Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: creativity

2:00 a.m. Writing Life

I typically get up at 4:00 a.m.

Not bragging about that. I know how crazy that is. But, please, do remember that I’m utterly no fun at 7:00 p.m. I am yawning. I am so close to passing out.

Five days a week, Monday-Friday, I get up to exercise before the sun comes up, when I know no one will bother me.

My new addiction is waking up on the weekends to write.

At first, it was the same time frame: 4:00 – 7:00 a.m.

But then… things started to snowball.

I would find myself waking up at 2:00 a.m., 1:00 a.m., and sometimes even midnight, my mind working on overdrive. I would try to go back to sleep, but sometimes, once the train has left the station, it was best just to get on board and let it take me where we needed to go, consequences be damned.

It hasn’t been all bad.

I have written some amazing scenes during this time. I would discover a flaw in my character that would make him more interesting, or a hidden intention in another character that I didn’t originally see.

I have never had a writing experience like this before. There are a few pivotal climactic scenes that I know that I’m working toward, but this series of books is largely being written organically, step by step, following a somewhat planned outline. Still, so much of it seems to be discovered in the moment.

The other thing that makes is super unique is that I feel connected to the story in an almost supernatural way, like the story is fighting to get its way out of me. Like it has been living with me for far too long and wants its own air to breathe, its own space to stretch its wings and fly.

Instead of creating characters that I thought I would like, I’ve let my characters become who they want to be–and I’m finding that its giving them more depth and dimensions than I had planned. Sometimes, my characters irritate me. Sometimes, they downright piss me off. And sometimes, they break my heart with their blindness.

I am thoroughly enjoying this journey of following my characters and seeing where they lead me, even as I know that we are approaching a certain cataclysmic event that will change everything.

It seems ominous–this knowing of the changes that are to come for my characters, anticipating how it will change them and their lives, in devastating ways that will ultimately lead to their greatest growth.

I’m starting to understand how authors can actually grow to love their characters and empathize when they ratchet up the tension and the stakes.

Though it would be so much healthier were I able to do this at a reasonable time of day.

I am Writing Again

In January 2016, I had a great idea for a novel. I had some momentum and a lot of dynamite scenes that compelled me to sit down for a time and give it space to come to life.

But then I got pregnant. I had a baby. And then the Hamster Wheel of Life spun on ceaselessly for three years.

My inspiration and motivation drained as the questions that I had about the characters and the plot were so overwhelming that I boxed myself into a corner, unable to figure out how to get out of it.

Yes, it was a great idea. But quite frankly, it was not the right time. I worked a job that drained my creativity. My supervisors sucked my joy dry. I had diapers to change. A baby to feed. A kindergartner with a broken elbow. A toddler to follow all weekend long. A preschooler with poop in his underwear. Again.

I said so sorry to the idea and moved on.

But this past January, four years later, the idea floated to the forefront again.

It really was a great idea.

I sat on it more. I asked the questions. I thought of answers. I asked more questions. I wrote ideas down in a notebook. Some of the questions, I left unanswered. But this time, I had more answers. I had been thinking about the story on and off for the last four years, but now, things were starting to make sense.

Fuck it, I thought. Here we go.

I mean, really, what’s the worst that could happen?

Here’s the worst that could happen: I could waste my time writing a book that no one wants to read but that I care deeply about.

I’m fine with that.

I didn’t sell thousands of copies of my last book.

And I’m fine with that. It is a success because I created something out of nothing and it moved people.

That’s success to me.

For me, it really is about the process. The fact that I feel better doing the work. The fact that writing these thoughts teaches me things about myself.

It heals me.

Last month, I took a casual online writing class. One of exercises that we did was creating a voice of our Inner Critic. Then, we were tasked with defacing our Inner Critic in whatever way we wanted. Here’s what I ended up with.

So, what is the book about?

This is not something I’ll be openly talking about online until much further on, especially since I know that it’s not just one book that I’m working on. This will likely be a four to five book series.

So for now, just know that I am filling notebooks with pieces of characters and plots. I am thinking of symbols and themes, lines of dialogue that won’t go away. I’m plotting them in tables and writing summaries. I’m crafting a Shitty First Draft, that is actually isn’t too shitty. And, People of the World, I am actually now nearly to the end of the Shitty First Draft phase and prepare to dig into my favorite part–the Revision Stage.

Creating makes me excited. It energizes me in a way that nothing else does.

Here’s to the journey.

Roots

When I was a sophomore in college, I was assigned to write an essay for a linguistics class about the origin of my surname.

I thought, I don’t know. I think it’s German?

What I discovered about my name has stuck with me.

It wasn’t German. It was Frisian. And Frisian is the language that is most closely related to English.

I learned that my ancestor, Okko Peter Tjaden I, the seventh of eight children, arrived in the United States on June 4, 1856. In the United States, he met and married his wife, Anna Ubben Juttbrook on May 17, 1857 in the Silver Creek Reformed Church in Forreston, Illinois. They both died in Ocheyedan, Iowa (population in 2010–490 people).

Okko grew up in a city called Emden, which is currently part of Germany. But it hasn’t always been German. When you look at Emden’s political situation over the past five hundred years, it makes you weary.

East Frisia

It made me think, How did my family view their national identity? Did they consider themselves to be Germans?

When I asked my father about this while he was still living, he gave me a very broad answer, something like, They were Dutch-speaking Germans. They didn’t speak German. They spoke Dutch. But Germany controlled the country. 

It was all very confusing to me, a twenty-something who was still actively untangling my own identity. If they spoke Dutch, why was the origin of the Tjaden name Frisian? Which parts of my values and beliefs came from being an American? Which beliefs came from my religion? What did I think about politics?

***

Over time, I’ve been able to sort through what I believe and what I value and trace back their origins.

It makes sense now that my ancestors probably didn’t value their national identity as much as their religious identity. Politics can change. Governments topple and are rebuilt. But the Kingdom of God is forever, they would argue.

I understand much more fully and more completely now just how important religion was to my ancestors.

When I was in graduate school, I dug into the research on Dutch immigrants and their cultural assimilation in the United States. I found that compared to their Catholic Dutch counterparts, Dutch Protestants stuck together as a cultural group and resisted assimilation.

Many Dutch Protestants came to the United States to establish Dutch-speaking religious schools where they could teach their children without government interference. In the past, there was increasing pressure on schools to outlaw Dutch children from speaking Dutch in schools.

It’s a story we’ve heard over and over again. A government forces children to learn their language in order for them to be considered True Citizens of wherever they’re living. Forget your old culture and embrace our new better culture.

La-Dee-Dah.

So they were forced to use German in the schools. Obviously, this didn’t go over well with Dutch families and some of them even decided to leave the whole country behind and forge ahead in a new country, where they were told by relatives who had already settled in the States that they could set up their own religious schools and teach what they wanted, without government interference in the language and values that were taught in the school. (By the way, we have religious Dutch immigrants to thank for Betsy DeVoss. Sorry about that.)

I don’t know if this is the key reason that Okko Peter Tjaden left Emden, but he did join a large community of Dutch immigrants who had settled in Iowa. His arrival in 1856 suggests that he probably left because of the decline in agriculture (an influx of American wheat was driving down the price where he lived). However, he and Anna were married in a Dutch Reformed church, which certainly had members who had left behind Holland/Friesland and other areas because of school indoctrination issue.

***

For whatever reason, I’ve always felt that I’ve had a strong connection to my father’s side of the family. It’s not because I spent a lot of time with them. I actually spent more time with my maternal grandmother and aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mother’s side. They are the people of whom I have the warmest memories.

But there is no doubt that I don’t look like my mother’s side of the family.

I look like my father, and my father’s brother, and a cousin on my father’s side.

Bundy_X-mas_09_009

It turns out, I was right.

I did the 23andMe genetic test and found that I have the following ancestral components:

Sharons Genetic Results

The French/German made sense. That was the Tjaden line through my paternal grandfather. The Eastern Europe made sense. That was my paternal grandmother (nee Osimowicz), who was 100% Polish.

But Scandinavian? 22%? Really?

I looked back at the family tree that I had mapped out so far and thought, Oh. That’s interesting.

My paternal grandfather’s mother was 100% Norwegian. Her parents immigrated from Norway in 1870 and I’ve been able to trace back the Norwegian line all the way to the 1600s.

Genes are fun.

***

My mother’s father’s line has been established in the United States far longer. Her family (the Bundy family) can be traced back all the way to William Bundy, who first showed up on records in Rhode Island in 1663. That’s twelve generations of Bundys in the United States (No close affiliation to Ted ((he was adopted)), Clive, Ammon, or Al Bundy, thank you very much). They lived in North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. They were hard-living people. Homesteaders and farmers. And also very religious.

My mother’s mother’s line has also been in the United States for hundreds of years. They were the Combs and Haburns. Five generations of the Combs family were born and died in Spirit Lake, Iowa. They were even buried in the same cemetery.

***

What both sides of my family have in common are

  • devotion to the Christian faith
  • lives of hard labor (farming, homesteading, manufacturing)
  • a fierce spirit in the face of hardship
  • a willingness to step out into the unknown

They crossed oceans and nations. They worked in multiple vocations in one lifetime, as my grandfather did (farmer, watchmaker, jeweler). They married across ethnic groups (German – Norwegian – Polish) because a shared faith was more important than shared nationality.

***

I’ve learned that creativity–in a variety of forms–has been a legacy of the Tjaden name. My great-uncle, Otto A. Tjaden, was sign painter, wood carver, and sculptor in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. I found a newspaper article from the local paper in which they talk about an art exhibition of bronze and metal sculptures that was on display in downtown Fergus Falls.

My own father, Leland Tjaden, was a terrific storyteller. Very theatrical in his performance of just about any story that had made an impression (good or bad) on him.

My uncle, Dennis Tjaden, has a love for photography.

And I write. A lot.

Which is not something that happens on my mother’s side of the family. They are a family of few and carefully chosen words. No need to be emotional or superfluous. Just say what needs to be said and be done with it. I have some of the letters that my grandmother wrote to her sister-in-law. Mostly reports on the weather and the children, and occasionally news about who had visited whom lately.

So when my grandmother passed away, there weren’t many people who were jumping at the chance to give a eulogy.

So I did.

Here are some of the words that I said,

Grandma was practical. You could always count on her to reuse an old box of checks for storing rubber bands or a tub of laundry detergent as a garbage can. She wasn’t sentimental. If a soap opera was on TV, she’d usually fall asleep during it. She never said she loved you. She showed you she loved you. She cooked you food and sent cards in the mail. She was a private person. She kept a lot of her own thoughts to herself…

Grandma, you will be deeply missed. I will miss the quiet hours as I would knit and you would doze off peacefully in the armchair. I never cared that you weren’t much of a conversationalist. Just being there was enough. I know you never liked being the center of attention. You were always a fan of serving behind the scenes and laboring without recognition. Know that your life did not go unnoticed. May you find rest from the struggles and labors of life. 

***

What does it all mean?

What does it mean for me to be a descendant of so many travelers who derived their identities from their beliefs and values rather than the country where they lived?

Who could live for years in isolation, miles and miles from neighbors, surrounded in open country where the whipping winter winds chilled them for months, no matter how many fires they made?

What does it mean for me to have the blood of ancestors who struggled through harsh winters in the upper latitudes, who lived modest lives, who worked the land for food, who watched governments rise and fall and clung to their religion to give the world — and their purpose inside of it — meaning?

What does it mean for me to come from families that never once rubbed shoulders with aristocracy and nobility?

Who were for generations uneducated and illiterate? And when literacy came, it came in the form of the Bible?

Who weren’t formally taught science, but who learned about science through tinkering and trial and error?

And what parts of my genetic ancestry have I passed on to my own children?

Will they also have the wandering, curious, creative spirit? The steely resolve? Or will they have their father’s problem-solving and efficiency? Or his penchant for minimalism and order?

Or will they have something else that has been lying dormant for several generations, just waiting to emerge?

***

I wonder if my heritage is part of the reason that I’m always looking out on the horizon, wondering what is next.

Caught between the gratitude for today and what I have and the curiosity of knowing about what’s down the line. Always thinking about the next thing that I’ll create or write or research.

What is the next thing that I’ll discover or learn or understand or convey to others? What lessons and messages will I be able to share before I join my ancestors in Death? How much of this vast tapestry of life and everything inside of it will I know before I die?

The answer, I’m sure, is Not Enough.

There’s too much beauty and mystery in this life for one human being to ever be able to hold it all at once in one human mind.

It’s too wonderful.

Even when it’s the worst, it’s too wonderful.

***

On February 2, 1913, Anna Juttbrook passed away in Ocheyedan, Iowa. Okko followed her a year later on February 14, 1914.

104 years later on February 2, 2017, I lifted my hand to the bright winter light that streamed through my hospital window, crying out in pain as I moved into the hardest part of labor.

In that moment, I felt the spirit of my father beside me, although he had passed away three years earlier. In my worst moments of pain when I wasn’t sure I could go on, I closed my eyes and saw people around me. Some of them I knew. Some of them I didn’t. But the people whom I didn’t know, I had a strong feeling that they were related to me and the child for whom I was laboring was a continuation of their blood.

That was what kept me going.

The knowledge that I was not alone.

That I would forever be connected to those I loved and to those who gave me Life.

And humbled by their presence, I said,

Yes.

I will try.

I will try for you.

I don’t know if I’ll succeed.

But I’ll try.

Three hours later, I gave birth to our second child. A son named Henry.

I did not know until recently that this was the name of Anna Juttbrook’s father.

And her son.

***

On my worst days, I think about the courage that I had on this day. To step out into the unknown, into the heart of pain and danger, and feel no fear. Because there was no room for it. I was surrounded by Love and strengthened by the Life that was coming through me.

On my worst days, I remember that I was born with ferocity and resilience. I remind myself to feel gratitude for what all of those who came before me have done. Unlike the rugged individualist story that I learned in American history classrooms, I didn’t grow like a magic bean from the ground, dependent only on my own fortitude and industriousness.

I am here because of Okko Tjaden and Anna Juttbrook and Laurence and Mary Osimowicz and Hans and Kari Vaagesar and William Bundy and so many others whose names I’m still learning.

I am here because they left their homelands and struggled in this new foreign country where they were often scapegoated and resented as newcomers for generations before they were considered “real Americans.”

I am here because they chose uncertainty and the hardships that come with it over stability and familiarity.

Am I grateful enough?

Do I make them proud?

 

YouTube is Our Third Baby

In the last few months, I’ve started getting the You guys thinking about having a third? comment more frequently. Maybe because several of our friends have just had their third–or fourth–baby.

Um, no.

Emphatically, no.

This is it.

The baby has finally started sleeping a glorious, GLORIOUS, twelve hours at night straight, partially thanks to the four nights of Crying It Out that I stomached. Nothing worse than listening to your baby screaming at full volume for 40 minutes while you paw silently at the door, on the verge of tears yourself.

He’s okay. My God, he had seven, SEVEN!, bottles today. He’s not hungry.

He’s okay. He’s 6 1/2 months old.

He’s okay. He’s 22 pounds. 22 POUNDS! He’s a Monster Baby, for the love of God.

He’s not going to die.

He’s just really, really pissed.

He’s got the eat-sleep association.

You’re not a bad mother.

Oh God… Will he EVER stop crying? Is this damaging his vocal cords?

Repeat that several more times on the first night.

But he did. By the fourth night, Done.

(Can I just say, sure, you love your baby. But man, you REALLY, REALLY love your baby when he doesn’t bother you from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.)

So no.

Two is enough.

family

***

In the first two weeks postpartum, I went over the numbers in my head and made a list of reasons for or against having a third child. Yeah, yeah. We said we’d only have two, but LOOK AT THIS FACE!!! Oh my God. Babies are incredible. I could totally do this again.

But then, we’d be looking at a minivan.

And I’d be 37? 38? 39? And pregnant? I remember how I felt being 35 and pregnant. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier. This body has been through enough. (And you’re welcome, Offspring.)

And another three years of full time-daycare ($33,000 total at today’s rate)?

I think it was the cost of daycare that was really the deciding factor.

***

We were talking the other night about just how much “free time” we had before children.

I mean, duh, right? Of course we had more time. In some ways, it was great. Coming home from work and relaxing. Nice. It was “the life.”

Of course, we did other things. I wrote a novel. Doug volunteered extensively for our church, cooking meals for 100-200 people weekly. We hung out with friends. A lot. And it was fantastic. We went out to eat. We entertained.

We also worked more than our fair share at our jobs. I worked about 50-60 hours per week at four (yes, four) jobs. Doug often worked more than his required 40.

But from my perspective now, I look back and think, God, imagine what we could have accomplished for this YouTube channel if we had started doing this before we had kids. 

But that was years before YouTube’s currently capabilities and reach.

So here we are.

Instead of having a third baby, we have a YouTube channel.

It’s got his hands and my eyes.

It really is a combination of all of our talents together in one creative outlet.

We’re so proud.

Making YouTube Cooking Videos = Actually a Lot of Work

Silly me, I thought we’d just set up the camera and start shooting whatever we were cooking.

Okay, maybe my husband would get out the little photography umbrellas and some lights, but that’s it.

But oh.

We are really in it now.

***

This is how we started out.

set

I thought this was kind of a lot of equipment.

Oh, sweet naive me.

Here’s where we are at now.

IMG_20170721_215342

 

What you’re looking at is the second version of this handmade mounted mirror (much lighter than the first one.) You’ll also notice that we’ve added more lighting on the countertop… and around the cook top in general.

That pot is about to undergo some intense interrogation.

(Not pictured: We also have a fan mounted to the cabinet while recording–to keep steam from condensing on the mirror.)

Why a mirror? The idea is to record the cooktop from above, without getting steam and gunk in the lens of the camera. Thus, the mirror. Then, once I import the video into our video editing software, I can flip the image vertically so that your brain doesn’t feel like something is off as you’re watching us cooking.

All this rigging has taken a lot of trips to Menard’s, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. (And sometimes back to Menard’s ten minutes before they close.) He’s really put a lot of time and effort into this.

But anyone who knows my husband knows that when he does something, he really does something.

Like this.

garden_1

garden_2

That’s the joint garden that we share with our neighbors–all built in the last few months.

Because. You know. He wanted to have a garden.

Notice the gate on the right side. And where he’s standing, there is a removable portion of that fence–so the truck can back up to it and dump the wood chips directly into the garden.

Hey, it makes him happy. And Felicity loves, loves, loves getting in the dirt.

***

So it’s taking some time.

In the meantime, I’ve been figuring out and articulating our workflow for making the videos.

workflow

I’ve also been building my video editing skills (I’m using CyberLink’s Power Director–a solid program.)

Which leads to this conversation that we had last Thursday night.

Me: “I don’t know why but the preview of the video is really choppy.”

Him: “Once you render it, it should smooth out.”

Me: “Hmmm…”

Him: “Your computer probably isn’t fast enough.”

Me: “Hmmm…”

Then Friday, I call him at 5:00 to see if he’s picking up the kids.

Him: “Yep,”

I hear him giving someone his name and address.

Me: “Okay. Where are you?”

Him: “Cincinnati.”

Me: “Um, okay.”

Him: “I just bought you a computer.”

Me: “Right. I think I saw that coming.”

Him: “It’s so badass.”

Then later, after the kids are home and dinner is finished, we pick up the conversation again.

Me: “So when is the computer getting here?”

Him: “Already got it.”

Me: “Oh. Where is it?”

Him: “In the car. I still have to put it together.”

Me: “What? I thought you said you bought a computer.”

Him: “Yeah. The parts. It won’t take long to put together.”

Then later, he starts bringing in the boxes.

Me: “Two monitors? You bought two monitors?”

Him: “You got to have two monitors.”

Me: “Oh my God…”

Him: “Go big or go home, Sweets.”

Kid in a candy store.

IMG_20170728_210320

***

So when can you expect to see some videos?

I think in the next two weeks.

We have some good footage of making steel-cut oats (although we’re figuring out color balance and how to filter background noise). We wanted to produce some egg videos, but we’ve got to wait until our egg supplier is back from vacation. We also ran into some problems with our lighting. Apparently, we’ve been using too much light and it’s washing out the color of the food. So we’ve got to re-shoot everything. Bargh…

Like any creative project, this one has thrown us some curve balls.

But it’s still been fun.

It has given both of us chances to work in our favorite creative roles.

Him: Woodworking, cooking, photography

Me: Writing, storytelling, video editing

And I guess I can add “directing” to that list now.

Felicity director

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