A Conversation With a Stranger

I was at the local swimming pool the other day and I noticed a woman reading a book — a real, live book! with a highlighter! Initially, it was the novelty of someone reading a book instead of scrolling on their phone that caught my attention.

But then I recognized the cover of the book she was studying. It was Let’s Talk about Polygamy by Brittany Chapman Nash.

The book being read by the woman at the public pool.

My LDS friend (who, let’s face it, is obsessed with polygamy) recommended this book to me a few months ago. I checked it out from the library but only read a chapter or two before it was due back. I frequently listen to audiobooks, but I’m not very good at finding time to sit still and just read a book, so if I’d found this book in audiobook format, I could have listened to it in no time. Can anyone relate?

Anyway, when I saw the stranger sitting on the pool deck reading and highlighting this book, I decided to go talk to her. I was curious why she was interested in reading it at all, much less studying it so closely. I wondered what she thought of polygamy and whether she knew any polygamists personally.

I didn’t know how she’d respond to me coming up and talking to her out of the blue. Maybe she’d think it was weird or maybe she’d refuse to talk to me, but I also knew I’d regret it if I went home without attempting to strike up a conversation.

So when my baby needed a nursing break from our swim in the cold water, I wrapped him in a fluffy towel and we went and sat near my new bibliophilic friend. Between her AirPods and her concentration on her book, it took me a minute to catch her attention, but I found success.

We had a nice chat. I learned she’s in the mainstream LDS Church and she’s interested in the history of Mormon plural families in the late 1800s running from the law and/or hiding from raids.

I told her a little of my own story.

Yes, we all live together.

I had 3 children at the time Melissa married Joshua; now I have 5 and she has 2 (not to mention her grown children from her first marriage), but I often say simply that I have 7 children. I love saying it: “I have seven children.” It feels a little like cheating, since I only gave birth to 5 of them.

My sisterwife’s preschooler calls me “Mama Charlotte”, which I find very sweet.

I told her briefly about my aunt, who decades ago became convinced that polygamy was required in order to go to the highest degree of heaven. She begged her husband to take another wife. When he refused, she left him and her 4 small children and went and became someone’s second wife. That plural marriage didn’t last, but the trauma it caused her children did; even now, some 35 or 40 years later, when they refer to “Mom” they’re speaking of their stepmother, the heroic woman who stepped in and raised them when their overzealous mother wouldn’t.

The ripping apart of a family by someone too eager to live “The Principle” almost definitely contributed to my aunt’s brother (my father) reacting negatively when he found out his own daughter (me) had decided polygamy was for her as well. The big difference is that in my aunt’s case, her choice led to her children losing a mother, and in my case, it led to my children gaining one.

By the way, I don’t want to mention my father without also mentioning that altho things were rough at first, in time, my parents have really come around. They even consider Melissa and Joshua’s children to be their grandchildren, which is a dream come true for me.

Back to the deck of the pool. Yes, the book-reading stranger has met polygamists before; in fact, she’s friends with one that goes to a certain fundamentalist Mormon sect that meets not too far from here. She was curious whether we’re in that one? But no, we haven’t joined another group, and probably never will.

We aren’t members of a Church? Do we have community? Yes, a wonderful one we’ve built for ourselves. The families we hang out with the most are a mix of polygamists, monogamists, and single people; polygamy is certainly not a prerequisite for being friends with us. The two main things our closest friends share with us are (1) They have Mormonism in their background and (2) They believe in keeping the Torah, which has become a big part of our religion (I would even say a larger part than our Mormonism).

By the way, my husband Joshua was recently invited on to The Mormon Renegade Podcast to do a series of interviews on the topic of Torah, Mormonism, and especially the celebration of Biblical holidays.

I occasionally get emails from readers asking when I’m finally going to write more of my story on my blog. The answer is “In good time” but for those of you who don’t want to wait, go listen to episode #15 of that podcast. In it, Joshua tells the interviewer the story of how we became polygamists.

Which is what I did with the woman at the swimming pool a few days ago, something that never would have happened if I wasn’t a polygamist.

Parents: More is Better

Mothers everywhere know what it means when their husband is traveling for work: All the parenting, 24 hours a day, falls to you.

Such was the situation I found myself in, with my husband across the country on business, and I was discouraged and exhausted. The days were long, our routine disrupted, and the children tired of not seeing their father.

My son blew the shofar to call us to our evening family time, where everyone has a chance to show something or tell about their day; we lovingly call this time “Shofar & Tell” (a play on “Show and Tell” — get it?).

We gathered in the living room of my sisterwife Melissa, and as I routinely do, I pulled out the family Happy Book to write in while we shared our lives and visited together.

My son disrespectfully jumped on my case and told me I shouldn’t have a “toy” during Shofar & Tell (referring to my writing in the Happy Book). He’d been nitpicking and criticizing me a lot, so the uncalled-for criticism was especially frustrating.

We officially got started with Shofar & Tell, and when my daughter’s turn came to hold the shofar and show/tell us something, she took the opportunity to complain about me.

I was hurt, and since I had been struggling for some time with those two children disrespecting me, questioning me, and dishonoring me, it got to be too much.

I said to my sisterwife Melissa, “Why does everything come down to criticizing me and complaining about me? Everyone in this house seems to be starting from a place of ‘Mom is wrong. Mom has wronged me. What is Mom doing wrong right now? What can I criticize Mom about right now?’ I feel like everyone is assuming my guilt until I’m proven innocent.”

Melissa saw the problem, recognized my need for support, and she truly stepped up.

She launched into a scolding lecture about about how lucky the children are to have me; how lucky they are to have a mother who stays home with them and focuses on taking care of them; how they shouldn’t be rude to me; how they should treat me with respect and love; how they ought to show gratitude for me and the good life they have.

She went on and on. A couple of the children got teary-eyed over it. When she was done, she gave every child a chance to say something. To me she said, “I want you to write down in the family Happy Book what they say: I want you to recognize it and embrace it.”

Each of my children expressed their sincere gratitude for me and came over and hugged me. Melissa even had her young child say something nice and hug me, and then she also expressed her love and gave me a hug.

I felt extremely validated and supported. Someone saw me and wanted me to feel appreciated. Someone wasn’t going to stand by and let me be treated with disrespect by my children.

I wasn’t doing all the parenting by myself after all. Melissa and I were together, taking care of the children, trying to teach them, being a good team.

If I had been the only parent home that week, things would not have gone so well, I can promise you that. I would have continued to be sad, and I might have lost my temper with the children and just made things worse.

If our husband Joshua had been there, he certainly would have shushed the children to keep the peace and given me moral support later in a private conversation.

But Melissa took it further and worked right then and there to truly change the hearts of the children and let me know how much she supports me.

This is one real-life example of the benefits of a polygamous family.

My children are lucky Melissa is invested in them the way every mother should be invested in her children, and I’m grateful to have her as a co-parent.