By Blog Contributer, Marie Biddle
I was never super good at Math. In fact, I’m still not. I tend to look around a room and pray no one is looking and then secretly start counting on my fingers. True story. So don’t ask me to count your change; it’ll be ugly and embarrassing for both of us. I blame Mr. Quackenbush in 10th grade Geometry for my true nose dive into “I can’t do Mathville.” It’s totally his fault and I will happily blame him with my last dying breath. That being said, when doing Math even from 1st grade on, there are always the < and > symbols somewhere in your homework. The “less than” and the “greater than.”
I’ve had the “less than” symbol on my mind a lot lately. A less than sign is a sign of inequality. When you hear the term “less than” it comes with an uneasy feeling, an “icky” feeling for lack of a better word. Something is less than something else. All things are not equal because something is better. While something else, whatever that something else is, is greater. Have you ever in your life felt like a “less than” where the overwhelming feeling of inequality overshadows the goodness and equality that is in front of you?
So for a while now, I’ve felt like a “less than.” I’ll go into the details in a minute here, but needless to say I have. We all have. We all have periods of time where the world of inequality takes over and we find our validation and self-esteem in the words of Jennifer Aniston “50 feet below crap level,” where less face it, you don’t find a ton of validation. I’d like to think it’s just a period of time in my life and that next year or next month I will wake up with less of an addiction to Diet Coke, a bikiniesque body and a perfect recollection of all my seminary scriptures. I would immediately be a “greater than” and all would be right with the world. But, in fact right now I’m working my way through “less than.” It’s not my favorite place to be because I desperately want out of feeling this way. But, I am here trying to claw my way up from the proverbial crap, bad math skills and all.
I used to think that my infertility days were the “less thans” with years of going to church hearing friend after friend, woman after woman happily tell me she was pregnant. I look back to those days now and feel like they were glorious and I was cradled by forces outside myself. I was just too dumb to see what was actually going on, and appreciate the heavenly presence that was never farther than a prayer away. I got through those years with a smile on my face and the ability to console and empathize with anyone in my same situation. I was a “greater than” and I didn’t even know it.
So after all those years, I got my wish summoned from the heavens -a crazy redheaded boy, who fought his way to the earth, tooth and nail. He’s 9 now, and is still a fighter. That red hair is as rich as is his compassion and strength. Today he wanted to know more about how many babies I had lost and exactly how far along I was. I went into a little too much biology for a 9-year-old, but I explained that he was the strongest fighter of all my pregnancies and he wasn’t coming out early. Period. I can see him having a talk with Heavenly Father and saying, “don’t you dare do it buddy, cause I’m coming to earth whether you like it or not…so step back.” Please don’t quote me on that blasphemous gospel doctrine; if you knew “the Freets” you can picture that conversation.
But, as you can guess, 9 years later he wishes he had siblings. I don’t mean wishes as in he wishes I would buy him a new DS game -I mean he longs for siblings. I watch him when he is with groups of other boys and they are talking about their siblings and I can see a far off look in his eyes of pure sadness. Sadness that I can’t take away from him today or anytime soon. He has a lack of ability to stand up for himself when friends’ siblings are ganging up on him. A lack of ability to let things roll off his back and to not internalize too much. I can tell him how hard we tried to have more children. I can tell him how we didn’t feel good about an adoption when he was 6 -but right now, he doesn’t get it. He is the first to tell me I do not understand how it feels to be part of the conversations where he is a “less than.” Sometimes his feelings are truly his, and sometimes sadly, they are my own. Because I beat myself up daily about him not having siblings, trust me. My faith and knowledge that things will work out in the next life are clouded over by what is happening all around me.
So skip forward to now. I am in the middle of a huge life change. It’s personal and scary. The “less than” meter has been off the charts. I would tell you about the boundless amount of support I’ve gotten from friends but then I would have to do math and it would be a big mess counting the ways my friends have taken the reigns the past year. But, underlying it all is still that sad little voice of “you are a ‘less than’ Marie. You couldn’t do this.” In a church that focuses on the family and looking a certain way, I don’t quite know where I fit in. And more importantly I don’t know where Freets fits in.
No siblings, and now this. Did I just jack the kids poor life up? Will he forever feel like a “less than”? My only hope is that our therapy bills aren’t through the roof. Or is this truly about me? About me feeling vulnerable? About not being confident enough to myself that I can do hard things? Because let’s face it -not everyone had/has two parents. Not everyone gets married. Not everyone stays married. People get super depressed and live with chronic grief. People have infertility issues. People have financial, spiritual and a bucket of other things happen to them in their long and short life spans. People have problems and I am not alone on some island with my “less than” tee shirt on.
My mind always returns to a favorite part of the Book of Mormon in Ether 6 where the people of the Brother of Jared are being tossed about by the “mountain waves” that were upon them. That doesn’t sound fun to me. For over 344 days it was like this, wave after wave. 344 days? Ok, I’m not good at math, but that’s a LONG time. And yet what do they do the minute they land on safe ground? They thank Heavenly Father. They thank him! They were probably worried about what came next in their lives, but above all, first and foremost, they are thankful. Thankful that the waves ended, that the light came and that they were safe and ok. The light is sometimes hard to see and for days on end, darkness takes us over. It does for all of us. I don’t care if you have a big family, tons of money and a boat; it happens to us all! There is inequality in life. But, it doesn’t have to overtake our every thought. So stop worrying that you are a “less than.” You aren’t, and I sure as heck am not. I’m putting my “less than” tee shirt in the wash and tucking it away in the back of my closet (to be brought out at my discretion).
So these are my thoughts for today all you “less thans.” Knock it off! You are amazing. Greatness lies ahead, truly it does. And the good news? Guess whose son is an A student in math? Yup, my little “greater than.”