So, have you seen this show My Five Wives? No? Let me fill you in. They were Fundamentalist Mormons, but then, they left their church, and so, now, they are just polygamists with no religious affiliation. One man. Five women. And their 24 children. One big happy household—only they don’t seem all that happy to me, but that’s beside the point.
I watched an entire season hoping they—the Williams Family–would reveal the reason they left their church. I wanted the dirt, but even in that end-of-season tell-all, they only touched on it—by their account, they are socially more progressive than their former church. That’s it. I find that a little anti-climactic—and pretty normal, don’t you?
People frequently leave the churches they grew up in because they discover the church is either too liberal or too conservative for their taste. It happens all the time. What’s interesting to me about this particular family is that they changed their collective mind—or collectively changed their minds—about their church, but now what? Where do they go from here? Can they end a 20 year marriage just because they are no longer a part of a church that condones and encourages polygamy? And what about all those kids? “Sorry, kids. You are only here because we used to believe that polygamy leads to Salvation and birth control leads to Hell. We’ve decided that ain’t true after all.” Actually, I’m sure they don’t feel that way. I’m sure they love all their children, and that’s what makes everything about their situation even harder.
The dilemma of the Williams family has me thinking a lot about the highly experimental nature of life. You try something, and if it works for you, you keep it. If not, you move on. Of course, this works better with experiments that require less of a commitment than five marriage and 24 children. I was thinking more along the lines of buying a different brand of dish soap because it is on sale. You try it and if you like it, it replaces your old brand. If you don’t like it, you just don’t buy it again.
I am currently engaged in some experiments that lie somewhere between polygamy and dish soap. Okay, everything—EVERYTHING—I might try is closer to dish soap than polygamy. Everything.
And I am sure the Williames didn’t think of polygamy as an experiment when they committed to it. Still, jumping from their situation to my own is simply how my mind works. I don’t really consider anyone’s religious beliefs to be an experiment—even if they are subject to change.
The first of my experiments involves work-out clothes and a theory. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of women wearing what I consider gym-clothes while running errands. Target. Grocery stores. Gas stations. Doctors’ offices. And maybe—just maybe—they are on their way to or from the gym, but I have a theory based on the appearance of these women. They all seem to have great posture—like they are standing up a little straighter and are more conscious of their movements. And they all seem a little more energetic than the general population. I think that wearing gym-clothes makes people feel healthier and so they behave healthier. I have no scientific proof to back that up—it’s just a general observation.
And it’s an interesting observation coming from me because it’s well documented that I hate exercise: Here. And here. And I have a tendency to compartmentalize my wardrobe. My going-out clothes are reserved for going out. My church clothes go to church only. And that black dress I wore to my mother-in-law’s funeral? It’s hanging in my closet and will likely remain there until I go to another funeral.
If you see me wearing sneakers, yoga pants, and a sports bra, I am exercising. Expect me to start running laps or break into an aerobics routine. I know. I’m not very creative when it comes to fashion, but that’s just me. Since forming this theory, however, I’ve spent entire days in my gym clothes, and I was right. I stood taller, moved faster, and ate less.
At one point, I thought I might want to wear nothing but gym clothes for an entire month, but vanity and fear of complacency got the best of me. I don’t have a lot of cute, trendy workout clothes. I have old cross-trainers that need replacing; faded, black yoga capris; and sports bras that I wear under t-shirts. I look a little sloppy in this outfit. Sure, I really did feel healthier and more athletic when wearing it—until I passed a mirror. Even if I had a lot of cute, new exercise clothes, I’m not sure that I will ever be the woman who can pull it off.
As for the fear of complacency, I know myself well enough to realize that the novelty would wear off and eventually, I wouldn’t get that bounce from the clothes if I wore them every day. I’d do better to make a smaller commitment—maybe twice a week. Around the house.
My next experiment is all about money. My husband and I have gone to an all-cash budget for the summer, but we used May as a test. Basically, I get a lump sum every two weeks and I divide it into envelopes—Groceries, Gas, Kids, Household Misc., Childcare, and Me. If I run out of cash in any one envelope, that’s just too bad. There’s no whipping out a credit card or going to an ATM. We just have to wait until the next payday.
I am surprised that I like this system, but I really, really do. Why?
We are talking about money for the first time. Here’s the thing I have noticed about couples—they either talk about money OR they don’t. They either fight about money OR they don’t. We were a don’t-talk-about-it and don’t-fight-about-it couple for the first eight years of our marriage. I think we both feared that talking about it would lead to fighting. Since starting our all-cash budget, we are talking AND keeping those conversations about money up-beat. It feels like we are a team and we are tackling the same problem, and since we are being pro-active, the general mood of the money-talks is hopeful and optimistic, not combative.
I have Me money. Since becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I’ve felt self-conscious about spending money on myself. I know that not every stay-at-home-mom feels that way and spouses are entitled to each other’s paychecks, but put yourself in my shoes. I was 40-years-old when my first child was born. I spent a lot of time in the work-force and I was used to having my own paycheck. I’m allowed to feel a little awkward about spending the money that doesn’t have my name on it.With the all-cash budget, I have an envelope with my name on it. So, if I want something for me, I go into the envelope and get the cash without thinking, “Oh, gee, I can’t spend money on myself.”
The all-cash system is a very visual way to teach kids about money. The other day, my daughter asked me to take her to get her hair cut because if she could get 1/32 of an inch trimmed from her hair weekly, she would. I pulled out the envelope marked Kids, showed her the contents, and said, “Okay, this is ALL the money you have until next month. If I take you to get your hair cut today, it will cost this much,” and I removed a $20 from the stack. “Do you still want a haircut?” And ta-da! The lightbulb went on! She understood that money is a finite resource.
This budget is experimental. We’ve committed to it through the summer. At the end of August, we will revise it as needed or move onto something else.And there will be revisions! I’ve already discovered some flaws in the plan. For example, I don’t have an envelope for gifts. We were invited to a birthday party, and I had this big internal debate about which envelope to use for purchasing a water-bazooka for the birthday boy. I made an unconventional choice—Groceries. Why? Because I had plenty of overage in that envelope and they would be feeding us at the party. So, we were exchanging a toy for food? No, not really, but the Kids envelope was getting kind of thin.
The third experiment is something I am still contemplating: A screen-less week. That’s right. No computer, no Internet, no television, no LeapPad for a full seven days. Will our family of four survive such a week?
I don’t watch much TV—only Downton Abbey and reality shows about polygamy—and so I would not go into television withdrawal. I’m not so sure that the rest of the family would fare so well. If I can get my husband to go along with this plan, he will likely do more reading. The children will likely do more home-demolition—‘cuz I don’t watch TV, but I do use it as a babysitter. Just ask me about the PBS morning line-up.
The Internet? Ew. That’s trickier.
I post on Facebook almost daily, and I have a group of friends from Baby Center.com. I chat more with them than I do with people I see in person. Still, I’m sure I could go a week or longer without that interaction. After all, I have given up social networks for Lent successfully.
No Internet at all, however? Geez. When is the last time I used a phone book to find a number or an address? Do I even know where my phonebook is? And e-mail! Mostly, my email in-box is filled with ads—everything from preservation organization memberships to Viagra—but sometimes, occasionally, someone sends me something worth reading or seeing, and just sometimes, those messages warrant a response. I guess the thing to do is to tell everyone I know that if they need to get in touch with me, they should pick up a phone and call. An out-going email message stating that I’m taking a little break from the screen is probably a good idea, too.
So, it’s do-able and it might be interesting to see what I learn about myself and my family. And really that’s what all this experimentation is about for me—learning.
Hmmm…it has nothing to do with polygamy after all.