Sunday, April 9, 2017

As Sisters in Zion

Never Have Kids:

The designer pillows perch on your sofa, just like the latest home décor picture you saw in this month’s magazine. The article was right, the spring colors add the perfect pop of color to the muted gray shade of your sofa. The rug sitting in the middle of the room is a touch crooked, so you quickly straighten it so the gaps between the sofa and loveseat are even.

You check your phone one last time. Ten minutes until you need to leave for work. Ten minutes until your life continues on autopilot.

A soft flower fragrance wafts through the room as you pass the glass vase sitting on one of the end tables, filled with fresh cut tulips from your front yard. A few magazines, scattered to look used, but not unorganized, lay beside them.

The wall clock ticks through the seconds, the only sound to break the endless silence, besides your quiet footsteps on the tile.

You turn the fireplace off before you leave. No need to have that on if nobody is here to appreciate the ambiance it creates.

With a quick trip to the bathroom, you straighten your ironed shirt, then admire how well your new makeup went on this morning. The lipstick you bought at your friend’s party last night really does create the perfect blush. You notice a water speck dotting the mirror and wipe it clean, straighten the hand towel so it folds perfectly in two, then head for the entry to grab your keys, which hang on their usual key hook.

There’s still five minutes to spare, so you decide to leave a little early. Maybe you can swing by Starbucks and grab your favorite morning treat: pumpkin loaf with a caramel apple spice.

Your convertible is as spotless as your house. You like it that way. Everything in its place. Since it’s a nice, summer day, you fold the top down.

As your phone connects to the car’s Bluetooth, a new favorite song blares through the speakers. You turn it up so you can’t hear yourself singing over the sound.

Starbucks snack in hand, you pull up to the store right on time. The manager gives you a head nod and “hello” as you trek to the back of the store, where you place your things in the very back of your cubby. Your nametag is a little worn, so you fix the letters with a magic marker. With the last few seconds of freedom, you gobble down your bread. You’ll save some of the drink for later, it’s almost too hot to drink right now.

As you exit the backroom, a mom with two toddlers enters the shop. She has the same Starbuck’s cup in hand. She appears to be about your age, and you admire the way she looks effortlessly cute, with her hair in a messy bun, and sunglasses plopped on the top of her head. Her makeup free face glows under the fluorescent lights. Although her shirt is a little tight in places, and a stain of something brown clings to her jeans, it doesn’t seem to hinder her appearance.

Her little girl pulls on her arm, trying to get her attention. The mom barely glances in the girl’s direction before motioning to something else. The little girl shakes her head, yanking on the mom’s arm, which sends steaming liquid onto the floor. The mom squeaks before she opens her purse. Rummaging through it, she pulls out a crumpled napkin and wipes the floor.

“I can get that.” You grab a paper towel from under the check out desk and help her.

“Thank you. It’s been a day already.”

You can only imagine what she means by that, so you just smile and nod. “No worries.”

Her kids bump into a mannequin, almost knocking it over. She immediately apologizes as the little boy gives you a smile that should be on the front page of the Baby Gap magazine you have stowed away at home. The one you secretly pull out when you’re alone, and dream of buying little kid clothes for your own kiddos someday.

Your heart thumps a few heavy beats. Five years. That’s how long it’s been since you’ve tried to create one of those smiles with your own husband. Five long, lonely years.

“How old is he?” You ask.

“He turns four in May.”

You try to hide your grimace. That’s how old your child would’ve been if you’d carried it to full term.

“He’s adorable.”

“Thanks.” She gives you a courteous smile before stepping away.

You watch as she selects a few random shirts and a pair of jeans. Her kids dance, jump, and unfold three different piles of shirts you folded yesterday. The little boy climbs inside one of the round clothes hangers. She panics until he pops his head out with a mischievous grin and a giggle you could never get tired of hearing.

“Can I put those in a dressing room for you?” You ask.

“Yes, thank you.” She hands over the items as the girl latches onto her leg.

Your chest aches with envy at the small little hands that wrap so lovingly around the mother’s leg. At the brown eyed smile the son only gives his mom, filled with the promise of trouble.  What you wouldn’t give to have your own child look at you that way. To have them cling to you like the world will only continue to go around if you command it to.

Loneliness tightens your heart. You try to shove it away, but it sinks its ever-present talons into your soul.  It’s moments like these when the claws squish a piece of your heart into nothingness, slowly turning you from living to dead.

Failure. You’re a failure. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never have kids. Never have someone look at you that way. Depend on you. Everyone who says that you never know what love is until you have a child of your own, knows what they’re talking about. You don’t know. Not that kind of love. And oh, how you wish you did. You’ve prayed for it, over and over. Prayed for a miracle. But God hasn’t answered your prayers. He never will. Because the last time you went to the doctor, they laid the cards of your future on the table, and children were not to be a part of it.

Tears build up behind your eyes. You blink them away.

“I’m ready.” The mom says as she tries to coax her kids in the direction of the dressing room.

“Let me know if I can get you anything in a different size or color.” You are rewarded with a thank you as you close the door.

You straighten the shirt piles and refold the ones on top, listening to the conversation in the dressing room that’s so loud it fills the rest of the store. There’s little voices that answer questions. Then little voices that ask questions. You wish you could answer simple questions like: “What’s this mirror for? Why are you taking off your shirt? What color is that? Why are you frowning? Are you angry?”

The mom opens the door and gives you an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. None of them worked. Can I just leave them here?”

You see the frustration in her eyes. You wish you could smooth the tired lines on her face, tell her she’s doing great, to cherish her children, because they’re such a blessing. Instead, you smile and nod. “Did you need different sizes?”

Her face crumbles. “No. It’s just…nothing looks good on me since I’ve had kids. There’s twenty pounds of baby weight I need to lose.” She closes her eyes. Opens them again. “Who am I kidding, I can’t call it baby weight anymore, because it’s been three years since I’ve had the baby.” She motions to her daughter, who is rummaging through the jewelry. “Don’t touch that, Brighton.”

You wish you could comfort her. Wish you could have the same problem. If only your body could grow another human being. Create life, which is the most precious gift above all others. The gift of a motherhood.

“Well, if it’s any consolation, you look great. And you have two adorable kids. They’re what truly matters.”

She takes a few seconds to nod. “You’re right. Thank you.”

She corrals her kids, which takes a few more minutes, then leaves the store.

You collect her clothes. They’re in a pile on the floor. The coffee cup has been tipped over on one of the shirts. You take the shirt to your manager, who damages out the garment, while you hang the rest of the clothes and respace the hangers on each of the racks.

The rest of the day passes in a blur. You drive home with the convertible’s top up, radio off, and listen to the sound of your tires passing over the pavement.

Your home has a few lights on as you enter. One of your favorite love songs plays over the surround sound you bought for your husband’s last birthday.

You find him in the kitchen, dinner in the oven, table set, and an apron around his waist. His face is the most handsome thing you’ve ever seen. If only you could replicate it a thousand times over.

“Good evening. How was work?” He wraps his arms around you, gives you a kiss that you feel to your toes, and loosens the claws of loneliness. But a small pocket of your soul refuses to be released, for that space is reserved for something you’ll never obtain. Something that lives, only in your dreams.

Mom with Kids:

You’re sitting home, watching your baby gnaw on a toy that hasn’t been disinfected in years. Dishes flow from the sink onto the countertop like an overfilled reservoir. Last night’s dinner is half scraped from your stainless steel pot, what a great way to show respect to your grandmother’s wedding gift. The kitchen table looks like a racoon snuck into your garbage pile, with unfinished cans of pop from the night before, left over scraps of breakfast, and a few papers with half colored pictures scattered here and there.

The clock is ticking down the minutes until the end of the day, when the kids will be home from school. You’ve told yourself to get up and clean the kitchen. To pull up the sheets on the beds. Switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer so they don’t mildew. And the toys on the floor, you’ve given up dodging them. You simply step on whatever’s in your way, hoping it won’t be as sharp as the last Lego piece that jammed into the sole of your foot.

Another second.

Another minute.

One more glance out the window, wondering if this is what life really holds for you.

Two more minutes.

Check Pintrest to see what you should be doing. To see what other moms are capable of. To see how big of a failure you are. How your house doesn’t look like that. Or that. How organization is as hard to achieve as Mount Everest, which happens to be sprouting in your bedroom closet.

One more minute, visiting your Facebook page to see if anyone has liked your latest post about being upbeat, happy, the best mom ever, because that’s what you show the world, when in reality, you feel like the world’s biggest mistake.

How many more days will be like this? Is there an end in sight?

Hmmm…an article about getting your kids to help the first time you ask. Let’s check that out. See if it offers anything helpful. Done that. Done that. Did that. Haven’t tried that one. Get back to it in a week or so. Save article. Pin for later. Check.

One minute before you throw your hair into a pony tail, wipe the mascara stains from your cheeks, throw on sunglasses and some jeans, and go pick up your kids.

Your baby cries as you stuff her into the car seat. “You should be glad we’re only leaving twice today.” You tell her, wishing she understood the need to escape the mess inside your house. Going to the store for no reason. Then buying things you don’t need. Which clutters the house more. The cycle never ends.

All the parking spots are taken as you pull up to the school, so you circle, waiting for a chance to sneak into a spot. You see your kids from a distance. Wish you could honk your horn to get their attention, but decide not to embarrass them, or yourself, any more than you already do.

The sun beats down through the windows, turning the milk your baby spilled on the floor sour. You plug your nose and crack the window. A gust of fresh air provides momentary relief.

“Hey mom!” The kids toss in your direction as they pile into the van. Their bookbags go in the seat next to you. They don’t seem to mind the smell, or the bits and pieces of food, gum wrappers, and million other things dotting the floor. Maybe you’re not the only one with a car like this.

The mess has grown with each one of them. And they pass it by, adding to it with shoes, mismatched socks, and a few awards for good behavior. You post those on the fridge, show them your best “proud mom” smile, because even though you’re struggling to survive, you keep that inside.

“I don’t want that seat! It’s sticky!” The kids push one another to get away from the pop dried cushion, which is, indeed, sticky.

“Just sit down and put on your seatbelts.” You sigh. The car rocks as the kids arrange themselves, albeit noisily, and with a few wild elbows thrown here and there.

The drive home is filled with questions, none that you remember thirty seconds after they’ve asked. You try to focus on their conversations, ask them about their day, their homework, future projects, but you can barely focus on the road in front of you.

Banging fills the house from your son’s drum set. The Trolls theme song blares through the living room as your daughter switches from her school clothes into her favorite princess pajamas. Your other son closes his bedroom door, doesn’t come back out. You wonder if he’s had a bad day. He didn’t talk as much as usual on the way home. Just as you’re about to knock, your baby starts crying, reminding you that you left her in the car seat.

Baby in tow, you head into your son’s room. He’s passed out on top of his sheets. You put your hand on his forehead. Hot. His cheeks red, even under the dim afternoon light seeping in through the closed window shades.

You close the door and find the phone.

“Please be quiet, trying to call the doctor.” You yell to your other kids, who don’t hear, or care.

Taking the baby into the laundry room, you close the door and sit down on the floor. She’s happy to be free and starts crawling to the toilet, which has the seat up. You close it before she can get in. Blue detergent makes a long streak down the side of the clothes washer. You wipe it, making your hand soapy. The doctor answers as you stick your hands under the faucet.

They have no appointments left today, which means you have to wait until tomorrow morning to call and try to make a same day appointment. You try not to stress. Try not to cry. Try to hold yourself together.

Your daughter has found the toilet paper roll while you were distracted. Tiny paper snowflakes cover the floor. You add it to your list of things to clean up later.

Your husband’s home an hour later. He takes one look at the kitchen, hides his grimace and gives you a kiss. But in that kiss, you can feel the disappointment. Feel that he’s doing it out of obligation. He knows you’re failing, sees it, and can’t fix it, so he’s given up too.

“How about we get some pizza tonight?” He suggests as he tucks an unruly strand of hair behind your ear.

Pizza. Nice solution. You’ve had pizza three out of seven nights in the last week.

“Sure.” You hand him the phone, along with the baby, who has taken out her exhaustion from the day on you.

You want to curl up in bed, pull the covers over your head, but remember your son is sick. So you go lay down next to him instead. You wrap your arms around his small frame and cry silently. He’s too tired to notice. Or to wake up. So you hold him, hoping that someday, someone will hear your silent plea for help. Your silent wish. Your prayer for strength.

Empty Nester:

You listen to the birds chirping through your opened kitchen window. The day is brisk, smelling of rain. Leaves from the trees have fallen overnight, blanketing your front yard in a colorful abyss. You’ll have to venture out and rake before the snow falls. How many days do you have? You think back to last year and remember the storm that took everyone by surprise. You shudder and add “Rake leaves” onto your to do list, wishing your husband could be here to help.

Your stomach growls, reminding you that you’re hungry, and that’s why you ventured out of bed this morning. You open the fridge in hopes that it’ll help you decide what you want for breakfast. Milk, eggs, bread, fresh fruit and veggies, along with some leftovers from last night’s dinner. Hmmm…nothing calls your name. You shut the door and head for the pantry.

The breakfast area of your cupboard is filled with various cereal options. The oatmeal’s lid isn’t quite sealed. Must be an omen. Oatmeal it is.

As you fill the measuring cup with water, you frown at how little the amount is. It wasn’t that long ago that it took three times that much to prepare this meal for your family. The oatmeal measuring cup is just as pitiful.

You rub your hands as a cramp forms between the joints of your fourth and fifth fingers. Arthritis has settled, like a burr in fabric. No matter how much you massage, tug, or pull, it persists.

The water boils within a minute, and you pour the oatmeal in. It only takes another minute of stirring, and it’s done.

Fine china clinks as you pull it from the cupboard. Not a single scratch mars the surface. You’ve saved them for a special occasion. What’s so special about today, you can’t decide, but it seems like all those years of not using them have been a waste. You need to get as much use out of them, before you’re gone too, and they stand alone in the thrift shop, with no home of their own.

You pour the brown sugar over the oatmeal, making it just the way you like it. Your lips lift as you reminisce about adding cinnamon and raisins to your husband’s bowl, extra cream for your son, and extra sugar for your daughter. You debate adding cinnamon and raisins, just so you can taste what your husband tasted, to be a tiny bit closer to him.

While the oatmeal cools, you toast a piece of whole wheat bread, then spread vegetable butter over the golden-brown top. Crumbs fall onto the counter. You set the toast on a plate, then brush them into the garbage.

Quick prayer.

You imagine the taste of real butter when you take the first bite.

Silence blankets the house. The only sound, the crunch of food between your teeth, and the bird songs from outside the window. You wish for footsteps, voices, anything, besides the nothingness that exists between you and the painted walls.

You look around the table. Your son’s chair has a few dents from where he leaned back too far and fell over. Your daughter’s has a few paint marks where she got carried away. Then you look at your husband’s chair, where his full frame used to encompass, and his strong spirit filled the room.

It’s all gone now.

Son living abroad, traveling and experiencing life at a pace you could never keep up with, even when he was a child. Daughter married, with a baby of her own, living two states away, so busy with life she barely has time to call. And husband…your heart constricts, pulls back inside the walls you’ve built to protect yourself from ever getting hurt like that again.

Your life is over. Waiting to die has begun. Nobody needs you. Nobody wants you in their lives. You hold no value. You’re not needed anymore. Just a useless body, living on the leftovers of life.

You finish breakfast, which is tasteless after the hopeless thoughts tumble through your mind. How much longer must you wait? How much longer until time calls your name?

How many of us have found ourselves in one of these situations before? How many can relate, either now, or at one time or another in our lives? How do we get through these trials?

How could these three sisters help each other?

After reading these stories to Ted, he said: “There are times when everyone has their noses in the corner, if they’d just turn around, they’d see there are other people in the room, other people who have similar trials, other people who could lift each other up.” So, how do we turn around?

How can we begin to help others when we can’t help ourselves? Like each one of the ladies in my stories, they were so overwhelmed in their own lives, where do they start to look outside themselves?

What do you feel like you need before you can reach out to others? (Love, charity, wholeness, see others through Christ like eyes, a willingness to serve, a willingness to look beyond yourself)

How do you get that? (pray for it, decide that it’s something you’re going to work on, start developing that attribute by applying it to your life).

Through serving others, we become whole, more Christ-like, and are blessed. Serving is a blessing, not a burden. How can we gain that perspective when life is pulling us in a million different directions? (By putting it to the test-going out and serving).

I feel like Sarah Kimball and Margaret Cook, as they were sewing clothes for the men who were dedicating their time and efforts to building the Nauvoo temple, could see into the future, could see our day and time, and know that not only did they need an organization then, but also now, that helped sisters, across the globe, to be united in service, charity, and strength. Just like ants, even though we may be small, and can only do so much on our own, united, we are a force to be reckoned with. This force to do good is what I want to exploit.

We have such a unique and powerful opportunity to serve those around us in countless ways. Those of us who are able, have a solemn responsibility to share our time and talents with others, to help them in whatever way we can, to make their lives a little more bearable. Many women suffer silently through life’s challenges, when in reality, we are part of the relief society, an organization that is supposed to unite. United we are strong. United we can change the world. But it starts on the smaller scale of doing the little things. Little things like sending a text to your visiting teaching sisters. Asking to help others. Showing up at someone’s doorstep, just to check on them, when you have a few minutes to spare. And trust me, you’ll be surprised by how much you have in common. How much your trials line up. How much you can relate. A new friendship will bud, and you will have someone there, no matter what. This is what relief society is all about. This is what the sisters had in mind and foresaw, hundreds of years ago. They were inspired. They were guided. Directed by the spirit. Let us have that same spirit lead and guide us. Listen to those promptings. Get out of our comfort zones. Get out of our messy homes. Instead of going to the store, go to your visiting teacher’s house. Instead of going for a drive, drive over to your friends house. Reach out. Share. We live in a world where we can connect with one another so easily, yet so many feel alone, unreachable, and depressed. Why is this? How can we change this? Will you make a commitment today, to reach out and help those sisters you are called to serve? Charity and service are the greatest gifts we can give to one another.

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