The Easter Basket

Prologue.

I was ten the day my father drove me to pick out a new Easter basket. Thoughts of the perfect basket danced through my mind; bright pink with blue accents, a round basket with a big, loopy handle, perhaps a bow tied to one side. I was excited by all of the possibilities.

“M…I have something to tell you.”

My father and I usually preferred not to talk, both of us are quiet and thoughtful and conversation always seemed unnecessary so I was surprised by his voice.

“I need to tell you that the Easter Bunny isn’t real.”

I was completely shocked, not because I believed whole-heartedly in the mystical rabbit but more because I wanted to believe in a world where the Easter Bunny existed.

“Does that mean Santa Claus isn’t real either?”

“Yes, Darling.” He told me that the gifts that these two characters brought were really gifts from my parents, given out of love. He told me the meaning of the symbols and how they paralleled with Christ but I wasn’t listening. Tears rolled down my cheeks; I tried to hide them, I wanted to be a big girl but the loss of innocence and the disappointment in reality was too much to bear.

My father looked over at me, “Oh, M…”

He knew that this would not be the last time I would awake to a world that was not as I wished and be brokenhearted. He cried with me.

I.

I watch as seven men stroll up to the front of the room, purpose driven and solemn. A father, carrying a beautiful girl with blonde ringlets, makes his way through the congregation to stand with his brethren. They quickly form a circle, right hand extended to touch the girl’s head, left hand resting on their neighbor’s back. The adoption had finally gone through, it is time to make her one of us.

My mind wanders in and out of the blessing. I shush my own precious girl and hand her a book. As I look up I hear the words “I bless you that you will one day find a husband that will provide for you; that you will realize your divine role and become a righteous mother in Zion.”

I am shaken by the words and the image of dark suits pressing down on the girl with the golden curls. I used to believe that each of us had the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My reality as a Mormon woman: we are only entitled to those rights inasmuch as our desires run parallel to the expectations of the men who define us. For those who differ, there is little freedom in guilt, isolation, unrequited dreams and doubts of the goodness of God. Bitter tears sting my eyes, I wipe them away and pass my daughter a cheerio.

II.

April 2010, General Conference

I am told that women are important because of their influence on men. That “all women have within their nature both the inherent talent and stewardship to mother.” I hear the command to care, nurture and teach my children, a command that I fulfill every moment of the day but oh, how I wish my husband was given the same directive.

I am grateful for the one woman who confirmed that “women should be women, to be themselves, not babies to be petted and corrected all of the time.” I long for more voices like this and I wonder if women are so important, why aren’t our voices heard?

The dark suits press in, unmenacing but still damaging. They define me in relation to them: I am the diminutive wife, the divine mother, the docile daughter. But my woman soul is none of these things and I am left contemplating the reality of mutilating my spirit as I compress it into the corset of the Mormon feminine ideal.

My heart breaks again but a voice whispers, “Christ will still have you, broken and crumpled. You are not ruined. He will restore all that was lost.”

III.

I searched for the perfect Easter basket for my daughter. I went to store after store but they all looked cheap , devoid of character and completely unworthy to the task of bringing magic into her life.

I went home and pulled out my own Easter basket, the one I had picked all those years ago. It wasn’t the ornate basket of my daydreams, rather it is beautiful only for its simplicity. All of the magic that was lost the day my father revealed truth was captured for me in this basket. This, this, was the perfect basket for my little girl. I gave it to her because I love her, because I want to keep magic alive for her. I want her to believe in goodness but more importantly, I want my daughter to believe in her ability to access goodness and determine her own happiness. And so the cycle repeats.

Epilogue.

I hear the crunch through the running water and I dash out of the kitchen to see what has happened. My son is standing with his foot through my Easter basket, the basket I had given his sister, looking satisfied with his act of destruction. I scream at him and he runs into his room as I collapse on the floor in tears.

“My basket…” I whisper as I turn it over in my hands. It is not ruined but it will never be the same. It is almost as if I can feel some of the magic seeping out of it and I mourn the loss.

I console myself with the thought that the basket now better represents reality…that we are all broken but not ruined. It works for me.

But I worry for my daughter.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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23 Responses

  1. Hammie says:

    Wow. This conference was really hard for me too. I woke up and stumbled to the computer just in time to hear Packer’s talk about men presiding, and then had to run around to get ready for work and leave. It dampened my weekend. Sometimes I wonder why I keep torturing myself to try and stay committed to a church I don’t really even believe in anymore. If I had a daughter like yours, and I had to watch these influences surround her, I think I would just get as far away as possible.

    I really like your Easter analogy. You write beautifully.

  2. RachL says:

    I’m coming out of lurking to comment for the first time that this is the most amazing thing I’ve read in a long time. I’m especially in awe of this: “mutilating my spirit as I compress it into the corset of the Mormon feminine ideal.” It’s such an apt description on so many levels.

  3. Mraynes says:

    Thanks for the comment and the compliment, Hammie! I’m sorry conference was so hard for you, I was surprised at how pervasive the gender roles theme was myself. And opening with Elder Packer’s talk seemed like a slap in the face; that being said, there were parts of conference that I really liked. I know it’s difficult to stay in a church that is so often damaging, I hope you can find a path that brings you peace. Hugs and blessings to you.

    RachL, I’m so glad you came out of lurkdom and thank you for such a kind comment. It’s so tragic that we’re not allowed to be ourselves around the people who are supposed to love us unconditionally. I hope the Exponent is a place of refuge for you. Thanks again!

  4. EmilyCC says:

    Beautiful! I love the multi-generational approach here. It is one thing to accept a way of life that we work to fit into, but I wonder how it works as a parent, helping a child fit into that same mold.

  5. Jenne says:

    This:
    “I hear the command to care, nurture and teach my children, a command that I fulfill every moment of the day but oh, how I wish my husband was given the same directive.”

    is exactly what I was thinking as I listened to Conference this weekend.

    Though I may not be directed by the GAs of the Church to do, I am teaching my son that he needing to be nurturing and take an equal part in that responsibility as a parent. My husband believes too and he is good at it, sometimes better than me. How I wish though, that was taught to the men of the church. In an email to Jessica yesterday, I said something to the same effect, and how I see it as an opportunity for that activist organization to do something about it.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    This is so poignant and beautiful. It made me teary. I love the way you write.

    I didn’t hear the Eliza R Snow quote first hand, but I read it on Facebook. I did hear a lot about mothering and raising our children up in the church. I wonder what kind of attrition the church is having as a whole, especially with young people.

    I’m sorry that your experience on Easter was so painful. Ours was just a really long day.

    I can’t wait to see you on Thursday!

  7. Erin says:

    As everyone else has said, this piece is beautiful. I wish I could write so well. Like you, I felt that there were both difficult and wonderful moments at Conference this year.

    I also appreciated the multi-generational aspect of this. I feel that one of my biggest internal conflicts of late is whether or not to raise my son and any future kids in the church. I feel that it’s one thing to put up with everything myself since I know the good and the bad that I can expect. But how can I foist that on an innocent child? Is there a way to let them enjoy the good of the church and protect them from the bad, or do I have to let them suffer the same disillusionment and sorrow I have?

  8. Caroline says:

    m, this is gorgeous. so poignant and beautiful.

    Erin, you ask a lot of good questions. Something that has given me peace on this issue of raising children in the Church is Fowler’s Stages of Faith, in which he describes the natural progression humans’ faith goes through. From black and white binaries to (for some) disillusionment to a Ghandi like love of all humanity. Learning a bit about that has let me say to myself that it’s ok to let my children experience these natural stages. Though I admit, I’ll also be doing my best to humanize leaders and talk about the institution as one that needs to progress on a lot of different levels.

  9. corktree says:

    This was so beautiful and powerful to read. I am still sorting out my feelings about Conference, but as we just found out we’re having a boy after three girls, I couldn’t help but pay more attention to the gender highlights on both sides.

    I’m not sure why having a boy terrifies me so, but it seems like it’s going to be even more difficult to navigate these rough seas with him than it was going to be with my daughters if I want him to be what I envision a strong man should be. Will it be enough for him to emulate his father, who is a Feminist at his core but also a strong priesthood holder? I hope so. I have so many questions in my mind that I didn’t think I would have to find answers to. (at least not anytime soon)

    Anyway, this really was a lovely message. I especially appreciated your sentiments of hope despite painful acknowledgment of reality.

  10. G says:

    M, this is powerful. thank you.

  11. Randy B. says:

    A wonderful post. Thank you.

  12. Alisa says:

    This post makes me realize my feelings about the Church I love and the gender divisions that tear me apart. I learned a few years ago that gender roles will be talked about in Conference in ways that represent something less than what Christ would have us be. There’s so much more to men and women that these earthly/mortal/telestial gender divisions.

    Your son and daughter are going to face a lot of realities, but with a mother as thoughtful as you to guide them through some of these, they have a great chance of managing them.

  13. hkobeal says:

    Amazing post. I only watched one session (Sunday morning), but that’s always been enough for me. I am not happy to see discussion of gender roles get ramped up. I long for the day that we can just talk about PEOPLE–not men/women. And PARENTS–not mothers/fathers. This perfect ideal of the divine role of women and the divine role of men doesn’t exist anywhere, so why do we aspire to it?

  14. T says:

    Beautifully written, you describe many of my feelings. Thank-you

  15. Emma says:

    I wanted to come out of lurkdom to say thank you for such a powerful post. Your writing is stirring and beautiful. Your description of the little girl’s blessing, in particular, resonated with me. I know I should be organizing my baby daughter’s blessing but I am stalling… I wish I could have more of a part in it. I wish the church wouldn’t give such a narrow definition of womanhood. I want more for myself and for her.

    One of the saddest moments I ever witnessed at church was when a nonmember mother came to see her husband bless their baby. The bishop called the husband to the stand and the mother stood as well, smiling radiantly, and began to follow her family. I could tell she felt the spiritual significance of the moment. Then a stranger sitting next to her pulled her down to the pew, holding her back. I haven’t seen her at church again. I wonder why.

    “Christ will still have you, broken and crumpled. You are not ruined. He will restore all that was lost.”

    Thank you for that. I needed to hear it so much today.

  16. Moniker Challenged says:

    Excellent. Thank you.

  17. mraynes says:

    I just want to thank all of you for your lovely comments. I have had some family issues to deal with so I apologize for not being more present on this thread. I don’t have time to respond to individual comments right now but I did want to say how grateful I am that there is a place for my kind of experience to be shared. Your support and validation mean the world to me. Thank you all a thousand times.

  18. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you Mraynes for this lovely moving post. I can see your son crushing the basket and totally relate.

  19. kmillecam says:

    M, this post is so beautiful. I love the way you capture that the imbalance of influence and power between men and women in the Church is not always menacing but damaging nonetheless. I mourn for your smashed Easter basket 🙁

  20. css says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you. I relate to and struggle with all of the same issues.

    I think hkobeal brought up a good point about addressing parents and people rather than separating everything into gender roles. I think if as many talks were given on the roles, desired characteristics, and prescripted behavior of any other variation of people: i.e. by nationality, income level, and/or race, etc. It would be immediately offensive and downright unacceptable. For example, can you imagine if President Packer said in this in the April 2010 conference: (italicized words are my changes)

    1) Nationality: “Some years ago I gave a talk entitled “What Every ‘American’ Elder Should Know: A Primer on Principles of Priesthood Government.” Later, when it was to be published, I changed the title to read “What Every ‘American’ Elder Should Know—and Every ‘Other Nationality’ as Well.”

    2) Social class: “I include people of ‘lower classes’ because it is crucial for everyone to understand what is expected of the ‘wealthy’. Unless we enlist the attention of the ‘poor’—who have influence on their ‘bosses’—we cannot progress. The priesthood will lose great power if the ‘laborers’ are neglected.”

    3) Race: “In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the ‘light skinned’, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount. (If a ‘fair person’ be absent, the ‘dark skinned person’ should request the presiding authority present to take charge.) The ‘light skinned person’ presides at the table, at prayer, and gives general directions relating to his family life whoever may be present.”

    You can substitute any distinguishing words into these “roles”, i.e. fat, thin, Jewish, Muslim, liberal, conservative, homosexual, straight, etc. and it would be unacceptable, but for some reason it is totally okay to continue to preach these things about men and women in the church today.

    I propose that unless and until the role of Heavenly Mother as a Goddess is discussed from the pulpit, no other “roles” based on gender should be discussed from the pulpit! If “roles” really were SO important to church doctrine, why is women’s greatest example without one?

  21. jen says:

    I’m sobbing. Seriously sobbing.

    Picturing all of the men that have defined me, forced me to be what they said I should be, and so much pain…

    Thank you for writing this.

  1. April 4, 2011

    […] the problematic gendered nature of this practice and the hurt it causes many women. I have even written about my own antipathy towards this ritual and yet, I am always touched by the sight of men I respect and love cradling my […]

  2. April 3, 2015

    […] Posts The Easter Basket by Mraynes: “I went home and pulled out my own Easter basket, the one I had picked all those years ago. […]

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