I’VE ALWAYS THOUGHT OF MYSELF as strong, self–sufficient and steadfast. Yet the challenges and changes of life, at times, mock my rock of Gibraltar self–assessment. Rather, I often seem to more closely resemble Sister Young’s Jell–O salad—dripping, wiggling and sometimes melting.
Adolescence is a time of evolution and turmoil for many. In high school I was neither popular nor unpopular. I was one of the masses. In the midst of my adolescent confusion one day stands apart in my memory. Thomas, a spectacled intelligent type, and Michael, a wealthy political aspirant, motioned me closer. With veiled faces they handed me a crinkly, folded scrap of paper. Cautiously, I opened it. Strong block handwriting declared, “We, Thomas —— the Third and Michael ——, Esquire do hereby ascertain that on this day April 7, 1988 your legs look marvelous.”
My brain was mushy. I smiled. I glowed. I was Jell–O.
On my mission, young, inexperienced elders attempting to direct me were repeatedly subjected to my buoyant disposition and indispensable organizational abilities. Though they led district meeting, we all knew whose gray matter shaped and created our district’s success. During personal study one morning, I was distracted by the itch of a white, flaky rash on the palm of my left hand. Returning to my scripture study, I read in Exodus of Miriam, sister to Moses and Aaron, who attempted to usurp priesthood authority. She was punished with leprosy. My gaze involuntarily refocused on the rash on my hand. Was I like Miriam? I vowed never again to allow my quest for organizational perfection to undermine an elder’s authority.
I was subservient. I was dripping. I was Jell–O.
Though learning to fulfill one’s first post–mission calling can be a difficult passage, I approached my challenges with remarkable aplomb. In college as a Family Home Evening mother, I organized a grand total of zero meetings during the whole year. My “husband” didn’t do any better, but at least his excuse of working on Monday nights was valid. Later, as Homemaking counselor, I equaled my impressive record of no meetings for five months before they finally called a Homemaking leader. “Oh, was I supposed to plan that? Oops!” As Primary counselor I almost excelled. I actually planned the Primary Activity Day where we made fudge, wrote letters, and assembled care packages for the ward’s nine missionaries. I just never mailed them.
I had no nutritional value. I was empty calories. I was Jell–O.
As newlyweds our life was bliss. He was wonderful, kind and thoughtful. I was gaining forty pounds. Friends suggested I was having a negative reaction to the pill. My husband and I knew differently. I had devoured all two hundred pieces of fudge never mailed to the ward’s nine missionaries.
I was wiggly. I was jiggly. I was Jell–O.
Enduring a spouse’s military deployment can be difficult. I, however, maintained my calm, cool demeanor at all times. As I peered out the store window, I laughed to myself. I watched my almost–three–year–old wriggle out of his car seat and climb into the passenger seat. Oh dear, I thought as I analyzed the line of people ahead of me waiting to send their packages, please hurry. The next glance outside confirmed that the five–year–old had turned on the hazard lights and was jumping up and down in the driver’s seat. That’ll catch some attention, I chuckled to myself. As I stepped up to the window to mail my husband’s care package I saw my seven–year–old’s red face and open mouth and recognized she was attempting to restore order. I finished my transaction and hurried out to my precious little ones. A lady intercepted my path.
“You are a terrible mother! Children should never be left in a car!”
She was right, I knew it. I smiled and said calmly, “Thank you for your concern.” I started to re–buckle the children.
The lady persisted, “I think it’s even against the law. I could turn you in.”
Bile began to rise, yet I kept my composure. “Thank you for your concern,” I echoed as I closed the sliding door and turned to the driver’s side.
“I wrote down your license plate number,” the lady spat.
I spun, my face red and contorted, and approached her pale, surprised visage. “My husband is on military deployment.” My voice sounded strangely shrill in my ears. “I have no family here and no one to watch my kids. Do you mind if I send him a picture of our baby’s ultrasound before he goes to war?” My voice broke. “He might never see this child,” I added with a dramatic shriek.
My husband was nowhere near the front lines but my uncontrolled eruption achieved the desired aim. The lady apologetically retreated.
I was red. I had melted. I was Jell–O.
Though the dreadful upheaval of deployment is behind us, life’s little transitions continue to bring pain, joy, humility, pride, and especially love. Recently, as my husband knelt with our four–year–old daughter to tighten the screws on her bicycle’s training wheels she said, “No, let me do it, Daddy. I can screw it up.” Our eyes met, we stifled our giggles and he responded, “I’m sure you can. I’m sure you can.” The joy of sharing small moments together fills my mind.
My heart is mushy. I smile. I glow. I am Jell–O.