Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Utah Women in Education

Yesterday, as part of an article published in the Deseret News about the lagging college graduation rates in Utah being especially prevalent among women (last fall, we briefly discussed a related commentary in one of my classes at Utah Valley University), a photographer came to my class and photographed my students. So far as I can ascertain, no one from Salt Lake Community College was interviewed - certainly I wasn't - but a few photographs of my students and class made it into the slideshow.

It's a problem here in Utah; we're consistently at the bottom when it comes to women graduating from college. I have a theory why this is the case. 

In LDS theology, there are three levels of heaven. My understading is that highest level of heaven is only for Mormons in good standing, allowing them to become gods themselves, have multiple wives and spirit children; however, one must be married, sealed in a Temple, and have children, as well as keep all the church's laws and ordinances . (In Catholicism, there is the belief that not everyone is called to be married; that one can be called to the single life, and that there is as much validity to remaining unmarried as there would be in getting married.)

With such an emphasis on getting married and having children at a young age, many young adults, especially those who come back from a mission, are encouraged to marry and start a family as soon as possible. (This is what I have been told by students who are practicing Mormons, or had been raised in the LDS faith. My knowledge is based on what these students have told me.) This would, of course, put a lot of pressure on a new family with young children, financially and emotionally; when one is in one's early 20s (or younger) with small children, this is not the time to be in college.

I understand the LDS church to be quite supportive of its women members obtaining an education, but religion and conservatism is so pervasive here, so culturally entrenched, that it must be difficult to put one's education last, or at least secondary, to raising a family, if such thinking permeates one's view, if one's thinking is that one won't get into heaven unless one has a family. (This would also lead to, I suspect, a lot of unhappy marriages and acceptance of homosexuality, if such pressure to marry and have children persists.) 

It should be mentioned, of course, that there are more reasons than that one why women don't finish college; Utah isn't, after all, inhabited entirely by Mormons; the religious reasons don't apply to everyone. Other financial factors come in to play, as does student maturity, employment or family issues, or a combination of these or other reasons, regardless of religious affiliation.

My own attitudes, both religious and personal, are so different, that I have a hard time seeing my students struggle with being 10 or more years younger than I, often with multiple children, married as often as not, struggling hard financially, especially with unemployment being what it is. I would much rather see my students wait until they're done with college (if they're young), or at least be more financially stable, before marrying. I don't think college is for everyone; I don't think one needs college to be successful - and I differentiate between college and post-secondary education - but I do think that some manner of post-secondary education needs to be obtained before marrying and having children.

The other caveat, of course, is that at a community college, the student population is much more diverse; one sees students who are middle-aged, who have been working for decades, who have been able to financially support themselves and their families, and are coming to college with a maturity that one doesn't have when one is 20 (no matter how mature a 20-year-old you are). The older students are much more financially solvent. College can help with that solvency, but I would like to see my students in better positions to provide for their children.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Great Goodbye

Today we buried my mother-in-law, who died Friday, July 20th. She had been diagnosed with lymphoma a couple weeks ago, thought to only have developed within the past three months. Within 10 days of her first round of chemotherapy, she went into septic shock, which in turn led to massive organ failure.

I wish I could have gotten to know her better, to know her as a happy person. I wish she had not died so angry and bitter. By the time Ed and I were married, she had become deeply unhappy - not at Ed or me, not at her sisters, not at her friends, but at people she felt had wronged her. She and my father-in-law had begun their (mostly one-sided) acrimonious divorce proceedings barely six months after Ed and I got married.These problems could have been resolved by leaving herself open to forgiveness, had she really been interested in reparations. She was left an embittered, unhappy woman whose anger, animosity, and fear led to a destruction of at least two long-term friendships and the destruction of trust in her own family. Her anger led to a deep regret felt by at least two members of the family and long-time friends with whom she had broken ties; it is now impossible to even hope to make amends. 

That's a heavy burden.

She would not have wanted Ed's father at the funeral, nor would she have wanted the long-time friends with whom she cut ties in attendance; yet they all came, and Ed's father was especially involved in planning the funeral. (Ed's father and the husband were two of the pallbearers.)

And last night's viewing was lovely; it was well attended. The funeral home folks did a great job in making Judy look like herself, and we were able to place various significant objects with her in the casket. At the funeral, Ed did the first reading. Her closest and oldest friend, Rose, a friend from nursing school, did the second; she also read the Prayer of St. Francis at the viewing, a prayer that had special signifigance from their time together as nurses in training.

We had a catered reception afterwards; many stayed until at least 5 p.m.; actually, Ed and I left before some of the last hangers-on did. There was a lot of talking and reminiscing, sharing of stories and pictures, even a few exchanges of phone numbers, addresses, and e-mail addresses.

However Judy lived her final months, people loved her as she had been, someone who loved Paris and London, loved classical music, a real city girl, and not necessarily the fragile, frightened woman she would become.

And ultimately, Ed and I took a few lessons away from her life, in how we wish to live our lives.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Taking Care

Two years ago today, Ed asked me to marry him. (I said yes. But you picked that up.) On Saturday night we went out for dinner to Ruth's Chris Steak House in downtown Salt Lake City - going out to a really nice dinner during the week isn't always convenient, but we do like to celebrate the anniversary, even if it's a small one. They asked us if we were celebrating anything; Ed said no, and I said yes. (Doh!) Nevertheless, real rose petals were soon sprinkled on our table, and we got a really nice message on one of our bread puddings:

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For dinner tonight, I'm making Coq Au Vin from my Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook, which I highly recommend (I like Ina Garten, whose recipes I find easy to follow, yet they're excellent); and for dessert, strawberries and cream bread.

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I don't like a lot about myself, mostly regarding the way I look. I can't confirm this - I haven't been diagnosed - but I suspect I have an eating disorder. I went to a therapist a few months ago for a couple sessions, but while she was very nice, she wasn't quite what I was looking for somehow. 

After taking care of Ed's mom, I realized that I needed to lose whatever emotional baggage I have when it comes to food and really learn how to take care of myself. I joined Curves last week, and I'm enjoying the workout; I went three times last week. It's a short workout, which for me is beneficial because I don't want to spend hours at the gym; I know I'd lose interest if I'd have to go three times a week to a workout that's three hours long.

I'm trying to be mindful of what I'm eating, and more importantly why I'm eating - if I'm actually hungry, or eating in response to a stressor, or if I'm bored. Baby steps.

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In the vein of taking care of myself, I'm being more active all around. I started volunteering at a local hospice; once a week I go in to visit with a handful of little old ladies. Or rather, I will; I've only gone in a couple times and so far I haven't been able to find any of them, so I'm meeting the social worker tomorrow so she can make sure I know who it is I'm supposed to be meeting.

I've also taken up knitting. I've discovered a local knitting shop that offers free weekly beginner knitting classes and welcomes anyone to just stop by to hang out and knit, and ask questions if necessary. (There's a garden in back, and another in front, where, if one is so inclined, one can sit outside to knit.) The staff is friendly and helpful, and they know their stuff. They also keep track of what I've purchased and can make recommendations.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Family Crisis: The Best The We Can

It's been a difficult couple of weeks. About two weeks ago, Ed got a call from his mother, who was en route to the hospital, at her doctor's suggestion, because of increasing pain caused by some undetermined medical issue - we feared it would be stage IV pancreatic cancer. Ed came home from work - before noon - and we got him on a flight out to Virginia immediately; I hopped a flight the next day after my class.

Judy was admitted to the hospital and stayed for three days, during which time a flurry of medical tests were done, but any potential diagnosis would take up to 10 days due to waiting time for a biopsy and bloodwork to be completed. Hours after we got her home on Friday, we lost power for about 24 hours. She refused to go to a hotel, and refused to let us go as well, which I wasn't having; she provided a printout from the Bed Bug Registry of local hotels that we were not to stay at, but in no uncertain terms was I about to let that happen. She was clearly displeased, but we checked into a hotel the next day and stayed there until our flight home a week later (the hotel was probably on the Bed Bug Registry; we didn't care; despite her questioning, we didn't tell her where we were staying). Between so many people being without power and Independence Day that week, we didn't care about bed bugs - we just needed a bed.

And to be honest, we needed not to be at her house for our own sakes.

The following Tuesday, Ed and I, along with one of Judy's sisters, who had retired the day of our power loss (good timing!) and who had flown out the next day, drove her to Georgetown University Hospital for a procedure which wound up not happening, much to everyone's disappointment. We did get her admitted, though - after waiting about seven hours in the Emergency Room; apparently the place was full up. After several more days of waiting and running around and more tests being done and Ed and I getting the test results from the previous hospital, pancreatic cancer was ruled out, and Judy was diagnosed with lymphoma, which is certainly still terrible news, but which is much more treatable, with a much higher survival rate. We were elated to have this news before we had to fly home the next day.

Nevertheless, there was a fair amount of emotional drama and baggage that I did not appreciate my husband or I being subjected to. She and Ed's father have been separated since late last year, and she's planning on going through the divorce (indeed, it seems to be a priority).

Judy also asked Ed and I to quit our jobs and come take care of her, which we simply could not do; this was one of the most difficult things she could have asked of Ed, who felt that either he would have let his mother die alone, or give up everything he's worked for, without the possibility of recovering financially. Fortunately, a week after she made this request, when we told her we couldn't do this for her, she said she understood. Ed confronted her about some other issues as well; this turned out to be counterproductive, but for his own mental health these things needed to be said. 

Between those and other issues that came up, for the time being I've decided to take a step back and separate myself emotionally. I want to have a good relationship with her, but our world views are so inherently different, and she seems to inherently disinterested in anyone who is not her, that I'm not sure we can have a close relationship right now.

I've been thinking a lot about this since we got back though, almost a week ago. The whole visit devastated Ed; he was emotionally and physically exhausted. I spent a few days being really frustrated with most of Judy's behavior before I worked through what had been angering me. Mostly this had to do with her behavior hurting my husband, and to a lesser extent herself as well.

I was reminded that she's in a place of fraility, both emotionally and physically; that she's frightened, of her prognosis, of the future, of how she will be able to take care of herself financially - something she's never had to do before. And I was reminded that we're all doing the best we can all the time, that her reactions are about her ability (or inability) to handle the mess that her life is right now.