A Perfect Baby Blessing

Months ago, my husband and I decided we’d each give Ava a baby blessing. It was a very controversial decision for an LDS family to make.  That is because, in our church, only fathers with the higher priesthood may participate in the public blessing and naming ritual for new infants.  Mothers must sit among the congregants while the baby is being blessed.

But my husband and I are products of a country where, outside of religion, women and men are very nearly equal.  As a parent, I want to send a clear message to our daughter, beginning with her first blessing, that this equality would not end at the doors of the church.   I don’t have the priesthood—but I don’t need the priesthood to give my child a blessing.  I have the right, as a daughter of God, to pray over my children, and expect He will provide guidance, blessings and inspiration in return.

Ava

And so, with only our parents and bishop to witness, Jang held Ava first and gave her a beautiful blessing, which I recorded.  I won’t share it all, but the most touching moment came when he asked God to give her “the strength to know that it’s okay to be different and to be yourself.”  He continued, “I bless you with the desire to accomplish great things in your life…with ambition and leadership that you can be a shining light to other people.  That other people can look to you as someone who is faithful and trustworthy.”  Since a baby blessing more often conveys the parent’s hopes for the child, rather than any prophecy, hearing my husband say these things about our daughter warmed my heart.  I hope Ava will be a trailblazer and example for many people, both inside the LDS faith and outside of it.  We smiled at each other when he finished.

Then it was my turn.  I’d stayed outside the priesthood circle, at my hubby’s request, but now I stepped forward to hold my child.  The bishop, my father and father-in-law stood somewhat awkwardly around me.  I’m sure none of them had any idea what this moment would look like.  Truth be told, neither did I. It was a blessing my own mother had never voiced.  I felt a little uncomfortable coming forward then— but the instant Ava was in my arms, her face brightened, and I felt a calmness come over me.  She recognized me, her mother—and as her mother, this was exactly what I should be doing for her.  Thankfully, I’d thought and prayed beforehand about what I wanted to say; and when all the men had moved to the side or taken their seats, I began to speak:

“Ava this is a special day for you.  This is a day where all your family is gathered together to celebrate your birth.  We’re so very happy you’re a part of our family.  You’ve been blessed with an even temperament and a sweet nature, and we truly hope that these character traits continue in your life.  As your mother, I pray that Heavenly Father will bless you with the ability to clearly know right from wrong, and to be a guide for your siblings and an inspiration for those around you.  It’s important now to stand for things that are right and true.  We hope that you’ll always stick close to the Church and close to your Heavenly Father, and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

As I spoke, I somehow felt a rightness to my words.  I wondered if that is how fathers feel when they bless their children.  In that moment, I was happy, surrounded by family as I held my baby daughter.  I had stuck to my commitment to bless her out of sheer principle—there had been times when Jang and I wondered if it would be worth it to go ahead with the mother’s blessing, fearing how our friends or church leaders would react.  But I can tell you, when we each blessed our daughter in turn, it felt so right; so complete.  As parents, we are a team, and we stood together that day.  And I believe God stood with us as well.

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Not my Baby

This April, you won’t see us blessing our daughter in a church. Her father won’t hold her up, Lion King-style, in front of an admiring audience as I sit silently in the back pew. This decision makes us atypical among our Mormon friends. But I simply don’t like the message that the typical baby blessing projects—that Jang, as the head of our household, is the only one worthy enough to bless and present our baby before the congregation.

Let me just tell you how our family works; there is no head of the household.  Jang and I approach religious worship as we do all other aspects of our marriage—as equals.  That’s not to say there’s no division of duties; I recently became—gulp!—a stay-at-home mom.  Thus, by default, I get to make many of the day-to-day decisions on raising our kids. Jang is the “breadwinner” and full-time working parent.  So, although he asks my opinion on many work-related things, he does not consult with me on most decisions about how to run his law firm. It’s not because we necessarily believe in proscribed gender roles; this division of duties, for us, is about what is practical.

But excluding mothers from participating in baby blessings serves no practical purpose.  It is only about division, about demonstrating the “proper” priesthood order that governs the Church today.  In doing so, I believe the Church undermines women’s roles in creating and raising that baby; some would see it as another example of how women are marginalized in the Church today.

Let me tell you the thoughts that go through my head when I think about letting my daughter be blessed in the traditional way. For nine months, I suffered intense bouts of nausea, terrible acid reflux and exhaustion, before laboring to bring her into this world.  Since then, I’ve been her constant companion.  Often, mine is the first face she sees in the morning and the last one before she sleeps at night. In my divine role as her mother, I’m responsible for her nurturing, care and safety. Yet, on the day when she is recognized by my Church, and given a name and a blessing, I’m essentially nothing to her; I don’t even have the standing to be able to bring her before my fellow members and say, “Look! Here is my daughter.”  Nope; I’m just another face in the crowd.  Any adult Melchizedek priesthood holder, although a stranger to her, can participate in this blessing circle. But not me.

View More: http://kayla-brooke.pass.us/ava

I had the traditional baby blessing with my first child. I won’t apologize for this decision; my husband and I wanted to include our new ward in the blessing, because of their many kindnesses to us. Before the blessing, I remember asking the Bishop if I could record it, so that my son could later listen to his father’s words. That request was met with such a firm (if kind) no, I didn’t dare ask if I could participate in the blessing circle. Later, I regretted my choice.  I now firmly believe that there is no justification for prohibiting me, or any other woman, from participating in blessing her child.

The thing is, my ideas about revelation and blessings have come a long way since first blessing our son almost three years ago. I know now that every person, whether a priesthood holder or not, has the right to ask for (even promise) blessings upon their family. I’ve discarded the image of my husband as being the head of our family and the primary source of God’s revelation for us. As my children’s mother and primary caregiver, I know their spirits and personalities more intimately than anyone. And while I emphatically believe in the sacredness of priesthood blessings, and I believe my husband will receive revelation to guide our children’s future lives, I also know I can too.

And so, we’ve made a decision; this time around, we won’t bless our baby in a church. Her father won’t carry her ceremoniously up to the mount of revelation, leaving me behind with the masses. In this at least, I will not be a second-class participant in my children’s religious lives. Not only will I hold her during the blessing, I may even say a few words about my baby as well. Because, if I speak, it will be as a mother who prays over her children constantly, and who has already called down numerous blessings from Heavenly Father for her small family. Asking God for revelation and blessings, particularly concerning my children, is something I am entitled to do as a mother, without regard for any institution (religious or otherwise) on this earth. And so, if I choose to speak, I have no doubt the Spirit can be with me, as well as my husband, to give us direction for her future life. I don’t need for it to be officially recognized by the Church for the words to proceed from God. In conducting the blessing this way, I do not feel I’m undermining my husband’s priesthood authority; I hope I am complementing it.

I hope the blessing can be an opportunity for our family to establish healthy interactions, not only with the Mormon church, but with one another as well.  With this decision, I want to show my children that their father and I are equals before God, both at home and at Church.  And since that equality is not apparent in the blessings that take place in Church today, our daughter’s will take place where it belongs—in our home.

And I’m recording the entire thing, darn it.

Be Cool

I did something I’m pretty ashamed of this weekend. I yelled at a kid.  I made him cry. I thought I was a better adult than this.

Let me backtrack; on Friday, Jang, Kisan and I went to the Museum of Natural Curiosity, at Thanksgiving Point. Now, while it is very cool and has a lot of interactive exhibits, it is also very busy; and there is no employee supervision or crowd control in the busy exhibits. But Jang and I would be watching Kisan carefully, so I thought he would be safe with us. Boy, was I wrong.

One of the first rooms we visited in the new Museum contained large piles of foam blocks. Older and younger kids played side-by-side, building houses, towers and walls.  Then, after a while, someone would usually come over and use their hands to knock the buildings down.  It was busy, but the kids around us generally seemed well behaved.  Kisan was happily playing beside me with foam blocks. Jang was standing a couple of feet away from me, talking with his friend.  Losing interest in the blocks he had been playing with, Kisan walked over to a large foam brick wall, and I followed behind to make sure it was okay for him to knock it down.

Then, without warning, this a large, lanky kid crashes through the wall, propelling my baby backwards in a shower of foam bricks. The room was so loud, I didn’t hear Kisan hit the cement floor, but I saw him land on his back—hard—and heard his scream.  If you’ve ever seen your baby get hurt, you’ll understand the feelings of panic I experienced. Jang and I rushed over right away (like I said, I was only a foot away!) and while I tried to pick him up my mind raced with worry for my little boy. Was he okay? Was he bleeding? Jang quickly scooped him up in his arms, leaving me standing there with my fear and growing anger.

Then I saw the boy standing there.  He was almost as tall as me (no large feat there) and must have been 10 or 11 years old.  Bottom line, he had no place running through a block wall in a room crowded with small children. I turned to him with all the fury of a mama bear whose cub has just been hurt.

“What the heck are you doing?! Watch where you’re going!” I yelled at him, then turned back to examine my baby again.  Jang was cradling Kisan to his chest, so I had a moment to look over again at the offending boy again. He was only few feet away, talking to his mom.  I saw her ask him what had happened, and I saw his jaw quiver when he answered. You could tell he was pretty upset.  As he was talking, he looked over at Kisan and me and quickly looked away, misery evident on his face.

And just like that, my heart broke. I couldn’t be angry with this boy anymore; and I probably shouldn’t have been angry with him in the first place. I walked over to him, with his mom standing by, and I said (looking directly into his face), “I’m sorry. He’s all right. I’m sorry.” And I gave him a hug. He nodded his head and tears welled up in his eyes. I saw tears in his mother’s eyes too.  I felt like the most rotten adult—ever.  I’d scared this child and made him cry. I’d made his mom cry. In short, I’d been a big bully.

My fear for my baby did not give me the right to terrorize others. With my shame burning a hole in my chest, I quickly took Kisan from Jang and carried him (still screaming) into the other room to comfort him—which is what I should have been doing all along. He ended up being fine, just like he’s been fine after other tumbles.

As I thought about what had happened that night in bed, I realized my behavior was totally unjustifiable.  Yes, that boy’s mother should have been watching him better. But just like I had tried my best to watch my little boy, hadn’t that mom probably tried her best as well?  Sometimes, accidents just happen when kids play together.

What’s worse, I never would have acted that way if one of my friend’s kids had run into Kisan. It just wouldn’t be appropriate to yell at a friend’s child. But why was it okay, in my mind, to yell at a complete stranger?  Oh, I’d sniped at strangers before—on the road; when someone took my parking spot; when a receptionist had mis-calendared my appointment.  There’d always been some excuse why it was their fault; and since they’d been adults, my behavior hadn’t seemed so bad at the time. But now I’d yelled at a kid—someone who, even though he was a stranger to me, deserved to be treated gently by the adults in his life, not to be belittled and frightened. The truth is, in that moment I yelled at him, he wasn’t a little boy to me; I wasn’t thinking about him as a person; I didn’t care about his feelings. He was someone who had hurt Kisan.  That was all that went through my mind.

Just in case you think I have rage issues, I did moderate my behavior at the time. Somehow, lacking the presence of mind to act my best, I didn’t act my worst. I hadn’t tried to terrify the boy—I’d yelled, but not roared. I hadn’t gotten in his face. And I’d never dream of trying to physically bully a child. But I hadn’t moderated my behavior enough.

The truth is, I should have been my best self. Kisan had gotten hurt while playing before and recovered. The logical part of my brain should have told me he’d be fine again this time. But it just didn’t, not in the moment.  Even with my emotions taking over, I should have had the presence of mind to calm myself. If logic had failed, my morality should have restrained me.  After all, am I not a Christian? An adult? A mother? How would I have felt if someone had yelled at Kisan the way I yelled at this little boy?

If nothing else, this experience has been a wake-up call for me. You see, none of the incidents I described earlier were okay behavior for me. I should never yell at other drivers, make snippy remarks to a receptionist, or speak so harshly to another child. It’s just not right to behave badly and privately repent later. When bad behavior becomes a habit, it becomes your character. And I just don’t want my character to be this way—angry, mean, or hurtful to others. So starting this week, I have a new goal: to keep my cool, at all costs. I hope I can follow through, because I want my character and behavior to reflect all the best parts of me, not the worst.

 

Mothers, Mothers

To be honest, Mother’s Day makes me feel kind of embarrassed. Living in Utah where having large families is common, I sometimes wonder if, with my one child, I have the street cred that the moms around me do.  Yes, we’ve had some unique challenges with Kisan, but overall he’s a well-mannered and affectionate baby. What about the moms I know who have three, four, five, even eight (yes, eight) children? How do my experiences compare with theirs, and how can I possibly merit the same recognition today that they do?

Sure, being a mom has been challenging.  There have been days I’ve been so glad to leave Kisan with the sitter, while I work for a few hours. Or I’ve counted the minutes till nap time.  But you know what?  I always love it when he can be with me again. Funny how even a few hours away from your baby can make you miss him so much. And he is always so, so happy to see me. That unconditional love is like a drug. You can’t help but want to be around your baby when he shows you that much affection and love.

But I get the feeling that, with more kids, your free time shrinks. You don’t get the chance to miss your kids, because they’re always around. As your kids get older, they don’t love you quite as unconditionally.  Sometimes they might think they hate you. If you’re a mom of multiples, there’s so many demands on your time, so many needs to meet, you don’t have any time for yourself. And yet, through it all, you keep giving of your time and  yourself—through sleepless nights, frustration, and sickness—because that’s what moms do.

See, I’m still at the early stages of parenting, when my husband can really help share the load.  If I’m tired or sick, I can take long naps on the weekends (and sometimes during the week).  If I ever get too frustrated, I can bundle my little guy into the car and take him somewhere, because you can do that with just one kid. And since Kisan still naps, I have up to two hours of free time during the day to work on projects, or to rest.  Life has gotten harder since becoming a mom, but it’s still pretty good. I admire you moms who have taken the plunge and had larger families. My friends all seem to do it so well.

My college friends and their adorable families.
My college friends and their adorable children.  We’ve since added more to the bunch!

Having a kid seems like a very irreversible step to me; and I’d hate to get to the point where I have four or five kids and realize, “Holy crap! I can’t handle this!” What if they don’t feel loved and don’t feel important? What if I can’t be a good mom to them, and my kids then hate me forever? (This is the scenario that plays out in my head. Just planning for all contingencies).

You moms—particularly stay-at-home moms—what an immense responsibility you have. You’re the first person who teaches your children to love. Who helps them feel a sense of self-worth. You’re the first line of defense against a sometimes all-too-cruel world, full of bullies and peer pressure and negative media. You make them feel special, simply because they’re your child. That is a huge role to fill, and one I’m only just learning about.

If you have a good partnership, your husband will also rear and influence your children. But since moms are often the full-time caretakers of your children, you’re the ones with the most influence. You’re the ones who internalize every disappointment or hurt your child experiences. Multiply that times however many children you have; it’s no wonder the world feels like they need to honor you, for a day at least.

So, to all my friends and family out there, Happy Mother’s Day.  I hope you’re managing motherhood as well as I think you are. Maybe in a few years I’ll have earned a place beside you.