Yesterday I went to church with Jay. I “went to church” but I didn’t get much out of it. Sam, who is 1, wanted to MOVE. I spent the second half of Sacrament Meeting following him as he crawled down the hall and in and out of open classrooms. Two weeks ago I attended Stake Conference, because Jay specifically asked me to attend so I could feel the spirit of Elder Anderson, who was visiting. I spent Elder Anderson’s talk in the hall, following Sam as he tried to escape the building. In between these two meetings we attended a special Sacrament Meeting during which four wards and a branch were re-organized into six wards. I would have spent this meeting chasing Sam as well, but, since there were no regular meetings going on, I was able to move our circus into the nursery where I was able to listen to the conference and Sam and Rose were able to play. And I began to think. This church is all about family, right? I do not know how many talks, lessons, quotes, and opinions have been given to proclaim the honor we give to mothers, but this is all lip service. Where is the real respect and honor shown in action to mothers in the church. What help does the church offer to make a woman and a mother’s path easier? The more I think about it the more it seems to me that the men who run things don’t give much thought to us mothers, and us mothers have no way of expressing our needs or wants to the men up top. One example: the mother’s room. Every building has one. If you are a man you have probably never been in one, especially not while it is in use. The rooms vary, but many are small, sometimes housing just one rocking chair. Some have nice furniture (nice, meaning it is clean and in one piece and a relatively attractive color), many have an assortment of odd, old, and uncomfortable chairs. The location of these rooms varies, but I have never found one conveniently located to both the chapel and the Relief Society Room. In my current building the mother’s room sits in the spot exactly opposite the Relief Society on the other side of the church. Ours is actually a very nice room, having been painted and decorated by a group of mothers who were told that it wasn’t allowed, but that the church leaders wouldn’t be going into that room much and what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. (Imagine a church where it is a subversive act to decorate a nursing mother’s room with paint, three pictures and a lamp.) We have three rocking chairs, which may seem plenty, but the year I gave birth to my first child seven other babies were born within six months. There were times when every chair was filled and a couple of mothers were on the floor. Can it really be so surprising in a church where members are encouraged to have children that there may be many mothers nursing at once? Taking a tour of the Community of Christ building, I was floored to see that they had a room, encased in one-way glass, in the main worship space so that mothers can care for their children and participate in the worship at the same time. Why couldn’t we do that. While we are at it why couldn’t we have a nursery during Sacrament Meeting? Or a corner of the chapel filled with toys, and paper and coloring crayons so that we could let our children be children and worship and feel the spirit and not send one parent or the other out into the hall for most of the meeting? One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is found in Numbers chapters 26 and 27. Five daughters of a man by the name of Zelophehad come to Moses to complain that it isn’t right that their uncles should be the heirs of their father just because they are female. They ask Moses to inquire of the Lord, which he does, and the Lord tells Moses that the daughters are right. the inheritance should be theirs. I first discovered this story because my name, Tierza, is a variant of one of those daughters: Tirzah, and I love being named after one of the bible’s first feminists! But I also love this story because it shows how our relationship with the prophet ought to be. We ought to be able to raise questions about our culture and our practices. We ought to expect that the prophet would speak to the Lord on our behalf and that he would come back to us with answers to those questions — and for simple questions, like how we could provide a better nursing room for our mothers, it seems bizarre that we should go to the prophet, or even anyone beyond the local congregation at all. Why couldn’t we mothers find a solution and implement it without reference to any other authority? It baffles me.
It is Sunday. Upstairs Jay is feeding the kids their breakfast while fasting himself. Downstairs I have quiet hymns playing. In an hour or so we will get dressed and, together, we will go to church. There is nothing so remarkable about this. Mormons (and others) do it every week. But this week is different. To me. I am born-and-bred Mormon. I can count my family membership back at least 5 generations on every side. We are Nauvoo Mormons and polygamy Mormons and mission Mormons and crossing-the-plains Mormons and, with one very glaring exception, for the three generations I know, we are ALL Mormons. But, in the very deepest place that is me, in my heart and in my head, I am NOT. I own the culture, kind-of. I have a fondness for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and hymns in general. I don’t drink, or smoke, or cavort in any way. I was a virgin until the day I married in the temple, at the age of 31. I loved my most recent calling as Relief Society teacher. And I haven’t been to church in two months. Ward members assume, I imagine, that my absence is a result of the mental crisis that recently sent me to two weeks of intense psychiatric care. They don’t imagine that the leaving came first. The crisis — that was second. And now that the crisis is over it is time for me to put my life back together. How I do that, however, I have yet to determine. Do I leave the church for good? And if I leave, what do I do then? Do I become a practicing but not believing member? Is there a place in-between? I fear for the friendships I will lose and reach for the peace of knowing and speaking what I believe. It is my emigration, my falling away, that I hope to capture as I write — and as I write, I hope to capture the bits of faith and hope I have left. I don’t know who I will be in a month, or a year. But I am interested to find out. I hope you will find out with me. Meanwhile, I have to get the children dressed. We are going to church together today.
When I was small I went to bed at 7:00 pm every night. Imagine, every night, summer, winter, spring, fall: The clock turned to 7:00 pm and it was time to go to bed. When I was small the night both terrified and fascinated me.
On long summer drives to visit my grandparents I woke up, groggy, sweaty, as the light of some lonely gas station seeped into our van, crowded with blankets and siblings as groggy and sweaty as me. Mom or Dad would tell us to go back to sleep, that we had a long way to go. And somewhere in the dark canyons of northern Arizona or southern Utah I would. The headlights of our van would wash across the canyon walls, waking up their vivid colors just long enough for them to fall asleep again as we rolled past. And the stars. Stars so bright and many that followed me as I pressed my face against the cool window glass and slowly, wonderfully, fell back asleep.
At home night was adult time. I thrilled to crawl out of bed and hide behind the couch as my parents watched tv, or to slide beneath my brother’s bed and spy adult feet through two vents lined up across the utility closet. Tantalizing, unknown, forbidden, the adult night was so desirable that any view, even one of feet partially obscured by the water-heater was worth the effort.
Why, oh why, doesn’t the tantalizing promise become a delicious and desirable reality? Now it is my bed, my 7:00 o-clock bedtime that taunts and tantalizes me. And it is not the wonders of adulthood, the games, the tv shows, that keep me up, or get me up. It is the chores. The dishes. The thinking about money and conflicts . . . or the trying not to think of them.
It is my children, who, even as babies, believe that there is something thrillingly, terrifyingly wonderful about the night and the power to stay up in it.
One day they will learn. Poor things.
My parents put me to bed at 7:00 o-clock every night. But sometimes they thought better of it. Once, when I was small, my mother forgot that there was a Peanuts special she wanted me to see. I was already asleep, but she woke me up to watch it. I adored my mother at that moment. I cannot imagine doing it myself. One night the thing they pulled me out of bed for was a rainbow. I remember sitting in my father’s arms as he stood in the doorway and the light of the setting sun washed over our house and into the clouds before us shattering into colors so bright and wonderful in my small eyes. And then my father carried me to bed, where I imagine that I feel asleep dreaming those colors. Happy to be awake at night when it mattered.
And now, it is quiet. There is no rainbow in our sky. The world is dark and the children are asleep. I will give up my ‘duties’ and drag myself to bed soon. I will quit playing the martyr, or quit giving in to the deep and irrational longing to stay up “just one more minute” that once tortured my parents, and now tortures me. I will go to bed. To sleep. Perchance to dream. . . until the baby cries or Rosie wants her milk or the morning wake-up call (I swear I am going to record the two-year-old cry of “WAKEUPWAKEUPWAKEUPWAKEUP . . . .” to pipe into her bedroom on her coldest, darkest, huge-test-today-i-est, 16-year-old mornings . . . sweet revenge) and the fact that I adore them will save their lives, again . . . and someday I may wake them up to see a rainbow, or let them stay up late to watch stars fall, and I will let them love the night.
After all . . . it can’t last.
I was sitting on the edge of the bed yesterday thinking about my body. I am, of course, engorged with the consequences of the little life growing inside of me — my belly bulges; my ankles, feet and fingers swell; my breasts finally exhibit something like ripeness — and even before I was pregnant I was “overweight”. The result is flesh that seems to melt in soggy layers over my rigid bones. Clothed and active I only notice the inconveniences of my largeness – struggling to stand or bend or find shoes or clothes that fit. Even with the annoyances I feel modestly happy with my growing body. I am, as my sister put it, “cute pregnant,” growing out and not around. Sitting unclothed on the bed, however, I felt the cascade of my fleshy body in every detail — the breasts laying down over the swell of my belly rolling over my legs which spread themselves comfortably out over the sheets. Behind me, a fan of fat spread out to cushion my seat and keep me stable. I was a paleolithic figurine — full of curves. We, I thought, are not supposed to like this. Would, I wondered, the baby like a cooler, crisper house? Would she like her womb tucked neatly between my hips and ribs with no extra flesh to get in the way of public admiration? I suppose there are some who find my largess distasteful, who are offended at my failure to provide an aesthetically pleasing pregnancy, but I cannot imagine that she is yet among them.
For me the moment was lovely. I liked the feeling of my back straight and strong and my feet on the floor. I liked the feeling of my many parts breathing and being still. I laughed like a Buddha fat with enlightenment. For a moment I forgot that I dislike my fat and have already developed a plan for shedding it once the child has freed herself from it. For a moment I was joyful in my skin. For a moment I was quiet.
Last night I had a series of odd dreams about giving birth beginning with one in which I was in the hospital in labor. The labor went well, quickly and relatively easily (this, I suspect, reflects my current feeling about giving birth — of all the things I fear about parenthood, labor is the least frightening). After the baby was out, though, everything went wrong. The doctor told me I had extra “tissue” inside of me that they needed to check out. I was rushed out of delivery to a recovery room where a nurse was setting up an ultrasound machine to examine me with. She set up that machine forever and everytime she tried to use it, it did not work. This didn’t seem to bother her. She dilly-dallied and joked and wasted time. Meanwhile I wanted to know where my baby was and no-one would tell me.
During all this I was alone with the nurses. My parents, I knew, were somewhere in town for the baby’s birth, but where I did not know. Jay, it seems, had dropped me off at the hospital and gone off to do something else while I delivered. Now that I was stuck with nurse-obnoxiously-slow, Jay called me and wanted to know how big the baby was. I couldn’t tell him. No-one had told me and I hadn’t seen the baby yet. I asked the nurse what the baby weighed. She told me I would have to look at the official paperwork — only I didn’t have it or know where to find it. I was beginning to realize that I also didn’t have my baby or know where to find her and the nurse was obviously not going to be helpful.
I don’t remember searching for the baby, but I must have because in the next part of my dream I was returning to my room only to find it occupied by a roommate, her baby, and about thirty of her closest family and friends, three of whom were sitting on my bed. Though they noticed me come in, no-one would get up and give me a place to sit. I felt so helpless and tired and alone and all I wanted was my baby . . .
The rest of the night I spent dreaming various dreams in all of which the baby was missing and all I wanted to do was find her. “Where is my baby?”
Sounds upsetting, no? Strangely, no. I must admit to a few moments of anxiety during my frequent nighttime bathroom breaks . . . but in the morning, with the memory of these dreams vivid and sharp, I woke with a feeling of absolute joy and hope and delight, a feeling of utter abandonment into overwhelming, breathtaking, passionate love for this little creature wiggling and kicking around inside of me. My baby. My little flesh-and-blood reality tucked safely beneath my ribs. The delightfulness of my delight was beyond words. Where before I had felt fear and doubt, even an occasional desperate wish that I could rip this child from my womb and be done with it all, I now feel every bright hope of my life being fulfilled. I have fallen in love . . . and I did it wandering through the mocking, empty halls of a dream.