go un-served. 

I’ve never seen her more beautiful than when I sat down the row from her in the temple the day my brother was endowed.  Dressed all in white, she simply radiated light.  It was all I could do not to spend the service just staring in awe at how lovely she was.  

My grandma made everyone feel loved and wanted.  You can tell just by looking at her picture that she was pleasant and happy.  People who never met her see her face and know right away what kind of person she was. 

She loved her flowers.  Even after she moved to the desert of St. George, she took care to plant whatever she could that would grow.  Her yard always looked lovely.

She loved her Yorkies.  She bemoaned that her dog Lexie would listen to grandpa but not to her, but she loved the little butterfly of a dog anyway. 

I remember the tears of joy on her face when she watched my dad run his first marathon.  I remember her anxiety while he was still running.  She was worried about how he was doing and nervous to see him finish.  She kept talking about how nervous she was and trying to see him through the crowd, which was hard, because she wasn't an extraordinarily tall woman.

I remember watching a Gilmore Girls re-run at her house once.  It was the episode where Richard has retired and Emily is freaking out because she isn’t used to being followed around by her husband all day.  Grandma laughed the entire episode, remembering how hard it had been for her to adjust to grandpa’s retirement when he first retired.

I remember watching her and grandpa hold hands.  I loved seeing the pride and love on her face when she showed me the roses he bought her for their anniversary, or the cutting board he’d given her another time.  She loved my grandpa fiercely and unconditionally.  

She probably wasn't perfect, but if you asked me to name one of her faults, I couldn't do it.

I think it somewhat fitting that she died before she was too old to take care of other people.  It would have been so miserable for her to not be able to help people around her.  She epitomized the words of the hymn “Have I Done Any Good” - she did good in the world every day.  She helped those in need, she cheered them, she lightened burdens, she always approached life with an attitude of doing more.  She saw chances and opportunities to help all around her, and she did something about it.  She lived a difficult life at times, but she filled it with hope and with love and with confidence in the Lord.  I will miss her terribly.  I will miss her cooking this Thanksgiving.  I will miss her laughter.  I will miss her sweet singing and unconditional love and confidence in me. 

I can’t be depressed - she’d think I was being ridiculous if I were.  She is in a place where she is surrounded by like-minded people.  She is working hard doing what she always did in this life and spreading the love of Christ wherever she goes.  She is happy.  Like Paul, she finished her course.  She fought her fight, and now there is peace for me (and for her) in her righteous doing.  I am so proud of her.


I love you, Grandma.  

30 March 2015

Blowing the minds of a group of four-year-olds.

I teach four year olds at church right now. It's a bit exhausting, truth be told. I prefer working with older kids and significantly fewer snot bubbles. (Not no snot bubbles. I can be reasonable. But fewer.)  I've always found babies and toddlers cute in an "I'm really glad I can hand them back to their parents" sort of way. I love working with teenagers. I tolerate working with children. It's been a bit of a challenge this time around, especially since I'm new to the area and got swept into working with kids before I really got the chance to know anyone which stinks, and I really liked the adult meetings the three weeks I was able to go to them. Sigh.

But it does come with the occasional perk, because as happy as I am that those kids aren't my full time responsibility, every so often they are so freakishly delightful or funny that I can't help but want to scoop them up and laugh at them. (Yup.  At them.  Man, it's such a mercy to the world that I'm not a parent right now. . .)

Yesterday was one of those days. The plan was a lesson on the Holy Ghost. I started by talking about comfort objects like blankets or people that take care of you like parents and teachers and then asked what they would do if they didn't have their blankets or teddy bears or parents around and they were feeling sad or scared or sick or needed help as a way of prepping them for the serious magic that is the Holy Ghost. "He helps you to feel happy, he helps you when you forget things, he helps you stay out of danger - He's the best! I love the Holy Ghost!" I said enthusiastically.

"So he's a nice ghost?" they asked.

"Well, he's not really a ghost like in the movies. He's a spirit. Sometimes people call him the Holy Spirit instead."

(Clearly this has not cleared up anything.)

"A spirit is someone that doesn't have a body. Isn't that cool?!  The Holy Ghost doesn't have a body, so he can help everyone all at the same time!"

". . . does he have a belly?"

"No, he's a spirit. He doesn't need to eat."

". . . does he have a nose?!!"

"Nope. He doesn't have a nose, because he doesn't have a body. But remember, He can make us feel so good! - "

"- That's FREAKY!"

Freaky. Exact wording. These poor kids. I can only imagine:

"What did you learn today in Primary, Timmy?"

"THE HOLY GHOST IS SCARY, WHY DO YOU MAKE ME GO TO THAT CLASS."

And that, dear friends, is what they talked about during all of coloring time. "But how can you see if you don't have eyes?! Or walk if you don't have feet?!"

Four year old minds: blown.

12 February 2015

Conflict

Many years ago, my grandpa was serving an LDS mission in England.  Near the end of his mission he was hoping to spend some time touring Europe before heading home.  This was the 1950s, after all - travel to Europe was more rare and time consuming.  So my resourceful Grandpa came up with a plan.  He went to his superiors and asked for permission to fly home instead of taking the boat.  He offered to pay the difference in ticket price, but was turned down.  No missionaries flew home at this point.  It just wasn't the way things were done.  Making an exception for my grandpa seemed, perhaps, unfair to everyone else.  I don't know.  Regardless - it was a circumstance under which he could legitimately have decided to whine and complain.  He came up with a solution, didn't he?  What difference did it make?

Not my grandpa.

Grandpa is waaaay too resourceful and smart for that.  So he called the airline company and explained the situation.  There were hundreds of missionaries all over the world in a relatively predictable rotation of traveling.  If the company would consider it, they could cut the church a deal on ticket prices and get a steady stream of commercial travelers crossing both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific.  The company apparently thought this was an awesome deal and the end result was my grandpa getting his tour of Europe and being among the first missionaries to fly home.

Decades later, my mom found out that the high school drama competition line up for the year included a musical theater group doing songs from The Book of Mormon musical.  The musical itself is hotly debated among the LDS community, some saying that it's crass but more or less complimentary and the others saying that no amount of compliment can cover the overt mocking of things that the LDS community holds sacred.

My mom could have emailed the school or called the school or stormed into the school in offense, demanding that the mentor for the group pick a different musical.

Instead she called and asked if she could come in and talk with them about what Mormons really believe.  She went in and answered questions, shared her testimony, and left.  The group still performed, my mom didn't protest or whine or say anything else about it.

A few years later, my sister ends up in a class where the teacher shows a movie that makes her uncomfortable on one of the first days of class.  My parents discussed their concerns with the school, pulled my sister from the class, and moved on with life.

These stories have been pretty striking in my mind recently.

I used to believe that when you were an adult you were blessed with rational, mature behavior.  The ability to discuss conflict, to let things go, to approach disagreement with kindness and the assumption that those who see things differently than you do must have good reasons for doing so.  For acknowledging natural consequences for actions.  I have, of course, since learned that adults by age are not always adults by behavior, and that high school drama doesn't get left behind by graduation.

So excuse the humblebrag for a second, but today I am crazy happy and grateful to have been given so many examples of rational problem solving.  No need to hunt down the other side and continually vilify them.  Maybe I've been watching too much of the news lately.  Maybe it's that teaching is sometimes not only a thankless job but an utterly infuriating one.  Maybe I'm just tired to the point of being more irritated than normal by what I perceive to be irrational behavior.  Whatever the inspiration - I'm glad that I was given examples of individuals who don't back down, but instead find positive and even constructive ways to deal with conflict.  I'm sure there are people who think I'm a complete hypocrite for promoting myself as a mature or rational creature, and there are times when I'm not, but at least I have positive examples in my life to emulate.  Thank goodness for that.


29 January 2015

"Hey, Sexy!", 50 Shades, Leggings, and why I am a feminist.

"Hey, Sexy!"

I was picking something up at the mall after work.  It was winter so I was wearing a coat and scarf and long pants - skinny style khakis, but not crazy skinny.  Aside from wearing a hat, I was as covered proportionally skin wise as anyone could expect a person to be in the Middle East, much less Orem, Utah.  I was putting my purchase and purse in the car when a middle-aged man driving by leaned out his opened window and cat called at me.  "Heeeeey, sexy!" he cooed, clearly entertained.

50 Shades

I was standing in line at Ulta and saw a display for Fifty Shades of Grey inspired nail polish.  There are shades named things like "Romantically Involved" and "My Silk Tie", and the more disturbing "Dark Side of the Mood", "Shine For Me" and "Cement the Deal".  Apparently bondage and dominance and sadism and masochism are glamorous now.

Leggings

My facebook feed has been full of articles on leggings lately.  Apparently leggings (aka. yoga pants sometimes) are the latest hot button topic when it comes to what women should do with their clothing choices.  "They're too tight and too inappropriate in public," says one side.  "Just wear them at home!  In public they are an inappropriate temptation."

"Who cares about my clothing choices?!" says the other side.  "They're comfortable, and they're good for working out, and you should care more about your own clothes than you do mine."


Feminism

Growing up I had an aversion to the idea of feminism.  Culturally, it was the world I was raised in.  A world that told me that, while wanting women to vote was a good thing and equal pay was alright, in general we wanted women to raise children and men to work, and that was the right way to go.  That men and women were equal already and anyone still pursuing the movement were bra-burning nuts who were beating a dead horse and just making a fuss.

Now, to be clear, I don't ever remember anyone in my childhood demonstrating anything that would make me believe otherwise.  My father and mother are amazing examples of mutual love and respect. My grandparents and aunts and uncles are kind and generous to each other.  I think that because I was raised around such wonderful people, I believed that everyone was that lucky.  That I would spend my life treated that way, that my friends would too, and that was the beautiful post 80s world that I lived in.

Then, of course, things didn't turn out all Mrs. Cleaver for me.  I haven't really dated in ages.  (I haven't enjoyed dating, maybe, ever.)  I found a job that I love.  (That I don't want to give up.)  I found myself in that awkward older single life that used to be really unique but is growing in popularity.  (CNN says that five years ago, 43% of the population over 18 in the US was single.)

Being in that world shakes up the expected status quo a bit, and I started noticing some things that bothered me that I hadn't seen before:

1. Twilight culture: A story based on a girl who literally cannot function without her undead boyfriend.  I love a good Disney story as much as anyone else, and I'm not without twitterpated feels over gallant men saving their pretty women when they really need saving - but something about this Twilight thing felt different.  Those damsel in distress stories were often set in a time when women couldn't save themselves entirely.  But the 21st Century?  Really?  And people liked it?

2. A few years ago a student at BYU left a rather passive aggressive note to another student chiding her for wearing clothing that he deemed as having a "negative effect" on men.  The whole thing felt sour to me.  In the time it took for that boy to notice the girl, get attracted to her, and then get mad at her for being attracted to her enough to write her a note, leave it with her, and walk away - he could have just moved on.  She later posted a picture of what she was wearing.  It was cute.  She looked nice.  She didn't look (what I would deem) sexy or alluring or inappropriate.  I've worn things like that to teach in.

3. I started hearing stories of friends who would go jogging on bike trails by the University taking mace or pepper spray with them.  I found out that between 2011 and 2012, instances of rape in Utah went up by 44%.  I thought about all the times I would walk home from class with my keys in my fist, ready to hit at anyone who tried anything on me, tucking my ponytail into a hat or scarf because having long hair alone made me more vulnerable.  Realized that at a University that should, arguably, be one of the safest in the world, I was still scared.

And then the 50 Shades.  And the leggings.  And the cat-calling.

So this is why I'm a feminist. 

I'm a feminist because being cat-called out of a car or in the store or anywhere at all by a random person is not flattering or kind or appropriate.

I'm a feminist because I don't want my sister or my niece or my students or any of the girls I know to think for one second that the only way they are going to get a man is by allowing him to hurt them, physically, mentally, or emotionally.  I don't want them to feel afraid that if they don't let the man do what he wants, he will be less of a man.  I want them to be brave enough to say "No, I don't want that" whether the "that" is a date they aren't interested in, a kiss they don't want, a cereal they don't like, or something much worse.

I'm a feminist because I have respect for the choices of others.  If a person wants to work, stay at home, have ten children, have two children, marry, not marry,  wear pajama pants to Walmart, wear a Speedo to Walmart, wear a suit and top hat to Walmart, wear a ballgown to Walmart - doggonit it is their business.  It is a choice between them and God and if I try and throw myself into that conversation, then I am the one who needs to check my thinking.

I'm a feminist because I believe that in being strong, I help elevate everyone.  I teach boys that strong women are not intimidating or scary, they are interesting.  They are exciting.  They are helpful.  They help lift the burden so often placed on men to be responsible for everything.  They want men to feel welcome in spheres that they were practically banned from a century ago.  Because when women are strong, and men are strong, those strengths do not cancel each other out or forbid each other, they elevate.

I'm a feminist because I was raised to believe that I have divine nature, individual worth, choices that I am accountable for, the responsibility to do good works, to have integrity, faith, (and virtue - thought that was technically added after my time.  But whatever.  It's still good.)

I'm a feminist because although my world may not be all that horribly oppressive (I may get cat called but I can vote and I own my own house and have sole control of the remote and everything!) there are women in the world who are not as blessed as I am.  Women who have no rights, are abused, are abandoned, are mistreated.  It is my responsibility to help make the world better for them.  They are my sisters.

I'm a feminist because I am a human being who believes that all human beings, regardless of gender, deserve to be treated with dignity.  Which means, really, that the term feminist is only half accurate.  What it really means is humanist.  Or personist.  Or justtreateveryonekindlydoggonitist.  Whatever word you want to put there so that you can get the image of bra burning out of your head because I am not burning a bra of mine any time soon.

Oh - and to that guy who cat called at me tonight?


01 January 2015

Where I've Been, Content vs. Encouragement

Looking back at my blog this year I realize that I've done very little writing of consequence.  Even more strangely, I've realized that I wrote a heck of a lot more during the worst part of my year than I did when things actually started going well.  Some of that may be because while I have had a wealth (a wealth) of things to write about, I haven't felt quite ready to.  Or the parties involved other than myself deserve more courtesy than my writing about "the things" in a forum even as semi-(barely) public as this one is.

So I'll confess to being at a bit of a strange crossroads where I find myself with plenty of things I could write about but debating one what to pick and how to go about it.  Some ideas (writing about the quilt my grandma made me, for example) are safe and standard and will probably happen when I feel up to it.  Some are topics that feel already beaten to death in this venue even if there have been new developments in recent months (re: I started taking anti-depressants).  I could write about (and probably will) the saga of my new home-ownership life.  And then there are the things I would desperately like to write about but don't really feel like I should.  What's a girl to do?!

I'll start with something more journalistic, then.  My life, for the time being, needs to settle a bit before I can pick it apart again.

I recently finished teaching The Great Gatsby to one of my classes.  It's a book I'm still learning how to teach - it's a tricky one in part because of the molasses-in-winter writing chewiness but even more so because there are so few people in the story that you don't want to throw out a window by the time all the damage is done.  I persist in teaching it because it fits so well with the curriculum, but also because I'm a bit sadistic and think it's important to expose my coddled, conservative little crew to find value in things that aren't sugar coated.  Gatsby is a book I have to dare my students to love.  Every year I teach it I seem to catch a few more people with it.

One of the reasons I continue teaching the book even though it isn't universally popular is because, without fail, it brings about strong emotion.  I love books that spur passionate response - either positive or negative.  Usually I do my best to step back and allow students to feel those emotions with whatever strength they want.  I tell them, and I mean it, that I really don't care if they like something, but if they learn from it.  (With a book like Gatsby I add that if they leave the book wanting to be like any of the characters, that's when I'm a bit worried.)

Every once in a while I do feel like I need to step in - particularly when that passion is misguided in one way or another.  This time around it's a handful of students appalled with me for assigning such a book because of the way it "condones adultery and alcoholism" and a number of other vices presented in Gatsby.  I nearly grabbed the copies of the books these students had been reading to see if they'd managed to find some strange copy that ended differently than mine had.  Considering that characters involved in said bad behavior end up either dead or thoroughly disgusted by what's happened, I decided it was time to intervene.

There's this phenomenon in conservative culture that often suggests where media is concerned that including "content" (re: immoral behavior in one form or another) means an automatic condoning of said "content".  For example, I recently stumbled on a Facebook post a friend had commented on where the original writer went on a tirade about the recent release of Into the Woods and warned parents everywhere about how sin-filled it is because of adultery and suicide and other things that the writer found objectionable for children to be exposed to.  The writer didn't feel the need to include any information about how the moment of adultery in the story is almost immediately regretted (and some would interpret rather thoroughly punished as well), and that the "suicide" in question is non-existent in the movie and really more of an accident induced by mental illness than anything.  The writer also leaves out the lessons Into the Woods offers about overcoming challenges and being careful about what you wish for and the power of story.  No no - including the content was the same as condoning it, even though anyone who has seen Into the Woods should know otherwise.

That in mind, Into the Woods is more moral than other shows that no one complains about.  Say, Hello Dolly!, which is all about guys seducing and lying to girls just to get a kiss.  And the guys get that kiss and never (so far as we know) get punished for their deception.  They actually get rewarded for it (they get promoted!)  Or what about Aladdin?  Boy lies to get a girl and even after the girl finds out the truth, he gets her.  The lie is rewarded.  Don't get me started on Phantom of the Opera.

The point, then, is that we've got to stop teaching what Dumbledore would call "fear of a name".  The world adultery or sex or violence or slander or whatever other word you want to pick taken out of context means nothing - just some squiggles on a page or screen.  When we teach or encourage fear of something without understanding what it is, we risk lying about what something really promotes or encourages.  Imagine, for example, how easy it would be to list all the awful "content" options in Les Miserables - prostitution and deception, thievery and suicide - it's full of any number of sins.  It's not until you take into context the reason behind each action that you realize that the actions aren't necessarily condoned, but they do need to be understood.

So, dear students, feel free to hate me for giving you Lord of the Flies, or Animal Farm, or The Great Gatsby.  I'm #sorrynotsorry if they make you uncomfortable, mainly because they should make you uncomfortable.  But don't think they're making you uncomfortable because they are condoning what's going on.  Far from it.  You can learn from tragedy.  (The vast majority of you do so every time you read The Book of Mormon, after all, which skips over all the years of happiness.)