May 7, 2007

Growing Up Mormon - There's Something About You

I've been enjoying immensely CV Rick's memories of childhood, and have discovered that his writing reminds me of many of my experiences while growing up Mormon. Almost every time he writes memories it sparks memories I have, so I will be sharing them here on my blog under the label "Growing Up Mormon."

I am the second oldest of 8 children in my family, oldest daughter to parents who grew up in Utah and dated three years in high school before marrying at age 19. Eric, Val, and I were each born a year apart (my mother's a SAINT!), and two years later Tony was born, two years after whom Baby Mark was born. He died of crib death at age 7 weeks. Every two years or so after that, Steve, Keith, and Kate were born. Our family dynamic plays out in two groups: the big kids (Eric, me, Val, and Tony) and the little kids (Steve, Keith, & Kate). I feel like the oldest as much as Eric does, since I was the oldest girl. Tony was treated often like the youngest (spoiled, we teased) sibling, as was Kate, wrong as this label is.

My dad was in the army during the early years of their marriage, so he was in Vietnam when Eric was born and returned the day before I was born. Eric was old enough to know that Dad was a stranger to him, so he took a long time to warm up to Dad, which didn't bode well for Eric down the road. I don't think Dad forgave him for that for a long time. But I was newborn, and a girl, so I was treated like a favorite, while Eric was treated worse. It is subtle, yet undeniable. My sister Tony and I are the two who were treated the best by our dad, for some reason, if you can apply the term "best" to it. It is something I've pondered often, wondering how the different treatment we received may have affected our lives and personalities. I know that I wish it hadn't been so. So my memories will be varied, some painful, some light. I look forward to remembering.

My dad was in the army for three years. After that they moved to Orem so he could return to BYU. He almost became a paleontologist but ended up not doing his thesis, (world-class procrastination) so in the end, we moved to Montana after he got a job working for a pharmaceutical company as a traveling salesman selling drugs to doctors. I was six years old.

It was an interesting childhood. We were poor, very poor. There were very few families in church with as many kids as we had, and even fewer outside of church. Life is different when you have that many siblings, and not enough money to go around. CV Rick describes this as MWOM (Mormons Without Money) as opposed to MWM (Mormons With Money). I'm sure I'll have much to say on this subject in the future. We were definitely a family belonging to the first category, and I'm so thankful I have the mom I do, who was so very good at homemaking, and cooking on a tight budget. She makes the most wonderful food. She was of course a stay-at-home mom, because 1. we never could have afforded day care for that many children, and 2. it was taught that a mother's place was in the home.

We were poor, and we were Mormon. We were different, as there aren't too many Mormons in Montana. But we were taught that different was good. Let your light so shine, so that others may be drawn to you and will ask you about what makes you different. You will then be able to teach your friends about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have no idea if I will be able to effectively describe how painful being different can be when you're a child wishing to be "normal" (although now I recognize that "normal" is subjective and means very little to me)... I was certainly different. I still am. "Unique" is how I prefer to describe myself now.

I was also taught often (at home and at church) to always be a good example of righteousness, because people who aren't Mormon are always watching and secretly looking up to you, because you are different, and you live highter standards. They will be watching for you to mess up, and when you don't, you'll be admired all the more.

I remember three instances in my life (although there were more than that) where people told me "There's something about you" and asked me what it was. Having grown up Mormon, I knew what that special something about me was: The Holy Spirit™. These instances only served to reinforce in me the truth that I was being watched and admired for being different.

1. I was the lotto booth clerk at Albertsons when I was seventeen, and had many regular customers who bought lotto tickets for Wednesday and Saturday drawings. One such couple came to the booth one day, and the husband said to me, "Lisa, you have such a special aura about you! There's just something about you that makes you seem to glow. What is it?" I was very uncomfortable. They were both staring at me intently and beaming at me...it was creepy. I mumbled something quickly about the fact that I was Mormon and how I was sure it was The Holy Spirit™ they could see within me. They responded that perhaps that was it and left, each of them turning to look at me twice on their way out the door. I dreaded seeing them after that. I still remember that guy's name...they had given me their names and his business card when they asked me about my aura. Strange. Did they think I would actually call them??

2. I was an exchange student in Austria when I was 18. One of the Austrian AFS volunteers named Clemens was a little older than me, and had been an exchange student in the USA a year or two before. Every so often we'd get together for a weekend as a group at a lodge in the forest somewhere, and it was tons of fun socializing with the different exchange students from different countries. On one of these weekends, Clemens asked me to go on a walk with him, and we found a swing, so I started swinging, and he said to me, "Lisa, there's something about you - something different, like a glow. What is it that makes you so different?"

Of course I gave him my only answer for this phenomenon. "It's my religion that gives me my glow. It's because I have The Holy Spirit™." He asked me some deeper questions and I was so nervous and worried I would answer wrong if he asked me a tough question, that I told him I'd get him a Book of Mormon and he could read what I know and could ask me any questions later. It never occurred to me that he actually had a crush on me and was making a pass. At least it didn't occur to me until later...the very next Sunday I got the missionaries in my ward to give me a Book of Mormon, in which I wrote my testimony in my best teenage girl handwriting in the front cover, and I sent them to his address without warning him first. After that, he didn't have much to say to me at our AFS weekend retreats. Go figure.

3. I had a friend in high school who lived nearby. She had an older brother only, so her house was extremely quiet always, and one time when she came over, she admitted to me that she felt something every time she was in my home. "There's something about you, something special about your family that I feel every time I'm in your home. It's so warm and inviting! What is it?" You can guess exactly what I answered.

So. I grew up Mormon. And there's something about me. I can't wait to write more about what it was like for me to Grow Up Mormon. It was an interesting ride, to be sure.

17 comments:

CV Rick said...

Being constantly told that there's something "about you" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know that when other people looked at our family they saw something about us too.

It might have been the Holy Spirit. Or it could have been that we were completely INSANE . . . I wonder which?

Good first Growing Up Mormon post.

Robert said...

sml,

I must say, I found your post intriguing but more because I have been on the other side of there being "something different about you." When I was just out of high school, I dated a Mormon girl off and on for about a year and a half. I said I was her "boyfriend barometer" because whenever she felt more like going out with me than whoever she was dating at the time, she dumped him and went out with me. I did not take this personally at all, but rather enjoyed being the measuring stick. When she finally met her husband, she turned down my offer to go out and they remain happily married nine years later. I remarked to myself often, "I would love to marry a girl like that. She has a special spirit about her." I knew in a way it had a lot to do with her faith, so I never commented on it because we had agreed not to debate our faith - mostly by never discussing it.

A few years later, I met a lovely young woman in a peculiar fashion (read: we met playing pool on Yahoo), and I got to know her rather well. I begrudgingly agreed not to pursue a romantic relationship with her because we both knew that our differences in faith would tear us apart given our strong beliefs and our natural attraction to each other (i.e., if you fight every week about which door to darken on Sunday, you're going to have a tough marriage). There was something different about her, too. We're happily married now, too.

But those are the easy ones to chalk up. I would never faily to acknowledge that my attraction to them as wonderfully kind, intelligent, attractive women of high moral standards could easily be the "something different" about them.

But during the year I spent studying the church, I had three chance encounters that I cannot so easily dismiss as my having recognized the "something different" about three young men I met.

1) I was back in graduate school, and our class took part in a "ropes course" on the campus as a team building experience. For months after that day, I would see one of the two instructors on campus and say hello, speak to him about how classes were going and such as that. I could pick him out of any crowd. The other instructor, though he was the one who did almost all the talking and made much more of a point of being noticed, I couldn't pick him out of a lineup if the other five men were of a different race. I had no real reason to pay attention to the one and ignore the other. I just noticed there was something "different about him".

2) I chose not to have a TV in my apartment, but I wanted to watch my team's football games that year. I got tickets to all the home games, but I chose to do my away game watching at the student center where they had a nice big screen that always played the game for a few folks who wanted to watch. There were always a few people there, but the only one I remembered seemed to have "something different about him."

3) This one is the hardest to top. I was in the grocery store checking out. I am usually sociable with the people who run the register and sometimes with the people who bag my groceries, but it is almost always casual banter. This day, though, I remembered exactly what this young man and I discussed... something about him stood out to me enough to comment on him to someone else when I had no reason whatsoever to mention the encounter. There was just something "different about him."

Now, realize: I never once asked any of these three men anything about what made them so different. I never even mentioned the fact that I noticed their distinction in the crowd. When I finally decided after much prayer and study that I would join the church, I asked the only student in my program I knew to be LDS if he would come with me for that first Sunday service, sure I would not recognize anyone.

The first person I noticed when I entered was the grocery bagger who happened to be visiting the branch that day because the young adults were asked to invite siblings who would soon be of age for a young single adult ward or branch to visit that Sunday. The second person I recognized was the guy I watched games with, and I commented on how ironic it was to watch four games with him but somehow I was completely unsurprised to see him there. When the ropes course instructor entered, I almost quipped that someone must've had a watch out on me because here I was suddenly in a room with four Mormons and I only knew one of them was a Mormon before I entered the Institute that day. I'm sure someone will be glad to offer me various and sundry explanations for why I noticed there was "something different" about those young men, but I don't really need it. I know what it was, even if that seems laughable to others.

Just for the sake of clarification: I went to grad school on a campus with over 30,000 students in a town of over 100,000 residents. In such an environment, it is most common for me (and many others, I have noticed) to walk along without paying a great deal of attention to the people passing by. I like to observe people, but when I'm on my way somewhere I generally turn the blinders on and go when I'm on that campus. Yet I recognized the ropes course instructor three times in a crowd with no trouble whatsoever and felt compelled to speak to him. If I'd seen the other instructor (and recognized him) I almost assuredly would've walked right by. Again I point out, I only heard the one who was a member speak two or three times in the whole day and was following the other instructor in my group most of the time.

In any event, I know I've written a long post here. I just think it's not so easily dismissed, that "something about you."

montchan said...

SML,
oh the memories!!! Your post brought back stuff I haven't thought about in years...

And what is it about mormon auras? I was told exactly the same thing :-)

Success Warrior said...

There's an idea. Rick doesn't need to kill Medium's lecherous suitors. He can just send the missionaries over to the guy's house.

Cele said...

Great post Lisa, I look forward to more. Growing up I knew no one who was Mormon. Then I moved to Oregon, wow, there are quite a few Mormons in Oregon.

dartman113 said...

You turned out wonderful! I wouldn't change a thing. :)

Sister Mary Lisa said...

CV Rick, we were not insane. No way. So it must be the Holy Spirit. Duh.

Robert, hi. Thanks for sharing your experiences here on my blog. Welcome.

Montchan, your "aura" is that uber-coolness that I so admire about you. You rock.

SW, funny! That may work, but I doubt it'd be as much fun for Rick if he did that instead of what he'd rather do.

Cele, spill it! Do any of the Mormons you see in Oregon have something about them??

Dartman, are you SURE there's nothing you'd change? I can think of a couple things I'd like to change about me.....:) Thanks for the sweet words, though.

Rebecca said...

This is great! I'm so looking forward to reading more about your memories! Also, I don't remember ever being recognized for "something about me" before I left the church. I get comments now, though. My completely untested theory is that is has something to do with how you feel about yourself, and how much you ARE "yourself."

Just one of many said...

Love the trade mark foot note!!

Phaedrus said...

SML:

It wasn't the holy spirit. It was just you.

Yes, growing up "different" is difficult, but it is interesting how, over the years, being told "You are so different," morphed from being a source of shame to one of quiet pride. It is always the "different" ones who make the biggest impact ultimately. All of my favorite people are proud of their wonderful weirdness.

belaja said...

I was never told what a wonderful aura I had. WTF is up with THAT? I was such a totally good girl!

Well, except for that sarcastic smart-ass thing.

I did get that on my mission, but only until I finally learned Spanish and was able to start talking. Then all such compliments seemed to cease abruptly.

Actually, I had plenty of non-Mo friends who at least seemed to respect all the "morality" stuff I had to adhere to (and I certainly never pushed them to accept it). But they probably rolled their eyes at me behind my back--in fact, I have confirmed in a few cases that this was so.

Funnily enough, my bad aura was often commented on by people at church. I had my street cred "differentness" cuz I didn't drink; and I had my mormonism differentness because I wouldn't shut up with the questions...

Yeah, I was a freak coming and going.

Sideon said...

I'm with belaja on this one... I was never told "there's something about you" in a "you have the SPIRIT" kind of way.

No. I got the "you're up to something, aren't you" all the time.

bel said...

Exactly!

Or the "What the hell did you mean by that?" Even if all I said was something innocuous like "how's it going?"

Cele said...

Oh crap I'm had the same responses as Sid and Bella, and I wasn't even a Mormon

Sister Mary Lisa said...

You all crack me up. Thanks for your wonderful and witty comments.

Beulah said...

I also look forward to more growing up mormon stories! Maybe I'll start a section on my blog... uhm.. if I can think of anything interesting to say!

Katie said...

I would have to admit that this post makes me just a little bit (a lot) angry. I wish with all of my heart that this whole time you could have realized that it was the beauty coming out of your soul that makes you glow. Every day people wake up and they decide if they will be happy,disappointed, pissed, ect. Many of them choose that they want to be angry or give up, many of them not even dealing with HALF of the bullshit you went through as a kid. That says a lot about you as a person. You always woke up and decided to be that beautiful sister that I have grown to love.

I wish with every fiber of my being that you could have known how special you were all these years. That really would have helped you growing up to know that you were special because of who you were, not what religion you belonged to. Think of the possibilities of a 10 year old Lisa knowing that she was special?!

I never knew what that little peice of me was that had a glow like you do. Eric told me about it when I was 15, I know I had it. I still have it, but what is it that gives us this gift? Whatever it is I know that when I am at my best, and when I KNOW that I have that glow, it is when I am helping others. Our family has been forced into a situation to stick out for one another. I still have yet to meet a family with our strength and love. (OMG tangent)

My point is this, Share your love with others around you. Be genuin, and care and that alone is enough to set you apart now days. I love you lisa, and I know exactly what it is that makes you "unique" and "different". You are an amazingly caring and loving person. You are beautiful and creative beyond belief. Any one who has the joy of you in their life has been blessed, by way more than the holy spirit.