Tiger Mothers, the French and what’s the deal with obedience?



I don’t like the word “obedience.”

To some of my friends, that statement will seem perfectly healthy. To others, it will seem heretical. But there it is, either way. I don’t like the word “obedience.” It’s just never sat well with me. Maybe it’s because the word is so often used to mean “blind obedience” that the connotation seems negative to me. Or because it’s high praise for a dog, but seems patronizing for a human. Or maybe I’m just a rebel at heart. It’s sad really, that this word is unsettling to me, because the concept, in its purest form, is something I really believe in.

I realized this while reading a memoir comparing French and American parenting followed by another memoir comparing Chinese and American parenting. The authors of both books seemed to find children from the other culture generally more obedient than children from American culture. And although there are some drastic differences between French and Chinese parents, both seem to arrive at this outcome by some similar philosophy. Generally speaking, both French and Chinese parents believe that children are beings capable of rational agency and that it’s in their best interest to be treated as such. Both French and Chinese parents believe that high expectations and structured behaviors make children more mature and developed and therefore more happy. Both French and Chinese parents believe that requiring obedience of your children is what’s best for your children.

When I polished off the second book, I sat there on the couch for a good long while, thinking. There was a lot about being a Chinese “tiger mother” that seemed unsustainably exhausting and a lot about being a French mom that seemed too polished to be true. But the idea that obedience can actually be empowering? Well, that felt right. It felt like something real and familiar.

It’s a concept I was introduced to through Mormonism, specifically through my Dad’s long and frequent lectures about the paradox of “freedom and captivity” illustrated in the Book of Mormon. (By the way, I’m now profoundly grateful for those lectures.) We all seek freedom, but often true freedom comes when we agree to live by standards. Living within your means gives you financial freedom. Taking care of your body gives you physical freedom. Loving and serving others gives you emotional freedom. And sometimes, disregarding certain standards in pursuit of freedom can actually make you more captive than free.

So how will that fit in to my American-French-Chinese, moderate-Mormon-feminist, obedience-hating, obedience-loving, free-spirit-encouraging parenting style?

If I only knew.

Listening to: Nickel Creek, “Love of Mine”

Letter to Baby Girl


Dear Baby Girl,

I went to the doctor today to check up on you. The doctor is a nice old man—very nice and very old. He’s delivered thousands of babies and has to be retiring sometime soon. I searched every corner of the city for him. It took me a while. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. But when I met Dr. Dott and discovered his perfect mix of paradoxes, I knew he was the one. He wears a bow tie, but calls himself “crunchy” and “a wannabe midwife.” He looks like my deductive logic professor from college, but reminisces about planting placenta trees with his wife in the seventies. He has the credentials of a medical doctor, but the heart of a hippie. He says things like, “You look radiant today, Samantha. Now tell me—how does it feel to be in the cusp of creation? I’ve never experienced it before.” You’d like him, Baby Girl. I’m sure of it.

Today he listened to your heartbeat and felt your head all low in my belly. “Can I say something to you, Samantha,” he asked, “as a father, not as a doctor?” I nodded and he sank down in a chair beside me. He told me that he sees two types of parents come through his doors: the parents who drastically alter their lives in every way when babies come and the parents who just strap the babies on their backs and go on living. “The ones who don’t tear down what they’ve already built and start from scratch with a baby, the ones who just invite the baby to join in and build with them—those are the happier parents,” he said. “Which kind of parent do you think you’ll be?”

Well, isn’t that the question?

I hope we’re the kind of parents who just let you join in and build on what we’ve already got going. It’d be a shame to start over. Your dad and I? We’ve built something good, something I rather like, something I’m scared to tear down for you or for anyone. I don’t want everything to change. Sometimes I’m tempted to think that makes me selfish, but Dr. Dott didn’t seem to think so. He seemed to think that I shouldn’t tear it all down. He seemed to think that you’re more than a ticking time bomb or giant eraser, ready and waiting to obliterate what we’ve done here and send us back to the drawing board. He seemed to think you have something to contribute to this life we’ve been working on, this love we’ve been working on. Am I making sense here, Baby?

Sometimes I get so caught up in all the things I want for you—may you have the vocabulary of a food critic and the contentment of a Tibetan monk—and I think that to give you those things, I need to alter my world unalterably. But maybe that’s not how it works, Baby. Maybe the best I can really give you is a few blocks to build with and a little head start. Your Dad and I have already started creating a beautiful life. I can’t wait to see what you bring to it.

See you soon,


My Best Sister’s Wedding


I sat in the back corner of the wedding luncheon last week eating my salmon and thinking about “A Night’s Tale.”

Remember the speech the king gives at the end of the movie when poor Heath Ledger is stuck in the stocks being publicly ridiculed? Remember what he says?

“Your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough.”

That’s what I kept thinking about Dallin, my new brother-in-law. Listening to his friends and family talk about him, it was clear what kind of a guy he is—a great one. It was clear that any one of them would do anything for Dallin. I got a little teary when my dad took the mic and talked about how loyal my sister can be. Along with her ability to laugh at herself when she hits rock bottom, loyalty is one of her best qualities. Dallin is a lucky man to have a woman like that in his corner, another soul who loves him enough to stand in front of the mob and take a cabbage in the face for him. My sister will surely do that. And if I knew nothing else, that would be enough.

Since he came into my sister’s life, she and I have grown closer. For whatever reason, his influence has drawn her to me. Or me to her. Or us to each other. Selfishly, I want him around for that too.

Congratulations, Mckenna and Dallin! It was a great day. Here’s to a great life.




I feel good in this moment. In this moment, I feel good. I feel grateful and hopeful, like I’ve learned a tough lesson without even trying.

The nurse pulled the curtain back and Trent’s eyes slowly found mine. He looked at me suspiciously, trying to place me through the thick of waning anesthesia.

“Can I hit on you?” he asked at a deafening volume.

I hope I’m the only person he’s said that to, I thought.

This wasn’t Trent’s first ACL surgery. His other knee went under the knife when he was an undergrad. Last time, he went 80s dancing all night long before his 6 a.m. surgery. He was supposed to wake up in post-op after 20 minutes or so when the anesthesia wore off. He slept for eight hours. It cost a fortune.

This time, he had someone around to take care of him or at least give him a ride home. I sat by his side and got instructions from the nurse while he argued with her in drunken slurs—still at a deafening volume. “I’m the boss,” he kept saying over and over again, along with, “Let’s blow this joint. It’s too expensive to hang out here.” She put her hand on my shoulder before she put us on the elevator. “This one’s a handful,” she said.

I dropped my friend Monica off at the airport a little while ago. She was in Atlanta for work all week and stayed the weekend to help me take care of Trent. The first night after his surgery she was still at her hotel. We slept with every light in the apartment on. Trent was immobile. I was exhausted. The next day, she seemed like something of an angel.

And angel she was. She helped me look for the phone I lost, and helped me set up the new one I bought to replace it. She humored me by paying $18 to tour the Fox Theatre and treated me to brunch at West Egg Cafe. And she watched hours and hours of Prison Break with Trent like a champ.

And I took care of him, too. I took care of him and he let me. He doesn’t let me often. I made him chili and cornbread and ice packs. I changed the bandages on the incision. I helped him lift his leg into the bathtub. And it felt so good to help him, because I knew he needed help. It felt so good to help him, because for once in his life, he didn’t put up a fight.

And in a few weeks, when I have this baby and the tables have turned, I’ll remember that feeling. I’ll remember gratitude for my angels and how good it feels to be one. I’ll remember to love the people who want to help me and to let go and let them.

 Listening to: Billy Joel, “Vienna”

Parenting Taboos


My Uncle Breck sends a pretty steady stream of interesting videos and articles to my inbox. I’m always excited to see what he’s got for me. Yesterday, it was this TED talk, a lot of which rang true to me. But I’ll refrain from saying more. I still feel like until I transition from “expecting parent” to “parent” I’m not officially allowed to comment on parenting matters. Does anyone else feel that way? I have to cross that bridge before I earn myself any credibility. What do you parents out there think about this talk?

It’s been a while.


Lately …

  • I’ve been working on a spoken word poetry piece about the origin of my interest in spoken word poetry. Most people in the Atlanta spoken word scene started with rap. I started with “Anne of Green Gables.” (Remember Anne’s recitation of “The Highwayman”—how could you not be moved?)
  • I’ve been learning how to listen to my body. Mostly my body says things like, “You’re going to pay for this!” especially when I sit in the car for hours and hours driving up and down the East Coast week after week to accompany Trent on his interviews. Sometimes, my body says things like, “EAT THIS ENTIRE CARAMEL APPLE RIGHT THIS SECOND.” I respectfully listen to that, too.
  • I’ve been working to get ahead on writing deadlines, often while watching the Olympics, often while listening to Morning Edition. Often, these distractions lead to me getting nothing accomplished.
  • I’ve been reading a lot, polishing of this and this and this and this and this. If you want to know which ones I’d recommend, you’ll have to ask me privately. Disliking books written by admirable kidnapping victims makes me feel like I’m a terrible person. I probably am.
  • I’ve been thinking about my future daughter very little and myself very much, something I’m trying to correct before it’s too late. Meeting my friend Danielle’s new addition, Olivia Marie, via Google Hangout last week gave me a wave of excitement again. It comes in waves. Danielle said she was nervous about how she and Olivia would get along. “We totally hit it off,” she assured me. I’m praying for the same.
  • I’ve been brainstorming street names for my parents who just closed on a beautiful five-acre lot near Deer Creek Reservoir. Before they build their house, they get to name their street. They’re offering a $50 prize for the winning name. So far, I’ve got Hyper Drive and Justin Timber Lane. My dad gave me an A for creativity, but an F for likelihood of winning. Like most things, my street names won’t be lauded for their greatness until after my death—the tragedy of true creative genius. I’m used to it. I think I’d be better at naming nail polish colors anyway.
  • I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe. Trent and I recently got carded while trying to buy white wine for one … except Trent didn’t have an ID on him. The dutiful 17-year-old grocery clerk was convinced that the pregnant 26-year-old Mormon was trying to buy alcohol for the bearded 28-year-old “minor” with proof of his own health insurance policy, fishing license and credit cards. We bullied him until he let us buy the bottle, first making Trent promise he wasn’t a law enforcement officer in disguise.
  • I’ve started to learn French. So far, my favorite word is “blasé” which means apathetic or unimpressed. Mostly, I love this word because of how snooty it sounds when thrown into an English sentence. “I was so blasé about that last episode of American Idol. How many times are we going to hear ‘Radioactive’ this season? Think outside the box, people.” See? I’m basically French already.

Listening to: Bob Costas. Love that man. So happy he’s back.

Sometimes we grow apart from our dreams.


I think I need to read “Sense and Sensibility.”

I’ve never read it. But I know the story. I know that it’s famous for illuminating the importance of balance between practicality and passion. I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate the beauty I’m learning to see in that balance, but I’m not sure I can really convey it, not in a way that would sound remotely convincing to my former self. Maybe reading the book would help. Or maybe this is one of those lessons that you have to learn by experience.

You see, eight years ago I entered college a flaming idealist. I believed that real satisfaction was only possible in the realization of my wildest dreams. I pitied those who settled for practical career paths, those who pursued degrees and positions that seemed void of imagination for reasons like “flexible hours” or “promising job markets.” To me, there was no greater tragedy than my music-loving friend from high school applying to chiropractic school instead of trying to become a rock star, no turn-off like a first date who said he was pre-dental. Nobody—I told myself snobbishly—is passionate about teeth.

I majored in journalism with visions of grandeur—late nights and deadlines, front-page stories and quippy columns, press passes, front lines, syndication, glory. I wanted to write about important issues in in-depth ways. I wanted to write things that mattered. For millions. Without restriction. I didn’t think about the costs.

It wasn’t until I graduated and got in the trenches that I realized the fantastical elements of my “wildest dream.” I learned about the pressure to cater to advertisers, to write to the tastes of editors, to get clicks. I learned that you have to earn the right to quippy columns and important issues, but often that means playing politics or giving up other things life has to offer. I learned that idealism without work and sacrifice is hollow and that sometimes, what you have to give up to achieve your goals might chip away at the satisfaction you’re searching for. I learned that your passions can sprawl above and beyond and outside work altogether. I learned that financial stability and job security are only factors of little importance to people who have always enjoyed them and people who are content to live on the edge, people who don’t have anyone relying them, people who don’t want anyone relying on them. I learned that I am none of those people.

I learned that my dream—my real dream—looked different than I thought. I learned that sensibility without sense just wasn’t worth dreaming about. And I learned that dreams that made room for both were beautiful. Shockingly beautiful. Those dreams are too wise and whole to pity, too seasoned and refined to do anything but celebrate.

Want to know my new dream?

I want to be a “useful sort of person”—another Jane Austen phrase. I want to spend my time at work impacting individual lives for the better in direct, personal, meaningful ways.

I want to have financial stability. Job security. Location flexibility. Work-life balance. I want my work to fit with my passions, including my passion for freedom in all its forms.

I want to work in a field that encourages autonomy and innovation. I want to be challenged and supported in problem-solving and creating.

I want to live above the pressure to allow my work to limit my passions. I want to exist outside the dogma that if what you do to pay the bills doesn’t fill every hole in your being, you’re selling out in some way.

I want to write. I will always want to write. But I also want to empower others to find their voices, to express themselves, to communicate with the world, to connect with others.

And as much as I want to play this one close to the chest, to hold back from sharing too much in case life happens and things change, I also want to let people in on my own evolution. Life might happen. Things might change, but today and really for some time now, I’ve known that …

I want to become a Speech Language Pathologist, specializing in narrative speech, meaning construction and the social aspects of communication.

And it is a beautiful dream.

Listening to: William Fitzsimmons, “Well Enough”

Costa Rica


“Costa Rica, my heart’s devotion. Let it sink back in the ocean. Ay, ay, ay.”

Sometimes, in the swoon of my undying love of the soundtrack of “West Side Story,” I get a little confused. Puerto Rico? Costa Rica? It’s a fantastic song either way, one which I sang constantly during our four day whirlwind babymoon trip last week. As I sit here not watching the Super Bowl, I’m oiling up my tin man joints. And by that, I mean I’m trying to get back into my blog writing groove. I’m feeling a little rusty, as evidenced by the weird “Wizard of Oz” metaphor I just attempted. Oiling up my tin man joints? Woof. What kind of writing is that?

The truth is, it’d be nearly impossible to write about Costa Rica without bragging my brains out. Guys, it was amazing. It was one of those rare trips where everything exceeds expectations. After the first day of hiking, swimming and lounging around the treehouse-like eco lodge we had all to ourselves, feeling giddy and grateful in love, I wrote in my journal that it was “as close to a perfect day as I think I’ve ever had.” Guys, I don’t write crap like that unless I really mean it. I also wrote a whole paragraph about how cute Trent was as he tried to knock star fruit out of a tree with a broom, swearing at the birds who went after the ones he wanted. He was so proud of himself cutting up that fallen star fruit, as proud as a … no … I’m going to stop myself before I botch another metaphor.

Even our muddy, strenuous hike along the mind-blowingly blue Rio Celeste was wonderful, even with my lopsided pregnant bod and Trent’s torn ACL, even with the two separate strangers we met along the way who asked me if I was having twins. (Guys, don’t ask anyone that question, OK? Ever. Just promise.) Even with that it was lovely.

We fought only once, the day we spent at the beach, but it was the kind of fight that needs to happen, the kind that resolves some long-suppressed feelings, the kind that leaves you feeling freer and closer at the end of it. Plus for us one fight per trip definitely qualifies as exceeding expectations. We Murpheys are a volatile duo, even in paradise.


Oh, yeah. I was there too. In all my pregnant glory …




My husband had me open a used GPS on Christmas morning. (“Um … thank you?”) When I wised up and turned it on, it was programmed to Costa Rica. We’re flying there tomorrow morning. NBD. It’s just the best babymoon trip ever.

I’m spending today frantically getting ahead on my work deadlines before we leave. I don’t expect you to feel bad for me, but I do hope you’ll excuse my prolonged blogging suckiness.

I’m excited to read “Jane Eyre” on the trip. I’m hosting a book club meeting on it next week. I’m also excited to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” aloud with Trent, probably while sitting on top of a volcano or something sick like that. Like I said, I don’t expect you to feel bad for me.

Au revoir!

(Trent also got me a French language learning software for Christmas. So far, “au revoir” is all I’ve got.)

Listening to: William Fitzsimmons, “Sister”



I haven’t blogged lately. It’s been stuck on my to-do list between “take used, Craiglisted BOB Revolution Stroller to car wash” and “do taxes,” if that gives you any sense of how blogging has sounded to me these days.

But I’m diving in anyway … with a list. Because everyone knows that when you’re not in the mood to actually do anything, you make a list instead.

Here’s what’s been happening lately:

  • I had a lovely two weeks in Utah with my family for the holidays. We went for lots of walks in the crisp, cold mountain air (love that stuff), spent time with my hilarious little brothers, caught the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Leonardo in Salt Lake and the “Sacred Gifts” exhibit in Provo and savored some especially noteworthy hot chocolate at The Zermatt.
  • My parents surprised us all with mini-trips for Christmas. (This deserves its own bullet point.) The boys went to San Fran to the BYU Bowl Game. The girls went to a spa in the Scottsdale sunshine. I decided to experience a “Scalp Escape” treatment (a.k.a. the head massage of the gods). It was worth every penny I didn’t have to spend on it. My mom wasn’t kidding when she said the theme of the trip was “Treat Yo Self.” It was fun to reminisce with my mom about what her life was like when she lived in the Phoenix area long, long ago when my sister and I were wee ones, before my brothers were born. It was a perfect weekend of female solidarity.
  • My parents also conducted a notable little Christmas experiment with my brothers. They gave them all Beats by Dre headphones (apparently these are a hot commodity with the kids these days) and then told the boys they could keep them or trade them for $1,000 deposited annually in an investment account, which they could not cash out until their 30th birthdays. (Instant vs. Delayed Gratification—clearly my dad’s been reading a lot of books about “Generation Me” and “The Entitlement Trap” and such.) My brothers all reluctantly turned in their headphones. I’ve never seen Jeff and Sara Strong so giddy.
  • My little sister got engaged! We spent much of the vacation planning her cozy February wedding and bonding with her fiance. Dallin Johansen is quite a catch. He’s down-to-earth, funny and deep and can tease my sister without making her mad. Props to anyone who can pull that off. I couldn’t be happier to have him around.
  • I learned that New Year’s Eve is not a great night for a karaoke party. The turnout was dismal in numbers, but radiant in quality. My friends, Tawnee and Bob, brought a legit karaoke system and together with my family and a posse of my brother’s high school friends, we sang in the new year. Trent and I performed Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song,” our personal theme song … at least for this phase of our lives. Next time I think our party theme will be “Songs With Lyrics You Fundamentally Disagree With But Love Anyway.” I’ve got tons of options there.
  • My sister, aunt and mom threw me a baby shower in Utah. I’m always stressed about playing hostess, especially when worlds collide—professional colleagues, college friends, family—but everyone was incredibly gracious and generous. It was fun to reconnect with people. Plus Baby Girl made out like a bandit.
  • Trent and I wrote and edited his application essays until we were blue in the face. As of yesterday, all of the applications have been submitted and we’re still married. Success. (Fingers crossed he lands one of the jobs or spots at one of the MBA programs he’s going after!)
  • Since I’ve been home I’ve been fiendishly working on freelance assignments, reading and organizing. I’ve become reacquainted with the treadmill and with our tragically small hot water tank. The days of luxuriously long, hot showers at my parents’ house are gone.
  • I just polished off “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” and fell in love with the famous midwife more and more with every page. How could you not when she says things like this: “There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ, they would brag about it. So should we.”
  • I also fell in love with the poem “Detail of the Woods” by Richard Siken, especially the line that says, “Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.” Beautiful words of differentiation.

‘Agony in the Garden’



Merry Christmas, everyone.

We flew to Utah on Sunday to spend the holidays with my family. On the plane, I spent some time writing in my journal about Christmas, grappling to tap into something that would make me feel that Christmas spirit of love and gratitude deeply—you know, really feel it. It wasn’t until I walked into the Sacred Gifts exhibit at the BYU Museum of Art a few days later that the feeling flooded over me. I stood dead center in front of this Frans Schwartz painting, on loan from a church in Denmark, and cried—like embarassing-my-family cried. This teeny little photo doesn’t do the original justice. That probably goes without saying. The original was incredible. The emotion on Christ’s face, the desperation in his eyes, made me understand in a new way the depth of his suffering and trust in a new way his ability to relate to mine. It’s funny how that Christmas feeling is beautiful, but bittersweet. It shakes you a bit, out of whatever is distracting you, and leaves you calmed, humbled and renewed.

May you feel it, too.



Courtney Kendrick is one of my favorite writers, especially when she writes about writing. I’ve been thinking about this insight for weeks. Happy weekend!

“I see the Holy Ghost as an inspiration, not a detraction. I think in writing, my greatest companion is the Divine. Writing is what I do to transcribe God in my life–I see it as a passage way from earth to heaven. I have stopped feeling like God wants me to live a life of self-editing because when I do, I also edit our relationship. Here’s something to try as a Mormon writer: try writing without the cultural confines of our religion. Try writing simply as someone who loves God. Think of your work as something that transcends proselytism or representation and just write as human being. Do we love our Book of Mormon narratives because the heroes are Mormon? No. We love them because they show a spectrum of humanity inside a context of faith. Sometimes we think the Spirit would never inspire us to write posts about doubt or complaints or frustrations because they aren’t uplifting. But these posts show a journey—and that is completely uplifting. When has the Spirit ever told someone to show up perfect?”

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