JES is a good friend of Amri’s and a loyal reader of BCC.
We all know about that “righteous checklist” of yore. Marry young, have lots of kids, stay home with your children at all cost, plant a garden, grind wheat, make bread, sew your own clothes, be frugal, store dried beans, and do your family history. Fortunately we’re moving away from the idea that doing those things equals righteousness and that if you’re not doing those things you’re going straight to the Terrestial Kingdom. I think our church is becoming more tolerant and accepting of differences; that we each make our choices and that’s okay. But in the process, are we becoming less tolerant of those women who continue to choose to do those things on the “righteous checklist”? Do you see the bland mother herding a bunch of kids down the hall at church and assume you know exactly which box you can stick her in?
Imagine you’ve just moved into a new ward and are scoping out the members there, hoping to find a new friend or two. You find out that there are only a couple women your age in the ward–namely Sister A and Sister B.
Sister A married at 20 and had her first child 10 1/2 months later. She now has 5 children and is a stay-at-home mom. She and her family drink powdered milk and she makes most of their bread, using freshly ground wheat. She plants a garden every year, bottles fruit and makes applesauce and jam each summer. She has a good amount of food storage and is actively working on storing more. She was excited when a friend gave her a pressure cooker so she could bottle vegetables and try cooking dried beans in a more efficient way.
Sister A loves to trade tips on getting good deals at stores, is grateful for hand-me-downs and makes-over old clothes into new (turning pants with holes into shorts, etc). She wears little to no make-up and rarely buys herself new clothes; trendy she is not. Other hobbies she has include quilting, sewing and scrapbooking. She’s also cross-stitched many of the temples her family members have married in. In learning about her family history, this friend has expressed her admiration for her great-great grandmother who was a 2nd wife in a polygamous marriage.
In addition to taking care of her large family, she is the Primary president and ardently advocates for the children in her ward. She has never tasted Coke or Pepsi. In her spare time, she enjoys reading. In fact, she read each book in the Twilight series within about 12 hours of checking them out from the library.
Sister B is a fledgling environmentalist. She recycles as much as possible, composts, and uses a rain barrel to water her garden. She plans on getting several more and linking them together in order to limit the run-off from her gutters. Sister B also enjoys home improvement and home maintenance projects. She’s fixed leaky toilets, replaced window moulding, re-screened doors, fixed broken door frames, replaced old weather-stripping, repaired a rather large hole in the wall and other miscellaneous tasks. She does scrapbook a little, but they are very minimalist. Stampin’ Up holds no attraction to her. Sister B also enjoys reading. After several people recommended the Twilight series to her, she read them and decided that they were a good, quick read but not the best books she’s ever read.
She’s also a bit of a know-it-all. She has an opinion on everything. She earned a degree in History teaching with a minor in Math education, which plays to her love of teaching and being in front of a group of people. As part of her history major, she dabbled in Mormon history and enjoys discussing some of the more difficult aspects of it, such as polygamy.
She is registered as a Democrat, planned her pregnancies carefully and freely uses birth control. As a youth, she did not earn her Personal Progress award. She attends church, but her husband does not go with her. She currently has a calling in the Primary and finds it challenging and fulfilling, usually, but can’t help but look down the hallyway towards Gospel Doctrine and Relief Society and wonder what she’s missing.
What images do you have in your head as I describe these two women? Does one seem like the friend you’re looking for, while the other has some skills you’d like to learn but is probably one of “those” women that you’ve never really had a lot in common with? Do you assume the SAHM is firmly under the thumb of the LDS patriarchy and the other is a little bit more enlightened and open-minded? After learning the above details about someone, would you write one of them off, figuring that you already knew everything you needed to know about them; that they weren’t really “friend” material? Would it surprise you to learn that these women are actually different characterizations of the same person?
My friends would be able to guess that I was describing myself in the two characterizations. But, I sometimes feel as if people who don’t know me see the way I look, see the number of children I have, attend one of my bread-making demos and assume they know exactly why I do the things I do, when in reality, they might be surprised by some of my interests.
I love projects where there’s a tangible result that can be admired at the end–thus the quilting, scrapbooking, home repair, canning, etc. I do believe that the prophets have been inspired in their counsel to learn how to garden and use what’s produced. But I don’t have a garden out of duty. I love to be outside and “play in the dirt”, as my mother-in-law says. I give away most of what I grow in my garden because I really don’t like vegetables, although I’m working on learning to use them more. I also give away a lot of the jam that I make because I don’t like jam; it’s fun to make and other people love to eat it, so it’s a great gift at Christmas time. In addition to my joy in watching things grow and being outside, growing a garden and composting and using a rain barrel all fit into my desire to make better use of the world’s resources.
The reality of having a large family means that I do have to do things to be frugal. But, using secondhand clothes fits into my concern for the environment as well. I use powdered milk because it saves us $500/year, but it’s also a funny kind of luxury in that I don’t have to worry about dashing to the store for milk and bread if a storm is coming (and I’ve discovered a better-tasting powdered milk that is palatable to almost everyone). By storing food, it helps us out financially, and it’s convenient to have ingredients on hand when I haven’t planned well for meals. I love good bread and it felt like a real accomplishment when I finally learned how to make it. I’ve conquered homemade pizza as well (thanks Tracy M!) and that’s a big deal when you have 4 boys who will soon be eating us out of house and home. Frugality is a time suck and does limit some of the other things I can do, but we won’t always have children at home and someday I’ll be able to focus less on my children and more on other things.
People see that I’m highly invested in my Primary calling. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t enjoy another calling or that I don’t understand when Primary isn’t someone’s favorite calling in the world. This calling has been very rewarding at this time in my life and I mostly enjoy what I do, but Primary was never top on my list of callings I wanted. For some, Primary is a little bit of heaven. For others, Primary is a learning experience that you hope to leave behind you sooner rather than later. Everyone’s talents are different. Just because it’s my job right now to think of the children first, and I take that stewardship seriously, doesn’t mean that I adore being around little children and don’t have my own unofficial list of “coveted callings”.
As for the lack of Coke drinking, it might seem like I must be self-righteous because I haven’t ever had Coke or Pepsi, but it’s mostly because I hate any and all soda. I can tolerate fruit-flavored soda, but the carbonation still bothers me a lot. I do have a personal dislike of getting addicted to anything (except my Chapstick–that’s the first thing I’d miss if the world fell apart), but I have no problem with other people choosing to drink whatever kind of soda they want. Don’t judge my ice cream eating and I won’t judge your soda drinking.
So, why do we judge people spuriously, based on a few observations of the things they do and then we assume we know everything about them? Perhaps the SAHM who does all the “righteous” things is doing them not because she hasn’t figured out how to break the partriarchal mold, but maybe it’s because that’s where her talents and interests lie. That lady in the ward, that you’ve assumed is as conservative as the come, may have some interests that would surprise you if you got to know her.