Thursday, June 6, 2013
I try not to dwell on the tender feelings I have about cutting ties with my family. Sometimes I want to blame them for everything, and other times, I feel like everything happened due to my decisions. I know that I am where I am due to a mixture of choices on their part, as well as mine. But sometimes the emotions just get the best of me.
Choices, no matter how trivial they may seem at the time, sometimes change the course of things so drastically, that there is no way to return to the course that was once planned.
My brother asked his girlfriend to marry him in May of 2008. I like to think that was an awesome decision. She was sweet, pretty, funny and loving. They were sealed in the Newport California Temple in September 2008. I had the privilege of throwing her a Bridal Shower at a local Tea Parlor a few weeks before the wedding. (I made sure they had herbal tea before booking).
The thing about his marriage to his now wife that broke my heart is that, even though I was Mormon, so was my husband, and so was my youngest brother, that we couldn't be present at the temple sealing. Heck, we weren't even allowed inside the temple.
My middle brother was able to see his older brother get married because he had served a mission and had temple garments, as well as a valid Temple Recommend. What is a Temple Recommend? Good question.
A Temple Recommend is require to gain entry to a Mormon Temple. You need to interview with your Bishop (he is like a pastor) and he determines whether you are worthy to enter into the 'House of the Lord', or as most call it, The Temple. If, lets say, you have had a beer and a few packs of cigarettes, he may decline to give you a Temple Recommend, or lets say that you killed your brother, he may also find you unworthy for the temple. Or in my parents case, they were behind on paying the church their tithing, so the Bishop told them that he would not give them a valid Temple Recommend to see their son get married until they caught up.
I am sure most people are familiar with the word tithing. But in the Mormon church, you are required to give 10% of your income to the church. I remember sitting in the Clerk's office at the end of 1997, as a 17 year old, going over my tithing receipts to be certain that I had paid at least 10% of my $4.25/hr pay to the church.
So when my brother got engaged, and once they had set a date, my parents knew that they had to get their tushies in gear to catch up on their 10%. The thing that still resonates with me is that, instead of paying their mortgage in August and September, they decided to pay their 'back tithing' to see their son get married.
Now I am not saying that I wouldn't kill small gutter snipes to see my children get married, I would. I would have probably made a similar decision in their situation. The part that bothered me then and still bothers me now is that they ended up losing their home and the two months they went without paying was the start of a snowball effect, in which they never were able to catch their mortgage back up. When they made the decision to 'pay god first', they kept saying that it was okay, that god would provide. They knew that if they were righteous and made righteous decisions that everything would be okay.
Well, there was no doubt in my mind that everything would be okay. My parents are resilient, I knew that even if they lost their home that they would be okay. My dad is a very hard worker, he loves his job as a nurse at a children's hospital. But the fact that their religion put them in a spot to choose between their son or their home, didn't sit well with me. It still doesn't. The fact that their priority was seeing their son get married isn't the issue, it's that the church put them in a spot where two things that had nothing to do with the other became a conflict.
I didn't get to see my brother get married because my husband and I didn't get married in the temple and hadn't done what the church requires for us to have taken out our endowments. My youngest brother didn't get to see his brother get married because he had not gone on a mission due to health reasons. We all stood outside the temple waiting for them to come out after they got married.
It still is a painful reminder of the mentality of the Mormon church, how my parents were put in a place to make such a ridiculous decision.
Granted, 5 years earlier when my husband and I eloped to Vegas, and we invited my mother and father to come along and see us get married, they graciously declined. I guess if it's not in the temple, it's not worth rearranging plans for.
(photo) Me and my husband on our wedding day in Las Vegas, Nevada 2003.
Friday, May 17, 2013
The scariest part for me, as a mother, was that we live just 4 houses down on the same side of the street and my entire family slept through the sirens, the ruckus and the multiple shifts of firefighters for the full 6+ hours that they were just a hop, skip and a jump from my sleeping sweeties.
I cannot put into words how grateful I am. If it weren't for the speed and dedication of our local fire department, who knows how many houses the fire would have engulfed. We didn't even know it had happened until we drove by it when we dropped the girls off at school.
The experience brought up a few reactions that I know are linked to my religious upbringing. The first words out of my mouth were, "Oh my god." Then I let the words, "Thank heaven" slip past my lips. Granted, being raised Mormon I would have never said Oh my god, that's just rude and taking gods name in vain. But the fact that the first words I said were religiously skewed, made me think. I thought about how years ago I probably would have knelt down to praise and thank god for not letting the fire get to my house. How selfish that would have been. Being grateful that their house burnt down, but mine was fine. And how odd that would be, thanking god for having put out a fire that he himself could have prevented.
As I was trying to shut the door on the selfish skeletons in my closet, I started thinking about what I could do to really show how grateful I am that the fire didn't spread throughout the entire neighborhood.
The first thing I did was talk to the older couple who live next door to the house that caught fire. They are the only neighbor, as that house is on a corner, but their house is only about 10 feet from it. I spoke to her about the ordeal and she told me how they were woken up by police banging on their door a little after 2am that morning, how scary it was, how high the flames were, how she cried and cried worried that she was going to lose her home, how the police wouldn't let her back in her home, and how she is so grateful that embers didn't cause her house to explode in flames.
I let her vent about how scary it was and I offered her my understanding, empathy and sympathy for her feelings and fears. I then offered my phone number and pointed to my house, just in case there was anything I could actually physically do for her and her husband.
I then wanted to do something for the people who lost their home in the fire, only to learn that house wasn't lived in currently. Which on it's own is something to be so grateful for. No one lost their lives, or anything of sentimental value. The house itself is a total loss, but it could have been so much worse.
I then decided the next logical step was to thank the firefighters. I had my daughters write them thank you notes and had them draw the firefighters pictures. We then worked together to make them a perler bead magnet for the firehouse fridge. I also decided that treats and a picture (above) were in order as well. Nothing says thank you quite like sweets.
Being non-religious made me look for ways to actually show my gratitude, rather than give it to an imaginary being who, in a round about way, actually caused the problem in the first place. I know that many religious people would have done the same thing I actually did. But I also know that often times religious people use prayer as a crutch, to offer something without actually offering anything. I found that I can no longer utilize that crutch. Being non-religious means that I actually do something, or nothing at all. And I knew that I had to choose the option that would give my gratitude the proper outlet.
Being non-religious has made me a better person because I use my logic, reasoning and heart instead of blindly following a prophet or ancient text just because my invisible friend says so.
Every Tuesday night, while I was young, my mother would to go to a weekly event called 'Home Making'. Home Making Night was when the women's group, referred to as The Relief Society, would meet at the church to learn new crafts and homemaking skills together.
As a female in the Mormon church, you are valued, even though it may never be said aloud, by your homemaking abilities. My mother always kept her house in pristine order. You never know when the missionaries will knock on your door asking for water, or when your Home Teacher will want to stop by unannounced to check in on your family. Even with four children all spaced within a 5 year period, she kept her home in order.
Growing up in the Young Women's group I learned to crochet, cross stitch, make jam, make taffy, sew and play the piano. I know the importance of having the appropriate amount of food in my pantry at all times and how to store water. I know how to preserve and can my own food, how to mend clothes and I know how to Spring Clean. I've had the knowledge and skills to do all that before I was 14. I gained these skills and practiced them because I wanted to be a good wife and an awesome homemaker.
I remember going with my mom to special Home Making Nights where the ladies in Relief Society were encouraged to bring their female offspring with them to come and learn together. To help build the mother/daughter relationship and to help raise good little peacekeeping homemakers. I loved it. I loved the positive reinforcement and I loved how it made me feel more valuable. I never once thought of it as improving myself as an individual, I always viewed it as upping my value as an eventual wife.
There is a silver lining in this somewhat depressing, sexist cloud. Even though the skills I learned as a Mormon child didn't add value to my proverbial dowry, I have used them to bond with my daughters, to make homemade yummies and needlepoint curse words to send to friends.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Growing up as a child of Mormon parents is a very unique experience that many people never escape from. Meaning that when you grow up in a Mormon household, chances are, you become a Mormon adult and never get the opportunity to take a step back and view the experience from a viewpoint other than one tinged in the noxious muck of it. It's tough, I know because I lived it.
One quirky aspect growing up was the issue of sleeveless clothing. This wasn't an issue of modesty. I was never ever under any circumstance able or allowed to wear a halter, tube, strapless or spaghetti strap top. That crossed over into being indecent and slutty.
For example, back in 1997, I was in the Miss Brea pageant. My Mormon grandmother bought me a strapless dress to wear for the gown portion of the pageant. It was a beautiful, floor length empire waist burgundy gown with boning and a shawl that matched. It was beaded and fit so wonderfully. I couldn't believe the amount of money my grandmother spent on it and I knew I could wear it to my next formal dance, so it wouldn't be wasted on just one event. I loved it. I tried it on for my mother to see how beautiful it was and I will never forget the look of disgust on her face. I thought my mother was going to lose her shit over it. She was livid that my grandmother would purchase such a inappropriate dress for her 17 year old daughter. I was heartbroken that the experience of choosing a dress with my grandmother and the excitement I had felt up to that point was ripped apart with one look from my mother.
It was my no means indecent. My back and shoulders were covered with the shawl. My cleavage was fully covered and the dress touched the floor. Even as a young daughter of god, I thought the dress was nothing short of epic and I couldn't believe that I driven to tears over something so simple. But with how my mother was, it had been a long time coming.
All my swim suits had been one pieces my entire life. Bikini's or even a tactful two piece were always out of the question. Even some of the other Mormon girls or my quasi-Mormon cousins were able to wear bathing suits with push up bras or cut outs. Not me. At the time it wasn't a big deal. I wasn't much of an outdoorsy or beach type girl. I rarely found myself in a bathing suit anyway.
But the Miss Brea pageant mattered to me. It was important because I wanted to show my family, mostly my mother, that no matter what she found wrong with me, that I was pretty enough. Silly teenage thoughts, I know, but at the time it mattered.
Looking back, I realize now how silly it was. I know my mother didn't believe that wearing a strapless dress to a pageant would turn me into a slut. I think she was more concerned with what the other Mormon mothers would think of her letting me wear something that I couldn't wear with garments. That was the problem with tank tops, that I couldn't wear garments with them.
Now, for those not 'in the know' about garments, they are the items of clothing every Mormon who gets their temple endowment receives. They are to be worn against the skin, under your underpants and/or bra and some people outside of the religion refer to them 'magic underwear'. Mormon men, and sometimes women, usually get their garments when they go on a mission. (Mission = Garments) Mormon women, and non-missionary men, usually get theirs a little before marriage in the temple, which is usually called a temple sealing. I never received my endowment, so I never received garments.
Why wear tank tops if you couldn't always wear them? Why buy them as an adult if one day they wouldn't be usable in your wardrobe? Why get into the 'habit' of showing your shoulders if that wasn't decent enough for god?
So I wore a long, simple, dark blue gown with a velvet top and satin bottom. I didn't win the gown part of the pageant. Hell, I didn't place in the pageant, which was okay with me; I went up against some really smart, beautiful college girls. I did win the essay competition though, which for me, was enough. I tried my hardest, was walked down the stage by a Marine, and won a massage. And I learned a very important lesson about my mother.
Friday, April 19, 2013
When looking at my overall experience as a mother, and thinking about how my atheism has affected the way I raise my children, I am kinda surprised by my own established misconceptions. In the beginning, I felt that being an atheist would drastically change motherhood all together, but I can't help but notice how on a day to day basis, nothing really changed.
Granted, I became an atheist really early on in my children's lives. Little K was 3 and Little M had just turned 2. So I hadn't had much time to start to brainwash them into Mormonism. And I hadn't been very religious in over 8 years when my first little kumquat was born. So we never said prayers other than when we would go to my parent's house for dinner. I hadn't told them any Bible stories or really had gone to church more than a handful of times.
I honestly feel that with or without church, I would be raising my children, day by day, very similarly to the way I do now.
We wake up around 7am every morning, the girls get dressed for school, watch a little tv, I make sure they are dressed for the weather and we head out to school. Warm days we walk, chilly days we take the car and they are at school on time every morning. I am pretty sure that sounds like most mornings in most households with elementary school children.
If I was religious, maybe we would say a family prayer before leaving for school, but in my childhood home, we rarely said a morning prayer. It happened on occasion, but it was never a constant.
I work full time. My husband is a stay at home father. He loves his children and he picks them up from school each day. He sits and does their homework with them, then will play xbox games with them for little while. Viva Pinata is one of their favorites. When I get home from work, either my husband or myself make dinner. We watch The Simpsons, the girls hop in the bath and then it's time for bed. Maybe short of a prayer or two, I know it would be exactly the same with a religion to follow.
All the little things are the same; same day to day behavior and love. Maybe if I was still religious I would shove prayer in where ever I could, maybe a little Bible study too. Church would be a mandatory thing, instead of something we do when I have the energy, the gas and no other plans. (We sometimes go to our local UU church.)
But as much as the little things haven't changed, I know that there are a lot of little things that have changed drastically.
I know that if I was still religious, I wouldn't read the bedtime stories that I do. My daughters love excerpts from The Magic of Reality by Dr. Richard Dawkins. I know that would not be a book on my shelf had I clung to the fleeting mesh of lies that is Mormonism. I would answer their questions differently. Instead of giving a basic brief explanation of where babies actually do come from, I know the words "Babies come from heaven" may have slipped past my lips.They wouldn't have a basic understanding of evolution or science. Maybe I would be a parent who spanks, maybe I would be a parent who would try to shove them into 'appropriate' gender stereotypes. I hope not, but that may just be the 'new' me talking.
So whether it be the little things that haven't changed, or the little things that have, when I take a step back and ponder my feelings about motherhood, I know that if it weren't for these two little critters that came into my life, nothing would have changed, and that's a really big thing.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The springtime holiday known as Easter is right around the corner. And I am frantically trying to get everything together for my daughters, which isn't too uncommon among parents of young children.
Why would an atheist parent celebrate a Christian holiday with their children? It seems silly at face value, but there are many reasons that freethinking families celebrate holidays that have religious undertones.
The first reason that comes to mind is tradition. I celebrated Easter as a child of Mormon parents. I got a dress, gloves, purse and hat (bonnet) for the occasion and after church, ran around the house and yard with my half brothers searching for Easter eggs. I had so much fun and I know my children would love that tradition as well. I still haven't heard an accurate argument as to what the bunny and eggs have to do with Christianity anyway.
The another reason, which may be the crappiest of all, is that all of their friends celebrate the holiday. I don't want to keep my children from experiencing commonly accepted events and fun.
I also want my children to have those little things in common with their classmates. They can talk about the eggs they found and the joy they had Easter morning. I want them to experience the culture that surrounds them. I never want them to feel like they are missing out on something that is so easy for me to provide to them.
I am not Hispanic or Mexican, but I love celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I am not Irish, but every Saint Patrick's Day we have corned beef and cabbage and enjoy learning about the history of Saint Patrick and Ireland. Experiencing other people's cultures and learning history, whether it be religious or not, is enjoyable and healthy and wonderful. What makes Easter any different?
It also gives me the opportunity to dig deeper into history to explain to them where the holiday actually stemmed from. My children have not heard the crucifixion story. ::Gasp!:: Not that it should be a surprise to anyone, but that is a gruesome, horrible, tragic torture story that may not actually be historically accurate. I have not found any reason to tell my children a snuff story about anyone.
When I tell my children about Easter, we learn about Ostara, the goddess of fertility. We refer to the Easter bunny as a female. They know it's just an adult in a bunny suit at the mall, but we discuss how people used to believe that Ostara would sometimes take the physical form of a rabbit. We talk about how eggs are a symbol of fertility and how Earth is waking up, and how animals are giving birth and the flowers are blooming and how it all ties back into Mother Nature. A little Pagan, yes. Better than the crucifixion story, hell yes.
I know one day I will have to go into more detail than that some people believe Jesus died and came back to life and that is what they celebrate for Easter. That day just hasn't come yet. Everyone talks about how innocence is lost so early and I refuse to contribute to numbing my children to torture.
A lot of people complain about how secular the holidays are becoming. But I think it's fitting. The non-believers are growing by leaps and bounds and the holidays are going to become more secular as time goes by.
Monday, December 17, 2012
I was privileged to give a short lesson to a group of kindergarteners about the Jewish holiday Hanukkah this December.
I know what you must be thinking, an Ex-Mormon atheist gave a lesson to a bunch of 5 year old children about a Jewish holiday... Yeah, it happened. In the middle of Indiana too. And it was actually pretty neat.
I told them the story of the Maccabees and we spun dreidels and I shared some gelt and stickers. They listened and kinda sat still. My kindergartener helped me pass out the stickers and gelt. She felt like such a big girl. She held up our Menorah and walked it all around the room to show it to her classmates.
At the end of my lesson my daughters' teacher thanked me for coming in. She then asked if our family was Jewish. I said no, but we do celebrate Hanukkah because we want our children to learn about other people and their traditions. She said she only asked because last week my daughter had told one of her classmates that Jesus was dead and god wasn't real.
As much as it caught me off guard, it really shouldn't have. She is my youngest child and she is very matter of fact about things. I was little embarrassed because I have had this talk with my daughters about how some people believe in a god, some believe in Jesus and sometimes people believe in Santa. And that they shouldn't tell them that what they believe is wrong. I know that day will come before I know it.
I think the teacher saw me hesitate after she told me about the facts my little one had said earlier in the week, she then asked if we were Christian. I answered with a no, and then said my husband and I were raising our children as freethinkers. She smiled and then remarked about how they could then decide for themselves later on. I felt like she was the first outsider who 'got' it. Even though I hope that there will be no decision for them to ever make because I raised them to know better.
It felt good to help a classroom full of kindergarteners understand another culture and religion, even if it wasn't mine. It felt good to give my child the opportunity to have answers that her classmates wanted to know.