Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: Family

My Last Little One

It all started just one year ago.

February 2, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

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June 2017 3

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Chef Henry 9 months

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Sharon and Henry 11 months

I may have said something cute today like, “Where has the time gone?”

But quite honestly, I think we felt every bit of the last 364 days. Between typical newborn stuff, the milk allergy, all that teething, several iterations of Cry-It-Out, several rounds of colds, and one wicked spell of diarrhea, I’m relieved to know that the worst is probably behind us. (Knock on wood.)

From the moment he came home with us, it has felt like our lives have accelerated twofold. No more stopping. It’s more like, Rest, while you move.

A few days ago, when Henry was losing his mind because I put him down and turned away, I asked Doug, “You sure you don’t want another one?”

“Uh, yeah.”

So happy birthday and thank you for being my Last Little One.

Pieces of Parenthood # 3: “The Most Fun Thing to Play On” a.k.a. “The Most Dangerous Time of Day”

A lot happens in the last twenty minutes before bedtime.

 

Pieces of Parenthood # 2: Time Travel, Movement, and Peanut Butter

Today’s installment of Pieces of Parenthood comes to you as a video mash-up.

Theme: Movement

Movement is physical. It’s maneuvering and taking first steps. It’s also traveling with objects and experimenting with how those objects may travel on their own.

Movement can also be abstract. Photos take us back to moments in history, which proves to be a challenging concept for the growing preschooler. Was that when you and daddy were born, she asked just before the video started.

Movement is also seen in language, in the give-and-take of those first interactions. It’s verbal and non-verbal, words, gestures, smiles, and laughter.

And, of course, peanut butter, which has now been categorized as safe to expose to infants (granted they haven’t had reactions to other foods).

By the way, that’s not just pure peanut butter. It’s mixed with cereal and milk.

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.

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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?

 

Pieces of Parenthood # 1: A 2018 Multi-Media Journey into Parenthood

I love writing.

But finding time to fully develop and organize a written blog post has proven to be… challenging.

Full-time work. Two kids. House. Life.

It usually takes me at least three or four hours to craft a post that I publish on this blog. And let’s be honest, I’m really stretched for finding that time.

But I really love writing.

So for 2018, I’m going to try a different format and reach beyond the written word.

The theme of the year is “Pieces of Parenthood.”

Each week, I’ll share a picture, a video, a sound file, or maybe just a short written post. The theme of these posts is to give the reader a glimpse into what parenthood looks like in this version of life that our family lives. Since these pieces of media will be curated, I’ll present them like an art exhibition.

Admission is free.

So, here we go.

Pieces of Parenthood # 1: Infant feeding

Format: Digital picture

Feeding is a central theme in the care of infants. It is one of the three-pronged components of an infant’s life: feeding, peeing/pooing, sleeping. To feed a baby is to love a baby. My 11-month-old son is in the midst of transitioning to solid foods. As such, his primary caloric intakes comes from formula (soy-based, to respond to lactose intolerance). In addition, he eats three bowls of some kind of solid, blended food. In this photo,  I capture the moment just before I mix together some baby oatmeal cereal with a blueberry/pear blend.

On his face, you can see the eagerness with which he reaches for his food and his recognition of the person who is offering the food.

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“Infant Feeding”, 1/1/2018, S. Tjaden-Glass

When It All Goes to Shit (Literally)

Holy Mary, Mother of God…

I’m not Catholic, but this is what I feel like saying when I’ve opened my baby’s diaper lately.

Just… Dear God…

But that’s not where this story starts. No, this story starts way back in a more peaceful, almost utopian, moment in time called “Our Anniversary.”

It was a time of Hotel Bliss. A time of Sleeping In and Room Service. A time of Binge-Watching and Massages. There was even Sex!

Yes, we’ve been married for twelve years.

It was last Saturday afternoon. Snow softly fell outside of our swanky hotel room. We ate a delightful lunch, brought to us on trays and adorned with cloth napkins and adorable bottles of Heinz ketchup. And because I could, I ate that delightful lunch in my bathrobe.

We spend time hammering out several scripts for upcoming episodes for our YouTube channel. (Check it out here).

We talked about the future. Of possible Ph. D. programs and how old we’ll be when the kids graduate.

We talked about politics. Of just how many men in media and politics and business will fall from grace under the crashing wave of sexual harassment allegations. Of the possibility of a pedophile in our U.S. Senate. (Dodged that bullet. Thank God for small favors.)

And of course, we talked about our kids. They’re such good kids, aren’t they? We really lucked out. Felicity has such a big heart. And “my little man”… Oh, I can’t get enough of that face! (taking phone out) I just have to see that face one more time. Oh my God… He is so ridiculously cute. Mama loves you, Big Boy!

It was perfect.

Too perfect.

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***

When we arrived home on Sunday afternoon, the Conveyor Belt of Life from which we disembarked on Friday afternoon had accelerated from Challenging-But-Doable to All-Systems-Go.

We still needed to:

  • buy and decorate a Christmas tree
  • pick up the gifts from church for the family for which we’re coordinating for our Adopt-a-Family Christmas program.
  • put away the 9 loads of laundry that I did in a flurry on Friday morning
  • cook for the weekly meal
  • cook the oatmeal for the week
  • vacuum
  • prepare Christmas cards for daycare and Sunday School teachers (Round 3 of Christmas cards. Round 4 = all the people who sent you cards whom you forgot to send cards or didn’t have the new address to send cards)
  • feed everyone several more times before the day was over
  • clean dishes from those meals
  • make bottles for the next day
  • make sure all their sheets, clothes, and bibs were already in their backpacks for Monday
  • do the bedtime rituals

This is the point in the story when It All Goes to Shit.

Literally.

As I was feeding Henry his 3:00 p.m. bottle, Diarrhea was engaged.

Okay. I knew this was coming. My mom (who was watching them while we were away) told me that he was having bad diapers since she picked them up at daycare on Friday (He had an explosion in the highchair… From shoulder blades to knees…)

But we were on vacation.

And Mom had it under control. And when Mom has things under control, everything is fine.

We would come home just as the diarrhea was going away.

Right?

Oh, sweet naive little Me.

Sunday evening was unpleasant, but we survived. I explained to Felicity that “the puking bug” that was going around daycare wasn’t something that was going to crawl into her food, like a spider.

“It’s a virus,” I tell her. “It’s a… a… really small germ that can get into your mouth and make you sick.”

Her new saying that she likes to apply to all contexts is, “Well, I was going to…”

So what she said was: “Well, I was not going to eat the puking bug.”

“Good idea,” I told her.

And then…

It was early Monday morning.

3:00 a.m. He was crying. A cry that said,

Harmph… What is wrong with me? I don’t like Life. Life blows. Argh… < asleep >

Wait… I still think Life blows… < asleep >

Arghhh! Isn’t anyone going to come help me? < asleep >

Arghhhhhhhh!!!!!

As I stared at the ceiling, I kept praying that he’d work it out. That he would eventually go back to sleep. I was going to get up to exercise at 4:30. At least, that was the plan.

Plans. Ha.

I ended up holding him from 4:00 until 5:30 that morning as he softly protested, moaning and groaning, clearly fighting something.

We pulled through. We got them to daycare. We worked. I thought back longingly to the Anniversary Weekend. It felt like that had been months ago instead of the mere 24 hours that it had been. I listened to my co-workers talk about their lazy Sundays of Not Doing Much of Anything.

I was intensely jealous. But I kept it in check. You’re the one who wanted to have kids, my Evil Ego said. Then, there was my Good Ego, saying, Don’t freak out on people who don’t deserve it. This too shall pass.

***

That evening, the Conveyor Belt of Life kicked into Panic Mode.

We spent an hour just feeding and changing Henry’s diaper. Over and over again. Which doesn’t sound too bad until I tell you what is involved in that process.

  • Ear-piercing screaming. Screams so shrill they may burst your eardrums.
  • A red-faced baby that you happen to love with all your heart, covered in tears.
  • A mobile baby who can do a full, twisting plank while you’re trying to wipe.
    • A wrong maneuver on anyone’s part here can spread the sloshing poop on the baby’s foot, your hands, the changing pad…
  • Farts (hopefully) and poop (hopefully not) sporadically shooting out at you as you wipe. (Stay out of Danger Zone, friends).
  • Globs and globs of diaper cream. All over. Just… All over.
  • Vigorous handwashing

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Every single time that he poops.

It’s a vicious cycle of, Should I feed him? What should I feed him? He just calmed down. Should I really give him something else? I don’t want him to get dehydrated. But he needs protein. But is soy formula okay? Or not? How many days is this going to go on? Should I call the doctor? 

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.

A midnight cry that turns quickly into a scream.

The smell.

It takes a moment to realize, but you do. It starts with unzipping the footed pajamas that you hoped would contain any leakage. (Wishful thinking.)

But it’s on his legs, his belly, even his torso. It’s all over his footed pajamas.

For the love of God, it‘s between his toes

There’s poop everywhere.

On his sheet. On his blanket.

It’s the definition of Lovely.

Then the screams, the tears, the twisting full-planked baby, fighting your every move to stop you from removing all the shit that is literally everywhere.

It makes you frustrated that you can’t just do the Shitty Job that you have to do.

You have to do the Shitty Job while your ears bleed and you’re tired and you’re angry and you just want to go to sleep and your baby can’t say, Thank you. Hell, your baby isn’t even non-verbally saying thank you by just going to bed.

No.

He’s going to scream way down into the Seventh Circle of Hell while you try to shush and rock and sway him to sleep. You try patting his back and butt the way your husband does (It works every time. He likes it that way.)

All to no avail.

So you leave your baby screaming in his crib, shut the door, and cry in the hallway.

Then, you call in your husband and pray that he’s able to get the baby back to sleep.

It makes you hate your baby.

It makes you sad that you just thought that you hate your baby.

It makes you feel like a failure.

***

But by the time morning comes, the night terror is a distant memory.

He’s awake.

And covered in poop again. (Of course.)

With my hands under his armpits, I carry him at arm’s length directly to the bathtub.

And we try again.

Maybe this will be the last day of this Shit.

Literally.

From the Vault: 8 Lessons from my Childhood Diary

6:00 a.m.

Day after Thanksgiving.

Sitting on the floor with one of my legs pinned over my baby’s chest, the other leg over his legs, making a human cage. Because this is the only way I can change the diaper of a child that can flip and crawl away from me.

And he’s screaming.

That eardrum-piercing shriek that cries out to the world, Help!!! I’m being murdered!!! 

But which I interpret as, I won’t let you do it! I WON’T!!!

Today is my birthday.

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me,” I sing.

He stops screaming and pays attention to my voice, the tears still coming down.

But when I reach the end of the song, he starts winding up for a second round of protest. I switch the melody.

“Oh wow, look at ‘im now, Zuckerman’s famous pig. Sue-y, whaddya see? The greatest hog in history. Fine swine, wish he was mine. What if he’s not so big? He’s some terrific, radiant, humble, thing-a-ma-jig-of-a-pig.”

And just like that, I’ve hypnotized him with Charlotte’s Web (the 1973 version, of course).

I keep singing it until he’s dressed.

***

Moms put up with a lot.

I think our society kind of knows that.

Kind of.

And then there are moments like these that deserve to be plastered on a Someecards meme that chirps about how rewarding motherhood truly is (Someone pass the wine,  it would probably read).

It makes me wonder what it was like to be my mom, mother of five.

For most of my life, I’ve only seen motherhood from the lens of a daughter.

And that lens can be pretty amusing.

***

This summer while I was cataloging some old photos and taking stock of some mementos, I found my first diary, which my mother purchased for me when I was eight years old.

Within its pastel, scented pages, my writing career began.

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I loved this diary.

Like, LOVED.

I wrote in it every single day. And when I was too tired to write, I asked my mother to write about my day. (And she actually did. For that alone, she won Mother of the Year for 1990.)

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Cecilia Tjaden: Mother of the Year, 1990

I wrote about such riveting topics like my breakfast, what my siblings did (or didn’t do), and what I learned in school.

Here’s a sample page:

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Food. Siblings. Video games. It was a great life.

Here are some gem excerpts and the life lessons we can glean from them.

***

Lesson # 1: Kids Don’t Appreciate Irony

Sunday, November 11, 1990

Today I got up and went to church. I learned about loving one another. Phillip got two bars of soap in his mouth. DeAnna got one bar of soap in her mouth. Holly made another mark on my Magna Doodle. I had a sluply joe. (sloppy joe) I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson # 2: Kids Don’t Really Understand Pregnancy

Saturday, November 17, 1990

Today, I got up and watched Look Who’s TalkingThey showed us what it looks like when you get pregnite. Phillip only needs the red ring in the Legend of Zelda. Mommy came home and she made me stay out of the house for one hour. I had potatoes, stuffing, and turkey. I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson # 3: Kids assume everyone knows what they’re talking about.

Wednesday, November 21, 1990

Today I got up and I had pancakes for breakfast. Annie and I played barbies. I finally got to see Zelda. Gannon was big, ugly, rude, and huge. The only way to see Zelda is to hit the fire. Then, they held two Triforces above their heads. I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson #4: Kids completely miss clues that their parents might be stressed.

Saturday, March 9, 1991

Today, I got up and had to stay in bed. I took the TV in my bedroom and watched cartoons. (not sure how I did that?) Mommy went to work for 10 hours. My temperature was 101.8 today. Mommy might take me to the doctor tomorrow to get a shot. DeAnna felt a lot better today. Mommy paid me $2.00 for babysitting. I’ve got to go now. Good-by.

Lesson # 5: Kids are surprisingly capable creatures.

Thursday, March 28, 1991 (spring break)

Today I got up and get DeAnna dressed. Then I gave her some breakfast. Nate helped me do the dishes. I put on cartoons for Holly and DeAnna. Later, I watched The Price is Right. I had a cherry pie. Mommy came home and said she would have to go to bed. I watched the Simpsons. I have to go. Goodby.

Lesson # 6: Sometimes, kids really don’t see their responsibility.

Saturday, July 19, 1991

Today I got up and went to Howard’s (Pharmacy). I bought some candy cigarettes. Dad almost won all the time when he played Duck Hunt. Mom comes home and blames me, Holly, and DeAnna for the mess. It’s not our fault. Daddy didn’t bother to watch them. First thing, I didn’t even touch the room. Now she blaming it one me. I have to go. By!!

Lesson # 7: Kids can experience hardship as adventure.

Tuesday, July 29, 1991

Today I got up and had to get up. We all walked to the bus stop. We took a bus to Dayton. Then took a bus to Englewood. We got off at Rolling Pin Bakery. On our way back, we stopped at McDonald’s. Then we went to Jo-Ann Fabrics. Then we got on another bus to our house. We had rice for supper. I’ll see you later. I’ve gotta go. Good-by.

Lesson # 8: The World is Just So Unfair!

Friday, February 20, 1992

Today I was waiting for the Science Fair to start. It was from 1:30-3:15. Unforently, I didn’t win. They were all fifth graders. And a kid won 2 times in a row! Katie Owens did a stupid poster and got 3rd place. It’s just not fair!! I wish they had a rule you can’t win twice! Well I better go. Good-by.

***

So bravo to you, Mom, for hanging in there. Through five kids, unreliable transportation, and the ingratitude of whining children, you persevered.

And thanks for the diary.

I’m pretty sure it was the best gift you ever gave me.

Love,

Sharon

Happy birthday to someone who wasn't welcomed into the world via tweet or status update.

 

Why My Kids Will Be Getting Jitterbugs Instead of Smartphones

So I’m wearing braces. In my 30s. (I’m cool like that.)

And every few months, I get to sit in a waiting room with a dozen or so middle schoolers and their parents. When it’s my turn, I am called and then seated in one of the twenty dentist chairs that pepper a large room where the orthodontist flits back and forth among the pubescent patients while dental hygienists perform most of the routine parts of the exams.

I tell you this because, in the past two years, I can count on one hand the number of middle schoolers in either of those rooms who

1) didn’t bring or weren’t using their smartphone and

2) weren’t using the installed handheld gaming console that was attached to each dentist chair. (Not kidding.)

Have I already become (at age 35) that miserly curmudgeon who shakes her fist at the younger generation?

Part of me wants to believe that this new shift in technology usage is nothing special. It’s just a new form of communication.

It’s like my generation’s America On-Line. (Remember that?)

Right?

Students and technology

***

A few weeks ago, my sister shared Jean Twenge’s article in the Atlantic, titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Par for the Atlantic’s course, it was fantastic and I strongly encourage you to read it.

Among the most surprising trends that Twenge reports are:

  • Rocketing depression since 2012  (especially for girls)
  • Rocketing teenage suicide since 2012 (especially for boys)
  • Increase in feelings of loneliness

But also…

  • Decreased individualism among today’s middle schoolers
  • Decline in teenage dating, sexual activity, and pregnancy
  • Decline in teenage drivers and teenage employment
  • Decline in teenagers face-to-face hanging out with friends

What happened in 2012?

The proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50%.

Loneliness chart

One of the most surprising charts from Jean Twenge’s Atlantic article: (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/)

Apparently, teenagers today have more of an in-person relationship with their smartphones than they do with their family (not surprising) or their actual friends. And we’re not just talking about suburban, middle-class teens. This wave of technology is crashing upon both genders, all races, and all socioeconomic levels.

Then, I listened to an episode of On Point called, “How Smartphones are Draining our Brainpower.” The commentators reported on a recent study done at the University of Texas at Austin.

People who have their smartphones in another room did better on cognitive tasks than people who had their smartphones in their pockets or on their desks. Even if the phone was on silent.

I believe it.

I started teaching in 2006 and I’ve watched the wave of smartphones come crashing into the classroom. In 2011, 90% of my international students had smartphones. I started collecting them at the beginning of class because whenever my students didn’t understand a certain word that I said (which was frequently), they pulled out their smartphones to look it up. But then, they were lost when their attention turned back to me.

And it has gotten worse.

Last year, I had a student from Jordan who was so addicted to his smartphone that he didn’t realize when he was checking it. I once jokingly bet him $10 that he couldn’t refrain from checking his phone for 50 minutes. He said he could. He even put it on the front table, a full twenty feet from his chair, as a means to help him not check it. Fifteen minutes later, students were working in small groups and I was walking around and listening to students. Then, I saw him. He was up at the front of the room getting a tissue, and his hand was already on his phone, checking. When I called his name, he looked stunned for a moment before he said, “No! No! I wasn’t thinking! Wait!”

That’s a funny story. But some stories are pretty scary.

One of the callers in this episode of On Point recalled that she recently tried to collect a smartphone from a student so he could take a test and he broke her door handle in protest.

To teenagers today, the smartphone has become a literal limb of their body and violating that privacy feels akin to abuse.

That’s what makes me assert that this wave of technological is far different from the changes that we’ve seen over the last thirty years.

With previous technological change, that technology didn’t follow you around.

It didn’t create an additional reality where you curate your life for all to see.

It didn’t present you a neverending ribbon of beautiful images from other peoples’ lives.

It didn’t require you to interact with it so you wouldn’t lose a line of communication.

You didn’t sleep with it under your pillow.

It was just there. And you walked away from it. Frequently.

***

This whole topic makes me worried.

Like, seriously concerned.

What are parents supposed to do?

There’s the argument, What are you gonna do? Just let your kid be the only one who doesn’t have a smartphone?

Maybe.

I’m not opposed to the idea.

Which brings me to the title of this post. I actually kind of love the idea of buying our kids something akin to today’s Jitterbug when it comes time for them to have a phone. If the point of a phone is to contact your child when they’re out and about, then problem solved.

They can be those adorably out-of-date teenagers just like their parents were, in their Jordache jeans and Ponies sneakers (What? You didn’t have those? Your loss.)

jitterburg

But I really don’t know.

I believe in teenagers being given more responsibility, especially in terms of controlling themselves, monitoring their own behavior, and dealing with the consequences of their mistakes…

But hormones.

And sexting.

(Apparently, that’s what teenagers are doing instead of having sex with one another.)

And, hey, sexting is actually something that teenagers are being arrested for.

Being classified as a “child pornographer” isn’t really a mistake that I want my kids to live with for the remainder of their lives.

***

I try to be a good example to my daughter about my phone use. I don’t do Twitter. I still can’t understand Pinterest (Question: How do I get my pin to show up on other people’s feeds? Answer: Algorithms and magic.) Instagram befuddles me (You mean I can only upload pictures that are on my phone? That’s stupid.) And Facebook is such a time-sink that I took it off my phone completely.

Basically, I use my smartphone for my calendar, my FitBit app (3 miles today!), music/NPR, and reading my kids’ daily daycare reports (Did the baby poop today? When was his last bottle?). Sometimes I send a text and answer a phone call (98% of the time, it’s my husband. The other 2% is spam.) And I’m miffed that I have to use my phone now to log into the university network where I work.

This is how I get things done.

Of course, no one really witnesses me getting things done because I’m not constantly sharing pictures of me getting things done, but you know.

Sacrifices.

***

I realize that this post will probably hit a nerve with some parents. iPhones, iPads, Leap Pads, video games, DVD players, and on and on and on. Even if you don’t buy them for your kids, they’ll use them in school. Or maybe they’ll use them at their orthodontist appointments. (Ha!) It’s guaranteed. You really can’t get around it anymore.

Guys, really, I get it.

Raising kids is neverending, tiring work. There are great uses of handheld electronics. There are educational games! Kids can learn to read or do math! They’re quiet and they hold still while they’re working on them! It’s almost like life before kids!

I’m not going to say media and electronics are the devil.

I let my daughter watch TV. A lot of TV actually.

But the TV doesn’t follow her around.

She can’t turn to the TV when we’re at restaurants or church or a store (usually) or in the library. She can’t manipulate the TV to do whatever she wants and then be rewarded for it. There’s no TV in her room.

And when it goes off, ain’t no amount of crying and begging that will turn it on again.

And she knows it.

That’s what I worry about with smartphones–that they’ve become the new pacifier, the modern, hip version of the cigarette. The new acceptable addiction that goes hand in hand with excessive caffeine consumption.

I worry because the cocktail of smartphones and social media are not only highly addictive, but they actually shape how we interact with and understand the world–and our roles in it.

They can make us believe that no “normal” person deals with depression or has abortions or fights with their spouse or flips off an asshole in traffic while their kids are in the car or can’t stand the hours of 3-6 on Sunday when you’re just trying to get life ready for the week and the baby just, won’t, nap…

We should care about breaking the virtual bubble and grounding our kids in the hard truths of pain and disappointment and the resiliency that comes from moving through and overcoming.

We should care about the fact that we simply don’t know the long-term consequences of letting our kids turn to smartphones to solve their problems and keep them from being bored.

Their brains are being wired and rewired right now.

Although the brain’s plasticity is still pretty limber until later in adulthood, most of its wiring is completed in childhood and adolescence. And once that wiring is complete, it’s extremely hard to rewire it. Ask any language teacher. Ask any counselor who has worked with abused children.

What happens in their formative years is likely to stay with them forever.

They are learning how to feel boredom and cope with stress and make friends and express gratitude and empathy and JOY.

Will they be able to do those basic human interactions without emojis?

Again, I’m not judging you for letting your child use handheld devices. Someday, I might be in the same boat. Right now, my daughter still hands my phone to me as she would a CD (like we’ve taught her–Don’t touch the shiny part!).

But, really, I think we need to be thoughtful and intentional about not only when and how we let our kids use smartphones, but also how we use smartphones.

What I’m saying is that while we’re suspended in this time when we really don’t know what the long-term consequences are, maybe we should avoid giving our kids smartphones altogether.

Of course, feel free to check back with me in eight years, when our oldest is twelve.

It might be a soul-searching moment for me.

***

And if you want to read the study about smartphone’s destroying our brain power…

Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, Maarten W. Bos. Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2017; 2 (2): 140 DOI: 10.1086/691462

Yay, humanity…

I Go to Work to “Relax”: a.k.a. Why Staying Home With My Kids Would Destroy Me

To clarify, it’s not like I don’t do anything at work.

I do.

But I get to decide what I’m doing.

(Kind of.)

(At least, it feels like it.)

When I sit down at my desk in the morning and take in a breath, my space transforms. My desk turns into my own little sanctuary from Motherhood, where I can mentally escape from the Tasks that You Do But Are Never Done (dishes, laundry, feeding people, shopping, The Checklist.).

Here, I can finish something.

Here, I can decide to do “That” later.

Here, when the class is over, so are my responsibilities for my students (except for grading. Booooo…). I don’t have to take my students with me everywhere. I don’t have to worry if they haven’t gone to the bathroom in a few hours (I hope she doesn’t need to pee when we’re in the middle of the store). I don’t have to think about when they ate last, or if their runny nose means they’re getting sick (and do we need more Tylenol?)

Here, I can take a break when I want to take a break. I don’t have to eat standing up or devour my lunch in the few minutes before the baby loses his mind about not having the bottle in his mouth.

***

My good friend, whom I call “Bear,” was telling me about the annoying points of fostering a dog (which he and his wife are currently doing.) The dog whines. The dog makes messes everywhere. You’ve got to worry about what the dog is getting into.

Oh Bear. I love ya, Bear.

Bear is a portrait of me before I had kids.

Sometimes, when I hear him talking, I can almost see myself in 2012.

Look at her in 2012. Going out to dinner. Taking a nap on the weekend. Seeing a New Movie. Sleeping in until 6:30 a.m. Staying up late and drinking too much sometimes.

Bear and I share the pain of the introvert — the person who must have “downtime” away from other people in order to recharge their batteries. But I’ve lost the easy accessibility of recharging mine. I just can’t seem to get away from people for very long. (Maybe that’s why I get up so early to exercise by myself for an hour before the day starts?)

Introvertedness isn’t about being shy (although some introverts are). Being introverted means that you get your energy from inside yourself, not by being around other people. So if you’re constantly surrounded by other people, your energy just goes down, down, down, and down.

Until you just shut down.

Honestly, the scarcity of downtime in parenthood makes me anxious if I think too much about it. I’m a little glad that I didn’t think too much about how this area of my life would change before we had kids. And now that we have two… (Introverted stay-at-home moms… How do you do it?)

Usually, I just think about today. When can I be alone today?

Oftentimes, the answer is: At my work desk.

In between grading and planning and meeting with students, I ferret away time for myself. I check Facebook (because I took it off my phone). I drink something hot (water lately, since I’m cutting way back on coffee). I work a little for this blog (although I often make more drafts than I actually publish. Wonder if this one will make the cut?)

Ahhh… Those two magical words that have become damn near mystical to me.

Free. Time.

coffee cup

It really is the hardest part about being a parent for me (right now at least).

Because even when they don’t need anything from you and they’re not interrupting you with feedings, changings, questions, gibberish, crying, or cleverly crafted requests to watch another episode of My Little Pony… (It sure would be nice to see what happens to Pinkie Pie, Mama…)

Even when you can finally sink your eyes into A Dance with Dragons…. You still keep looking up to check whether or not the baby has got something in his mouth that he can choke on (99% of the time, he doesn’t. But that 1%…)

After kids, you need to pay for your Free Time. You want to go out for dinner and a movie? The cost now includes the babysitting bill, which is usually more than the cost of dinner (since we spent all the money on babysitting).

(And if you’re lucky enough to have grandparents nearby that will watch your kids… You lucky dog, you.)

But honestly, we might get to dinner and a movie once per year now. Maybe. What we usually do is go to dinner and then Target. Movies usually happen at home now, but let’s be honest, those movies are usually Carebears and Hello Kitty. If we want an actual adult movie, both kids have to be in bed, so we could start the movie at 8:00, but I would be asleep at 8:25 because I started the day at 4:45 a.m….

You get the picture.

***

My own mother worked on and off when I was growing up. She was a part-time cake decorator who regularly worked over 40 hours during the months of May and June (graduation and wedding season).

I imagine that she may have had some of the same feelings about working.

Here, I can finish something. 

Here, the responsibilities are clear and defined.

Here, I can see be alone with my thoughts. 

Here, I can take a break from the Hardest Job Ever.

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.

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