I was as it is referred to in Mormon lingo, “born into the church” but not born “under the covenant” as my parents were not “sealed in the temple” for “time and all eternity”. I’m giving you a crash course in Mormon lingo right there. You are welcome.
My newly divorced mother was raising me and my six year old sister alone and she maintained her stalwart activity in the church as she does to this day. I have never seen her doubt or falter. Never. She had converted to the church as an adult. I’m hazy on the details but I think my father joined shortly after her. I’ve heard he was pretty into it for a while but at some point he left. I have no idea why. Given the transgressions leading up to the divorce I would imagine that perhaps he was excommunicated unless he left of his own accord. I don’t know, I’m sure I have heard the story but I forget the details. I never knew my father.
My mother remarried when I was 18 months old and my sister and I were adopted by my step-father. My stepfather sold his beloved car so that we could travel from South Africa to London, England. This was where the closest LDS (Mormon) temple was at the time. We went to the temple to be sealed to him and my mom and any subsequent children they might have together later (they would be “born under the covenant”). That was when I was about 2.5. I would never see my biological dad again. I have no memories of him in my life growing up except going through a phase of obsessively wondering about him and if I would know if he died. I had no idea what he looked like although sometimes my mom said that certain expressions I pulled reminded her of him. I was getting to know him over email as an adult when he died suddenly. But that’s another story.
As a newborn infant, instead of being Christened, I was given what is known in the church as “a Name and a Blessing”. A group of men, “Priesthood holders” from the family’s inner circle, (other family members and close friends), come together into a circle. They each place their hands on the left shoulder of the man beside them, their right hand cradles the baby who they tend to bounce gently up and down. Usually the baby’s father or grandfather offers the blessing on the infant and announces the name “by which they will be known on the records of the church”. In my case, there was no suitable candidate. I was blessed by a family friend. My mom would often recount two things from the baby blessing which stood out to her. I would be “beautiful to behold” and “I would live to my full stature”.
I would ask my mom what these things meant. “You will be pretty to look at and you will rise to your full height in life…”. As a child who was terrified of
pretty much everything many things including a pathological fear of dying I took comfort in these things. I took them totally literally. Ok! Check!
I wasn’t going to die as a child. I at least had a reprieve until I reached my full height. I hoped that wouldn’t be too soon because death was beyond terrifying. And here’s why. I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the Celestial Kingdom. The Celestial Kingdom is the top tier of the three-tiered Mormon heaven, reserved for the people who did all the right things and got to be with their families and Jesus and God. First prize. I was failing dismally already even as a little girl. (Hold the phone for later when I would discover that the top tier was even further divided into three tiers of it’s own….spoiler alert: there’s not enough xanax in all of Beverly Hills for that discovery.)
Problem was, the assurance of not dying early got a little bit fuzzy for me when I didn’t determine myself to be particularly beautiful (the other part of the blessing my mom had remembered). I didn’t even think I was particularly pretty (inspection of childhood pics this afternoon confirms dark childhood suspicions). My mom had often explained (in line with the churches doctrine) that all blessings offered were contingent on the faith and righteousness of the recipient. So if I wasn’t pretty then it must be because I wasn’t living righteously enough which meant..dun…dun…dunnnnnnnn……
I remember vividly. having a quiet panic attack in the back of the dark car at the end of a long trip home from somewhere. I did the math. Yep. I was sure to die early. Damn. My poor mom, she had no idea her fond remembrances of my happy baby blessing day were going to be so twisted by the mind of her neurotic child.
I remember when I was baptized at age 8. I determined ahead of time that this was it. I had heard often in church that everyone sins, but baptism washes our sins clean .No matter what we had done. Baptism meant it was all going to be gone. So this was IT. My second chance. I was going to NAIL THIS THING. PLAN OF ACTION:
1. Get baptized. 2. Stay perfectly sinless unlike all the other losers I had heard about who messed this thing up after getting their second chance..wtf??? 3. GO TO CELESTIAL KINGDOM.
Everything went according to plan. I remember dressing in my white baptism jump suit. I remember my stepfather saying the baptismal prayer, we practiced how I would plug my nose before he dipped me back and dunked me under the water, I remember an extra shove to make sure the job was done correctly. Baptism by immersion. If even a hair floated to the top it wouldn’t take. I was super relieved when I felt that extra shove. Whew.
I remember my mom helping to dress me in my little navy blue and white dress in the bathroom adjacent to the baptismal font. (I’m so mad I can’t find pictures of that day, I looked so happy for a change!) We were in a hurry so we could rejoin the program which had been planned especially for my special day. There was no sharing of baptismal thunder in South Africa. I had heard rumours that in America, a bunch of 8 year olds would get baptized on the same day. This did not appeal at all. Imagine sharing your BAPTISM DAY, in my mind it was akin to a Mass Wedding. Q’uelle Nightmare!
My mother was heavily pregnant with my little sister Thalia. My sodden wet jumpsuit which I had barely managed to drag out of the font behind my tiny self was now her problem to take care of. It was probably dripping everywhere, her back probably hurt as she bent over to help me fasten my buttons and tie my bow, with all the planning she was probably exhausted and over it. I remember looking up to her and saying with a radiant smile, “I feel something special mommy inside of me, it’s warm, I think I feel the Spirit”. “Don’t be silly” she snapped. Typing this I am laughing out loud. That response is both so like and so unlike her, depending on the circumstances, and I am sure she would be mortified, but I remember it clearly. I was deeply wounded and embarrassed at the time but now I find it hysterical with a slight twinge of sympathy for my silly little eight year old self. I wanted so badly to feel the right things. This was my big chance after all. Wipe everything clean. Get the golden ticket so to speak. And now I had it. I was as clean as a whistle. My freshly purged eight year old soul was a one way ticket straight to the Celestial Kingdom when the time came. I would be able to chill with my peeps. No more worries.
I hadn’t even left the building when I sinned. I was irritated by my brother pushing past me to get to the car first. I said a quick prayer to repent. I put it out of my mind, hoping it was a minor enough sin. Maybe none of the “angels keeping records” had caught that one.
The next morning my mom laid our cereal on a little table in the courtyard outside our kitchen for me and my brother. We were running late. I remember digging in. “Wow Kirsty, you didn’t bless the food! You just got baptized last night and here you are, already being a heathen” my mom commented. She didn’t make it into a huge deal but she wasn’t kidding either. She was disappointed and I was devastated. I had blown my big chance. Now what. I was sunk. I was 8 years and one morning old and my eternal goose was cooked”.
To be continued.
Here’s part 1 if you missed it.