Saturday was a special day. It was the day Claudia Bushman was celebrated via the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Symposium. I was not able to attend, but I was able to sit in a seminar with Claudia and her husband, Richard, almost every day for six weeks, just a tiny bit earlier this summer through BYU’s Maxwell Institute. It was a deeply enriching experience, as I thought it might be.
Claudia added her wisdom and knowledge, her strong and honest voice, and her pleas to tell our own stories, as well as precious bits from her own. Once she shared the price of her gold wedding band ($5!). Another time she pinpointed a doctrine (magnifying your calling) that she perceived to be pernicious, with quite good, and quite funny reasons. My favorite (class) moment of all occurred after we discussed the significance of Eliza’s hymn, “O My Father.” Claudia quipped that we should all write poems about Heavenly Mother, because then they can become theology.
My favorite non-class moments were different. They were about the fact that I was in an intensive class, while caring for a (still nursing) infant in a state far away from where I live, and where my husband would be.
Claudia often asked me how I was doing in regard to this. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer these questions when they first came. Nor was I sure what to say when she said, “Maybe you feel you’re not getting enough mothering in.” What I did say was defensive–that I took my babe swimming almost every day, and that I read to her aloud my homework, and read (and wrote) more, while she was napping or sleeping, and that if anything, I felt I was not getting enough sleeping in.
It took a breakfast in Claudia’s home sometime later to realize that the questions were not accusatory, but caring. They were an acknowledgement that she knew it was hard. She had walked the PhD path before, with small ones. She trusted me to do the same, by initially admitting me in the seminar and by offering countless encouraging words.
Both she and Richard were understanding when I needed to bring my babe to part of a many-hours-longer-than-normal-class field trip to Salt Lake’s Church History Library and Church History Museum, and the one class session when my daughter’s caregiver was giving birth to her own child.
Claudia also always made a point of introducing my babe to whoever was around, when she was around. This meant a great deal to me, because it showed that she saw my 9 (now 10 month) old daughter as a full human being worthy of an introduction. On my last Sunday in Utah, Claudia introduced my little to her Relief Society sisters as “baby Cora, the seminar baby.” The words she said next concerning her were equally sweet and spoken with great kindness.
While participating in the seminar and corresponding symposium was difficult, and extremely tiring, it was also possible. The reasons why felt significant in their own right. The first day of our class on the Mormon Family, Richard mentioned the historical idea of the Big House, where all of the servants and all of the extended family lived in one space. He suggested that in some ways, polygamy was this Big House. Many early Latter-day Saint women were able to go East for advanced schooling because their sister wives stayed West and cared for their children. I do not have sister wives, but I do have sisters (and parents), and they watched my child. My Mormon family pulled through.
It was service, it was love, it was community, it was learning, it was growth.
While my pursuits may be different than yours, I suspect that we could all use encouraging words and strong examples.
How have you been supported by others in your own pursuits?
What loving and encouraging words have made a difference?
How do you try to lend that support to others?