Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Liber Mothering- Part II

My supervisor said it was because I loved my kid too much. His statement bothered me. He seemed to be indicating, especially with his tone of voice, that this was a problem, because I should love my career more. I simply felt it was time for me to have my career be full-time mothering.

The question that confronted me in these early years of mothering was, “Is it possible for a woman, even a college-educated woman, in our postmodern, post women's lib movement era, to find fulfillment and freedom in mothering and homemaking?” Is there a better answer for women's fulfillment and liberation over the proposal I found long ago in a book at my grandmother's home, which was to have the government pay for childcare at women's job sites? I am happy to report, 14 years later, that I found the answer. It is YES! Yes, a woman can feel fulfilled and liberated, if she uses the proper form of womanhood.

The proper form of womanhood comes from the model of a tree. I discovered this in my educational journey, which has continued here at home during my years as a housewife. This journey has happened as I have provided a homeschooling environment for my six children. It has been part of the “you, not them” of our homeschool. As I read my core book, I discovered a great idea for mothers in a story I have heard all of my life. In this story, an ancient, holy man had a vision from God. This vision served as a message of love and warning for his children. In this vision, the man saw a tree which was most beautiful and had the sweetest fruit. The man ate the fruit and some of his family did , but he had two sons who would not. The man shared this vision with his family. He had a son who wanted to know the meaning of the dream, so the son prayed to God to know. Instead of God answering him right away, the young man was given to see an image of a mother, Mary, holding baby Jesus. From this image of a mother, the young man immediately knew what the image of the tree meant. He knew that the tree symbolized the love of God, which is the most desirable of all things because it gives joy.

As I pondered this story from my core book, I found it highly instructive that the image of Mary, the most famous mother in the Western world, was juxtaposed with the image of a tree, which symbolized the love of God. Was God saying that mothers have a love close to the love of God? Was God saying that a tree somehow symbolizes a mother's love as well as God's love?

I had heard Dr. Oliver DeMille, author of A Thomas Jefferson Education give the definition of the term liber. He said that liber comes from the Latin root word liber which means “tree bark” because in ancient times the people who were at the highest level of literacy could read and write enough to enter into contracts. The contracts were written on tree bark. Being able to enter into contracts allowed a liber person to enjoy freedom. Liber involves freedom in all aspects of life, which is the knowledge and ability to maintain one's freedom at all levels: political, social, financial, physical, spiritual, and emotional. Many people in the last century questioned what constituted social freedom for a woman. I started wondering. What was the connection between the tree of life symbolism in my core book, with mothers in general, and liber, which involves the tree idea as well? The answer came. The answer said that women can find true liberation, liberty, or “liberness” through patterning their lives after the form of a tree.

When the founders of the American constitutional government system designed it, they knew the importance of liberty. They knew that there had to be the proper form of government in place for our liberty to be protected from typical human nature and endure for generations to come. I believe that God has given woman the tree pattern or model as the proper form of womanhood, so that we can have liberty that lasts a lifetime. The key is the tree. A liber woman and mother can follow the tree model and feel fulfilled.

I will briefly describe this form. First you have the soil. This is the environment to nurture a liber woman. It is every object in her physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental environments that nurtures the liber woman. This is where the “classics, not textbooks” and “you, not them” keys of learning from Thomas Jefferson Education come to play. Certain trees grow in certain kinds of soil. A liber mothering tree has to have a liber soil to grow. I recommend the new book Leadership Education: the Phases of Learning by Oliver and Rachel DeMille to gain an understanding of what fertilizing this soil looks like. Fertilizing the soil looks like using the ingredients for a leadership education listed in chapters three through six of the book. The cover of the book even pictures a tree to symbolize the idea that people are not products on a conveyor belt to have education done to them but unique, living beings like trees who go through seasons, or phases of learning.

Then you have the root system. The things that support a mother are what fertilizes her soil, and the people who support her are the root system. If you are married, the primary root system is your husband. If you are not married, the primary root system is the people in your community that you can count on: your extended family, your church congregation, your neighbors, friends and support groups. If you are married then these people I just mentioned are your secondary root system. Because it is my own experience, I will dwell on the husband as the primary root system. According to former attorney and law school professor Bruce Hafen, the old idea was that a woman was subordinate to her husband. Along came the feminists who said that a woman should be independent of her husband. But the eternal idea is that men and women, husbands and wives, are interdependent, just like the roots and branches of a tree are interdependent. We find this interdependent model for men and women in classic books. It is a classic idea. In a real tree, both the branches and the roots have a function of providing food for the tree. The roots absorb water and minerals from the ground and send it up to the rest of the tree through a system of tubes called the xylem. The branches, through the leaves, absorb sunlight and air and make food for the tree to send down another system of tubes, the phloem, to the rest of the tree. This is a model for how marriage can be an interdependent union of two partners. Husbands and wives, men and women, are to be invisible root systems to each other. Neither is more important than the other, just like the branches are no more important than the roots. Both are needed. I liken the two systems of tubes to the give and take that happens in a Family Executive Council in marriage as the husband and wife achieve unity over their schedule and vision for their family each week.

Next you have the functions of a a tree: to provide food, or nourish, to protect or shelter, and to communicate. A tree provides food, and so do mothers. Every day as mothers we decide if this food is wholesome food, classic food for the mind and classic food for the body, or junk food for the mind and body. We protect our children both spiritually and physically just as a tree protects by giving shelter to small animals. We protect by creating a home that is a haven from the world. A tree communicates by inspiring others with its majesty and then indirectly through the books that comes from the paper made out of it. A mother communicates through the mentoring she gives her children.

Here's the other one of my distractions, whom I will call "Triumph." He never fails to have a weapon in his hand (notice the wooden sword), whether it's an actual toy gun or something as benign and mundane as an avocado in a grocery store produce bag which he calls his stone and sling. (I recently read the story of David and Goliath to him.) He really keeps us hopping with all of his adventures. Notice his hair is messy. It is hard to keep him still long enough to comb it. This was right after we got home from church, and it was combed for church. He and Glory are best friends and get into a lot of trouble together, but oh what fun!

She Let Me Do Pigtails!

Here's one of my "distractions" that I mentioned in the last post, whom I will call Glory. She looks all feminine and sweet, but don't let that fool you. I have never seen a more determined, stubborn little girl so interested in dressing like a boy. She finally has enough hair to do pigtails, and after months of begging, she let me put them in for church. When we got home she asked me to take them out before she got out of her dress, but at least I got this picture taken of her in all her beauty. Usually she dons her older brothers' T-shirts and wears old jeans. She is all of 25 pounds and barely three years old, but has the personality of a 10-year-old tomboy. What fun!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Detergent Pancakes

Two days ago I had to pick up my daughterabout 60 miles away. She had been spending the night at my mom's house for some "grandparent mentoring." By the time I got back it was 5:15 PM, so past time to fix dinner. I decided pancakes would work for a quicker meal than what I had orginally planned. (We rarely do fast food, both for health and economic reasons.) My two preschoolers, ages 3 and 4, were out of sorts for having to leave the world of cousins for what seemed to them at the time the boring world of home. They were whiny and clingy and hungry. I managed to tend to them (get them food) and get the pancakes done.

So when we were all eating, my husband said, "These pancakes taste funny. Did you do anything different?"

I thought for a moment. "Um, yeah, well, maybe I used baking soda instead of baking powder. Would that make a difference?"

"Uh, YEAH! No wonder they taste like detergent! That would do it! Why did you do that?"

"It's called having two little people distract me so that I get interrupted. Oh, well," I shrugged. "They are still safe to eat." I mean, "baking" in baking soda does mean that it is for food.

When you have kids, especially six kids, especially kids that you are homeschooling, AND especially kids who are under five, AND especially two kids under five close in age (18 months) you really learn to be flexible. You could call me Plasticwoman, I am so flexible. I have learned to tolerate things I never thought I would in my before-kids-life (I won't go into details) and to survive on little sleep, little food (because I get interrupted while eating) and not an abundance of money at times. I am sure any mom can relate to this.

If you want to make Detergent Pancakes too then just get a copy of La Leche League's Whole Foods for the Whole Family Cookbook. Use baking soda instead of baking powder in the recipe for Whole Grain Pancakes. Not bad. I've had worse food. (The real recipe is fabulous. It makes the best pancakes ever.) Not all my dinners are winners as far as the food goes, but I still believe in the value of home cooked food and eating dinner together. It's what nourishes my soul so I can keep on being Plasticwoman.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Liber Mothering, or Liberated Mothering Part I- The True Women's Lib

So, you may be asking, what is "liber mothering?" (liber is pronounced "lie-ber.") It's liberated mothering, or the true women's liberation. It's the proper form of mothering and womanhood. Ezra Taft Benson, a prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once wrote an article about the proper form of government. Well, with inspiration from him, here's my article about the proper form of womanhood:

I first became aware of "women’s liberation" as a young girl coming of age in the 1980s. Every summer my siblings and I would spend a week at my grandparents’ home in Nephi, Utah, while my parents went on a trip. My grandmother was somewhat of an anomaly for her small, rural town. She decided to get her college degree as a mother of six children in the 1960s. This was when her youngest children were teenagers and the oldest ones were out of the nest. Every day she made the one way trip of about forty miles to the closest university and then back again for four years to get a bachelor’s degree and certification to teach home economics at the local high school.

I don’t know if Grandma felt like a “women’s libber” but she certainly had the books on her bookshelf to support the label. Being the perpetually hungry love of learner that I was, I loved to peruse them. I found books like by Betty Friedan and The latter book proposed the ideal solution for women’s oppression: have the government pay for childcare at mothers’ job sites. This solution seemed strange to me. I had never felt angst about being female or the prospect of being a mother until I encountered these books. I had never known that women felt oppressed or deprived of a career because of their children. I had always looked forward to being a mother and being home with my offspring. From these books though I learned that some women felt oppressed and deprived in their roles as housewives and mothers. I didn’t sense this, however, in my own mother.

I wish my grandmother was still alive so I could ask her what she felt about those books. I don’t know if she agreed with them or not. I don’t know if she bought them to support her decision to pursue a career outside the home. I don’t know if she pursued a job outside the home because she and her husband, a farmer and flour mill worker, simply needed the money, or if it was because she wanted a career outside her home to feel fulfilled. I do know that she told me a year or so before she died that she wished she had had more children. Would she have stayed home longer and delayed having her career, or not had it all, if she had more children? I don't know.

I do know that I have often felt a tug between my own ambitions outside the home and my maternal, homemaking ambitions to have a bunch of children and be the Kool-Aid mom for the neighborhood, always home and always preparing food for family and friends. Because of this, I have often felt out of place in our typical American feminist culture, which seems to say that the only great ambitions for women are outside the home.For a time, I thought I would have a baby or two while pursuing graduate education. I got married in college but was able to finish and get my bachelor's degree. I went forward with the idea of graduate education by applying to medical school before I had children. I didn't get accepted into medical school after applying to three or four of them. This gave me time to ponder my plans. I didn't want to wait years until my professional education was over to start a family. Did I really want to juggle medical school with having babies? After much soul-searching and praying, I decided I didn't want to. I know some women have combined having children with graduate school and/or careers, but I felt it wasn't what God wanted me to do, for my mission as a mother.

I decided not to apply again and to go ahead with having a baby and being a full-time stay-at-home mom. So many things I read in my early mothering days indicated the popular attitude of “What’s a smart woman like you doing at home?” The implication was that home with little children was boring. This wasn't what I wanted to experience. The start of my career as a full-time homemaker coincided with my start as a full-time mother. I remember when I left full-time employment at the laboratory of a medical school professor to be a stay-at-home mom, it was two weeks before my first baby was due. (To be continued...)