Announcement: Winter 2014 Issue Now Available
This issue explores important themes like the current rhetoric surrounding the modesty discourse from marriage and family therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, as well as a beautiful collection of personal essays and inspired artwork. Subscribe or read online here.
My parents and I recently went through a trunk of old photographs. Decades caught on celluloid showed my parents’ coming of age in the ’60s and ’70s, and I couldn’t resist teasing them for their fashion choices, including a photo of my newlywed mother wearing an anklelength calico- printed prairie dress.
“What fashion statement were you going for with this one?” I gibed.
“I got lots of compliments on the dress in 1976,” she laughed defensively. “Considering how poor we were, and the fact that I made it myself, I think it looks pretty hip.”
“You made that dress?” I exclaimed in disbelief. “I mean, I knew you could sew a little but an entire dress?”
“Well of course I could sew! I made every maternity dress in my wardrobe and many of your toddler dresses. Didn’t you know that?”
No. I didn’t. Besides the (pretty amazing) Cinderella costume my mother made for me one Halloween, I hadn’t paid attention to my mother’s sewing skills. By the time I would have been old enough to notice, my parents were running a business, and the sewing machine was packed away in a closet. My two sisters and I only ever learned how to sew a straight line.
When I asked my mom why she never taught her children to sew, she remarked that she hadn’t really thought about it but also that it wasn’t as necessary a skill as it had once been. Moreover, my mother, a cowgirl, artist, and entrepreneur, understood the ways that this particular skill could be used to reinforce expectations of feminine domesticity she had resisted. My mother’s daughters were going to live in a world where these skills were neither essential nor expected. Why pass them on?
In one of life’s ironic twists, I am fascinated by textile arts. I knit, crochet, and quilt but still don’t know how to sew beyond a straight line. I would likely have made good use of those sewing skills my mother didn’t pass on, and every Halloween I feel a smidgen of resentment when trying to decipher a sewing pattern I inevitably abandon.
Thinking about what was and wasn’t passed on to me from previous generations stirs me to examine my own parenting. Of specific concern are the religious beliefs and practices I offer or withhold in my own children’s spiritual development. Although I cherish my Mormon identity and particular Mormon teachings, my membership in this church has also been a source of frustration and disappointment in my life. As a spiritual exercise, I ask myself nearly weekly why I am a Mormon, and honestly, some weeks, I just don’t know. How, when there are so many days when I’m not sure why I stay, can I pass this tradition on to my own children? And should I?
This crisis comes to a head every time one of my children turns eight, and this February it is my son Ezekiel’s turn.As is custom in many LDS homes, there has been a lot of talk about baptism as we approach this birthday. But perhaps dissimilar to some of those LDS parents, I find myself feeling trepidation about this event. Initiating my children into the Church which simultaneously blesses and maddens me is the source of a lot of my parental guilt.
This question of what we discard and pass on from previous generations is beautifully explored in the following pages. From the work of our cover artist, Page Turner, to Sariah Kell’s Sacrament talk on her faith’s intersection with scientific learning, we can explore varying approaches to the spiritual and practical skills we all inherit. Our Sisters Speak question on how women approach mothers’ blessings offers ways to think about how we can reconstruct our spiritual inheritance even when some of it has been lost. For me, all of these voices have been wonderful companions as I work out my own concerns.
And so I turn to the metaphor of sewing. Though I can’t dictate what patterns they will create and follow, I want each of my children to inherit the tools and skills to construct a rich spiritual life. I believe that singular rituals, like baptism in childhood, can become important touchstones in one’s spiritual memory—touchstones laden with individual meaning, apart from institutional messages and dogma. I have no idea what patterns my children will fabricate as they grow, or if they’ll even want to sew at all, but at least they’ll know how to work a needle and thread. That’s enough to sew fig leaves together at least.
Aimee Evans Hickman
Exponent II Editor-in-Chief