There sure are a bunch of us..... Where did we come from?
Sunday mornings of my youth I spent on Grandma's bed while Aunt Marlene was back-combing Gramsie's snowy white, feather soft hair into an up-do held firm with a crisp layer of hairspray. Every chance I get I listen to my uncles and aunties tell stories, my questions urging them to get to my favorites.
We are Mormons. We are God's chosen people. We serve God through devotion to the prophet's teachings and having big polygamist families, and we are proud.
This is what I know about myself and my place on the planet. I'm fascinated with Grandma's stories about praying to God that she might marry the handsome returned missionary. Her life was of faith and devotion to him and trusting his moral and spiritual guidance which brought them to BC to serve God with the Fundamentalist Mormons and raise their family.
Grandfather, I am told, was a serious and deeply religious man. He could preach a sermon of hell fire and damnation that would make you shake in your boots. He believed in firm handshake and a good honest days work. He lived by the Word of Wisdom never touching a drop of coffee or alcohol in his life. He was proud of his good strong sons and daughters and being of service to his fellow man. He studied the fundamental teachings of Joseph Smith and tried to live the United Order and Celestial marriage in his life. (Both were practices of the early Mormons.)
It wasn't an easy life, from anything I can gather. Polygamy in the old days was miserable at best. Polygamy and poverty together sounds like it would have been a literal hell. Their small industrious community, true to their pioneer heritage, banned together. They celebrated weddings and births, seed times and harvests. They prospered on their little dairy farm in Lister. There were lots of seats at the dinner table and they never turned anyone away hungry.
My grandfather's legacy is a posterity that numbers in the thousands. We've mostly got pretty good teeth and are not hard on the eyes. He turned his land into a trust which can neither be bought nor sold, and so it is land that his great great grandchildren currently enjoy riding their bikes and horses on.
I know all of this... and still I find myself surprised.
"Don't wish your life away".
This advice I give generously to my teenage children in those moments when certainly they are looking for is some deeper insight. For example, on long car rides. "I wish we were there already," they might ask; or the frequent I wish it was Summer or Friday or hockey season.
Without so much as a hesitation, I begin. Up beat, too enthusiastic, I know. "Look around you. Let's see what we can find exciting in this day."
My daughter might role her eyes at me or fold her arms in frustration, depending on her mood. It almost never cheers her up. "Mom, just let us complain for once," she groans.
I'm insistent. Life is about finding joy in the journey, and taking the time to celebrate along the way. The destination is not the only reason to head out. Always take time to pause, reflect, regroup, celebrate, get supplies, and keep going.
One whole year until my book will be published, I'm feeling like an impatient teenager.
And then I realize this means people will actually be reading the book I've been working on in my closet over the last five years. Regardless of how supportive or critical my future readers will be, reflecting on the level of vulnerability within this book causes me to take a deep breath. I know well how cruel humans can be, and I know it is the underside of taking any kind of step publicly. To borrow the wisdom of Taylor Swift right here, "haters are gonna hate."
I double check. I've given myself the permission to change my mind at anytime. I read somewhere that 90% of what you will write is just for yourself. There were many times I've wondered if the mountain of words I had created was just a dedicated journey into my own healing. Yet, as the pages filled and the chapters took shape, I began to hear the voice and story of a passionate and courageous young woman. I feel resolute for her need for justice, compassion for her struggles, and curious about her sense of wonder and adventure.
Similarly to when I went skydiving Utah or bungee jumping in New Zealand, I get a delicious belly full of butterflies. I imagine I'm holding the crisp, glossy cover of my book and smelling the fresh ink. Finally!
A year of anticipation, editing, and deadlines. The impatient teenager inside wants the book to be here all ready. Just as quickly as the thoughts come, the chipper voice driving the car reminds me, "You've never published a book, have you? Why not look out the window and enjoy the ride."
It is good advice.
Today, my daughter turns eighteen and my son is only twenty months younger.
This morning as I watched this beautiful woman-child-creature eat her birthday bacon Chaz cooked for us in celebration, of course my mind wanders to my eighteenth birthday, which was almost exactly eighteen years ago.
Just four days before I had celebrated my one year wedding anniversary. My husband was working at a logging camp in Alberta, but since I was getting close to delivering our child and certain I would have this baby early as my mother had done with her seven children, I stayed home with my mother who was also my midwife.
The baby had been breech since the last ultrasound. I was stoic in my determination to deliver naturally. The long walks up long steep hills made my hips ache and my back cramp which mother said were both good signs. I got down and crawled in the fresh May dandelion filled grass fields whenever possible to encourage the baby to get that head down where it belonged. Delivering naturally at home was my only birth plan.
While preparing to give birth is my primary focus, it is after-all my eighteenth birthday, an event I'm determined to celebrate. I've always enjoyed my birthdays. Seven of my close high-school friends who are also my cousins come to the clinic where my mother and grandmother live in the beautiful suit upstairs.
Of the seven of us, we have two infants in car seats, a toddler, and two more baby bumps.”I’ll call my husband when I go into labour.” I tell my girl posse. “I’m sure I’ll labour many long hours before this baby is born. He will have lots of time to get here for the birth."
A midwife from Victoria is staying for a few weeks to assist mother in her busy midwifery practice. She tells us she works with crazy pregnant teenagers. “Oh, like us?” Together we laugh at ourselves easily, knowing full well the judgment that is common from people outside our community when they see us actively engaged in becoming teenage mothers. We prepare the snacks and cake for the party. This motherly woman has attended some community functions and met many of the families in our community. Her laugh is derision as she shakes her head. “You girls have no idea.”
At the breakfast table, my eighteen year old daughter scurries to get her bathing suit and slips it into her backpack. She’s wearing a light yellow floral cotton maxi skirt jumper, not terribly different than one I would have worn when I was pregnant with her. However, glowing copper tanned arms and forest green bando bra under it speak of a different era . Her blond hair loops carelessly into a messy bun.
It’s skip day for the grade 12s, she says. “The grads are all skipping class to go to the lake for the day.
I’m reminded, only two more weeks of school breakfasts with all of us together. “Don’t forget we are decorating for Prom on Friday at 2:00,” she reminds me as she heads out the door.
In the cabin where her grandfather was born sixty two years ago, I kiss my beautiful baby daughter as she gets into her green Subaru Outback and heads to school.