In recent times I’ve usually been able to head overseas for work/research at least twice a year (its tough but someone has to do it). It seems to have developed into a rhythm where I have a two week visit to the US and one shorter trip to Australia. There’s enough of a pattern in my work trips that Nathan can predict my mood when I get home. That super-maternal gene must have missed a beat with me because instead of heading down the ramp ahead of the pack in anticipation of reuniting with the whanau (family) I really struggle to fit back into domesticity with the kind of aplomb that seems to be a prerequisite for my gender. Truth be told my family and I suffer for at least two days post-return as I cower from the noise, the demands, the aggravation and the relentless work of motherhood.
As the van pulls up to collect me from the airport, filled with eager and expectant faces, I have to rustle up any enthusiasm for the coming onslaught. I suppose I’d rather be missed than not but its very difficult to feel excited about my reintroduction to children and domesticity, particularly after enjoying the quiet satisfaction of my recent independence and solitude. For two weeks I’ve been able to concentrate on my work, my intellectual interests and hold adult conversations without the competing demands of a busy household. In these two days following my return home I usually find myself in a fug that has me reassessing everything about my life, my priorities and my marriage, children, God, religion. Even rugby doesn’t feel ‘true’.
At my lowest point on one of these returns, I’ve told Nathan that my mood was entirely his fault. If he hadn’t felt compelled to proposition me with his very Mormon, ‘you’re the one God wants me to be with for eternity’ proposal I wouldn’t be in this state of emotional funk.
‘What you don’t understand is’, I explain to him, ‘I’m not actually like this in real life. I’m not a bear with a sore head. I’m happy and pleasant when I’m alone. I actually feel joy, personal peace, and bliss. That’s the authentic me. Being a mother and inheriting the ‘homemaker’ designation is what makes me pissy and wound up – it doesn’t feel authentic.’
‘You’re such a pain in the arse’, he retorts.
‘Well you could have married someone less complicated. Someone like the mother on Cheaper By the Dozen who suffers egregiously in familial absence. Someone who looks up with contentment from her ‘Love is Spoken Here’ embroidery to check on the bubbling casserole that she has timed to finish when you walk in the door. You could have married someone who anticipates the Mormon milestones with the same enthusiasm that you do – baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, missions, temple sealings. (My latest contribution to a son’s baptism was to ask him why he doesn’t want to join the Anglicans – their services are shorter, the music is better, and the Priest’s sermons are usually fine scriptural expositions on a social justice theme). She might have been a Mormon Mommy Blogger who share’s frosted cup cake recipes for FHE with her extensive online community. (I find FHE tedious and have recently led a coup where all of the children voted me in as the preferred parent to conduct because ‘Dad takes too long and his lessons are boring’). Your ideal wife could have been milder, more even tempered, and gentler with you, and the children. She might have loved this Mormon life without question and lived it with absolute commitment. In BKP’s estimation I fail on all fronts. I’m a straight gay ally, I’m a working mother, I’m a scholar, and I’m a feminist. I’m simply don’t feel suitable! What the hell am I doing being a Mormon?’
And here’s the thing about this Mormon life of mine! It’s filled with paradox and incongruity. Because out of my greatest frustration also comes my greatest joy. As one foot rushes for the door, one gentle hand holds me back. As one frowning and disapproving face beats me down from the podiums on high, another looks at me with infinite admiration and respect on the pillow next to mine. As yet another correlated lesson on sustaining the priesthood is slammed shut by me in frustration, tender hands are placed on my head and a blessing that offers genuine comfort is administered. And as I consider my latest theoretical plan to do a bunk and forsake the shackles of domesticity, revelation comes to my flawed and imperfect Mormon husband and bursts through on his beloved words. Words I’ve been familiar with for almost 20 years now. Words that only one who has been touched by a divine presence has the power to utter. Words that break through my self pity, self interest, and self involvement. Words that drip with empathy, understanding, goodness and kindness. Words that call me home.
Once again I steel myself against the barrage of short embodied testosterone and with confidence I am able to proclaim; I’m a straight gay ally, I’m a scholar, I’m a working mother, I’m a feminist, I’m a Mormon mother AND I’m the wife of a good faithful Mormon man who loves me for those very things that seem to set me at odds with my religion. And until I go away again, home, husband and children is where I’ll find my bliss.