for the Family
Stance for the Family
ÂŠ 2012 All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America by the Brigham Young University Press. Stance is published semiannually. The contents represent the opinions and beliefs of the authors and not necessarily those of the editors, staff, advisors, Brigham Young University, or its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the editors and staff have checked the contents for accuracy, responsibility remains with the authors for content and sources cited within. Current students are invited to submit manuscripts as well as any questions or comments via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TABLE OF CONTENTS An Unexpected Event 1 Virginia Kesler A Sure Foundation: Coping with Infertility 7 Cameron Call Does Father Know Best? 15 Emily Higginson New Infants and Parental Relationships 21 Devin Rigg Taste the Bitter 29 Chelsea Ogilvie Engaging Family Literacy Practice 35 Victoria Lee Simpson Family Dinner 41 Daily Johnson My Brotherâ€™s Got a Case of the Washingtons
Fourteen Years 51 Erin Jones
STANCE FOR THE FAMILY STAFF Stance for the Family was created to encourage students from all disciplines to research and write about the institution of marriage and family. Stance emphasizes the impact that marriage and family have on society and increases awareness of current issues affecting the family. Academic Advisor Dr. Monte Swain Art Director Mandy Teerlink Production Director Tanya Cumberland Senior Editors Brittany Bruner AmberLee Hansen Erin Jones Rachel Nielsen Associate Editors Adrienne Anderson Danica Baird Rachel Ontiveros Marie Stirk
Editor in Chief Caitlin Schwanger Managing Editor Dustin Schwanger Assistant Editors Kelsey Allen Adrienne Anderson Emily Christensen Katie Cutler Lindsey Dalton Linda Hunt Eve Hart Kaylyn Johnston Shirsten Larsen Mindy Leavitt Eliza Morgan Caitlin Nichols Aly Rutter Emily Smith Brittney Thompson
AN UNEXPECTED EVENT VIRGINIA KESLER
“ The memory that means the most to me personally is the one that reminds me that my father loved me.” THE TEENAGE YEARS CAN BE AN EMOTIONAL rollercoaster where change abounds and stress is high. It is a time of self-discovery and independence, and for me, it was definitely a period of constant flux. I was thirteen and had just moved to Utah less than a year before to live with my dad, stepmother, and siblings. But all that changed May 10, 2000. As I walked down the hallway of the home into the living room, I saw a police officer standing in the middle of the room. My stepmother was crying and screaming by the front door, and my siblings were distraught. The police officer came to inform us that my dad had committed suicide. He suffered from depression caused from years of back pain, inability to work at times, and low self-esteem. His struggle with depression had finally gotten the better of him. He had taken off a few days earlier, threatening never to return. He had done this sort of thing before, but he had always come back when he calmed down. This time the ending was my worst nightmare. I don’t feel like I ever knew my father. My parents divorced when I was little. I was raised in Montana, and my father lived in Utah. I moved to Utah to live with my father a short eleven months preceding his death, but by that time the depression he suffered was severe. Life was filled with my father’s depression, bursts of anger between him and my stepmother, and sadness. I had always wanted to know who my father really was without the depression that he battled. I didn’t have any resources, though; my family wasn’t very close. I wanted to know what was he like growing up, and what he thought about me—if he really loved me. These questions plagued me time and time again over the years, and it had been a quest of mine to learn more about my father. 1
In 2010, ten years after my father’s death, I went to dinner with a friend I had known for years. Out of nowhere, she began to ask me some questions about my genealogy. “Who is your grandmother?” she asked me. “What was her maiden name? Did she marry someone by the name of Stanley?” Confused, I wondered why she was asking me these questions; she had never done this before. My jaw dropped as she began to recite her family history because it wasn’t just hers alone—it was my family history too. It turned out my friend was also my second cousin. We had been friends for years before discovering we were family. She began answering questions about who my father was and what he was like. She told me stories about my family—our family—and then told me that there were others of the family who would be willing to share what they knew about my father with me. “Others,” I thought, “Really!? More family members!? Answers to my questions!? When can I meet these people?” The search for understanding began, centered not only on gathering narratives from my “new” family but also on forming relationships with them. After interviewing my friend and her mother, Janelle, about my father, Janelle introduced me to Karl and Virginia. Karl is my father’s cousin, and Virginia is his wife. Interestingly enough, Virginia is the person that I was named after, and the only time I remember meeting her was at my father’s funeral in 2000, but I never had a chance to talk with her at the time. I also had a delightful conversation with my 91-year-old grandpa about my dad. As I talked with these people, read journal accounts, and reflected on my own experience with my father, I discovered who my father was before his depression. This has changed the way I view my father and has led me to a greater understanding of my identity and who I am.
NARRATIVES OF MY FATHER “Irene and Stanley Todd are the proud parents of a new little baby boy born June 7, 1958. The little black-eyed, brown, curly haired youngster will be named Charles Stanley.” From this same journal entry announcing my father’s birth, my grandmother concludes with this commitment, “We will teach him how to grow and work hard in his life.” From a very early age, my father was taught the importance of work. From talking with members of my “new” family, I learned that my father really enjoyed work and found purpose in it. They told me that he worked hard at work and at play. I learned that until my father was injured he was not only a hard worker but also an optimistic person. Janelle remembered that my father “was a buoyant person who loved a good laugh. Charlie was someone who had a bright outlook on life in general and a pretty good sense of humor.” Charles’s 2
father recounted this narrative, “Actually, in band practice, [Charles] would jump up and poke his finger through the ceiling to distract the teacher and get attention. June [Charles’s sister] saw this and she wanted to do it too. She broke her finger.” He was mischievous all right! He was always getting into something, and “ When I read these doing something he probably should not stories, I laugh and realhave been doing. In his mother’s journal she recounted, “1964: In October, ize that my father had Charles broke his left arm when a chair happy moments, mohe was climbing on tipped over.” His faments where he was able ther remembers when Charlie took apart the principal’s car, carried it to the roof to laugh and find joy.” of the school and reassembled it there. It was their senior class prank! I couldn’t believe it when I heard about that! Another legendary prank was when he let rats loose during a school dance just to listen to girls screaming and running out of the dance hall. When I read these stories, I laugh and realize that my father had happy moments, moments where he was able to laugh and find joy. Now when I pull practical jokes, I can say that I learned that from my dad. My father was a religious adherer to rodeos and all things cowboy: music, books, movies, and everything else western. In the time I lived with him, I don’t ever remember him without cowboy boots on his feet and a cowboy hat on his head. I learned from Janelle where that all began: “Seems like we took him to the first rodeo that he’d ever been to in his life. He loved it. That summer started it; they had the Fourth of July Rodeo, then the Twenty-fourth of July Rodeo, and then the Fair Rodeo. I think he went to all of them. He always had cowboy boots on, all the time.” And thus began his love affair with shoot-outs, bandits, John Wayne, and Louis L’Amoure. The memory that means the most to me personally is one that reminds me that my father loved me. When I was in sixth grade, in 1999, I was in a play called The Brutebeast. It is a play about a family of trolls, and there is one member of the troll family that looks like a human. I was one of the ugly trolls. I was really ugly! My dad drove from Utah to this little tiny town at the top right corner of Montana and watched my play. He brought me flowers, and he wrote a little note on the card that came with the flowers and said, “I am proud of you and love you very much. –Dad.” I still have that card and it is something I treasure. 3
Contrasting these narratives with the man I knew, I can more clearly understand that my father was someone who tried to show his love for his children, but who still made mistakes. My father wasn’t perfect, and there were times where he didn’t show his love to his children in the manner he ought to have done. This is another memory that I will never forget, but not because it was filled with love and praise. I remember walking into the living room one day to find my dad and stepbrother in a fight. My stepbrother had been treating his girlfriend badly and my dad didn’t like that. My dad had my stepbrother pinned to the ground and was holding him by the collar of his shirt with his arm raised to hit him. My dad’s head was bleeding badly. I ran up to my dad and started shaking him, trying to make him get off my stepbrother and stop fighting. Over and over again he just shouted at me, “Get the hell out of here, get the hell out of here!” It was a scary moment for me. I wish I could forget it because it made me “ How grateful I am feel so scared, and it reminds me that my to have heard this dad wasn’t perfect and that his decisions now so I don’t make impacted all of us as a family. When my father committed suicide, the same mistake of I was very bitter towards him. I couldn’t being too busy for the understand why he would do that. His deones I love.” cision was one of the most defining moments of my life, and it still influences me today. In the interview with my grandfather, he shared his feelings of regret and sadness over the loss of his son. He recounts, “I particularly miss Charles and I wish I had gone out with him more the times when he asked me to go out with him, to fish or shoot rabbits or four-wheel out in the desert. I just seemed like I considered myself too busy or something. I don’t know why I didn’t go with him. But I love Charles very much. He is gone, and life goes on. You do the best you can with what you’ve got.” My grandfather taught me that I need to tell those around me that I care about them and to spend time with them. How sad in one sense for him to feel this sense of regret and sadness, but how grateful I am to have heard this now so I don’t make the same mistake of being too busy for the ones I love. For years after my father’s death, I focused on the bad memories and never on the positive ones. Collecting these narratives has helped me to recognize that while my experience with my father wasn’t optimal, there were others that knew him better and were able to see him in better times than I did. I can learn from what my father did and from the life he lived. From 4
him I have learned that your decisions really do impact others, and that giving up only causes more pain. I learned that you should always tell those you care about that you love them and appreciate them. You never know what benefit your words can be to another person, and you never know how long they are going to be around. Elizabeth Stone (1998), in her foundational work on narratives, reminds us of the lasting imprint that stories leave on family members. They instill in us a sense of identity, of duty, of right and wrong, and of understanding. These narratives of my father are etched in my heart and have taught me so much. I am grateful that other people have shared with me their experiences so that I can know my father in a more positive light.
REFERENCES Stone, E. (1989). Black sheep and kissing cousins: How our family stories shape us. New York: Penguin Books.
A SURE FOUNDATION: COPING WITH INFERTILITY CAMERON CALL
“When we are called to pass through trials, we must be able to stand unified and, with courage and civility, uphold and fortify the family as the fundamental unit of society.” I BELIEVE THE LORD PLACES US ON EARTH with the appointment to pass through certain experiences so that we may grow and learn the lessons necessary for our personal salvation. My wife and I are part of the 10 percent of couples diagnosed with infertility, but there are others who battle different trials, trials which cause equal amounts of distress and strain on their relationships with family, friends, and the Lord. Although my wife and I do not have any children of our own, the responsibility remains ours to “promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World). It is often difficult to keep our focus on strengthening the family when we meet adversity. However, solidifying the foundational relationship between husband and wife will help keep the family safe, solid, and secure when the “tempest is raging [and] the billows are tossing high,” (Baker, 1985). There are five things I believe are fundamental to laying and reinforcing this foundation: 1. Understand the nature and divine importance of trials. 2. Recognize the blessing of companionship 3. Communicate 4. Utilize the power of prayer 5. Realize the power of covenants and obedience
1. UNDERSTAND THE NATURE AND DIVINE IMPORTANCE OF TRIALS We have two options when life gets tough: We can bury ourselves in selfpity and give up, or we can turn to the Lord for strength. It is easy to have self-pity, to expect others to solve our problems, and to complain about things that happen to us. It takes a lot of faith, hope, and courage to get up in the morning and tell yourself, “I can do hard things!” Elder Paul V. Johnson said, “At times it may seem that our trials are focused on areas of our lives and parts of our souls with which we seem least able to cope. Since personal growth is an intended outcome of these challenges, it should come as no surprise that the trials can be very personal— almost laser guided to our particular needs or weaknesses” (2011, p. 78) At times I have found myself asking “Why me? I’m being so good. Why is the Lord doing this to me?” Elder Johnson responds to these questions by stating, “The furnace of affliction helps purify even the very best of Saints by burning away the dross in their lives and leaving behind pure gold . . . Being good is not enough” (2011, p. 78). If we are to truly become like the Savior, we all must pass through our own personal Gethsemane “suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” (Alma 7:11). Christ is our Savior, Redeemer, and Advocate. By calling on the enabling power of His Atonement, we will realize that we are not alone in our suffering. Because He conquered all, we shall conquer all. As my wife and I have struggled with infertility, we have found our greatest peace when we place our burdens on the Lord. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “The Savior’s Atonement lifts from us not only the burden of our sins but also the burden of our disappointments and sorrows, our heartaches and our despair” (2006, p. 70). If we can endure trials with hope, trust that there are better days ahead, and come unto Christ, our families will find “strength beyond [our] own” (McCloud, 220).
2. RECOGNIZE THE BLESSING OF COMPANIONSHIP Psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman once performed a study on “very happy people” and compared them to those who considered themselves “less happy.” The only external factor that distinguished the two groups was the presence of rich and satisfying social relationships, (BenShahar 111). There is a reason why weddings are often referred to as the happiest day of our lives. It is the day we are united with someone we love and care about, and who feels the same about us. Tal Ben-Shahar writes, 8
“Spending meaningful time with friends, family, or romantic partners was necessary (though not by itself sufficient) for happiness.” Having the opportunity to share the events, thoughts, and feelings of our lives with someone we love and who loves us in return will not only console our pain and lighten our sorrows but also intensify our experiences and deepen our sense of joy and delight (Ben-Shahar, 2007). Russell M. Nelson said, “Marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other human relationship” (2006, p. 37). Knowing that you do not face the difficulties of life alone can bring an immense feeling of strength and peace. The influence of a righteous husband and wife on each other during times of tribulation can be and often is elevating. An old Quaker proverb says, “Thee lift me, and I’ll lift thee, and we’ll ascend together.” So should it be in a marriage. Happiness in marriage and family relationships is easy to come by when praise is heard more often than criticism.
3. COMMUNICATE Men and women respond to stress differently. It is important to recognize and “Listening will enhance understand those differences because cooperation, increase “[these] at-odds responses can cause major rifts in a marriage at a time when equality in marriage, spouses need each other’s love and supand strengthen physical port more than ever” (Domar, 2004, p. and emotional bonds.” 109). Often women complain that their husbands do not appear to be upset or frustrated when dealing with a trial such as infertility. Men have a tendency to hold back any and all emotion in order to appear strong and optimistic to their wives. In reality, husbands are hurting just as much as their wives are—men just cope with it differently. Communication is vital when coping with any trial. Monica Ashton, a psychotherapist for The Healing Group in Salt Lake City, Utah, suggests five important steps that will lead to good communication between husband and wife. First, really listen to your spouse. Avoid the tendency to think of a response when being spoken to. Second, mirror what they say. This is done during a conversation by saying, “It sounds like . . . ” or “I hear you saying . . . ” Third, ask “Is there more?” Doing so shows a desire to understand rather than being quick to offer your own thoughts and opinions. Fourth, validate their feelings. It is important to recognize that what they are feeling is real and important to you. Affirm their willingness to open up and let you in. Fifth, empathize. Offer support, not advice. When we learn to better 9
communicate with our spouse, greater trust, patience, and understanding will result. The need for good communication in marriage is evident in the teachings of modern prophets and apostles. “Couples need private time to observe, to talk, and really listen to each other,” says Elder Russell M. Nelson (2008). “Doors of communication will swing open in the home if members will realize time and participation on the part of all are necessary ingredients,” states Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1976). Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “A good marriage and good family relationships can be maintained through gentle, loving, thoughtful communication. . . . A sense of humor and good listening are also vital parts of good communication” (1987). Giving each other a few minutes to speak and be heard can be more than just therapeutic; it is also unifying. Listening will enhance cooperation, increase equality in marriage, and strengthen physical and emotional bonds. Listening invites understanding.
4. UTILIZE THE POWER OF PRAYER When my wife and I underwent our first fertility treatment, we were filled with a new sense of hope and excitement. We felt closer to being pregnant than we ever had before. One can only imagine the sense of disappointment and sadness we felt when we learned the treatment had failed. Both of us were confused and hurt, and we could not understand why the Lord would allow us to feel such hope and excitement only to break our hearts. We prayed not only for comfort but also for the ability to understand God’s will for us at that time. Thankfully, our prayers were answered. A few months before our first fertility treatment, we had to switch health insurance providers due to career changes. In the midst of it all, my wife’s application for insurance wasn’t filed properly. After the treatment failed, we received a letter in the mail stating that her application had expired and she was no longer covered by insurance. Had the treatment worked, we would have had no health insurance to assist in paying for the pregnancy and delivery. Our perspective had changed. The Lord was very much involved in the process. When we pray, we must pray for the Lord’s will to be done. Praying this way can change our perspective, especially during a trial. Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated, “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things [we have] . . . He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!” (2006, p. 23). Submitting ourselves to God can lift us to new heights in the midst of trials and adversity. Praying 10
“Thy will be done” will open our eyes to blessings and experiences we are not yet aware of. An important aspect of submission to God’s will involves our willingness to open our hearts to Him. “Does [God] know from your mouth what you are experiencing?” asks Kerstin Daynes, author of Infertility: Help, Hope, and Healing (2010, p. 74). “He knows these things by the simple fact that He is omniscient but has He heard it from you? It is when we choose to share with our Heavenly Father that we invite Him to be a part of our lives, to be a part of the decision-making process, and to help us through every moment of our lives” (2010, p. 74). Through sincere and submissive family and personal prayer, we will grow closer to the Lord. We will see His hand in our lives and feel His guidance as we exercise our agency. As a result, our relationships with our spouse and our children will be strengthened by the power of prayer—enabling us to face the challenges of daily life.
5. REALIZE THE POWER OF COVENANTS AND OBEDIENCE One of the purposes of this life is to make sacred covenants, or promises, with the Lord in His holy temple. He sets the terms of the contract and we agree to abide by them. Doing so qualifies us for exaltation and eternal life in His presence. While the ultimate blessings of covenants will be received in the hereafter, there is a power that comes from living and keeping our covenants that blesses us here in mortality. Making and keeping these covenants can give us strength during trials. Elder D. Todd Christofferson asked during the April 2009 General Conference, “What is it about making and keeping covenants with God that gives us the power to smile through hardships, to convert tribulation into triumph, to ‘be anxiously engaged in a good cause, . . . and bring to pass much righteousness?’” His answer was obedience: “our obedience to this gospel law enhances our capacity to deal with these challenges” (2009, p. 20). As we are obedient to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, we enjoy a continuous flow of blessings promised by the Lord in His covenant with us. These blessings can provide peace, comfort, and resources to overcome the difficulties we are called to pass through during stages of our lives. It is important to note that obedience and honoring our covenants do not entitle us to a trial-free life. There are lessons we are taught in mortality that can only be learned through suffering. Elder Christofferson also believes covenant keeping brings strength because obedience “produce[s] the faith necessary to persevere and to do all things that are expedient in the Lord” (2009, p. 21). While we keep covenants we grow in faith and 11
trust that God will keep His promises and fulfill His part of the covenant. “Come what may,” Elder Christofferson says, “we can face life with hope and equanimity, knowing that we will succeed in the end because we have God’s promise to us individually, by name, and we know He cannot lie” (2009, p. 23).
CONCLUSION Helaman offered his sons Nephi and Lehi some counsel that I believe is very applicable to marriage and family relationships. He told his sons to “remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you . . . because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12). It is vital when the storm clouds of life gather that we are prepared. When we are called to pass through trials, we must be able to stand unified and, with courage and civility, uphold and fortify the family as the fundamental unit of society.
ADDENDUM Following these five principles has brought many blessings since writing this article. I would love to admit that we were blessed because my wife and I faithfully followed each one every day. That is not the case. It is extremely hard to stay optimistic when adversity meets you on your doorstep the minute you greet the day. It is not impossible though, and the Lord will recognize your efforts. After another failed fertility treatment, we felt that we needed to forget ourselves and help someone else who wanted the same thing we did. In fact, this paper materialized as a coping mechanism for me as I tried to figure out what it was that Heavenly Father wanted us to do. Shortly after it was written, my wife and I found an organization called Pound the Pavement for Parenthood, a non-profit organization that sponsors couples saving for adoption or expensive fertility treatments by holding 5K races as fundraisers. We found a race being held for a couple in Saratoga Springs and decided to run in June 2011. After meeting the head of the organization we were introduced to a fertility doctor who was so impressed with the organization that he offered fifty percent off one cycle of in-vitro fertilization to anyone in attendance who needed it. The Lord placed us in this kind doctor’s hands 12
and within three months we were pregnant with twin boys! They joined our family in March 2012. I do not know why the Lord blessed us with such a miracle as twins. I cannot promise that following the five principles discussed earlier will wipe away all your sorrows, but I can promise that you will feel closer to the Lord. You will feel his love and guidance in your life. Your family, especially your marriage, will feel more safe, solid, and secure than it ever has. May the Lord bless and strengthen your family as He has mine.
REFERENCES Ashton, M. (2011). Nurturing Marriage Through the Journey of Infertility. Address presented at Utah Infertility Awareness, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. Ashton, M. J. (1976). Family communications. Retrieved from http://www.lds.org/general-conference/1976/04/family-communications?lang=eng. Ben-Shahar, T. (2007) Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. New York: McGraw-Hill. Ballard, M. R. (1987). Keeping Life’s Demands in Balance. Retrieved from http://www. lds.org/general-conference/1987/04/keeping-lifes-demands-in-balance?lang=eng. Baker, M. A. (1985). Master, the tempest is raging. In Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sants. Christofferson, T. D. (2009). The Power of Covenants. Ensign (May), 19–23. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (1995). The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Daynes, K. (2010). Infertility: Help, Hope, and Healing. Springville, UT: CFI. Domar, A. D., and Kelly, A. L. (2004). Conquering Infertility. New York: Penguin. Holland J. R. (2006). Broken Things to Mend. Ensign (May), 69–72. Johnson, P. V. (2011). More Than Conquerors Through Him That Loved Us. Ensign (May), 78–80. Maxwell, N. A. (1995). Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign (November), 22–24. McCloud, S. E. (1985). Lord I would follow thee. In Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sants. Nelson, R. M. (2006). Nurturing Marriage. Ensign (May), 36–38.
DOES FATHER KNOW BEST? EMILY HIGGINSON
Children who watch television on a regular basis learn their attitude toward their fathers as well as other behaviors by following the examples of the characters they see on the television every day. WHEN MAINSTREAM MEDIA transferred from radio to television, one of the first popular shows in the new medium was Father Knows Best. This 1950s family sitcom, in which Robert Young plays the beloved father figure, portrayed the respectful relationship between fathers and children that was valued during that time period. The next saga of the family sitcom parade was The Andy Griffith Show in which there was no mother at all, only Aunt Bea, while Andy Taylor was the single father raising his young son, Opie. This was a break from the cookie cutter family, and yet father-child relations were still intact. The father was the wise counselor who advised the child in all of the matters of life, and the child respected and revered his father. Family sitcoms later evolved with world trends, and their views of family dynamics followed suit. In the 1970s, divorce and blended families became more mainstream throughout society; before, divorce was not a subject of discussion, nor was it socially acceptable. With social acceptance of divorce and blended families came The Brady Bunch, the depiction of two families combined by the marriage of the mother of three girls and the father of three boys. But despite the familyâ€™s makeup, children and father still filled their roles accurately as compared to society, the father with an authority role over the children who obeyed and respected him. Unfortunately, in the 1980s and â€™90s the standard for father-child relationships began to decline. Traditional families were becoming less common and portrayed as more and more irregular in comparison with the 15
previous family role traditions. With the introduction of The Cosby Show, humor began to take a more prominent role than lesson learning from the father. The father in this sitcom, Bill Huxtable, still held the respect of his children, but the show began the slow turn toward the popular view that fathers cannot be taken seriously. Following that example, the 1990s brought the family sitcom Home Improvement, the story of the traditional family (mother, father, and three children) living in suburban Detroit, Michigan. Tim Taylor was a man who loved cars, tools, and sports, and he had his own cable show called Tool Time. However, instead of being a competent and respectable father, he was known to blow up everything he attempted to fix. He sought advice from his neighbor, Wilson, but he then messed up the advice that he received and ended up looking ridiculous. This is a great example of the transition from well-respected father to incompetent fool. The Simpsons completes our study of the depictions of father and child interactions in family sitcoms. It is the story of Homer Simpson and his family (again, a traditional family with mother, father, and three children) who live in Springfield. Homer works at a nuclear power plant and is depicted as a beer-drinking, know-nothing idiot. His children rarely have a reason to respect him. His oldest child and only son, Bart, is sarcastic and devious in the way he interacts with his father. These are only a few examples selected from the numerous family sitcoms throughout the history of television. They provide poignant examples of the evolution of fathers throughout the ages and how the media prefers to depict them to their viewers. It is apparent that television networks are becoming increasingly concerned with how to attract more viewers rather than providing good examples for their viewers. Family sitcoms are becoming comedic rather than instructive in moral principles as they were in the earlier days of television. According to television networks, if the show doesnâ€™t keep the viewersâ€™ attention and amuse them, it is of no worth to produce it. As a result, father characters are made out to be some of the last people that their children can respect or look up to. The Simpsons and many other cartoons that children watch portray fathers as weak or ridiculous. Children who watch television on a regular basis learn their attitude toward their fathers as well as other behaviors by following the examples of the characters they see on the television every day. With the fall of respect-deserving fathers came the uprising of Bart Simpson and other sarcastic children icons on the television. Not only are children being provided with the view that fathers are idiots and do not deserve proper respect from their children, but they are learning how-to techniques on sarcasm and disrespect toward their fathers and other adults. Ac16
cording to Kate Moody in her book Growing Up on Television: The TV Effect: “TV presents the child with a distorted definition of reality” (1980, p. 111). Those who are older, toward the teen age, are watching shows such as The O.C., One Tree Hill, and other dramas that depict moody, dramatic teens who disrespect their parents and act out as a declaration of their “adulthood” and “maturity.” Thus, these television shows are the source for the nation’s teenagers to learn behavior patterns toward peers and adults, mainly toward their parents. According to Zillman et. al, “television provides bases for family interaction” (1994). Today’s teenagers are learning and applying lessons of sarcasm, disrespect, and prejudice that they learn from the characters they watch on television and are showing less respect for their elders than in previous generations. These are not the attitudes nor the principles that past generations have lived by as portrayed in earlier family sitcoms. Children in the 1950s and ’60s were taught to show love and respect to their elders for their experience and wisdom that they could offer the younger generations. For the most part, that is not the case today. Although not all children watch these shows which foster disrespect toward father or adult figures, these norms are still transmitted through social inter“Neither parents nor action with children who do watch these teachers are any longer the shows. These interactions take place at school, church, or other out of home proprincipal shapers of chilgrams that allow and promote socializing dren’s minds in the United between children of various backgrounds States. Television is” and upbringings. Says Moody: “TV affects [these] human relationships as well as behavior by influencing our feelings about ourselves and our expectations for ourselves and others. Too frequently stereotypes provide us with instant definitions” (1980, p. 112). Thus, children expect that what they see and learn from television shows is acceptable behavior. Moody further states that “for years the question has been debated whether the school or the family is the primary force in the education of the young. Neither parents nor teachers are any longer the principal shapers of children’s minds in the United States. Television is” (1980, p. ix). From my own observations, I would strongly support these deductions. I have witnessed children who were polite and well-behaved at home slowly take on the behavior expectations of the generation previously described once they entered the public education system and began interacting with other children. Through the influence of television on their peers, they too became sarcastic and would talk back to their parents. 17
Many studies have proven that television does influence the minds of youth. Norman S. Morris wrote in his book Television’s Child that “the young child is an animated, talking sponge. Whatever he sees or hears he soaks up indiscriminately. Children have the ability to absorb information long before they are able to talk, a fact parents often overlook” (1971, p. 6). One study showed that “exposure to stereotyped presentations can easily influence viewers’ behavior toward unfamiliar people. Viewers use what they learn from these television images to establish norms for how they will act in certain situations. These images, in fact, teach values and behaviors, especially to children who have little firsthand knowledge of the real world. To the extent that children are exposed to certain character portrayals and behaviors on TV, they may acquire or learn “Families need to par- those behaviors and roles and eventually acticipate in joint activi- cept them as models for their own attitudes and actions” (1980, p. 113). Consequently, ties in which everyone the programs that children watch do influis present and interact- ence their behavior and thus their relationship with their fathers and other adults. ing with each other.” So, is there a solution, and if so, what is it? Some might suggest to completely remove television from the home or to forbid children from watching television at all. It is a respectable suggestion, but there are very few families who would be willing to go to such extreme measures. The better solution would be to counteract the influences of television programs on our children by teaching our children correct principles and values. In 1995, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” One key phrase from the proclamation that is applicable to this solution is that “successful marriages and families are established and maintained” on, among other things, “wholesome recreational activities.” This is a principle practiced by intentional families, meaning “[a family] whose members create a working plan for maintaining and building family ties, and then implement the plan as best they can” (Doherty, 1997, p. 8). Families need to do more than watch television together. Watching television is actually one of the worst things to do as families, and utilizing the television as an artificial babysitter for our children is not helping them either. Families, including fathers and children, need the opportunity to interact in positive ways through meaningful activities, also known as wholesome recreation, to create bonding experiences through family rituals. Activity patterns that are parallel, meaning family members are all present but have little to no interaction, such as watching television or movies, are not really beneficial to 18
families. Even though the family is together physically, there is little to no opportunity to engage in meaningful interaction. Families need to participate in joint activities in which everyone is present and interacting with each other. Such activities can lead to strong bonding experiences. They donâ€™t necessarily need to be big expensive trips that take the family away from the home. They could be activities as simple as cooking together, cleaning together, or working together to achieve a common goal. As long as everyone participating has a positive attitude and loses himself or herself in the activity, it will end up being a growing and bonding experience for each family member. Creating and establishing family traditions or rituals is another way that families can bond and relate to each other. Creating these rituals will give children stability or predictability, a sense of connection with other family members, a sense of identity and belonging, and a way that parents can teach them the values that they would like to instill in them (Doherty, 1997). With this simple solution of making family time more meaningful, we will be able to counteract the effects of negative images and examples (such as the characterization of fathers) put forth by television shows. We will be able to teach children lessons that are far more valuable to them than anything they could learn on the television: kindness, decency, love, compassion, cooperation, service, and many other priceless principles and values that will guide them in their upcoming life choices. Not only will children learn to respect others, but they will be able to respect themselves as well. In addition to those valuable lessons the children will learn during family time, relationships and lasting bonds will develop between all members of the family, including the bond between fathers and children. Children may actually look forward to spending more time with parents, and they will hopefully choose the company of parents over that of the television and its characters. Every time parents spend time with their children, more opportunities will be available for lasting memories and experiences that will strengthen each family member for more difficult times. The media is destroying the image of fathers and the value of the fatherchild relationship. Despite the possibility that the media, the broadcasting world, and other families might not have the same values and ideals that you would like your family to be exposed to, you do have the power and the obligation to teach your children the things that you would have them learn. As a result of your teachings and the family rituals that you implement in your family, your children will come to love and respect you as their parents. Thus, despite the moral decline of television sitcoms, father images, and child portrayals, you can be comforted with the knowledge that your own home and family will not follow suit. Because sometimes, father really does know best. 19
REFERENCES Doherty, W. J. (1997). The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties. New York: HarperCollins. The Family: A Proclamation to the World. (1995). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Moody, K. (1980). Growing up on Television: The TV Effect. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Morris, N. S. (1971). Televisionâ€™s Child, Boston: Little, Brown & Company. Zillman, D., Bryant, J., Huston, A.C. (1994). Media, Children, and the Family: Social Scientific, Psychodynamic, and Clinical Perspectives, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
NEW INFANTS AND PARENTAL RELATIONSHIPS DEVIN RIGG
“Our findings demonstrate an inverse association between infant attachment and marital satisfaction and can be used to stress the importance of maintaining a healthy marriage into parenthood.” With Brigham Young University Professor Chris Porter and masters student Sarah Stone. OVER THE PAST FOUR DECADES, there has been a great deal of research conducted on marriage quality and how it influences the psychological development of infants. However, less research has been devoted to the study of infants and the effects they can have on their parents and the associated marriage relationships. One early researcher on human development, Charles Figley (1973), described this trend as a type of “cult” that focuses mainly on the child and neglects potential consequences the newborn can have on the parents. Our research will break away from this trend of studying parents’ effects on infants and focus more on the infants’ effects on parents. This research focuses specifically on the effects of mother-infant attachment on parents’ marital satisfaction. In this report I will discuss research completed at the Brigham Young University Infant Studies Laboratory. I will report on the specifics of infant-mother attachment relationships and how they may affect the quality of the parents’ marriage.
BACKGROUND Past studies have found a negative association between mother-infant attachment and marital happiness. Early research found that wives became 21
increasingly dissatisfied with their marriage relationships after the birth of a child, especially within the first three months postpartum, and as a result experienced a decrease in overall marital relationship positivity and an increase in negativity (Belsky & Isabella, 1985). Further research by Twenge et al. (2003) suggests that after a significant life stressor, such as the addition of a new child, marital satisfaction decreases. The cause for such dissatisfaction is not yet known. We suspect that the change in marital happiness is associated with the mother-infant relationship. More specifically, an increase in marital negativity is associated with the tendency of the mother to form a secure attachment with the infant while overlooking the importance of her relationship with her husband. This study was divided into two phases. First, we classified the type of attachment between the mother and infant. Next, we measured the degree of marital satisfaction according to the mother. This gave us the basis for studying the two separate relationships in the family unit. In order to understand fully the base of this study, one must be familiar with the basic measurements. Infant-Mother Attachment: Infant-mother attachment is the emotional and physical bond between infant and caregiver that encourages normal social and psychological development. Attachment can be categorized into three groups: secure, resistant, and avoidant. Secure attachment is considered the most desirable type of attachment in infants. Secure infants are classified as having strong relationships with their mothers, and they remain relatively calm and confident even when placed in undesirable situations if the mother is present. Crockenberg (1981) described secure attachment as mothers who “are more responsive to their infants’ cries, hold their babies more tenderly and closely . . . and exhibit greater sensitivity in initiating and terminating feeding.” According to the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2006), secure attachment is desirable in infants and leads to favorable socio-emotional development, including social competence (as cited in Wong, Mangelsdorf, Brown, Neff, & Schoppe-Sullivan, 2007, para. 1). These studies show that secure attachment is the most desirable bond infants may form with the caregiver. Mothers should strive to achieve this level of attachment under normal child-rearing conditions. Resistant infants develop as a result of a less consistent relationship between the mother and the infant. Resistant infants are often described as anxious because they are less stable when placed in changing environments and often cannot rely on the mother as a place of security. Egeland and Faber (1984) stated that resistant infants “demonstrate impoverished explo22
ration and difficulty being comforted. Often they mix active contact seeking with struggling, stiffness, and continued crying” (p. 754). Resistant infants lack the close bond that is desired in strong mother-infant relationships. Avoidant infants are less prone to view their primary caregiver differently “Marital satisfaction than any other person previously unknown to the infant. Egeland and Faber levels are generally higher (1984) described the behavior of avoidin couples that display ant infants as having little interest in excompromise, acceptance, ploration in new situations. They treat the mother and the unknown stranger and recognition.” similarly during the Strange Situation Test (described below) and often will avoid the mother upon reunion. Avoidant infants express less interest in the mother and are often seen as being indifferent to the presence of their mothers. Infants in this study were categorized into two groups, secure and insecure (resistant and avoidant infants were categorized together). Marital Satisfaction: Marital satisfaction between husband and wife was measured to test the association between infant attachment and the degree of marital satisfaction. Satisfaction levels are generally higher in couples that display compromise, acceptance, and recognition, while marital negativity is higher in relationships stricken with blame and criticism (Feeley, 2002). Our research will look at marital satisfaction scores and compare them to infant attachment scores. Whether children are the direct negative affecters of marriage relationships has still not been determined. However, comparing these two variables will show if the degree of infant attachment has any effect on marital relationships.
METHODS To measure infant attachment and marital quality, subjects were invited to Brigham Young University and informed that they would be participating in an ongoing research study. Seventy participants and their infants were selected from the Mountain West semi-urban area using public birth records obtained from the local County Department of Health. Infants were healthy and carried full-term (average birthweight M=7.26 lb., range=5.04–9.13 lb.) with no major pregnancy, birth, or perinatal complications. Mothers were predominantly white, well-educated, and from intact marriages. Participants were invited to a one-hour lab session when the infants were approximately twelve months old. 23
THE STRANGE SITUATION TEST During the initial laboratory visit, infant and mother participated in the Ainsworth (1978) Strange Situation Test. It is the most accurate and widelyused test to determine infant attachment. During the test, infants experience a range of situations that test the level of attachment between the infant and the mother. The infant is exposed to two main settings to determine the level of attachment. The first setting involves infant-mother interaction that is disrupted by a stranger entering the room. The second setting involves infant-mother interaction that is disrupted by the mother. These two settings allow observers to determine the type of attachment between infant and mother. During the preliminary stages of the test, infant and mother are introduced into the observation room and left alone. The infant is allowed to interact with his or her mother and explore freely. The room may be equipped with small toys for the infant to play with, should he or she wish to. After the infant has become comfortable in this setting, a stranger (who is completely unknown to the infant) enters the room. The stranger converses briefly with the mother as the mother leaves the room trying not to be noticed by the infant. Once the infant realizes that the mother has left the room, the stranger attempts to comfort the infant. After a brief moment, depending on how the infant reacts to the absence of the mother, the mother re-enters the room to comfort the infant. The second stage of testing is brief. After the mother and infant reunite in the observation room, the infant is again allowed to explore and play as he or she pleases. The mother then exits the room, leaving the infant alone. This episode is typically followed by an obvious show of distress by the infant. Next, the stranger enters the room and addresses the needs of the infant. Finally, the mother re-enters the room and comforts the infant. During the test, attachment is classified as either secure or insecure.
MARITAL SATISFACTION QUESTIONNAIRE To measure marital satisfaction, the enrolled mothers filled out Braiker and Kelley’s (1979) self-reporting marital quality questionnaire. Mothers completed the questionnaire reflecting back on the last two months of the relationship. Only the mothers’ perspective of marital quality was measured because the mother is generally the infant’s primary caregiver. Questions are scored on a nine-point scale (nine being the highest), with some questions relating to marital positivity and others to marital negativity. Questions about marital positivity include “How comfortable are you 24
with sharing private information with your spouse?”; questions about marital negativity include “How often do you and our spouse experience confrontations?” These questions are further divided into categories of love and maintenance for positivity; and categories of conflict and ambivalence for negativity. The results of both positive and negative responses are then paired together using different statistical methods to determine the correlations.
RESULTS Previous research has noted a decrease in overall marital satisfaction after the introduction of an infant into the family (Isabella, Belsky, 1985). Yet the exact cause of this decrease in satisfaction remains unclear. Several possible causes have been hypothesized, but most remain untested. To test the association between infant attachment and the quality of the marital relationship, two statistical tests were run on the results. The first was an independent-samples t-test to compare the mean marital satisfaction scores of the two attachment groups (secure and insecure) and determine whether the scores had any relation to marital satisfaction. The second was a linear regression model to provide a prediction of the increase in marital satisfaction in mothers of securely-attached infants versus mothers of insecurelyattached infants. Using these two models allowed us to draw conclusions about the effects of infant attachment on the marital relationship. By running an independent-samples t-test, which compares the means of the two groups, we saw statistically significant results between the type of attachment between mother and infant and the level of marital satisfaction between the parents. Results from the t-test showed an increase in the mean marital negativity among mothers with securely-attached infants at twelve months. More specifically, the greatest level of significant increase in negativity was seen in the area of marital ambivalence––defined as a lack of surety, decreased decision-making, and disconnect between husband and wife. These findings suggest that while there is an increase in overall marital negativity within the relationship, the most affected area of the relationship is the mother’s perceived uncertainty of the marital relationship. The data below show statistically significant results for both marital negativity and marital ambivalence. We found that mothers of securely-attached infants experienced higher marital negativity and higher levels of marital ambivalence than mothers of insecurely-attached infants. Figure 1 shows the average scores of marital negativity for both securely and insecurely attached infants. Figure 2 shows the average scores of ambivalence in the parents’ marital relationship for both securely and insecurely attached infants. 25
In figure 1, average marital negativity scores for mothers of securely-attached infants were higher, on average, than mothers of insecurely-attached infants. In figure 2, verage marital ambivalence scores for mothers of securelyattached infants were higher than mothers of insecurely-attached infants. These graphs tell us that, on average, mothers of securely-attached infants experience an increase in marital negativity. Specifically, this overall increase is manifested mostly in increased marital ambivalence. These results further confirm our hypothesis that mothers of securely-attached children experience higher levels of marital negativity (i.e., lower levels of marital satisfaction). To further test our hypothesis, we ran a linear regression model to test the probability of parents of securely attached infants experiencing an increase in marital negativity or ambivalence. Results of the linear regression test showed that in parents of securely attached infants, we expect to see an increase in marital negativity of 7 percent and an increase in marital ambivalence of 24 percent. The linear regression analysis was also run on marital positivity. Results from this analysis showed no significant results in marital positivity or either of its two subdivisions.
DISCUSSION In summary, our findings provide strong evidence that mothers of securely attached infants were more likely to experience an increase in marital negativity, specifically in the area of marital ambivalence. The exact causes of this relationship remain unknown, but from our results we can make some inferences about the causes and discuss practical implications of the findings. One possible factor in the relationship between secure infant attachment and marital negativity could be a transfer of the motherâ€™s resources, time, and attention from the father to the new child. Rholes et al. (2001) studied adults during pregnancy and after the birth of the child. They found that couples undergoing major events, like the introduction of a child into 26
the family unit, were more likely to experience greater levels of ambivalence in their marriages. They also noted that mothers with increased levels of ambivalence before childbirth were likely to experience a greater increase in marital ambivalence after childbirth (p. 431). This increase in ambivalence could be due to the motherâ€™s desire to form a secure attachment with her infant, taking her focus away from her relationship with her husband. These findings demonstrate the inverse association between infant attachment and marital satisfaction and can be used to stress the importance of maintaining a healthy marriage into parenthood. Numerous studies have found that marital conflict poses a potential risk to child development, resulting in childhood disorders and poor emotional regulation (Cowan & Cowan, 1992; Gottman & Katz, 1989). However, secure attachment is desirable for infants. Therefore, parents should be encouraged to develop a secure attachment to their children while also being encouraged to maintain a strong, positive relationship with their spouse. The ideal is for parents to devote adequate attention to their marriage while maintaining a secure relationship with their infant. In conclusion, based on our review of data obtained at the BYU Infant Studies Lab involving seventy mothers and infants, we found a significant association between positive infant-mother attachment and increased marital discord. Although the understanding of the exact cause of this association is unknown, more research may help new parents improve marital relationships.
REFERENCES Ainsworth, M. S., Blehar, M. C., Watters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Oxford, England: Lawrence Erlbaum. Belsky, J., & Isabella, R. A. (1985). Marital and parent-child relationships in family of origin and marital change following the birth of a baby. Child Development, 56, 342–49. Braiker, H. B., & Kelley, H. H. (1979). Conﬂict in the development of close relationships. In R. L. Burgess & T. L. Huston (Eds.), Social exchange in developing relationships. New York: Academic. Cowan, C. P., & Cowan, P. A. (1992). When partners become parents: The big life change for couples. New York: Basic Books. Crockenberg, S. B. M. (1981). Infant irritability, mother responsiveness, and social support influences on the security of infant-mother attachment. Child Development, 52(3), 857–865. Cummings, E. M., Iannotti, R. J., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (1985). Influence of conflict between adults on the emotions and aggression of young children. Developmental Psychology, 21(3), 495–507. Egeland, B., & Farber, E. A. (1984). Infant-mother attachment: Factors related to its development and changes over time. Child Development, 55(3), 753–71. Figley, C. R. (1973). Child density and the marital relationship. Journal of Marriage and Family, 35(2), 272–82. Gottman, J. M., & Katz, L. F. (1989). Effects of marital discord on young children’s peer interaction and health. Developmental Psychology, 25(3), 373–81. Rholes, W. S., Simpson, J. A., Campbell, L., & Grich, J. (2001). Adult attachment and the transition to parenthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(3), 421–35. Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Foster, C. A. (2003). Parenthood and marital satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 574–83. Wong, M. S., Mangelsdorf, S. C., Brown, G. L., Neff, C., & Schoppe-Sullivan, S. (2009). Parental beliefs, infant temperament, and marital quality: Associations with infant– mother and infant–father attachment. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(6), 828–38.
TASTE THE BITTER CHELSEA OGILVIE
“I would never take back my understanding of death, my testimony of the Savior’s Atonement, and the blessings of resurrection that have been strengthened.” I WAS NOT READY TO SAY GOODBYE, yet I had no choice. I was thirteen when my older brother Zachary died. It was my first experience with the death of a close family member. When it occurred, I did not fully understand what death meant. I knew Zach’s physical body was no longer united with his spirit, which was in paradise, but I never comprehended how his death would impact both my life and the life of my family. In the ten years since his passing, I have learned by experience and lived by faith so that one day I will understand why Zachary had to die. I often wonder if I played a part in the pre-existence in deciding when he would live and die. I wonder if I could turn back time and bring him back. If I could erase all the heartache and pain that has been associated with losing someone I loved so dearly, would I? My head shouts yes, but my heart shouts no. I would rather live through the never-ending pain than have him alive on earth right now. Why? I would never wish for the strengthening that my family endured over the years to vanish. I would never take back my understanding of temporal death, my testimony of the Savior’s Atonement, and the blessings of resurrection that have been strengthened. I cannot regret the transformation that came over me and my family because of Zach’s death. All the years without him have helped me realize that heartache and healing go hand in hand. My brother’s death was my spiritual crucible that led to both positive and negative life changes. It brought detrimental heartaches along with beneficial blessings to my life. One such change was completely unexpected and forced the child within me to grow up. My mother emotionally lost herself the day my brother died. Her heart was broken, and she could not 29
put it back together. She had a difficult time taking care of her other children. Since I was the oldest at home, I became a thirteen-year-old mom to my five younger siblings. I did not have time to grieve, so emotions were pushed away. It was the only way I knew how to handle the pain. I knew what I needed to do to support my family, and I did it. My mom’s health only seemed to deteriorate. The health problems worsened—depression, migraines, herniated discs—and the doctor visits became more frequent. The sicker she became, the more helpless I felt. The only way I could help her was to keep helping my family. I do not blame my mother’s depression on my brother’s death, but I do acknowledge that it played a large role in it. I was forced to lose my innocence and sense of security. How is a thirteenyear-old girl supposed to comprehend death while taking care of her family? This was, for a long time, a constant crucible that made getting on my knees the only source of comfort I could find. My family was like a perfect puzzle to me. The puzzle could not have been complete without each individual piece linking the entire picture together. When Zach died, his piece was taken away, while the rest of the puzzle was scattered on the floor, with no one to put it back together. I tried but ultimately failed because a piece was missing, and it could never be recreated. One of the biggest changes my family faced was simply readjusting to life without Zachary. Our home and hearts were broken. In a sense, our family structure did crumble after his death. Little things such as setting the table with one less plate or making a new job chart were painful. Not having my older brother, after sharing all our memories together, was so hard for me to adjust to. We could no longer walk to the bus stop or play video games together. We could no longer physically talk to each other and tell jokes to one another. His room was filled with all of his things, yet it was completely empty at the same time. Two years ago, my childhood friend had to bury her four-month-old baby boy. As soon as I heard the news, my heart immediately began mourning for her and her husband. I will never understand their grief as parents losing a child, but I can understand the constant pain and sorrow they feel. I know the heartache they are going to have to endure for the rest of their lives. Even though they know, just as I do, that our loved ones are in a happier place, the pain never subsides. The longing for them is constantly beating down on us like a drum. We will always miss and grieve the earthly presence of our loved ones, even when we know where they are. If I used one word to describe Zach’s death to me, it would be bittersweet. It has been an emotionally long roller coaster ride with extreme ups and downs. It has taken every ounce of faith within me to simply trust in the 30
Lord’s plan for myself and my family. The road of mourning has been long and hard. The bitterness of death is difficult to describe and even harder to understand. It is a bitterness that I would never wish upon even my worst enemy. Regarding death, President Thomas S. Monson said, “We experience joy and sorrow, fulfillment and disappointment, success and failure. We taste the sweet, yet sample the bitter. This is mortality. Then to each life come the experience known as death. None is exempt. All must pass its portals” (2007). My family was not exempt from experiencing sorrow and disappointment; we did pass through the portals of bitter death. However, with such bitter emotions comes a sweet feeling of peace and love. Zachary’s death did bring blessings of realization to my life. My relationship with my mother was substantially affected by his death. We struggled for over eight years with a plethora of highs and lows. My relationship with my siblings struggled for just as long. Death changed the perspective of how we saw each other. My mother saw me as a “pseudo mom” who cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and attended soccer games. My siblings also saw me as a mom and treated me as such. I embraced this role for over seven years, but I was not happy, and I was not myself. As of a year “Helping those in ago, my relationship with my mother is need is my form of healthier and my siblings finally see me service, which in turn as a sister, not a mother. The experiences and lessons I learned while serving my heals my life.” family will greatly benefit me when I am a real mother to my future children. I developed many characteristics such as patience, love, and kindness that have shaped me into the person I am today. The tribulations were the bitter, and now the reflection is the sweet. Another realization that has helped my understanding is my ability to “mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). I am able to help those in my similar position because I have tasted the bitterness of losing someone I love. I am able to comfort my friend as she is mourning the loss of her son. Helping those in need is my form of service, which in turn heals my life. I can honestly say I have found meaning and purpose in my loss by truly reaching out to others who are hurting. Mourning with others in my same dilemma has brought healing and allowed me to serve my fellow men. All the positive changes I was able to witness would ultimately be nothing without my Savior, Jesus Christ. I continue to give all the credit for the healing my family has witnessed to Him and His Atonement. 2 Nephi 9:10 31
states, “O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster . . . death of the body.” Although there must still be a bitter temporal death, God has provided a way for there to be an even sweeter reunion called resurrection. My testimony of the resurrection is firmly grounded in my faith of the Atonement. Elder Earl C. Tingey said, “The resurrection from the dead is a most beautiful aspect of the Atonement and truly a part of the plan of happiness; the resurrection is universal and applies to the entire human family. We will all be resurrected. This is an unconditional gift from God” (2006). I know this “For some, the refinto be true; I do not doubt it. I live my life er’s fire causes a loss righteously today, so I can be reunited with of belief and faith in my brother someday. I do not have power to bring Zachary back from the dead, but God, but those with my Savior does. He possesses power over eternal perspective un- physical death and allows the reunion of the spirit with the flesh. derstand that such a Over the years since my brother’s death, refining is part of the I have endured, and still endure, the “refiner’s perfection process.” fire” stated in Isaiah. James E. Faust described this endurance when he said the following: Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone, including those who earnestly seek to do right and be faithful. The thorns that prick, that stick in the flesh, that hurt, often change lives which seem robbed of significance and hope. This change comes about through a refining process which often seems cruel and hard. In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master in building lives of faith, usefulness, beauty, and strength. For some, the refiner’s fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with eternal perspective understand that such a refining is part of the perfection process. My refiner’s fire did often feel like my own personal hell. I have lived through “despairing days of adversity and buffeting.” I sadly know what a “loss of belief and faith in God” feels like. Death makes even the strongest people weak. My refining process did seem cruel and extremely hard, and at times made me bitter. But the moment I turned to my Savior, Jesus 32
Christ, and allowed His Atonement to heal my heart, the refiner’s fire became sweet. My spirit became soft clay in the hands of my Master and He continues to shape me into the person I need to become—a person of faith, usefulness, and strength. Death is easier to endure when I implement the Atonement and keep an eternal perspective. The first song my family sang together at Zachary’s funeral was “Families Can Be Together Forever.” Before his death, this song was just another song in the hymn book. I knew it was true but never had to put that belief into action until I was forced to. Now looking back after his death, I am so grateful that I have a personal testimony that resurrection will occur and that families truly can be together forever. I know my Heavenly Father created each member in my family and is allowing us to learn and grow together. He created Zachary, let him live fifteen years physically on earth, and then took him back to live spiritually forever. Zachary is not dead, but is truly alive in Christ. I too am alive in Christ when I allow the Atonement to carry me through the trials and hardships of life. Although my family puzzle is not yet complete, I know one day it will be. When Zachary is resurrected, my family will be physically reunited and spiritually healed. The puzzle will be finished and the completed picture will be seen. It is through Jesus Christ that the puzzle will be put back together—forever.
ENGAGING FAMILY LITERACY PRACTICE VICTORIA LEE SIMPSON, M.ED.
Concealed in plain sight is the answer to children’s success in school.The answer is utilizing the natural social resource of family literacy practices. WHEN OUR CHILDREN WERE YOUNG, my husband would hide something by putting it in plain sight. Our boys didn’t ever think of looking for a treasure that was right in front of them. Academics, educators, parents, and students are all seeking for the treasure to improve student achievement in schools, but the hidden treasure is right in front of them—family literacy practices. Literacy practices are the ability of a person to fulfill their aspirations in adapting to societal expectations primarily using reading, writing, and other forms of communication (Harris & Hodges, 1985, p. 140). Those literacy practices include reading storybooks, telling family histories, working on home improvement projects, going on family vacations, completing art projects, participating in print and media experiences, and having conversations as a family. There is an increasing surge of research that suggests that student success in school is significantly impacted by family literacy practices (Taylor, 1997, p. 62). Because of this, parents should not be uninterested bystanders in their children’s literacy; they should be actively engaged in the daily family literacy practices that envelope each child’s realities. Now is the time for policy makers, academics, educators, community members, and parents to band together to expand and enrich literacy practices that will ensure that the children of this generation have all of the literacy advantages they need to strive and thrive in their unique environments.
PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IN FAMILY LITERACY Recent research has indicated that the most effective family involvement occurs within the walls of a child’s home. If parents facilitate literary engagement in their own home, their children will be more successful in school. Jeynes’s (2005) study on the relationship between parental involvement and student academic achievement performed a meta-analysis on fifty-two studies that support a parental involvement relationship. The study showed that when parents ask questions of their children regarding school experiences, have “Parents should recconversations with their children about homework or what they are learning, these ognize that no effort practices have a greater impact on their is wasted as they try education than parents being involved in to teach their children fund-raisers, volunteering in school, or even attending school events. within the home.” The following is a testimonial of effective parental involvement in learning that does not require federal funds. Tammie Applegarth of Herriman, Utah, writes, I have a ten-year-old son, Sam, who hates school. . . . My husband used the article “Getting In” to talk about how finishing high school and doing college make a difference in your potential income. I read to Sam every night and currently we’re reading the second Fablehaven book, which he loves. I saw the article on Brandon L. Mull in the Alumni Updates section [of BYU Magazine] and read it to Sam the next morning over breakfast. He was excited to learn about Brandon, and the fact that he had gone to college. (2010, p. 11) This example demonstrates the direct effect that parental involvement can have on children. These parents took the initiative to explicitly teach their son through anecdotal examples of the direct power of his academic achievement now and how this will positively affect his future. Of the effort that parents put into implementing literacy practices in the home, the effort that mothers put into teaching their children is especially important. Weigel, Martin, and Bennett (2006) examined mothers’ literacy beliefs and their effects on children’s literacy and learning over the course of one year. They explained that two main role patterns in parents were “facilitative” or “conventional.” Mothers who held facilitative roles believed in taking an active role in teaching their children at home and that their efforts would influence their child’s vocabulary, general knowledge, and even moral 36
development. Parents holding conventional beliefs assumed that schools, more than parents, held responsibility for teaching children. The researchers found that the homes of facilitative mothers had more literacy opportunities, and the children had more print knowledge than children of conventional parents. It is interesting to note the direct correlation between mothers who take an active role in teaching the children at home and the increase of literacy opportunities at home. No matter how slow the progress seems, mothers should recognize that no effort is wasted as they try to teach their children within the home (Weigel, Martin, & Bennett, 2006).
TIPS FOR INCLUDING FAMILY LITERACY PRACTICES IN YOUR OWN HOME Because family literacy practices are so influential in a childâ€™s learning career, it is important to consider simple ways in which parents can most effectively bring literacy into the home. Aesthetics for the literate home include books, images on the walls, newspapers, and magazines. In an ideal situation, each child should have their own bookshelf, lamp, and desk in their room. If there is not the physical room in the home, then there could be a designated study area where these literacy tools are accessible. A world religious leader, Gordon B. Hinckley, has discussed the study area in his childhood home: When I was a boy we lived in a large old house. One room was called the library. It had a solid table and a good lamp, three or four comfortable chairs with good light, and books in cases that lined the walls. There were many volumesâ€”the acquisitions of my father and mother over a period of many years. We were never forced to read them, but they were placed where they were handy and where we could get at them whenever we wished. There was quiet in that room. It was understood that it was a place to study. (1985) The family investment of a small area of the home that is designated the library or study could yield great academic dividends because it fosters literary discussions, encourages playing games, provides a place to do family history and, and allows children to know what their parents are reading. In addition to having a study area in the home, parents should write and read with children; it fosters an atmosphere of engagement within the home. Parents and children can make a running list of the books that they are reading and have read during the school year. The family can rate the books on their own family scale of likes and dislikes. When parents and other family members are engaged in reading, it can inspire the student to keep reading. 37
Family literacy is the umbrella under which the supplemental pragmatic use of formal school is covered. This umbrella includes semiotics such as music, dance, sports, math, science, and visual arts (Berghoff, 1998). In the home is where science experiments take the form of everyday meals and where family finances reflect the ways in which practical math takes shape. The art that is displayed on the walls of the home showcases the family gallery preferences, and the music that is played significantly influences children’s musical preferences. The media the family views and the games they play determine further engagement in the literacy practices. These literacy tools do not require great sums of money, a happy home, or even higher education of parents and caregivers, but they do require educating parents (Robinson & Harris, 2012).
HOW TO EDUCATE PARENTS Many parents want to be involved in their child’s education, but most just do not know how to go about it (Harvard Family Research Project, 2009). Parents and caregivers are extremely busy with their lives and the activity cultures that they value. Parents can be instructed and encouraged “parents should school administrators to use family activity not be uninterested by time as a time to develop literacy practices that bystanders in their can enhance school-based literacy practices. children’s literacy” For example, in school the science content area standard being taught is chemical reactions. The family could complete a chemical reaction assignment by viewing what happens when eggs and baking powder are added to cake batter, and what happens when the baking powder is left out. By doing this, the student and their family will be able to see how chemical reactions work, and can practice writing a hypothesis statement with a results paper. School administrators can also become instrumental in fostering and directing parental involvement seminars (Cripps & Zyromski, 2009). Educators can teach the parents to have children “catch their parents reading” as an example of entertainment, enrichment, and engagement. Educators can also encourage parents to get involved in literacy practices by sending out class newsletters that include questions to engage children in family conversations regarding the comprehension of the texts that are being read in class. The educator can model effective question-asking strategy during parent conferences and back-to-school nights. Maria is a woman who didn’t know how to be involved in her son’s education, but was successfully trained on ways to include family literacy 38
practices in her own home and made an active effort to be involved in her sonâ€™s academic life. As a young teen mom, Maria asked her doctor how she could help her son attend college someday. She did not know anyone who had attended college and needed assistance preparing her son for higher education. The doctor told her about a community program that offered parenting courses. Through the program, she was able to take parenting classes, enroll her son in preschool classes, and form a complementary plan for kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school. As a senior in high school, Mariaâ€™s son had four scholarships to universities, and he was able to achieve their dream of higher education and a better life.1
CONCLUSION My first career was that of a full-time parent. I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to feel as though my best efforts to instruct my children were largely ignored or undervalued. The literacy practices we participated in as a family were marginalized by educators. Now that our five sons are grown and gone, my final career choice is informing parents, educators, and academics about the reality and value of family literacy practices. In these days of economic downsizing and high stakes academic testing, concealed in plain sight is an answer to the concerns of academics, administrators, educators, parents, and children regarding childrenâ€™s success in school. The answer is utilizing the natural social resource of family literacy practices. When adults begin to put children first, no one is left behind.
1. This story is the inspired work of Edmund Gordon on supplementary education. The work of Dennie Palmer Wolf at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and Paul Tough of the New York Times (The School Transition Study, The Home Visit Forum, schools and teachers nationwid, and local and national programs provide the kinds of services mentioned in the story. Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/family-involvement/projects/school-transition-study-completed-project). 39
REFERENCES Applegarth, T. (2010). BYU Magazine, 64(2). Berghoff, B., (1998). Multiple sign systems and reading: Inquiry about learning and learners. Reading Teacher, 51(6), 520–23. Cripps, K., & Zyromski, B. (2009). Adolescents’ psychological well-being and perceived parental involvement: Implications for parental involvement in middle schools. Research in Middle Level Education, 33(4), 1–13. Harris, T. L., & Hodges, R. E. (Eds.). (1985). The literacy dictionary: The vocabulary of reading and writing. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Harvard Family Research Project. (2009). Harvard family research project (HFRP). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/ Hinckley, G. B. (1985). The environment of our homes. Ensign, (June). Retrieved from http://www.lds.org/ensign/1985/06/the-environment-of-our-homes Jeynes, W. H. (2005). Effects of parental involvement and family structure on the academic achievement of adolescents. Marriage & Family review, 37(3), 99–116. Robinson, K., and Harris, A. L., (2012). Raising Learners: Parental Involvement and School Achievement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Taylor, D. (Ed.). (1997). Many families, many literacies: An international declaration of principles. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
FAMILY DINNER DAILY JOHNSON
â€œWhen family dinners are watched over with care, they foster positive interactions between family members.â€? WHEN YOU PICTURE A FAMILY DINNER, do you envision a perfectly set table, well-mannered children, dogs sleeping peacefully by the fireplace as you and your family discuss world politics? While this may be a little extreme, it often can be hard to remember that family dinners are more about presence than perfection. It has been shown in market research conducted by A. C. Nielsen Company that, on average, families spend only 38.5 minutes of meaningful conversation together a week (Schrom, 2012). By increasing time spent together through family dinners, you can also increase the amount of conversation as well as awareness of problems children may be facing. Family dinners also aid in helping children to learn such things as table etiquette through the presence of their parents. When families strive to have dinner together, they are essentially stating that they value undistracted family time, communication, health, and learning. When parents encourage family dinner, they have an opportunity to give undivided attention to, and hold a conversation with, their children. There are few times during the day when the whole family can get together to talk. Although time with parents has increased over the last half-century, children are lacking quality time with their parents (Milke et al., 2004). This includes time spent one-on-one in open conversation. However, as quality time diminishes, parents and children both recognize the importance of spending time together. Most parents, when asked, indicate that they place high value on the family dinner (Putnam, 2000) and wish that they participated in this important family activity more often (Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2005). One of the many benefits of family dinner is that it facilitates communication among family members. This communication allows parents to as41
sess how each child’s day is going and encourages open discussion between parents and children. When parents know what their children are doing, they are more available to talk about any problems that their child may be having, to adjust any opinions their children may be picking up from their peers at school, or to simply share in their children’s joys. Parents can improve conversations with their children by asking simple, open-ended questions. These questions can be as open as “How was your day?” or more specified as “How was gym class today?” By asking openended questions, parents can develop conversations to a greater extent, because children are encouraged to elaborate on their ideas. Not only do family dinners encourage positive communication, but they also teach cultural and social norms in regards to manners. In one country, it may be socially acceptable to eat with your fork and knife always ready to cut, while in others, it is customary to set utensils down after each bite. Some cultures find it acceptable to slurp when drinking the broth of a soup while others do not. All of these are cultural differences that could be learned around the dinner table. Children are often not taught these cultural differences at school because they are with their peer group in which children may be making the same mistakes regarding manners. Parents have the opportunity to be good role models and encourage children to eat healthily when they sit down to dinner together (Wansink & Payne, 2008). In a recent study, researchers found children were 2.5 times less likely to be overweight if they ate dinner with their families. Part of this phenomenon was associated to the fact that children learn directly from what their parents do, including their parents’ eating habits (Doherty, 2009). Because of children’s dependency on their parents, they will eat what parents provide. If parents provide healthy sides, such as apples and wholewheat crackers, children will eat those. However, if parents provide unhealthy foods, children will follow suit. One of the best ways to encourage healthy eating is to have healthy foods available as snacks and to also offer healthier desserts, such as apples or yogurt. Providing these kinds of treats is helpful, because it allows children to connect healthy foods with rewards. This will allow children to see healthy food in a positive light. Another way to encourage healthy eating is by talking about it. Parents can explain, during dinner, for example, the reasoning for healthy eating. For a pre-school child this may be, “We eat healthily so we can grow up tall and be strong.” For a teenager this may mean, “We take in less fat so that our bodies do not collect it in our bloodstream, which can lead to major complications like high blood pressure and heart disease.” 42
This family mealtime should provide stability for both children and parents (Munoz, Israel, & Anderson, 2007). Researchers found that 74 percent of adolescents indicated that they enjoyed eating meals with their families; however, 53 percent reported that different schedules don’t let them eat meals together on a regular basis (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2010). By creating a set time for dinner, families are able to establish a rhythmical pattern to their day, expressed in a feeling of security. Some families do dinner at a set time every day and others have set times a few times a week to accommodate the busy schedules of children and parents. Spending this time together is crucial in not only individual child development but also in family development. As parents take time out of their busy schedules to have family dinners, they help create an environment in which children can talk to each other. The sibling relationship is one of the longest relationships that a person will ever have. This relationship is longer than the relationship with a spouse or parents and therefore must be nurtured during the early years of childhood. Family dinners can help this relationship to flourish by allowing children to be together discussing positive topics. Parents can encourage this relationship growth by using directive “Spending time around conversation. If they see that a topic of the dinner table is discussion may cause contention, parents can lead the conversation away from the important in helping controversial topic by introducing posito develop a sense of tive topics instead. One of the ways to confidence in children.” do this is by posing a question that helps the members of the family focus on the positive, such as, “Isn’t it such a beautiful day outside? Today, I took a walk in the park.” This directive conversation can help to change the mood of family dinners. Spending time around the dinner table is important in helping to develop a sense of confidence in children, especially girls. This confidence leads to fewer incidences of suicidal thoughts and depression (Haines et al., 2010). Quality time helps children see themselves as a whole, rather than in a short-term perspective of who they are in the moment. This is because quality time focuses on the rounding of a person, not just situational improvement. For instance, a girl who has positive self-esteem derived from family connections will be able to say, “Although I did poorly on my math test, I know I can do better next time, because I am smart.” Family dinners give children and parents the opportunity to give and receive praise that will reinforce these ideas. The positive reinforcement children receive from their 43
parents is of utmost importance during the teenage years, when children are trying to find their place in the world. Another issue that can be combated by family dinners is eating disorders. Not only are parents more aware of what their children are involved in but they are also able to have a positive influence on their children during family dinners. Researchers have found that teenage girls who eat dinner with their mothers five or more times per week are less likely to develop an eating disorder than those who do not. The same was not true for boys. The reasoning is that often girls are more involved in conversation and discussion at mealtime than their brothers (Warner, 2008). Parents can involve their boys in the conversation just as much as the girls by pulling them into the discussion. If a sister is talking about her school play, a father “Before the meal, could bring the son in by saying, “Robby, parents can facilitate do you think you would like to try out for an enjoyable experience a play?” By using the child’s name, a parent by allowing children to immediately brings attention to them. Asking a question allows for open discussion help in the choice of between siblings. the meal.” Family meals may also help in the eating disorder struggle because it puts the body on a time clock. In this sense, family dinners allow for the physical and mental side of a person to thrive. As parents set an appointed time for dinner, their children’s bodies will get used to eating at a set time. Thus, the desire for food will increase, and children will continue to eat. Indirect communication can also be facilitated by the way in which families plan for a meal. This is non-vocal communication, which can express feelings of trust through actions, by allowing for autonomy, or selfexperience. Parents can show their trust in children by allowing them to do kitchen tasks, such as cutting or mixing, on their own. Parents can also express love or appreciation by a quick hug or affectionate pat on the head. This demonstrates to children that the work the children are doing is of worth to a parent. Before the meal, parents can facilitate an enjoyable experience by allowing children to help in the choice of the meal. For older children this can occur during the grocery shopping experience, where they can choose from a variety of options. Set guidelines for nutrition ahead of time and encourage your children to make healthy choices as they shop. If your family likes to eat out and the budget can afford it, plan for time accordingly. Younger 44
children can help make small choices. If you already have the menu decided, it is easy for you to ask if they want a specific meal today or tomorrow or if they want broccoli or corn as a vegetable. Only give children options that are acceptable to you. Teenagers can develop a sense of autonomy through financial learning. As children become adults, they will need to become financially responsible. Parents can take teenagers on a grocery trip, giving the teens an opportunity to learn how their parents budget and shop for good meals. Teenagers can also help younger children learn skills that they acquired from their parents regarding cooking, such as chopping and slicing. This not only creates a sense of accomplishment in successfully teaching a skill, but also allows for children to bond because of a shared experience. Cooking of meals will not only lead to a sense of satisfaction, but may also lead children to learn of a skill that they have or an interest that they may want to pursue. Parenting plays a key role in the positive effect of family dinners. When family dinners are watched over with care, they foster positive interactions between family members. As families develop good habits of eating together their relationship as a family can grow right along with the nutrition of the children and parents. When children are involved in the process of family dinner, the time that parents spend during those few minutes can be invaluable in helping their children to grow and developâ€”physically, emotionally and mentally.
REFERENCES Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2005). The importance of family dinners II. 1–15. Doherty, W. J. (2009). The family dinner table and the health of our children: Traditional wisdom and new data. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Haines, J., Gillman, M. W., Rifas-Shiman, S., Field, A. E., and Austin, S. B. (2010). Family dinner and disordered eating behaviors in a large cohort of adolescents. Eating Disorders, 18(1), 10–24. Milke, M. A., Mattingly, M. J., Nomaguchi, K. M., Bianchi, S. M., and Robinson, J. P. (2004). The time squeeze: Parental statuses and feelings about time with children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(3), 739–61. Munoz, D. J., Israel, A. C., and Anderson, D.A. (2007). The relationship of family stability and family mealtime frequency with bulimia symptomatology. Eating Disorders, 15(4), 261–71. Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., Ackard, D., Moe, J., and Perry, C. (2000). The family meal: Views of adolescents. Journal of Nutrition Education, 32(6), 329–34. Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster. Schrom, M. (2012). Not enough quality family time anymore. University Chronicle [St. Cloud State University]. Retrieved from http://www.universitychronicle.net/index. php/2012/06/17/not-enough-family-time-anymore/. Wansink, B., and Payne, C. (2008). Consequences of belonging to the “clean plate club.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 162(10), 994–96. Warner, J. (2008). Family meals curb teen eating disorders. WebMD. Health & Parenting. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20080107/family-mealscurb-teen-eating-disorders?query=.
MY BROTHER’S GOT A CASE OF THE WASHINGTONS EMILY HINTON
My brother and I gathered our most prized McDonald’s toys, holographic trading cards, and Pogs into a rusty red wagon to have our own private cuteness competition. EVERY YEAR, MY CHILDHOOD NEIGHBORHOOD held a mass garage sale. For my brother and me, the event was more of a carnival freefor-all than anything. Each family hauled their boxes full of junk onto their driveways, and some went the extra mile and put their backs out preparing card tables. At the end of the evening, whatever didn’t sell was shoved to the curb for either the garbage man or the donation truck. Until they came, everything in those boxes was free for the taking. One year, I even found a Mother’s Day gift by searching frantically through the boxes. As expected, the children of the neighborhood saw this day as a golden opportunity to sell their cuteness. They dug out their coloring supplies and some computer paper to litter the sale with signs promoting their father’s soda collection. “Sodey pop onley 50 sents!” the signs read, adorably misspelled. If the money wasn’t for candy, at least their customers could assume the money was going toward some sort of spelling tutor. However, one would come to realize that by the end of the day the price of a tutor had mysteriously risen, and the value of a Shasta would soon turn to that of oil. The later the day, the more desperate their tiny pockets became. Teeth were bared and blood was shed. My brother and I liked to think that we were above such despicable behavior. Instead, we gathered our most prized McDonald’s toys, holographic trading cards, and Pogs into a rusty red wagon to have our own private cuteness competition. We knew, even at such a young age, that our customers 47
would not be buying our merchandise for its quality, but for its sentimental benefit. I, with my bleach blond hair braided in perfect frizzy pigtails and feet wrapped in pink jelly sandals, worked tirelessly to convince my audience of each Pog’s timeless value. And of course everyone knows that Pogs cannot live alone. They need their comrades with them at all times: If not for the companionship, for the resale value. You know, fifty years from now when Pokémon cards will be worth as much as kids told their parents they would be. It will happen, I assure you, and you’ll regret the day you gave them “My beam of to that fifth grader in your church group achievement soon to gamble away. You probably didn’t even know that kid—he just happened to be a turned to fury as I boy, and, because boys are supposed to looked up to find like Pokémon more than girls, you had no my brother smearing choice but to give your Pokémon cards away in order to continue producing eseleven dollars’ worth of beautiful paper all trogen so you could grow up and become a girl who likes to wear dresses. But deep over his face.” down you know there will come a day when you’re flipping through channels in your piece-of-junk trailer and you see that snot-nosed brat all grown up wearing a suit on the Antiques Roadshow with your first edition, holographic, fully-evolved Charizard. “At least,” you’ll say through gritted teeth, “I have my estrogen.” My brother and I set up camp in opposing areas of our driveway: far enough away to avoid the temptation of strangling each other, but close enough to smell the stink eye being shot in either direction. Throughout the day we took breaks from the competition to take turns sneaking back into the house the unapproved items our mother had put on display. That was a necessity that we both understood. Many batted eyelashes and precious burstings of “I’m six!” later, it came time for judgment. I withdrew my day’s earnings and met my brother in the center of the concrete. On the count of three, we unsheathed our battle weapons. I had, within my grasp, six one-dollar bills, every one of which had been flattened with a heavy book and flipped to the Washington side because of personal reasons of idolatry and aesthetic appeal. However, my beam of achievement soon turned to fury as I looked up to find my brother smearing eleven dollars’ worth of beautiful paper all over his face—he had finally proven himself the cutest. Either that, or he 48
had better junk than I did. Regardless of his tactics, he was enjoying this victory far more than I expected. His gapped teeth, fuzzy with the day’s sugar intake, were displayed in a wide grin. He laughed in the same maniacal way that Dr. Frankenstein does when he realizes that his sick and twisted creation lives—you know, with his head full of crazy hair tilted back, eyes closed. I found myself wishing my brother would at least get a paper cut on his stupid cheek to stop his laughter, but my wish was not granted. His little sister was defeated and he was eating up the glory—for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I recently brought up this painful memory in conversation, in search of some answers. Not only had my brother almost forgotten about the entire event, but he immediately admitted to cheating. “Yeah,” he laughed, “I only made five dollars that day. The rest of it I snagged from my piggy bank when I went inside. Sometimes you can be so clueless!”
FOURTEEN YEARS ERIN JONES
He doesn’t understand that I’m leaving—not just for a week, but maybe for forever. How do you explain that to your four-year-old brother? I have to tell him. I have to tell Landon that I’m going to college next year. I’m eighteen, jumping on the trampoline with my four-year-old brother. Every bounce I make sends Landon flying, while my feet barely skim the air. Maybe this is the last time I’ll jump with him. Maybe when I’m in college, I’ll feel like I’m too old to jump with Landon. What is Landon going to do without me? How do I explain to him that it’s not a vacation, that I’m not coming back? That I won’t be able to play with him like this again? Most college students don’t have to say goodbye to their four-year-old brothers. Most college students might have to say goodbye to their fouryear-old nephews. But our family situation is a little different. The eldest of five children, I was fourteen when Landon was born. My mom wanted one last daughter. My sister and I wanted another sister. We got a boy. Not another brother, I thought. Another boy to add to the chaos of two other brothers. Can’t we send him back? Besides, there would be those awkward stares from strangers. It was hard enough getting stares for being such a large family (a rarity in the twochild city we lived in), but now I would have the additional stress of people assuming I was Landon’s mother. Who was going to believe this new kid was my little brother? My sister Kylie and I were in our first rehearsal for the summer teen musical when we got a call that Landon was being born. We sat around a square table, reading through the script for Honk!, a musical about the ugly 51
duckling. I didn’t have any lines because I got put in the chorus. I always got put in the chorus. I thought how at this very moment, this second maybe, my new brother was coming into the world. I’d been around for the birth of four siblings, but never the actual birth part. The only thing I knew about births was from watching “The Miracle of Life” in health class, when everyone shut their eyes and screamed during the birth part. But I didn’t. I was fascinated. What was it like for my mom and why had she wanted to go through it five times? Was she doing okay? I didn’t tell anyone in the cast. Only my friend Kendra knew what was happening at that very moment. “Wait, your mom is having a baby right now? Ew,” I imagined the cast members saying. I buried my nose in the script and wondered when we could leave, when we should leave. When we got the call, I was afraid to go to the hospital, afraid to see this new brother. How could I welcome a new brother to the family when I had already lived fourteen perfectly happy years without him? Kendra’s mom took us to the hospital, bought a stuffed bear for Landon, and took us into the plain white room. There was Mom, lying in bed and holding a bundle of baby. My mom let me hold my new brother, but I didn’t feel any sort of connection to this baby who was Landon. The baby was small and pink and didn’t look quite human. He could have been anyone’s baby. Who was to say that he was my brother? “He looks like an alien,” I said. I would be out of the house before this child was even in kindergarten. Would I ever really know him? Would he ever really know me? Landon was a kid in a crib while I was in high school. From the beginning I was designated baby-sitter. All I knew of him during his early years were diapers and crying and spitting up. At age two, though, Landon’s clever personality began to come through. While he was toddling around the playroom on shaky feet, I held up a fake plastic biscuit. “Bread,” I told him, hoping to teach him a new word. But Landon wouldn’t have it. “Cookie,” he responded (pronouncing it “Coo-key”), apparently thinking (and rightly so) that the fake biscuit looked more like a cookie. “No, bread,” I insisted. “Cookie.” “Bread.” “Cookie.” 52
At this point, I was getting a bit fed up with Landon’s defiance. Maybe if I pronounced the word more slowly, he would get the point. I looked at Landon and pronounced the word carefully to make sure he understood: “Burrreeeaddd.” Landon smiled, looked me square in the eyes, and pronounced the word carefully: “Coooookieeeee.” I had been beaten by a two-year-old. I knew from that moment that he was going to be a smart kid. And Landon’s intelligence closed up the fourteen year gap between us just a bit. I worried about Landon because although he was smart, he didn’t know how to play like a normal kid. With only older siblings as examples, he thought he was supposed to watch TV for entertainment. One day I sat on the floor with Landon, grabbed a superhero toy, and pretended the toy was fighting its foes and flying around. Then I gave the toy to Landon. He caught on quickly, flying the superhero around himself, and after that he wanted to play toys with me almost every day. And I was happy to oblige. Like me, Landon was not only playful but also independent. But sometimes his independence caused me worry. I lost him babysitting one summer. He told me he was going to a friend’s house, but I didn’t hear him. When I came out Landon didn’t underof my room I saw he was gone and panstand why I was so icked. I walked up and down the street, callpanicked, but the truth is ing for Landon. How could I lose my own that I was afraid to lose little brother?, I thought. Did someone run in him. And now that I’m and snatch him and take him away? How could I be such a horrible older sister? leaving for college—well, I ran into my next door neighbor and that fear is back, but in he suggested we try a neighbor’s house, a a different way. new family I didn’t know. I knocked on the door, and there was Landon, playing video games with the neighbor boy. He didn’t even look up at me when I came in, just kept on playing video games. I couldn’t believe he would do this me, just leave without warning and act like it was no big deal. You can’t just leave your older sister. He was only a kid, after all. “Landon, where were you? Why didn’t you tell me where you were going? Come home right now!” I yelled. “Why?” Landon asked, unable to comprehend my anger. But he came home. Landon didn’t understand why I was so panicked, but the truth is that I was afraid to lose him. And now that I’m leaving for college—well, that fear is back, but in a different way. 53
How do I tell him I’m not always going to be there? That we might not be able to play like this again? “Landon, you know I’m going to college next week,” I say, stopping mid-jump. “For how long?” Landon asks. He keeps jumping up and down lightly, hoping I’ll resume bouncing him. He doesn’t seem to be affected by my sudden announcement. “A long time,” I say. What four-year-old has a concept of “a long time”? “Well, when you’re done with college, I’ll get to see you more, right?” says Landon, smiling. He doesn’t understand that I’m leaving—not just for a week, but maybe for Sometimes, we’re like forever. How do you explain that to your four-year-old brother? a real brother and I jump with him a while longer, and sister. What’s fourteen as I So jump, I think. Landon and I can’t lose years difference, right? the relationship we have, at least not completely. I may not be around physically to read to him or ride bikes with him, but I’m still his sister, and that’s something that can’t be broken, right? College is full of goings and partings, of coming home for a time and then leaving again. I don’t really get to see Landon grow up, but I still call him and talk to him. And talking to him is still like talking to someone on my own level. He asks me how school is going and I tell him it’s fine. Sometimes, we’re like a real brother and sister. What’s fourteen years difference, right? But sometimes I have nothing left to say to him, and the other end of the line is silence. Christmas break of my senior year, I brought home a novel I wrote for Landon’s age group. Landon and I sat down on the living room floor of our new house and I read to him. I started out reading a chapter and I was about to finish for the day, but Landon looks at me with an eager smile on his face and said, “Read more!” I kept reading, shocked that Landon likes it so much, hoping that it’s because of my writing and not just because I’m his sister. I kept reading and I kept reading and I finished reading the book in one sitting. “That was good,” says Landon. “Are you going to write a sequel?” “Maybe,” I say, imagining reading my books to Landon when they’re for-real published and him laughing and smiling and telling me to write more. “Are you going to read your next book to me?” asks Landon. 54
Maybe when Landon comes here next month for my college graduation, I’ll read him my next book. Or maybe I’ll read him this.
Stance for the Family was created to encourage students from all disciplines to research and write about the institution of marriage and family. Stance emphasizes the impact that marriage and family have on society and increases awareness of current issues affecting the family.
Published on Sep 17, 2012
Stance for the Family was created to encourage students from all disciplines to research and write about the institution of marriage and fam...