Last night I realized Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Immediately after this realization, I started googling turkey like a crazy person. I explored all things turkey, from turkey recipes (my original intent) to voting on the name for the turkey being pardoned at the White House (despite the absurdity of the ritual). I even clicked on the Visit Turkey websites just out of curiosity and went to bed determined to make Turkey our summer destination.
This year, I have decided to make Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. That’s right, despite the multitudes of people telling me I am crazy, in over my head, and have no idea what I’m doing, I’m going for it anyway. I envision a colorful Thanksgiving feast, bright cranberry sauce, steaming golden turkey, all laid out on an immaculately decorated table. My guests will ooh and ahh as I stand back like a proud mama and watch Patrick carve the turkey. I might even be wearing an apron, a floral one.
Don’t worry, I’m not completely naive. After envisioning this fuzzy glowy feast, I have a reality check and can see a more accurate picture: myself spitting out obscenities as I scrape yams off the floor and yell at Patrick to set the freakin’ table, cranberry smeared on my forehead and side dishes getting cold and crusty. Let’s just be honest with ourselves, that’s what it’s going to really be like. So why am I going to all this trouble?
A few weeks ago, a dear friend ended a long-term relationship that had everyone expecting a happy ending. She is not a member of the church and was raised much like I was, Catholic by default, independent by nature. I was surprised when she started dating this guy, a recent Utah transplant, BYU grad, nice, cleancut, etc etc. But they hit it off and seemed headed for marriage, despite living half a country away from one another. When the relationship ended, I recalled a conversation we had quite a while back about her feelings on marriage. One of the fears she brought up was that she would never be the perfect Mormon wife.
My gut reaction was to tell her that the perfect Mormon wife doesn’t exist. But I paused, because it does, or at least the idea of it does. And even if it’s only an idea, it’s still there, hanging over our heads. Even as a non-member, my friend was taunted by it, reminded that she’ll always have to smile politely when visiting teachers come to see her or be eaten by guilt every time she goes into a friend’s home and sees the wedding pictures in front of the temple, a reminder of the marriage she can never give her husband.
For me, this ideal coupled with my ambitious nature forces me to constantly play a game of catch-up. A test to see how fast I can acquire and appreciate the skills that are so valued in an environment where such emphasis is placed (rightly, I believe) on family and home.
So there I was last night, comparing methods of brining a turkey and laughing at this strange person I have become since joining the church. Several years ago I could have cared less about domestic things. I knew how to steam broccoli and find things under giant piles of clothing and that was good enough for me. But there is something that has caused me to care about things I never could have imagined caring about, like whether I’ll ever be able to make a decent loaf of bread or why my basil plant keeps dying.
So what is that something? The most obvious answer would be that I’m growing up. But that explanation does not quite suffice. I’m fairly young, women my age are not baking bread and preparing object lessons, at least not the women in the culture I was raised in. I had always envisioned myself at this point in my life living in the middle of a noisy city, picking up my dry cleaning and Chinese takeout on the way home from work. But at some point after joining the church, all of that lost its luster and I started caring about other things.
So the reasonable answer is that the church led me to expand my interests to things I once scoffed at. Not the church as an institution but the church as a culture. The church culture, or at least the church kitsch, usually tends to rub me the wrong way. (Reading Tracy M.’s beautifully written last post, I felt like she was inside my head.) But even if I don’t have the Proclamation framed on my wall with a picture of my family, even if I don’t use the phrase “with every fiber of my being” in a testimony meeting, I look at the cookbooks open to the turkey section on the floor around me and wonder if I’m halfway there.
Where does this picture of the ideal Mormon wife come from and why is it so easy for a generally sane, fiercely individual person to buy into?