Saturday, December 27, 2008

December 27th, 2008

Well, we managed to get out the door! The lead up to leaving almost killed me... and subsequently my family. I kind of went OCD cleaning the house... wiping, dusting, vacuuming, straightening, sorting through, chucking out, boxing up, and so on. I was a machine that, if interrupted, could spontaneously lash out in a wild frenzy... In the end, the house got clean and the kids learned to let ticking time bombs simmer quietly on their own.

Our journey began when a few of our neighbours came by to see us off while we loaded our suitcases and backpacks into two vans. It was so nice to see family and friends as we headed out, knowing 'home' is where we belong.

First stop was the Victoria ferry terminal. In a rather obvious spectacle, all seven of us, toting a total of 9 suitcases and 7 backpacks, weaved our way to the ticket booth to purchase our ferry passes. As we waited our turn, a kind woman approached me and asked me if all these kids were ours. When I replied that they were, she handed me three ferry passes and wished me a Merry Christmas! She had over-purchased the number of tickets she needed, and looking at our train of people, felt compelled to turn her misfortune into an act of kindness. What a wonderful way to start this adventure... being reminded of the goodness of mankind.

When the ferry docked, we hopped aboard a Pacific Coast Line bus which took us to the Vancouver Airport. We were early for our flight, so the airport was rather quiet and our check-in was straightforward. The younger kids seemed most excited about going through the airport security and passing through the metal detector. “What about the metal on my pant zipper?”, “What about the metal on my button?”. They seemed reassured to hear that most people have metal on their pants and somehow can still keep their pants on and take a flight simultaneously. Again, security was a rather simple experience with everyone passing through without complication (aside from a minor backpack search for mom... “Sorry about the juice box, sir”).

With so little hold-ups and weather that co-operated, we arrived at our boarding gate with a few hours to spare. It was time to bust out the snacks and games... We also took the opportunity to give the kids a quick lecture on appropriate and inappropriate (read felony) jokes when you're in an airport or on a plane, and how the repercussions of ignoring our advice could dramatically alter their trip plans... forever...

And here we wait... Rich is reading a magazine, Ryan is watching a show in his iPod touch, Michael is reading an Archie comic, Matthew is snacking and playing on his Nintendo DS, Emily is snacking and watching the news on the airport TV, and Jillian is engaging every human being in our little area, sharing family secrets with perfect strangers, making friends and showing off her sticker earrings. I've managed to kill off an hour trying to write this blog entry, in between making sandwiches, fishing Jilly out from under some seats, and mediating a game of “Guess Who”. Life is good.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Philosophy 290 Mid-term Essay

Philosophy 290
Death and Dying

At the opening of Chapter II in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy characterizes Ivan's life as “simple” and “ordinary”, and goes on to suggest that because of this fact, Ivan's life was the “most terrible”. In this paper, I will refer to Michael de Montaigne to refute this position.

According to Montaigne in his essay, That To Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die, there are three things we should do in order to be able to extract meaning from life. First, we should live without regrets. Second, we should seek happiness in our day to day activities. And finally, as we transcend our fear of our inevitable death, we no longer need to distract ourselves from that inevitability and therefore are more able to embrace life's reality moment by moment. I will explore each of these points and contrast them with the “most terrible”, “simple” and “ordinary” life of Ivan Ilyich.

To the outside observer, Ivan appeared to carve out a comfortable life for himself, counting a middle-class home, a wife and children, and a respected career among his successes. He performed the way someone in his social and professional position should, trying to avoid unnecessary attention. Ivan's life initially appeared to be without obvious regrets. However, as the story unfolds, regrets abound.

Ivan strained to appear wealthy enough to merit the lifestyle which he felt he deserved. He regretted the marriage he had entered into rather casually, a decision that ended up cramping his life. He turned his nose up at local medical doctors when he began to have health challenges. Only those who had “celebrity” status were good enough for him. Ivan spent the balance of his life stretching for something always beyond his grasp, unsatisfied with his own lot in life. These regrets were a large part of the torment that he languished in as he prepared to die, climaxing in the moment when he finally understood he had misspent his entire lifetime, thus creating the ultimate regret and the most painful sting before death. Had Ivan “settled” for a more simple and ordinary life, seeking less for what he did not have and valuing more of what he did, much of the turmoil that infected his life and those connected to him could have been calmed as he lived and finally prepared to die.

According to Montaigne, “... I am at all hours as well prepared as I am ever like to be, and death, whenever he shall come, can bring nothing along with him I did not expect long before. We should always, as near as we can, be booted and spurred, and ready to go, and, above all things, take care, at that time, to have no business with any one but one's self.” If we live a life that is mindful, making conscious decisions rather than weakly plodding through, we can approach life and subsequently, death, with a conscious void of regret. This is, according to Montaigne, one of the tools through which we create meaning in life, and thus meaning in death.

Another look into Ivan's life and we see that he lived an existence full of preoccupations and muted bliss. He could have been lapping from the very bowl of the deepest pleasures life had to offer, but instead of recognizing and enjoying that moment, he busied his mind with the distracting chatter of anticipating what better thing might come next, or what better thing he may be missing out on that very moment. By not living in that one moment and recognizing the value of what lay right before him, the best of life slipped through his fingers as he reached out his hand to grope around for something more. When the current moment is all we really have in life, to mindlessly surrender that, our only true possession, is to invite meaningless into our lives.

Montaigne spoke about finding happiness by engaging in simple and ordinary day to day activities that we find meaningful. “I would always have a man to be doing, and, as much as in him lies, to extend and spin out the offices of life; and then let death take me planting my cabbages, indifferent to him, and still less of my garden's not being finished.” Joy can be found in the most mundane activities, if that activity is something we consider to hold intrinsic value. When we fill our days with ordinary but edifying tasks, however simple they may be, we slowly build up a life replete with meaning, culminating in a life well spend and a death we can approach with no regrets. No activity is wasted if it has personal value.

Finally, glancing back to Ivan, we learn that he lived life disconnected with the idea that he would most assuredly die. Death was always something abstract to him; something that happened to other people whom he read about in the paper while he, himself, enjoyed good health and vitality. As his health deteriorated enough that he began to recognize he was in fact mortal, even then he could not become truly personal with death. He rigourously tried to ignore it's reality until the pains of his dying overwhelmed him so that his temporality became a part of his every thought. It was at this point that he turned in death's direction and despised it vehemently. He wrestled with it's far reaching span, refusing to find peace in it's approach.

“...'Tis the condition of your creation; death is a part of you, and while you endeavor to evade it, you evade yourself.” (Montaigne). As Ivan went about mindlessly ignoring his own mortality, his life lost all meaning, for it is only under the canopy of recognizing our existence as fleeting, that the moments within that existence become valuable.

“The utility of living consists not in the length of days, but in the use of time; a man may have lived long, and yet lived but a little. Make use of time while it is present with you. It depends upon your will, and not upon the number of days, to have a sufficient length of life. Is it possible you can imagine never to arrive at the place toward which you are continually going?” (Montaigne). It would appear that Ivan lived a relatively long life, yet lived only a little. Others could have lived a fraction of Ivan's existence and yet lived more fully and mindfully. In an existence of dissatisfaction and irritation, he whittled away each year he had, ending with a slap of reality that though he had ignored his ultimate demise, it had methodically approached closer everyday since his first breath. Ivan spent his life avoiding and then fearing death, while according to Montaigne, a life of meaning is one that looks at death, becomes familiar with it's reality, and then transcends it's fears.

In conclusion, I would argue that is was not because Ivan's life was “simple” and “ordinary” that made it “most terrible”. Montaigne maps out ways to achieve a meaningful life which can be applied to a person in any circumstance, though possibly more easily applied to someone not caught up in complexity but mindfully basking in the mundane. I surmise that what made Ivan's life “most terrible” was his mindlessness and lack of perspective. In his haste to get on with living, and thus his coming closer to death, he set aside the weightier matters of life and replaced them with common distractions. As he stepped nearer his worst fear, one that he wouldn't even consider, he dug in his heels and at that moment, lost his footing. “Life in itself is neither good nor evil; it is the scene of good or evil, as you make it. And if you have lived a day, you have seen all: one day is equal and like to all other days. There is no other light, not other shade; this very sun, this moon, these very stars, this very order and disposition of things, is the same your ancestors enjoyed, and that shall also entertain your posterity.” (Montaigne). True, Ivan's life was simple and ordinary, but the scene he created on the stage of his existence was what caused it to be “most terrible”.

-Heather McCue

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Impact of Mass Media on Females

Written Assignment #1: Sociology Class

From a very early age, young children, especially females, are heavily influenced by the mass media of their society. Even before the average young girl has learned how to read, she has already been heavily influenced by various forms of media such as television programs, television advertisements and symbols displayed in advertisements in her environment. She learns the socially acceptable norms of what she should look like, act like, and what career path, if any, would be most appropriate for her due to her sex. The impact of this gender socialization has both short and long term negative affects on the majority of females.

In considering the impact that television programs have on children, we first must look at how prevalent television viewing is in the average home to see how big a role this plays in socialization. According to research by Vandewater, Bickham, Lee, Cummings, Wartella and Rideout (2005:A), the television is on for approximately six hours a day in most American homes, making television viewing the activity that children spend the majority of their time doing, except for sleeping (2005:562). They found that 39% of children between the ages of 0 and 4, and 29% of children between the ages of 5 to 6 years old live in households where the television is on always or most of the time, even if no one was watching it (2005:573). They conclude that, among other things, television viewing plays a major role in the socialization of children's lives.

So what are children viewing as they log so many hours captivated by this form of media? According to research by Potts (2001), "...viewers are deluged with action-adventure cartoons that feature tough men, female characters appear only as sidekicks" (2001:2). She quotes Innesss who claims that "women are a minority in the Saturday morning cartoons, and those who do appear are sexualized and marginalized; viewing action-adventure cartoons, you would never deduce that women make up over half the world's population" (2001:2). Her research goes on to laud one program, despite the proliferation of shows such as "Dexter's Laboratory", "Johnny Bravo", "Hey, Arthur!", and other male-focused programs. Potts points out that "The Powerpuff Girls" is one attempt to turn the tides of traditional children's programming, as it "provides positive female media images that are not based on sex appeal" (2001:1), and "reinforces the notion that girls, just like boys, are capable of having strong and assertive personalities and can be anything they want to be" (2001:7). Programs like this are a good start in helping young girls identify non traditional roles they could pursue. Unfortunately these shows only make up a small fraction of their television viewing experience, leaving much programming still dedicated to the building up of males and marginalization of females.

Vanderwater, Park, Huang and Wartella (2005:B) did another study discussing television viewing in relation to parental controls. They learned that the most effective way to reduce television screen time for young children was to set time rules regarding usage rather than program rules. If both rules were combined, parents would have a large impact on both the reduction of television viewing time, as well as better control over the nature of the programs watched, thus reducing the affects of this form of media in the lives of their children.

Print-based media also plays a significant role in how young girls form opinions about themselves. Bedtime stories read to young children are often based on females needing a male for protection (Snow White), for escape to a better life (Cinderella), for financial stability (Rumpelstiltskin), or for personal fulfillment (The Little Mermaid). In an article written by Franzwa, she quotes Suelze who argues that "the image of woman in media as varied as toy catalogs, TV commercials, and children's books portraying women as nonworking housewives discourages women from entering nontraditional fields of employment" (1974:105). Even when families or individuals try to eliminate traditional gender socialization in the raising of children, "the culture (particularly through the mass media) continues to saturate all of us with traditional images" (1974:105).

As these same young girls reach teenage-hood, they often begin reading popular culture magazines which are inundated with articles and advertisements that tell girls how to look, what to wear, which diets to try, etc. In a study by Andersen and DiDomenico (1992), they surveyed the top 10 magazines read most by young men 18 to 24 years of age, as well as the top 10 magazines read most by young women of the same age. It was found that in the top 10 magazines for young men, there were 5 diet advertisements or articles, and 17 shape advertisements or articles. In the top 10 magazines for young women, there was a dramatic increase compared to the males in the number of diet advertisements or articles, rising from 5 to 56. The shape articles showed a much smaller increase, rising from 17 to 20. It is noteworthy that the differences between the ratio of the male and female diet advertisements/articles in the magazines correlate almost exactly with the ratio of males to females who suffer from eating disorders. Print-media sends significantly different messages to males than it does to females.

Durkin and Paxton (2002) also approached the topic of how media images affect female body image. Through experiment, they determined that after viewing images of idealized females, the girls in their study (one group in grade 7 and the other group in grade 10) experienced lower body satisfaction and overall mood. As well, they experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety, though more so in the older group of girls than the younger. Durkin and Paxton attributed the difference between the two group reactions to possibly stemming from the older girls feeling like they may have 'failed' to meet the expectation of the idealized female images they've been saturated with since childhood. "The most deleterious framework of unrealistic body shape expectations may be set in childhood and young adolescence, but the full impact on body satisfaction may not occur until later" (2002:1002). Overall, their findings suggest that the idealized female images found in media are powerful in creating concern over the middle adolescent girl's mental well-being.

It is clear that the various forms of media in North America help to shape and mould the female culture. Beginning with young girls, following them through adolescence and into adulthood, females are taught how they should look, feel and act. When females fail to live up to those impossible ideals, it often results in both physical and mental harm to themselves. Trying to counter this influence is difficult, as the media mindset touches so much of our everyday lives. But as media begins to more regularly portray images of healthy and realistic women, and as females begin to see more positive role models in their lives, hopefully this will begin to change the attitudes of society, one mind at a time.

By Heather McCue


Andersen, Arnold E., and Lisa DiDomenico. 1992. “Diet Vs. Shape Content of Popular Male and Female Magazines: A Dose-Response Relationship to the Incidence of Eating Disorders?.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 11:283-287.

Durkin, Sarah J., and Susan J. Paxton. 2002. “Predictors of vulnerability to reduced body image satisfaction and psychological wellbeing in response to exposure to idealized female media images in adolescent girls..” Journal of Psychosomatic Research 53:995.

Franzwa, Helen H. 1974. “Working Women in Fact and Fiction.” Journal of Communication 24:104-109.

Potts, Donna L. 2001. “Channeling girl power: Positive female media images in "The Powerpuff Girls."..” Simile 1:N.PAG.

Vandewater, Elizabeth A, David S Bickham, et al. 2005. “When the Television Is Always On: Heavy Television Exposure and Young Children's Development.” American Behavioral Scientist 48:562-577. A

Vandewater, Elizabeth A, Seoung-Eun Park, Xuan Huang, and Ellen A Wartella. 2005. “"No -- You Can't Watch That": Parental Rules and Young Children's Media Use.” American Behavioral Scientist 48:608-623. B

The Meaning of Work: Motherhood

Written Assignment #2: Sociology class

Most often when you are introduced to someone new, the conversation follows a typical pattern. First, there's an exchange of names and pleasantries, often followed next by the question, "So, what do you do for work?". Learning what people do for work is typically a way to evaluate how much prestige we should bestow upon that person, or conversely, if we should simply weed out this potential relationship because it offers us no personal gain or networking value (Boley, 2000). Typically, we will hold onto the business card of a lawyer or that of a CEO of a large company, than of a janitor or telemarketer. Because this mindset is so prevalent, studies have been conducted to illustrate that there really is an actual rating system of prestige that we, as a society, have given numerous occupations. A quick glance over the results shows that the higher the income and more specialized the career, the higher the prestige which is allotted to it (Gorder and Frank, 2007).

But does holding a lower prestige job really warrant such a negative label? Occupations near either ends of the prestige scale offer some of the very same extrinsic rewards. Though differing in quantity, both offer the worker an income, a means to contribute to a pension however large or small, as well as possible extended health benefits. Similarly, both have comparable intrinsic rewards including things like the opportunity to interact with other adults/peers, opportunities for workers to feel like they're contributing to both the economy and society, and the chance to build up their resume with more experience so they can one day climb another rung on the corporate ladder. Perhaps there is less difference between these types of jobs than we initially realize.

Then what of a job that offers no salary, no health benefits, no pension building opportunities, no resume enrichment? A job that, instead, is highly demanding yet often mundane and tedious. One that asks for your time and energy 24/7, and occasionally leaving you feeling isolated from the outside world with little opportunity for meaningful contact with adults/peers. How might that job rate on the prestige scale? Who would be clambering for such a position?
Parenthood is considered by many to be one of those types of careers- a non-standard job that is not even included on the prestige scale mentioned above. With such seemingly little payoff for investment in this occupation, why are people willingly taking on this work? What makes this work meaningful if, by all other measures, it falls short?

For the purpose of this paper, I will be focusing exclusively on stay-at-home parents who choose to leave behind wage labour and the career world, in exchange for raising their children full time. Because most often, the parent who stays home with the children is the mother (Downing, 200), I will further narrow the topic to stay-at-home mothers. Though it should be mentioned that the contributions that stay at home fathers make is recognized and appreciated, especially given the unique stigmas they encounter in that job (Doucet 2004).

Never a black and white issue, the decision to stay home to look after her children, if she even economically has this as a choice, can be a difficult one with many trade-offs to consider. Leaving behind a familiar master status, potential career advancement, valuable income, and often a sense of self-worth, can rest heavily on a woman as she weighs out the alternatives to a professional career (Daniel, 2006) (Dillaway and Pare, 2008). But for those who are in a position to make a choice, the benefits of staying home cannot be ignored.

First of all, the decision to stay at home can bring with it some less obvious financial savings as the various roles and jobs that a stay at home mother performs no longer need to be contracted out to others (Pediatrics, 2008). According to studies done by Stacey Rubin and H. Ray Wooten (2007), they found that there were personal benefits for the mother when she chose to stay home, such as the personal satisfaction knowing that she wasn't 'missing out' on her child's life or milestones. She felt very good about being around during her child's formative years and being able to influence her child in a way that would be difficult to do if she had been at work. Rubin and Wooten also found there were benefits to the family, too. They learned that the children benefited from having a parent's time, and couples benefited from having more time together. There was more opportunity to build memories, time to “hang out”, to participate in fun activities, and have both quantity time and quality time as they formed close relationships.

The consequences of having a parent, typically the mother, choose to stay home with her children can be both positive and negative. She may not be seen as a 'success' in the eyes of society by giving up career potential, income for her family, or more mind stimulating days. She may, on occasion, experience frustration with her decision to stay at home, experience feelings of failure due to a lack of any immediate appreciation for the tasks she has taken on, and face exhaustion from the constant demands on her time. But if we look at the bigger picture, we see that what she does have is the opportunity to largely raise and influence a part of a future generation, the children that she and her partner have chosen to raise. By virtue of her staying at home with them, she is the primary influence on her young children, helping to instill in them the ideals and morals that they, as a family, value most and that contribute to society at large. She is 'there' as a witness in her children's lives for the many things they do and accomplish in life. Mundane conversations of a child simply asking "Mom?" are, at the same time, priceless moments when she is there to reply "Yes?". It is really the little things like this that add up and over time, become paramount. Though there is such a thing as quality time, often times what matters more is quantity time - simply being there beside a child as they navigate through life (Snyder 2007).

Raising children is not easy, immediately gratifying, or a financially prosperous venture. The prestige granted to a woman who answers the question, "What do you do for work?" with a reply of, "I'm at home raising my children," may not match that of what a doctor would receive. But in the end, she makes her decision after considering what is best for her and her family. She knows that the meaning of her work cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but rather, in the satisfaction received from the warmth of a gentle hug from her child who pushes the hair away from her ear to whisper a deep secret about nothing in particular.

-Heather McCue

2008. “STUDY: MOM'S MARKET VALUE AT $117,000..” Pediatrics 122:12.

Boley, Robert M. 2000. “The Power of Networking..” Assessment Journal 7:4.

Daniel, Lincia. 2006. “To go to work or stay at home? The mother of all parenting debates. (Cover story).” British Journal of Midwifery 14:494.

Dillaway, Heather, and Elizabeth Pare. 2008. “Locating Mothers.” Journal of Family Issues 29:437-464.

Doucet, Andrea. 2004. “"It's Almost Like I Have a Job, but I Don't Get Paid": Fathers at Home Reconfiguring Work, Care, and Masculinity..” Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, & Practice about Men as Fathers 2:277-303.

Downing, Jane. 2000. “Just a Feminist Mother.” Social Alternatives 19:57-62.

Goyder, John, and Krislyn Frank. 2007. “A Scale of Occupational Prestige in Canada, Based on NOC Major Groups.” Canadian Journal of Sociology/Cahiers canadiens de sociologie 32:63-83.

Rubin, Stacey E., and H. Ray Wooten. 2007. “Highly Educated Stay-at-Home Mothers: A Study of Commitment and Conflict..” Family Journal 15:336-345.

Snyder, Karrte Ann. 2007. “A Vocabulary of Motives: Understanding How Parents Define Quality Time..” Journal of Marriage & Family 69:320-340.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Missing My Mom

Seven years ago today, I lost my mom to acute myeloid leukemia. It was a quick and aggressive battle that ended quietly early one morning as the sun gently crept up over the mountains and filled her bedroom with it's rays. Her last sigh escaped her lips and floated effortlessly into the air around us. Always one to want to be with her family, she was surrounded by her husband and children, all sending her off on her new adventure with our love and support.

In some ways, it feels like she's been gone a very long time. I guess seven years can be looked upon as a very long time. Over the course of the past few years, I find I'm not thinking about her everyday, anymore. The dull ache that I carried around w/ me regularly, has left me as my constant companion, instead returning only every now and again. I visit her grave less and feel less guilty about that. My love and appreciation for her has not diminished, of course, however life, being what it is, keeps moving onward and we're all along for this mortal ride that keeps us busy and distracted. In the days, weeks and years since her passing, I've been busy raising children, going back to school, running a small business, etc. All things that occupy the mind and calendar. So, somehow seven years have snuck by and I realize I haven't seen my mom's face, except for her pictures in my house, for a very long time. Realizing how long it has been, makes me realize how much I've healed. Though the hole remains, my soul has been busy mending.

However, in some ways it feels like she was just here. I think about how she was just recently my 'go-to' girl when I had concerns as I started raising my own family, and how willing she was to help me out when the responsibilities of motherhood got to be overwhelming at times. She was my advocate when I considered homeschooling, a part of my support for my homebirths, a person on “my” side and who loved me w/o borders. As I band together w/ my two younger sisters as they begin having their own families, I realize what they're missing out on, what I should be providing for them in her stead, and how much I wish she were still here for all of us. If I hear her voice as I watch old home movies, it's like hearing an old friend that you haven't seen for a while, but you could just pick up a conversation with where you left off. There are plenty of memories of her still alive and well that bounce around inside my head reminding me that she was just here, just a blink of an eye ago, she was snuggling my newborn against her cheek enjoying the smell of my daughters 'newness'. She was just here, sharing her thoughts and tears, not always as mother to daughter, but sometimes as woman to woman. We had stumbled into a new dimension in our relationship, meant to be enjoyed for years to come, but lasting only the last few years of her life. Better late than never, though.

I'm grateful that there is remembering and forgetting. I'm grateful that there is still pain and healing. It reminds me of where I've come from and overcome in my life, while still allowing me the opportunity to seek happiness and joy in the present and future.

I love you, Mom. Thank you for everything you were.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Learning To Fly

My parents joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church) when I was three years old, so I don't remember much about our previous non-LDS life. I do recall the missionaries being fun guys who would swing me over their shoulders and flip me around. I loved it! I also remember attending church on one of my first occasions and being placed in a classroom with an older grandmotherly type woman as my teacher along with a bunch of other kids that I did not know. When I saw my moment, I hastily ran from the classroom and eventually found my parents in the main hall. For good or for bad, those are my first LDS memories.

I've been an active member of the LDS church ever since my great escape. I went on to attend Primary regularly, YW's, seminary, the local YSA branch, I attended a semester at Ricks College, married in the Portland, Oregon temple to my RM husband, and pretty much planned the balance of our lives around the church. We were the typical true blue Mormons who tried our best to institute all things LDS into our family (FHE, family scripture study, family prayer, etc).

Along my way in life, I would have occasional LDS faith related questions or concerns creep up and take centre stage in my mind. I would gently mull these concerns over for a time, ask my peers for their insight, and then either resolve my question with some kind of possible solution, or shelve my concern for another time. The thought of really, critically evaluating any of my questions or concerns was fairly overwhelming. If you are willing to really evaluate something, you must be willing to accept the outcome, whatever it may be. I was not that willing. If I found the church wasn't 'true' it could completely change my life as I knew it, and I was fairly comfortable right where I was. I had a happy family, good friends, all the answers to life's hard questions, etc. Why rock the boat?

My husband was led to the book, "Rough Stone Rolling" by a member of our Stake Presidency. While reading it, he would occasionally share his thoughts on some aspect of Joseph Smith's behaviours, or other interesting and previously unknown LDS history nugget. Our conversations were kept quite light on the surface, but inside, it was sparking the beginnings of more critical thought. After Rich was done reading it, I tried to get into the book, myself. After slogging through the more tedious personal family history of Joseph Smith, I almost abandoned ship out of sheer boredom. However, I would occasionally flip around in the book and find the more interesting chapters. Some of those more interesting reads were ones that spoke to the different first vision experiences, the controversy with Lehi's dream and Joseph Smith Senior's dream, the treasure seeking, the Book of Mormon translation method, and one night I remember reading about some of the deeper intricacies of polygamy as well as polyandry. Things were really getting exciting!

As I read various excerpts and did further readings elsewhere, I was struck by how different LDS history was taught compared to what really occurred. There was so much detail left out, cleaned up, or just completely opposite to what actually happened, that it was startling. In my mind, I began to wonder just how many other things were possibly not what they claimed to be within the LDS church.

However, knowing that recorded history is always going to be a bit biased, based on the recorders perspective, I wasn't ready to abandon ship just yet. After all, there was a lot at stake here. I was willing to give the LDS church the benefit of the doubt.

I don't remember the first 'real' conversation that Rich and I had regarding our deeper church concerns, but I do remember talking together, in the dark lying in bed, unloading various concerns we both had and seeing how the other reacted. We spoke lightly at first, but when we both discovered we were struggling with some very important topics from within the LDS faith, we began to speak more freely. It was extremely satisfying knowing that we were still on the same side, still a team, and both in this search together.

Soon our conversations moved from being based in historical LDS concerns, to more current LDS doctrines. There were mindsets and doctrines that had often bothered me, but I was taught regularly and often to support and sustain the Priesthood leaders, and that to critically question their revelation and counsel is to show a serious lack of personal faith and committment to the gospel, as well as sinful pride to assume I knew better than 'the brethren'. I was often told that what did not make 'sense' now, would all come to my understanding at some point... wait, be patient, and humble myself until that time. But I just couldn't figure out how, for example, the God I had come to understand would withhold eternal blessings from an entire race for such a long period of time. I couldn't figure out why women were supposed to be obedient to their husbands, while husbands were to be obedient only to their Heavenly Father. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that someone, anyone, would choose to be homosexual, a lifestyle that often entails all manner of social abuse and family abandonment. To voluntarily sign up for that life would be insane. Isn't it just possible that those tendencies are genetic, as are my tendencies to be attracted to males? Why would a loving God help Sis. "X" find her car keys, but not hold back the waves of an awful tsunami? Why was Bro. "Y" blessed by being waylaid on his way to work at one of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11th, but not the hundreds of other people who had already arrived? Those were just a few of the topics that we weighed out and pondered on. It was freeing yet scary to open my mind that much at first. It was like opening a window to a small house that had been closed and sealed off for so long. My eyes squinted in response to the bright sunshine that was pouring in now. It was uncomfortable at first to try to focus my eyes, but slowly, I adjusted and was able to take in a whole new world. And it was not the miserable, selfish, de-spiritualized world I had come to believe it was. In fact, it was a peaceful, welcoming and spiritually stretching place that felt 'right'.

The more that Rich and I talked, the more we saw that we needed to make some changes in our lives to better reflect our new reality. Trying to untangle ourselves from the life encompassing web of the LDS church, and create some distance there, required lots of adjustments and new thought processes. Firstly, we talked with our children on a long road trip home from a family reunion. We shared with them, in a way that wasn't too heavy, some of our concerns regarding being a part of the LDS church. We let them know that we, Rich and I, would no longer be attending church any longer, but they could do what they felt was best for them. After all, we were allowing ourselves to find our own 'right' in life, we felt it was only fair that they, too, had that same chance. The kids all took things in stride and four of the five decided that they were happy to move on from the church. Our eldest, the child who had just graduated from Primary and joined the 'big boys club' was less anxious for those changes, though heard our concerns. Upon arriving home from our trip, we went about making real the changes we had decided upon. In doing this, we needed to let our close LDS extended family know of our changes. As gently as I could, I expressed my love and appreciation for my siblings (as both my parents have passed away, there were no parents on my side of the family to inform), and then shared my recent decisions with them. Reactions were varied, and it took a bit of time for this bomb shell to completely percolate through, but all in all, I was so proud of my siblings for being so supportive and loving towards me, regardless of what building I went to (or didn't go to) on Sunday. Though I know they disagreed with my choices, we were 'family', and nothing would change that.

Rich had varied reactions from his family, too. To some degree, it was a bit easier for him, as his older brother, Bob, had already blazed a bit of a trail after he left the LDS church. However, his family roots run quite deep in the LDS faith, so it's never 'easy' going against long standing family traditions and letting so many people down. But our decisions were important enough to us, we knew we had to go forward even when it would sew such discord.

Next, we spoke to our Stake President, letting him know of our decisions to step back from the church. Rich was a high council member, so there would be changes made right away. I was the ward YW secretary, so our Stake President said he'd speak to our Bishop so I, too, would be released. It was a quick but civil conversation. I have a lot of love and respect for our Stake President, as he had been a voice of love and reason at different times in my life when I felt the world crashing down on me. I will always appreciate his kindness extended to me and my family, and hope we will always count ourselves as friends.

At this point, we sat back and decided to just be still for a while. We knew the ward wheels would begin to turn soon and our news would spread as it often does when you live in a fish bowl. Some people responded with extra love, for which we appreciated. Those friendships transcend organized religion. The rest of our ward had a mixed bag reaction with a smattering of all sorts of emotions. Fair enough, as we are all different. The bishopric asked if they could come and visit with us, to which we agreed. They were long-time friends and we appreciated their sharing concern for us. The first visit was with just the Bishop. He is a good man and someone who can walk alongside someone else, sharing a bit of that persons journey, while not completely agreeing with that person's choices. He had encouraged me, in my youth, when I had asked him about being a mechanic. Previous to getting into the school administration, he had been a mechanics teacher at a local high school and gave me every reason to believe I could be a mechanic, despite being a minority. I'm forever grateful to him for being so encouraging. His visit was gentle and positive. We didn't get into much of the details for our leaving, with his focus being mostly on knowing that we are loved and are wanted to come back to church. We thanked him for his love and concern, but didn't think we'd be coming back anytime soon. As he left, he suggested he come back again next week to visit again. This visit had been good, and though we didn't want him to waste his time that could be better spent elsewhere, we agreed.

Our bishop came by for several more weeks, bringing with him one or the other of his counsellors each visit. Most of the time the visits were warm and welcoming. We touched on some of the concerns, dancing around the edges of anything too controversial, and most times agreed to disagree for a peaceful solution. The invitation was always extended towards us to come back to church. At one visit, the idea of coming back to church, not necessarily as a believer, or embracing it all, but to just take it as it comes, was put forward to me. That was a new concept to me. I had always been an 'all or nothing' kind of Mormon. I hadn't considered being anything less until that moment. The idea seemed to twig something in me that I even decided to attend the following Sunday, just to see how that felt.

I attended church that Sunday, flanked on both sides by my in-laws, which I appreciated greatly. It helped deflect some of the uncomfortable stares and looks I got as people did a double take upon seeing me there. Most people I interacted with were very kind and went out of their way to say hello. It was nice to be so welcomed. Over the next few weeks, I decided to attend regularly with my oldest son. I would come as someone trying to work out my concerns, smorging from the talks and lessons the things that felt right, while discarding the things that I felt were wrong. I also had decided I should accompany my oldest son so he didn't feel unsupported, and so he wouldn't be perceived as a church orphan.

By now our weekly visits with the bishop and one of his counsellors were winding down. Our bishop was preparing to leave and serve with his wife on a mission, and we were growing weary of rehashing the same conversations week after week. On our last visit, Rich and one of the counsellors got into a more 'spirited' discussion, and the good feelings that had more or less accompanied the other visits, were growing tattered. Since the visits were no longer serving their purpose, we decided it was time to stop them.

I was still attending, week after week, trying to sift through talks for little pearls of wisdom that would stir my soul. Some were able to reach me at that level, but increasingly, they made me want to shake my head and walk out. At one point, I tried just attending sacrament meeting and then for the following two hours, hang out in the foyer, reading from the Bible or writing in my journal. This was more tolerable and more social, but still two hours spent doing something I wasn't gaining a lot from.

Upon encouragement from family, I decided to pick a 'concern of the month' and chip away at my questions one by one, systematically. I made an appointment with the new bishop (our old bishop was gone by now) and forewarned him about what topic I wanted to touch on. When the alloted time arrived and I stepped into his office to really hash out my 'concern of the month', things immediately began to fall apart. Though this man was one of the kindest men I knew who would literally give you the shirt off his back, he was not the right person for this job. His nervous energy came across as he talked on and on about nothing related to my particular question, not even breaking long enough for me to get a word in edgewise. And when we did broach the topic I had selected and forewarned him of, he lacked the background knowledge needed to really jump into anything deep. Again, I will reiterate that this was a good man, but just not the right one for this job. Upon leaving his office, I decided it might be more productive to book a meeting with the Stake President.

Within a week I was in the Stake President's office with the same question. I let him know that I was wanting to tackle one issue at a time, and after my attempt to council with my bishop hadn't worked, I was now here, in his office, to get his input. He thought that was a fabulous idea and so we began. I asked the Stake President if a personal, heartfelt prayer was just as powerful as a priesthood blessing, to which he replied, 'no'. He felt that though prayer is important, to receive the extra blessings available one needed to tap into the power of the priesthood. I asked if a mother, holding her very ill child in the middle of the night who had no priesthood in the house, offered her own heartfelt prayer, would that child receive less divine assistance than if that same child had received a priesthood blessing. He suggested that perhaps, if there was no other way to access the priesthood, that hopefully the Lord wouldn't withhold a particular blessing, but usually there is priesthood available to all who want it, and that only through the priesthood could the extra blessings be made available. I asked if that meant that me, on my own, without any priesthood in my life, was not 'enough'? Were my prayers not 'enough'? Was my being a daughter of God not 'enough' to allow me access to those extra blessings? In a way that I deeply appreciated it, he was straight with me and didn't dance around his answer. He said that though we're all equal, the priesthood is simply the only way to opening that door. With that answer hanging in the air, I broke down crying. Perhaps I misunderstood what he was trying to say, but what I heard was that I, alone, as a female, was not enough to my Heavenly Father. According to my Stake President, nothing I could do would allow me the special blessings unless I found a male who held the priesthood. I had nothing left to say. I got the answer that I was searching for, it just wasn't what I had hoped for. I thanked him for his time and retired to the bathroom to clean myself up. While I sat in the bathroom stall, it occured to me that I had my answer now. I had searched, pondered and prayed, and now I had my answer as to whether or not I could stay in the LDS church. I now knew it wasn't going to work for me, as it went against what my heart was telling me was true.

I attended church a few more times with my son, trying to be supportive, but in the end, it was just making me a grumpy person. It began to feel like such a mis-use of my time to spend three hours every Sunday listening to things I did not agree with, searching for that one pearl of wisdom that was becoming harder and harder to find. Finally, I had enough. It was time to move on.

There's no real conclusion to this story yet, no neat and tidy ending, as we're still following the adventure and letting it unfold in front of us. But I'm okay knowing there are some things that are unknowable, now. There is peace to be found in letting go, and flying.

-Heather McCue

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Always My Baby

Despite the odds, my oldest son is growing up. Slowly, while the world spins madly on, he's turning into a young man. Frustrations over strained peas have dissolved into wondering if he'll be home on Friday evening. Power struggles over diaper changes have grown into his requests to start the car engine.

I remember watching his little feet shuffle around the kitchen floor, perfectly padded and round. Now his perfectly padded feet are replaced with large football cleats, and I watch him, just prior to practice, donned in his football padding, still shuffling around the kitchen floor searching each cupboard long and hard for something to eat... again...

Chores around the house used to be an exciting highlight of the day for him, and an exercise in patience for me. What could be done in an hour on my own, would easily become a half-day activity together, which I'd finish off when he went to bed. Now I realize that though chores don't elicit quite the same reaction from him, he is an independent creature who lets me get on with my own list, while he usually can accomplish his own chores without me needing to re-do when he isn't looking. He's the guy who can open the jar when it's stuck, fix the screen door when it's falling apart, and clean up vomit that sends me to seek out fresh air.

He got his hair cut today. The days of mom's buzz-cuts are long gone and replaced with trips to the hair dresser for a 'real' cut. As I sit waiting, watching this young man converse with the hair dresser, I realize not only does he look like a young man at that particular moment, but he can talk like one, too. There is a gentleman lurking under the hair cutting cape that I hadn't noticed before.

After the hair cut, we get a few groceries, including a treat of Oreo cookies, which he has carefully negotiated for rather then whine for. After he helps collect the groceries, and carries the bags to the van, he settles into the front seat and begins to carefully hand out cookies to his siblings... and not even starting with himself. I ponder this unnoticed maturity as I drive. When did this happen? When did he become the kind of boy that I would have noticed in high school? How did time elapse so quickly when it seemed to drag by so slowly when he was a toddler.

I decide to glance over again and take in this newly discovered young adult. I want to take a mental picture before I close my eyes once more, only to open them to find this male stranger beside me. I cast my eyes right, afraid to see what I may have already missed, only to be met by the most beautiful smile ever. My little man, who had enjoyed his Oreos so much, has the most cookie-crumbly mouth I've ever seem. Black wetness is in every nook and cranny of his lips and he is joyously oblivious to it. This smile is one that has roots to his childhood... the messy face after food. I look at him, realizing that perhaps his childhood ways aren't completely gone. My baby will always be my baby, despite what form his body takes, what depths his voice descends to, and how vast his vocabulary becomes. I love my cookie-mouthed man-child, and am grateful for the reminder of how closely linked playful childhood is with the business of being an adult. I'm keeping my eyes wide open.

- Heather McCue