Thursday, June 23, 2011

A first

In my almost seven years of teaching, I have been to many outside events of students. I have been to happy occassions (baby showers, Courts of Honors, Mission farewells, etc). I have been to too many sad occassions; funerals of students who have died too young. I have seen my students become mothers and fathers. I have seen them graduate from college.

But tonight was a first for me. Tonight, I went to the wedding of a student. What a wonderful first experience this was for me.

This particular student did things the right way. She has never had a baby, and she is not pregnant. She got married because she is in love. They got engaged, planned a wedding, and tonight they will spend their first night living together before going off on their honeymoon this week.

Even though she is young she knew what was right for her. She and her new husband knew that they wanted to get married. They knew that it was right for them. They were ready to start their lives together, and they wanted to do it right.

So tonight, I watched as a beautiful young woman was walked down the aisle by her father, who then placed her hand in her groom's hand. I watched as they both tearfully thanked their parents for raising them and supporting them. I watched as these two young people turned to each other and vowed to love and cherish one another. I watched as they exchanged rings and whispered the words that would bind them. I watched as they were declared man and wife, and kissed each other to seal the wedding.

It is moments like these that remind me what it means to be a teacher. I was one of two teachers she invited. One of two teachers she said made a difference in her life. This was a first for me; a first that I will never forget for many reasons. The wedding had a theme that only 18 year olds could get away with. The bride was quirky in a way that only she is. The wedding was true to who the bride and groom are. And I am grateful to have been a part of it.

Even on summer vacation, today was a good teacher day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I want to attend Elder's Quorum.

I have decided that I want to start attending Elder’s Quorum. I don’t want the Priesthood. I want to be a part of the Priesthood discussions.

Let me explain.

Yesterday, my husband and I were talking about our respective lessons in RS and EQ. The topic was on Eternal Families. In RS the answers to the questions presented were “prayer, family scripture study, church attendance, service, family home evening.” These are the standard answers I have come to expect from the women in my ward. Of course these answers are accompanied by specific examples of what each family does to shine in these respective topics.

You know the answers, “For our family home evening, we each pick a service buddy for the week. Then each of us has to do an act of service for our “buddy”. We pray about what service we can offer and then go about and offer the service without complaint. It has made our family so much closer. My children are perfect angels who never disobey and they hug each other all the time. We get up at 430 every morning and the children are SO excited for family scripture study. It makes everyone’s day that much better!”

Okay, so I am exaggerating A BIT…But the answers are still the same. The women put on their perfect make-up and tap shoes and dance around the truth in their lives. They say what they think should be said, regardless of whether it is 100% truthful. As long as each woman is perceived as the perfect, righteous, Mormon wife, life in RS is good.

I disagree. Life in the RS room is a big fat lie.

Elder’s Quorum is different. I told my husband what the wives said in RS, and his response, “BULLS***! Their husbands are in EQ and the women are lying.”

He went on to say how the men talk about the fact that their families are all horrible (on different levels) when it comes to family prayer, family scripture study, and family home evening. He said their discussion( yes discussions!) focus on topics that go deeper than the “Primary answers”. They briefly talk about how they rarely do FHE, and when they do, it is a struggle. They talk about how family prayer happens most of the time, but never at the same time or in the same place. They talk about how finding a time for everyone to be home to do this is nearly impossible, and that getting up at 430 am makes everyone mad! Then they stop talking about these topics. They move on.

I am jealous. When talking about Eternal Families, the men talk about things the women would never even think of bringing up. For example, when discussing how to be an example to children one of the men said, “It is important to show my children how much I love their mother. I have to show affection to my wife.” This is a standard answer. A nice answer, but what makes it great is that they took a comment and turned it into a discussion! They talked about physical affection in a marriage and why it is important. I am sure, because my husband did not deny it when I asked, that my husband commented that he does playfully grab my butt when he hugs me. My children see this, and they see us smiling and laughing while hugging. They see that we are in love. The men agreed that their children need to see a level of physical intimacy between their parents. Nothing gross: A kiss, a hug, a playful grab. They need to see their parents in love, both intellectually, spiritually, and physically!

In a later conversation the men talked about sex. They discussed the blessing, yes blessings of marriage. And one of those blessings is sex. One man said that one of the best blessings in his life is that he has only been with his wife. Another man agreed. They talked about how they married their best friends. They honor their best friends. Their men talk about how that example is what makes the biggest impact on their children’s views of families. Again, they did not go into any sort of detail about sex, but they did talk about it as a part of marriage.

In EQ they discuss, they share; they are not embarrassed to speak their own truths. They are not embarrassed to discuss their own shortcomings. In RS, we don’t discuss. One person teaches and has to pull teeth to get a discussion going. And even then the discussion centers around the “Primary answers.” Don’t get me wrong, the “Primary answers” are important, but deeper discussion beyond these answers is a pretty powerful learning tool as well.

So now, as a RS teacher, I have to figure out how to get these women to take off their make-up and remove their tap shoes, and quit dancing around the truths in the room! We are all imperfect and we can learn more from each other’s unspoken imperfections than from each other’s spoken perfection.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day...

Today, more than other days, I get to celebrate the man I married. I am grateful that he is the father of my sons. This is my Happy Father's Day to my wonderful husband.

My sons are so lucky to have their dad. He supports them in everything they do and he loves doing it. There is nothing in the world more important to my husband than raising his sons. He tells them and shows them how much he loves them. He is my sons' hero. They look up to him in everything they do. They look to him as their example in so many things. He laughs with them and he laughs at them. There are so many things about the father-son relationships that I do not get, but my heart is always warmed when I see my sons and their dad together. My sons tell him everything, and even though I am a bit jealous by that fact, I am grateful that my sons are so close to their dad. They admire him. They want to be like him. They love him. I love them all!

My wonderful husband is compassionate. He teaches my sons how to serve.

My wonderful husband is a gentleman. He has taught my sons how to treat their mother and all other girls.

My wonderful husband is funny. He teaches my sons to laugh at themselves.

My wonderful husband has integrity. He teaches my sons that who they are matters more than what they do.

My wonderful husband is faithful. He teaches my sons to trust in Heavenly Father.

My wonderful husband is kind. He teaches my sons to offer kind words to everyone they meet.

My wonderful husband is grateful. He teaches my sons to be grateful for the things they have, and to share what they have with others.

My wonderful husband honors his Priesthood. He teaches my children what is means to be a son of God. He teaches them what it means to be responsible.

My wonderful husband is a wonderful father. He teaches my sons what it means to be a man, what it means to be a human being. He teaches my sons everything that a good father teaches his sons. He teaches them so much more than I can ever write. He teaches by word, by deed, by example, by love.

I am grateful for my children's father.

Happy Father's Day to my sweetheart!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father's Day

This may be a little scattered, but that is kind of how I feel about my dad.

Let me start out by saying that I love my dad. I may not always like him, but I always love him. My relationship with my dad has always been complicated. I was the one daughter he never could figure out. I was the daughter who never wanted to be home, who couldn't wait to go to college, and who did well in school without being asked. He struggled with my independence. He didn't like it, and he always let me know it. Tension in our relationship has always been there; everyone felt it, my mom, my sisters, my friends, my husband.

I lived the majority of my childhood in fear of what my dad was going to say to me. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved my older sisters. He was always doing nice things for them, complimenting them, or catering to their every whim. With me, it was different. I never knew. I still don't always know.
I can count on one hand the number of times he has said he loves me. Less times that he has said he is proud of me, even when I won two state and one national teaching award. He didn’t come to my college graduation (for my BA and my MA), even though I was the first person in the history of my entire family to get either degree. It took him months to meet his grandsons after they were born, even though we live an hour away from each other.

People have tried to tell me this is a generational thing; that people from his generation just don't say "I love you." They show love by providing rather than telling. I would happily buy this argument were in not for the fact that he did show and tell his love to my sisters. I was the exception. I said before that years ago my dad told me that he had to be critical of me to compensate for how my mother treated me. The fact that my mom "favored" me made him feel that he had to put me down. That it was necessary to keep things "fair" in my family. He not say this as a way of explanation or apology, rather as just a fact of what needed to happen in my life.

We have different priorities, different attitudes, and different values. But, now my dad is dying, and that makes the feelings I have for him way more complicated than I could have ever imagined.

As I get older my perspective on my dad has changed. It does not change my childhood, but it does change how I look at my dad. I never truly understood how poor my family was until I went away to college. And even then, I only vaguely understood.

My dad is one of the hardest working father's I have ever seen. He worked hard to buy a house and make it a nice place to live, in spite of lack of money. He loved my mother, in spite of all of their problems. My dad never let us know when things were tough. He continued providing the best way he knew how; he worked wherever he could, doing whatever was asked of him.

 I knew there were times when money was tight, but I never realized the extent of the difficulties until I looked through them through the lens of an adult. There was always food on the table (even though now I know that sometimes is was government subsidized). He always found money to support any extracurricular activity one of his daughters wanted to do. He always provided us ways to earn money to go out with our friends. I don't know how he did it, but he seemed to always find a way. He never complained about what he provided for my sisters; however, when it came to me, he always complained and said he was only doing it to make my mother happy.

My dad doesn't understand me, but I don't understand him either.

He doesn't understand why I want my children to have more than I did. He thinks what I had was "good enough" and that I should be happy with that. He doesn't understand that I want my children to know that they can be anything they want; that I want them to be better than I am.

I don't understand why he is more supportive of my sons than he ever was of me. I don't understand it, but I am so grateful for it. I am grateful that my sons know a different man than I did growing up. I don't understand how he can continue to insult me even though he knows it always end with my leaving earlier than planned.

My dad is dying. There is a very real possibility that he will not survive the year. This knowledge makes things more complicated, but at the same time makes the time I have with him more meaningful.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mother's Day (late)

I did not write about Mother's Day on this blog because my feelings for my mom are so close to my heart, I struggle to find the right words to express them. I love my mom. She is my hero, and even though in recent years I have learned things about her past that have been shocking, I find myself understanding the decisions she made. She made some of her decisions out of desperation and others out of hope. Sheer hope to be a better person and provide a better life for her children. Would I make the decisions that she made? Probably not, but I was raised by her. I was raised by a woman who lived through desperate situations so I would not have to. I was raised by a woman who sacrificed everything for her children so they would never have to sacrifice such things. I saw the pain in her eyes as she fought to forget parts of her past. I saw the regret in her eyes when parts of the past came back to her. Some she cherished and others she ran away from.

I am the woman I am because of my mother. Others may look at her and judge her harshly for her past. I look at her past as a victory. In her first 25 years of life she endured more than most people endure in 70 years of life. She sacrificed more than I will ever truly comprehend. But, most importantly, she survived. Her survival has not been without cost or scars, but she is still here. Still fighting the ghosts of her past while trying to live in the present.

I don't always agree with my mother (more recently than ever before), but I love her more than I can ever express. I am grateful for everything she has done for me. There has never been a day in my life that I do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt how much my mother loves me.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lessons I am learning

I am learning that I am the kind of person, for whatever reason, not everyone likes. I am too confident. I am too bold. I speak my mind when maybe I shouldn't. I am not always the nicest person. I am not social enough. I am too social. I am a perfectionist and because of that I work to be successful at everything I do.

I am learning, actually struggling, to be okay with that.

I am learning that I need to not worry about what other people think, and worry most about what I think and whether I am happy with myself.

I am learning that I should smile more. And laugh more.

I am learning that in spite of being strong, and tough, and that I can portray to the world that the little things don't bother me, and that the things that people say and the things that people do and the meanness of people don't get to me, I am learning that they get to me a lot more than I let on. I am trying, but I am struggling.

I am learning that I care more about what other people think than I let on, and I want to be the person again who doesn't care what other people think. Who only cares about what I think and what the people who mean the most to me think.

I am learning that all my life I have been a person, that for one reason or another, people target something that they don't like about me and exploit it and make it a big deal. Whether it is my own family, people who know me, or even people who don't know me, it seems that someone finds a quality about me that he/she does not like and I become an easy target. I am learning to ignore this.

I am learning to not worry so much about it.

I am learning to be myself and to be happy. I am trying to not let it get to me. Right now, today, on June 11, 2011, I am not succeeding.

But I am trying to learn.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unexpected Part 2

My dad and I have never been close. We have rarely seen eye to eye on anything. In spite of my personal, academic, and professional successes, he has been critical of me my entire life. I can count the number of times he has said he loves me on one hand. The number of times he has said he is proud of me is less than that. When I became the first person in my entire family to graduate college, he wasn't there. When I then went on to be the first (and only) person in my family to get my Master's degree, he wasn't there. He has insulted me more times than I care to remember.

Years ago, he told me that he had to be critical of me to compensate for how my mother treated me. The fact that my mom "favored" me made him feel that he had to put me down. That it was necessary to keep things "fair" in my family. My dad not say this as a way of explanation or apology, rather as just a fact of what needed to happen in my life. (Never mind that my mother never said any of the things that he said to me to my sisters. She was supportive of all of us in different ways. I am not blind; I knew she favored me, but she never put my sisters down in order to lift me up. She just supported me more than she supported them.) My dad, on the other hand, always put me down in order to lift up my sisters. He still does this.

But I digress.

 I never thought I would take my dad's side over my mom's side. The scars he inflicted are present, even though I don't like to admit it. My mom has always received the benefit of my doubt, so when I took his side over hers, I was stunned.

My dad is old. Really old. He has defied medical wisdom for decades and still continues to do so.  People who treat their body the way he has treated his usually die before age 60. But not my dad. He is pushing 80. He is not going strong. He is sick, and his body has started shutting down. I love my dad, and it is so hard to watch this happen. Every time I see him, he looks that much closer to death. That is hard to write and even harder to see.

He is not going down without a fight, though. He goes to the doctor (different doctors for different things) about twice a month. There is one fight that he is losing; he is going blind. He does fine at home where nothing has moved in 30 years. He can take care of himself there; however, there is one thing that he absolutely cannot do. He cannot drive anymore. This is a difficult situation for him to be in. He prides himself of his independence. His driver's license was not taken away from him; he chose to stop driving. To him, he stopped driving on his terms. The problem is obvious; he cannot drive himself to his appointments. He can't drive himself anywhere. He actually needs help on this one thing.

My mom should be driving him. She won't. She flat out refuses to drive him to his appointments. I talked to her about this a few months ago. I thought it was beyond ridiculous that I had to tell her that she needed to drive him wherever he needed to go, especially the doctor's appointments. (For crying out loud, SHE IS HIS WIFE! They have been married almost half a century! Why on Earth does she need to be reminded of this???) But after our conversation, she told me that she would start driving him.

My dad did not know of my conversation with her.

I went to see them a couple of weeks ago  (I live in about 90 minutes away), and as I was driving my dad to my sister's house, he told me that he didn't know what to do. He has doctor's appointments and my mother flat out refuses to drive him. She said it is just too inconvenient for her. My sister works full time and can't take him all of the time. He said he didn't want to be a burden on anyone, but he was at his wits end. My heart broke and anger spilled out.

My dad may have his faults, but he always provided for my mom. He drove her to work at 3am when she was afraid to drive in the snow. He paid off her credit card bills when she didn't understand how she got in that much debt. He may not have been the most pleasant about the money situation, but he did it.

Now I can only imagine how difficult it is for her to watch her husband's health decline, but I am frustrated that she is not even trying to help him. I love my mother, but she is wrong. She needs to do this for him. He is not asking for a lot. He is asking for her to drive him to the doctor. To show him compassion. To swallow her own fear and take care of her husband.

So now, here I sit, angry at my mother and taking the side of my father. Who knew?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Unexpected. Part 1

I have always been my mom's biggest ally, and she has always been the one person in my family that stood by me no matter what. She was always the one who supported me and sacrificed whatever she could to make my dreams a reality. She supported my dancing, my academics, my college decision, and even my choice to abandon her Catholic roots and join the Mormon church. Even if she did not understand my choices, she always supported me. Even if she could not help me, financially or otherwise, she always cheered for me.

Likewise, I always supported her; even when I didn't know that I was.

As a four year old little girl, I vividly remember my mom coming into my room crying telling me she was leaving my dad. I also vividly remember her packing my bag telling me that I was coming with her. I knew I was. There was never a choice. If she was leaving so was I.

This situation, in several different scenarios, played out countless times throughout my childhood, adolescence, and even in my adulthood. As an adult, I was not going to physically go with her when she said she was going to leave my dad, but I always knew that if she left him, I was on her side. I was always her ally.

Now, she never really left my dad. She did not have anywhere to go, and even if she did, my dad always disabled the car so she could not leave. I learned this as a four year old little girl while sitting in the car in the driveway. Mom in the drivers seat, me in the passenger seat, bags in the backseat, and keys in the ignition. The car wouldn't start, but we stayed there for hours. I knew this because my sisters would come outside and mark the time for me.

My mom never left. My parents always found a way around their problems. Never really solving them, just finding a way to live through them.

It was not until I was an adult that I understood the dysfunction of my family, but that is an entirely different post.

Like I said, I ALWAYS took my mom's side. My dad and I have always had a tumultuous relationship at worst, and a strained relationship at best. Considering my childhood memories are that of my mother's unconditional love and support and my dad's criticism and insults,  it has never been difficult to take her side over his.

I never thought I would see the day where I would take my dad's side over my mom's. Never. Not in a million years. Never.

I was wrong.