Sunday, July 06, 2014

More Observations on PA Living

I lived in Idaho for 18.5 years. Then I lived in Provo for 10 years. We moved to Concord, CA for approximately 1 year, and then proceeded to live in Provo (again) for another 5.5 years.

We have lived in Pennsylvania for 8 months, which means, of course, that I am not an expert. East coast living is different than the West coast (how could it not be?), but it's nothing drastic.

Things I've noticed lately (Oh! And if these are repeats, I'm sorry. I'm just thinking out loud. Also! If I'm totally off my rocker about these observations, then you can let me know. I can take it!):

*The nice driving is sincere. People are polite, use their blinkers, and quite often are happy to let people in. I've never been honked at, cut off, or been sworn at (including rude hand gestures).

*The "God Bless you!" I receive when they hear I have six kids is not as polite as I thought it was. I've begun to realize that it is a thickly veiled way of saying, "You are completely insane, and you definitely God's blessings to help you through all of that crazy!" It's thickly veiled (not thinly) because they're so good at making you think they admire you!

*Beach trips are not day-trips. They are for at least 3-7 days, and it's up in the air as to whether Jersey, Delaware, or even Maryland is the best destination. Everyone has their favorite place!

*The bugs are out of control! Holy BUGS! Everywhere! All kinds! The fireflies are my favorite, and they almost make up for the rest.

*Humidity is of the devil. I don't mind a little bit of humidity --like, Hawaii-type humidity, but this is ridiculous, people! It truly feels like you are walking into the hot shower. Fully clothed.

*Church is the same, but not the same. Diversity? Much more. Languages, races, cultures --you name it, we probably have it. Off the top of my head, just today, I talked with people from Paraguay, Haiti, Korea, and England. Many did not grow up in the church; several are converts as adults. Living the gospel here takes work because nobody in your neighborhood would ever notice if you didn't go. It takes nearly 30 minutes (one way) to get to church, and our youth/primary is small (30 Primary kids, 15 youth). Most kids are the only Mormons in their schools (like my elementary kids), and every choice to participate is a conscious one. My daughter said, "I'm glad we moved, if only so I got this chance to really find out if the church is true. It has been so good for my testimony because now I have to be so strong!"

*It's impossible not to grow plants. Plants grow on plants! The struggle is cutting the growth back --no worries in keeping things alive! There are no sprinklers. Very few hoses. Nobody has to water their grass, because of the rain. For example, the other day I had left the little kiddie pool on the grass for a few days. It killed the grass. Bummer! So we moved it, and within 48 hours, the grass is almost completely grown back. Fireworks for 4th of July? We did some of them right in the grass. This is just so strange to me, coming from a desert!

*Education. They take it very seriously, here. There's a reason the school districts around here (the greater southeastern PA area) are so incredible --competition. And why? Is it Ivy League country? Tradition of excellence? East coast competitive attitude? Probably all three. But this means my kids are getting a pretty good education, and I like it.

*There's a lack of excellent Mexican food, Thai food, and Chinese food. Not that there aren't some good choices! Just... very few. Now, if you want excellent Italian, American, or Indian? There you go!

*Pronunciations are so funny. I love hearing the "Joisey" accent! "Water" is "wooder" and "Lancaster" is "Lane-custer." But when they say "Ne-vahda" and "Colorah-do," I totally freak out a little.

*Water ice is awesome. We know it as "slushees" in the West, but it's still not quite the same as it is here. Just as a snow cone could never be as awesome as shave ice!

*You cannot escape any form of Revolutionary War History. Nor do you want to! But it is seeped into everything here, and how could it not be? The birth of our nation happened 40 minutes east of my house, and the war took place right where my house stands. Some of these homes and churches have been here since then, and you can't throw a stone without hitting something registered in the historical society! It's just how it is and I love it.

And that is all. It's been an exhausting few weeks, and I will report on it and provide photos later. For now, enjoy your beautiful Sabbath! Happy July and all that jazz!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Doing the Best I Can

Nothing but a lot of long-winded navel-gazing to follow. You've been warned. 

I sometimes look at my life and wonder just how the heck I got here. Time has sped up and when my 13 year old (13 year old?!!?) asks me questions about politics or religion, I think to myself, "wasn't I just teaching her how to tie her shoes?" and then I am grateful she is inquisitive and willing to hash things out.

This morning I was facing a stressful few days because first of all, Brandon is out of town, #1 is out of town, and #2 came down with a raging fever. That left four boys for me to mother (mother my own children? Wha??) and to top it off, my FIL is coming this weekend and that means guest-mode. We're also hoping to take the kids to the beach on Saturday (because driving to the beach on a Saturday with all the rest of PA makes sense) and tomorrow I have to go pick up girls from Girl's Camp (nice big van of ours is helpful). I'm willing and happy about all of these things --but it does make my life that much harder.

The laundry has multiplied this week, the boys are stir-crazy (because it's so hot), and #6 has figured out how to destroy pretty much everything. I mean, I cannot leave him alone for even 5 seconds! When I think about it, I realize all of my boys have been like this. My girls were not nearly as curious, and I'm not sure why. But man alive, my boys are destructive! I truly don't believe they do it on purpose; they are just trying to learn about the world around them.

I'm exhausted this summer; it's been rough. But I'm determined to be a better mother this summer than I was this past winter, when the demons of darkness had pulled me into their clutches and spent most of it in a self-hatred haze and my children learned how to just survive on their own. I'm pushing myself to be more consistent with discipline, and I'm trying to be more firm with rules and consequences. Let's be honest: the therapy and medication have been life-savers and is making this possible.

It's not easy. I have a lot to recover from and a lot to re-teach. I've been humiliated by some words well-meaning family members said to me about my mothering, and I wish they could understand that I am just doing the best I can. My job isn't to create perfect children and to be perfect at everything. My job is just to improve a little each day --and I am. I'm getting better, my kids are getting better, and we're doing just fine. The house always gets clean, the kids are learning responsibility, and they are learning how the world works. It may take a while, I may fail a lot, but we're all trying. That is the point, eh?

Sometimes I look at my kids and I feel nothing but frustration and impatience. It's so hard to teach them to work and to get along with others! But then other days, even in the midst of disobedience or tantrums, I am able to see my children the way God sees them, I can see their enormous and beautiful spirits trying to dwell in such tiny tabernacles. There are times, honestly, when I look into my children's eyes, and I see such eternal beauty. I see all of their potential, I see everything they are, were, and will be. And it takes my breath away! Why was I chosen to be the one to help guide these incredible souls towards God, towards happiness, towards there own futures? The weight of that responsibility is something I feel every single day of my life. For 13+ years, I have been acutely aware of my role and how I can have such an integral influence upon these tiny lives.

It's overwhelming sometimes. Other times, it's just plain awesome.

For example, we've struggled with #3 a lot because of his auditory disorder (misophonia). Lately, however, I have seen a maturing in him that has turned my prayers from pleading to thanking. He has learned to work hard, and he's learning to not shun it like he used to. Yesterday, we had a great experience about this. It kind of went like this:

I was teaching him a piano lesson. I asked him to play a piece, just to see if his level was still where it was (we haven't had a lesson for about 6 months). He couldn't play it perfectly, and so he got really upset (another thing he struggles with), began to cry and yell. I wouldn't let him leave and I didn't back down. He said he didn't want to learn piano (a lie, because he told me many times he wanted to) and I called his bluff. He calmed down and I finally said, "Look, I know you want to learn to play the piano. I know you can learn this piece. It's okay that you don't know it right now! This week, when nobody is in the room, when you have time to figure out the notes on your own, you will be able to learn it. That's what practicing is for! You will figure it out, and next week you will play it perfectly for me." He finally agreed and we ended the lesson.

This morning, he sat down without complaint and practiced it.

He's also mowing our lawn (1 acre) with a push mower (#2 splits the lawn with him). He takes care of his younger brothers. He cleans toilets, does dishes, changes laundry, and takes responsibility of taking the garbage and recycling out to the curb each week. He can change diapers, and he often comes up with fun things to do with his siblings. He loves to explore and learn new things about science and nature. He has friends, he asks questions (we had the "sex" talk once because he felt comfortable coming to me to ask questions), and he's the one we call when bugs and spiders are in the house. He may have anger issues, he may struggle a lot with his auditory disorder, but he is a wonderful son. I get so emotional when I think about how grateful I am that God sent him to us!

And days like this, when I'm behind on the housework, when the kids are sluggish and would rather just sit and be as lethargic as I'd like to be, I remind myself that not all things are as important as other things. At this moment, we are listening to beautiful piano music, #2 is reading (always), #3 and #5 are watching old cartoons on my phone, #6 is watching learning videos on the iPad, #4 is rummaging around in the kitchen, and I'm typing up this blog post. The thunderstorm last night has cooled things down outside just a bit, and I'm still smiling about positive conversations I've had recently, about new friends, about old friends, and making a decision about what beach to go to this weekend. Life could certainly be more productive at this moment, but it could also be much worse. I'm feeling peace right now. I'm not going to disturb it for a while.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Links to People Who Explain It Better Than I Do: Ordain Women, Excommunication, and Prophets

I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Mormons (nickname). I love my Church and I'm proud to be a member --more than that, I'm proud to be a woman in the Church. I truly believe that the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is found in the organization of my church, that the doctrines of salvation are provided through the ordinances the Church provides. The gospel of Christ means everything to me!

For eight years, I've been following blogs and discussions online about feminism and Mormon women; At times (mostly at first) I've been right in the fray and most recently (since 2010?) I've just hid out on the fringes. I'm part of an LDS women's faith forum online that encourages us to share the gospel through social media, I used to edit (and helped create) a website purely discussing Mormon women, and I find myself constantly aware of all that is going on in Mormon feminist circles (although not as thoroughly as I once did).

There's been a lot of media attention upon some members of my church and especially upon a new organization called Ordain Women. This is a group of women (and men) who desire for all worthy females to be ordained to offices of the Priesthood. Only worthy male members may be ordained to the offices of the Priesthood in my Church. (I don't know if I've written about this? I've been avoiding it on purpose and have left my comments to Facebook). I saw this coming back in 2007. It did not surprise me at all, although I was surprised at how quickly they gained a following. I guess it shouldn't have, since they've been building this following since the '90's. Perhaps the '70's, if we were to go back further...? But I digress.

One of their most prominent leaders was recently excommunicated from our church. She claims she is devastated (I don't doubt it), and I'm not here to question her pain. I know why the Church did it (she's provided all the letters from her local leaders to the media) and I understand why they did. There is no mystery or secret, here. It's written plainly in those letters, church letters to OW, and many news releases from the church.

The gist is this (I'm simplifying for time): Members of our religion are absolutely allowed to question things, to ask questions, to seek counsel, to seek personal revelation, to seek answers, to work through hard things, to repent, to apply the Atonement of Christ to better their lives and rid themselves of sin. Christ restored His church through a 14 year old boy who took the time to ask a question! We love questions! However, we are not allowed to create organizations to protest the Church, to refuse the answers given by prophets with more protests, and to tell prophets they are wrong about the revelation they have received for the whole church. OW has done this, though. They have received the answers from the prophets/apostles and were asked to stop protesting. They didn't stop. Instead, they vamped up their media coverage, staged more protests, and began proselyting to gain more members.

For a better understanding about how this works (or should work), please read the following blog posts. They do a much, much better job than I do at explaining all of the nuances and details and frustrations of OW, excommunication in general, and why Prophets and Apostles are the only ones who make the decisions for the whole church.

At the end is a link to a video from one of our women leaders requesting kindness in the wake of this. Trust me, dear reader, I'm not gloating over the excommunication. I've seen excommunication in my life, and even though it can be a very merciful thing (releasing one from the responsibilities and consequences of breaking covenants), it is devastating and overwhelmingly hard --for the one excommunicated and for their loved-ones. I do not wish this on people who love the gospel. I don't want people to leave the Church. I've been accused of it in the past, and I need to set the record straight: I want people to stay and to do exactly what the rest of us are doing: learning, growing, and trying. Not one of us is perfect, not one of us is without questions or pain.

Mormonism, Feminism, and Being Snarky 

The Mormon Controversy and Why It's Hurting More Than Feminists 

Why I Love Church Disciplinary Councils

Finding Simple Truths Amid Chaos

What Next? How to Move Forward From Excommunication

Sister Oscarson video (it's short, about a minute)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Let the Summer Begin!

Nana came to visit! It was a last-minute trip and I am the worst because I forgot to take pictures! I think it's because we didn't go do anything "big," but preferred to just hang out and spend time together. Nana brought games/puzzles for all the kids and they got to spend one-on-one time with her. We went to the park, out to dinner, did chores at home, went to church, and one night Brandon and the boys took her on a walk by the creek. She was only here for a few days, but we were so glad she came to visit!

(where we had dinner one night)

Oh, wait... here's one picture! She got to go with Brandon to the 7th grade awards assembly and see #1 receive 3 awards. Whoever took the photo didn't do a very good job. :(

Father's Day! No pictures, but it wasn't super epic or anything. Brandon has Bishopric meetings that morning, so we celebrated after church. The kids make him cards and gave him the first 6 original Star Trek movies, and then we had a Mexican Nacho Bar. Okay, I just made that up --it was just nachos/tacos, whatever. A favorite! We love Brandon and he's a great dad! My friend gave this card to her husband for Father's Day and now I wish I had gotten for Brandon --because it's true! (The only thing I would add is "and raise them!"):

#2 "graduated" from 5th grade! It was a fun and simple ceremony. When #1 had her awards assembly, I stayed with the little boys so he could go; this time he stayed with the little boys so I could go to this. It was a lot of fun!

The kids found a turtle in our grass. Since he had quite a ways to go, they helped him out and took him to where he was headed (the trees and water).

We got a badminton set! Now the kids cannot complain about boredom, ever. Ev. Er. We have the trampoline, a soccer net, badminton, friends, trees, a little playhouse for #6, and we even bought a hose (there wasn't one with the house) so we can do slip n' slides down the hill --real ones, unlike the make-shift one #1 and her BFF did for the kiddos on their last day of school (which was so nice!):

Saturday (June 21) was a crazy day. The kids were NOT being cooperative with chores, and I was so exhausted from having to deal with their moody Summer attitudes (I think this is a thing? End of school attitudes that are just tired of working at all? Summer Solstice?), so I sent Brandon a text while he was getting the oil changed on the van:

But they rallied, I rallied, Brandon was super supportive and led the kids well, and so by 3PM, we were able to go do something fun: swim in Ridley Creek! This was where Brandon had brought his mom and the boys last week, and since they had had so much fun, Brandon wanted us all to go. This time, they brought goggles and instead of just wading around, they decided to go for a swim! Clothes and all! We went to two different spots on the trail loop and the kids had the time of their lives! And the weather was perfect for it; it was truly a beautiful place to be. So, of course, I took loads of photos:

Our Sensational Spectacular Super Summer (I always forget what I call it) is underway! We started this morning and it went well. There was essay writing and Pennsylvania history learning and it only took about 1 1/2 hours. Tomorrow #1 goes to girl's camp and Brandon is in Nashville for the week, so things will be a bit different, but I'm determined to see this all through! For example, we are supposed to be up reading scriptures at 7:30AM and when I woke up at 8:06AM, I didn't panic --just got the kids up and we read. Easy peasy!

And that is all! For now!