Wednesday, April 30, 2014

More Examples of Motherhood in Books

I read an amazing post yesterday about friendship in marriage (click here to read).  One of the early comments caught my attention, she asked how to be friends with your husband when you are exhausted from taking care of the kids and maybe a little resentful of him.

It reminded me of a favorite passage in Little Women.  I bought this book recently at a book sale for my daughter to read.  I had no plans to reread it since I read it as a teenager, but I opened the book to a page in the middle and was sucked in.  When I read it in high school I read about the daughters.  Today, finding my way as a mother, I read about Marmee.  What a woman!

Here's the passage I wanted to share.  I've taken excerpts from Marmee's counsel to Meg after the twins have been born.  Meg has been so busy with the twins that her husband has started to go and visit with a neighbor couple each night for conversation.  This bothers Meg, but she's too busy to do anything about it.  A lot like the woman who commented on the blog post, she is exhausted and maybe resentful.
"Make it so pleasant he won't want to go away.  My dear, he's longing for his little home; but it isn't home without you, and you are always in the nursery.'
'Oughtn't I to be there?'
'Not all the time; too much confinement makes you nervous, and then you are unfitted for everything.  Besides, you owe something to John as well as to the babies; don't neglect husband for children, don't shut him out of the nursery, but teach him how to help in it.  His place is there as well as yours, and the children need him; let him feel that he has his part to do, and he will do it gladly and faithfully, and it will be better for you all. ... Let Hannah come and help you; she is a capital nurse, and you may trust the precious babies to her while you do more housework.  You need the exercise, Hannah would enjoy the rest, and John would find his wife again.  Go out more; keep cheerful as well as busy, for you are the sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is no fair weather.'... 'This is just the time, Meg, when young married people are apt to grow apart, and the very time when they ought to be most together; for the first tenderness soon wears off,  unless care is take to preserve it; and no time is so beautiful and precious to parents as the first years of the little lives given them to train.  Don't let John be a stranger to the babies, for they will do more to keep him safe and happy in this world of trial and temptation than anything else, and through them you will learn to know and love one another as you should."
If you keep reading you will find that it took some effort, and forgiveness, but that by it their whole family was blessed.

Being able to find joy in motherhood is so important.  Often it takes eyes that can see those precious fleeting moments of joy or beauty in the middle of the chaos.  Occasionally it requires that we ask others for help so we can step back and catch our breath.  It certainly requires that we treat ourselves with compassion, and care, to keep ourselves healthy and rested as much as possible.  But it is worth every effort, to make sunshine for our family, and to preserve the beautiful friendship that should exist in every home between a husband and a wife.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Finding Examples of the Power of Motherhood in Literature

I love the book "Mama's Bank Account".  It is a treasure of stories about a Norwegian immigrant family living in San Francisco in the early 1900's.  Mama reminds me of my important role as mother.  The book is full of funny and amazing stories that illustrate her love and courage, but my favorite is the first chapter, shared here:

For as long as I could remember, the small cottage on Castro Street had been home.  The familiar background was there; Mama, Papa, my only brother, Nels.  There was my sister Christene, closest to me in age, yet ever secret and withdrawn- and the littlest sister, Dagmar.  There, too, came the Aunts, Mama's four sisters.  Aunt Jenny, who was the oldest and the bossiest; Aunt Sigrid; Aunt Marta; and our Maiden Aunt, Trina.  The Aunts' old bachelor uncle, my Great-uncle Chris- the "black Norwegian"- came with his great impatience, his shouting and stamping.  And brought mystery and excitement to our humdrum days.

But the first awareness was of Mama.

I remember that every Saturday night Mama would sit down by the scrubbed kitchen table and with much wrinkling of usually placid brows count out the money Papa had brought home in the little envelope.  There would be various stacks.  "For the landlord," Mama would say, piling up the big silver pieces.  "For the grocer."  Another group of coins.  "For Katrin's shoes to be half-soled."  And Mama would count out the little silver.  "Teacher says this week I'll need a notebook."  That would be Christene or Nels or I.  Mama would solemnly detach a nickel or a dime and set it aside.  We would watch the diminishing pile with breathless interest.  At last, Papa would ask, "Is all?"  And when Mama nodded, we could relax a little and reach for schoolbooks and homework.  For Mama would look up then and smile.  "Is good," she'd murmur.  "We do not have to go to the Bank."  It was a wonderful thing, that Bank Account of Mama's.  We were all so proud of it.  It gave us such a warm, secure feeling.  No one else we knew had money in a big bank downtown.

I remember when the Jensens down the street were put out because they couldn't pay their rent.  We children watched the big strange men carry out the furniture, took furtive notice of poor Mrs. Jensen's shamed tears, and I was choked with sudden fear.  This, then, happened to people who did not have the stack of coins marked "Landlord."  Might this, could this, violence happen to us?  I clutched Christine's hands.  "We have a Bank Account," she reassured me calmly, and suddenly I could breathe again.

When Nels graduated from grammar school he wanted to go on to High.  "Is good," Mama said, and Papa nodded approvingly.  "It will cost a little money," Nels said.  Eagerly we brought up chairs and gathered around the table.  I took down the gaily painted box that Aunt Sigrid had sent us from Norway one Christmas and laid it carefully in front of Mama.  This was the "Little Bank".  Not to be confused, you understand, with the big Bank downtown.  The "Little Bank" was used for sudden emergencies, such as the time Christine broke her arm and had to be taken to a doctor, or when Dagmar got croup and Papa had to go to the drugstore for medicine to put into the steam kettle.

Nels had it all written out neatly.  So much for carfare, for clothes, for notebooks and supplies.  Mama looked at the figures for a long time.  Then she counted out the money in the Little Bank.  There was not enough.  She pursed her lips.  "We do not," she reminded us gently, "want to have to go to the Bank".  We all shook our heads.  "I will work in Dillon's grocery after school," Nels volunteered.  Mama gave him a bright smile and laboriously wrote down a sum and added and subtracted.  Papa did it in his head.  He was very quick on arithmetic.  "Is not enough," he said.  Then he took his pipe out of his mouth and looked at it for a long time.  "I give up tobacco," he said suddenly.  Mama reached across the table and touched Papa's sleeve, but she didn't say anything.  Just wrote down another figure.  "I will mind the Elvington children every Friday night," I said.  "Christine can help me."  "Is good," Mama said.  We all felt very good.  We had passed another milestone without having to go downtown and draw money out of Mama's Bank Account.  The Little Bank was sufficient for the present.

So many things, I remember, came out of the Little Bank that year.  Christine's costume for the school play, Dagmar's tonsil operation, my Girl Scout uniform.  And always, in the background, was the comforting knowledge that should our efforts fail, we still had the Bank to depend upon.

Even when the Strike came, Mama would not let us worry unduly.  We all worked together so that the momentous trip downtown could be postponed.  It was almost like a game.  During that time Mama "helped out" at Kruper's bakery for a big sack of only slightly stale bread and coffeecake.  And as Mama said, fresh bread was not too good for a person and if you put the coffeecake into the hot oven it was nearly as nice as when first baked.  Papa washed bottles at the Castro Creamery every night and they gave him three quarts of fresh milk and all the sour milk he could carry away.  Mama made fine cheese.

The day the Strike was over and Papa went back to work, I saw Mama stand a little straighter, as if to get a kink out of her back.  She looked around at us proudly.  "Is good," she smiled.  "See?  We did not have to go down to the Bank."

That was twenty years ago.

Last year I sold my first story.  When the check came I hurried over to Mama's and put the long green slip of paper in her lap.  "For you," I said, "to put in your Bank Account."  And I noticed for the first time how old Mama and Papa looked.  Papa seemed shorter, now, and Mama's wheaten braids were sheened with silver.  Mama fingered the check and looked at Papa.  "Is good," she said, and her eyes were proud.  "Tomorrow," I told her, "you must take it down to the Bank."  "You will go with me Katrin?"  "That won't be necessary, Mama.  See?  I've endorsed the check to you.  Just hand it to the teller, he'll deposit it in your account."  Mama looked at me.  "Is no account," she said.  "In all my life, I never been inside a Bank."

And when I didn't- couldn't- answer, Mama said earnestly: "Is not good for little ones to be afraid- to not feel secure."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Finding a Higher Vision in Literature

Have you read "Laddie"?  I love stories told from a child's perspective.  It is an incredibly encouraging look at a large family.  The story of their family is told by the youngest child, a girl.  The book is semi-autobiographical as the author is the youngest of 12 children and loosely based the story on her childhood.  

My favorite thing about the book is the VISION it gives me for myself, my home and my family.  Motherhood is so scorned today, she makes it sound so beautiful, powerful and important.  Here's a bit of my favorite passage:

(To set the scene: the mother has been surprised by a visit from an unhappy neighbor, he has called her a 'fine lady' and she is responding.)

"My dear man!" she cried, "I'm the daughter of a Dutch miller, who lived on a Pennsylvania mountain stream.  There never was a school anywhere near us, and father and mother only taught us to work.  Paul Stanton took a grist there, and saw me.  He married me, and brought me here.  He taught me to read and write.  I learned my lessons with my elder children.  He has always kept school in our house, every night of his life.  Our children supposed it was for them; I knew it was quite as much for me.  While I sat at knitting or sewing, I spelled over the words he gave out.  I know nothing of my ancestors, save that they came from the lowlands of Holland, down where there were cities, schools, and business.  They were well educated, but they would not take the trouble to teach their own children.  As I have spoken to you, my husband has taught me.  All I know I learn from him, from what he reads aloud, and places he takes me.  I exist in a twenty-mile radius, but through him, I know all lands, principalities and kingdoms, peoples and customs.  I need never be ashamed to go, or afraid to speak, anywhere."

"Indeed not!" cried Mr. Pryor.

"But when you think of the essentials of a real lady- and then picture me patching, with a First Reader propped before me; facing Indians, Gypsies, wild animals- and they used to be bad enough- why, I mind one time in Ohio when our first baby was only able to stand beside a chair, and through the rough puncheon floor a copperhead stuck up its gleam of bronzy gold, and shot its darting tongue within a foot of her bare leg.  By all accounts, a lady would have reached for her smelling salts and gracefully fainted away; in fact, a lady never would have been in such a place at all.  It was my job to throw the first thing I could lay my hands on so straight and true that I would break that snake's neck, and send its deadly fangs away from my baby.  I did it with Paul's plane, and neatly too!  Then I had to put the baby on the bed and tear up every piece of the floor to see that the snake had not a mate in hiding there, for copperheads at that season were going in pairs.  Once I was driven to face a big squaw, and threatened the life of her baby with a red-hot poker while she menaced mine with a hunting knife.  There is not one cold, rough, hard experience of pioneer life that I have not endured.  Shoulder to shoulder, and heart to heart, I've stood beside my man, and done what had to be done, to build this home, rear our children, save our property.  Many's the night I have shivered in a barn doctoring sick cattle and horses we could ill afford to lose.  Time and again I have hung on and brought things out alive, after the men gave up and quit.  A lady?  How funny!"

"The amusement is all on your part, Madame."

"So it seems!" said mother.  "But you see, I know so well how ridiculous it is.  When I think of the life a woman must lead in order to be truly a lady, when I review the life I have been forced to live to do my share in making this home, and rearing these children, the contrast is too great.  I thank God for any part I have been able to take.  Had I life to live over, I see now where I could do more; but neighbor, believe me, my highest aspiration is to be a clean, thrifty housekeeper, a bountiful cook, a faithful wife, a sympathetic mother.  That is life work for any woman, and to be a good woman is the greatest thing on earth.  Never mind about the ladies; if you can honestly say of me, she is a good woman, you have paid me the highest possible tribute."

"I have nothing to change, in the face of your argument," said Mr. Pryor.  "Our loved Queen on her throne is no finer lady."

That time mother didn't laugh.  She looked straight at him a minute and then she said: "Well, for an Englishman, as I know them, you have said the last word.  Higher praise there is none.  But believe me, I make no such claim.  To be a good wife and mother is the end toward which I aspire.  To hold the respect and love of my husband is the greatest object of my life."

"Then you have succeeded.  You stand a monument to wifehood; your children prove your idea of motherhood," said Mr. Pryor.  "How in this world have you managed it?  The members of your family whom I have seen are fine, interesting men and women, educated above the average.  It is not idle curiosity.  I am deeply interested in knowing how such an end came to be accomplished here on this farm.  I wish you would tell me just how you have gone about schooling your children."

By educating ourselves before their coming, and with them afterward.   Self-control, study, work, joy of life, satisfaction with what we have had, never-ending strife to go higher, and to do better... I don't know; but if these things do not help before birth, at least they do not hinder; and afterward, you are in the groove in which you want your children to run.  With all of our twelve there never has been one who at nine months of age did not stop crying if its father lifted his finger, or tapped his foot and told it to.  From the start we have rigorously guarded our speech and actions before them.  From the first tiny baby my husband has taught all of them to read, write and cipher some, before they went to school at all.  He is always watching, observing, studying: the earth, the stars, growing things; he never comes to a meal but he has seen something that he has or will study out for all of us.  There never has been one day in our home on which he did not read a new interesting article from book or paper; work out a big problem, or discuss some phase of politics, religion, or war.  Sometimes there has been a little of all of it in one day, always reading, spelling, and memory exercises at night... He has been a schoolmaster, his home his schoolroom, his children, wife and helpers his pupils; the common things of life as he meets them every day, the books from which we learn.

"I was ignorant at first of bookish subjects, but in his atmosphere, if one were no student, and didn't even try to keep up, or forge ahead, they would absorb much through association.  Almost always he has been on the school board and selected the teachers; we have made a point of keeping them here, at great inconvenience to ourselves, in order to know as much of them as possible, and to help and guide them in their work.  When the children could learn no more here, for most of them we have managed the high school of Groveville, especially after our daughter moved there,  and for each of them we have added at least two years of college, music school, or whatever the peculiar bent of the child seemed to demand.  

"Before any daughter has left our home for one of her own, she has been taught all I know of cleanliness about a house, cookery, sewing, tending the sick, bathing and dressing the new born.  She has to bake bread, pie, cake and cook any meat or vegetable we have.  She has had her bolt of muslin to make as she chose for her bedding, and linen for her underclothing.  The quilts she pieced and the blankets she wove have been hers.  All of them have been as well provided for her as we could afford.  They can knit, darn, patch, tuck, hem, and embroider, set a hen and plant a garden.  I go on vacation and leave each of them to keep house for her father for a month, before she enters a home of her own.  They are strong, healthy girls; I hope all of them are making a good showing at being useful women, and I know they are happy, so far at least."

"Wonderful!" said Mr. Pryor.

"Father takes the boys in hand and they must graduate in a straight furrow, an even fence, planting and tending crops, trimming and grafting trees, caring for stock, and handling plane, augur and chisel.  Each one must select his wood, cure, fashion, and fit his own ax with a handle, grind and swing it properly, as well as cradle, scythe and sickle.  They must be able to select good seed grain, boil sap, and cure meat.  They must know animals, their diseases and treatment, and when they have mastered all he can teach them, and done each thing properly, they may go for their term at college, and make their choice of a profession."  

Can you see why I like it so much?
What incredible vision and clarity.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Scripture Study with the Rich Family

Christene Rich is a real life friend I have had since our freshman years at BYU.  I am so grateful for her encouraging influence in my life.  She is the mother of five, with a baby on the way!

Here she is:

Scripture study for our family has been full of starts and stops.  It has been difficult for us to find something that works for us as a family.  Our scripture study is still a work in progress but I am so happy that we have something that works for us now.  Its so simple that I’m a little embarrassed to write about it but if I can help anyone then it’s worth it. 

Growing up, my family always did scriptures right before bed and we tried that for a few years and just couldn’t find a rhythm. After much prayer and thought I decided to try what those “crazy people” do and have scriptures in the morning.  And it worked!  We have scriptures around the kitchen table during breakfast.  The only time they are all quiet is when they are eating.  :) 

I prepare breakfast, put it on the table and get everything ready, including a towel for those spills :), and then I read while they eat.  After a few days I realized I wanted something to draw on to explain things.  So I bought a white board and some markers.  I keep it up high or else we all know what would happen.  It has been invaluable to help explain those things that they just don’t get.  Like what scales used to look like and how they work, or drawing maps of what’s going on.  

It has been a wonderful thing for us.  Some mornings we are good to get a few verses in, especially with this pregnancy, but I can feel an increase in love and kindness to each other and an increase in the Spirit in our home and I’m so grateful.