A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
Summer is usually the time that I write more, but I’ve ended up using the past two and a half weeks just immersing myself in the healing power of Doing What I Want to Do.
This past academic year was rough. Extremely rough. I took six graduate classes in one year while teaching full-time. And I presented at three conferences. And then there were the two kids.
I don’t mean this to sound like I’m so Amazing Because I Do So Many Things. It was actually kind of stupid of me to over-commit myself to so many responsibilities. If I learned anything from this past year, it’s this: Although my mental breaking point has risen dramatically since I had the kids (surprise! surprise!), IT STILL EXISTS.
In mid-June, there I was. Dissolving into tears at a Saturday Morning Breakfast when a friend asked, “How are you doing?”
How am I doing?
Does it matter?
I’m dying inside.
I haven’t had more than thirty minutes to think about something besides responsibilities in over SEVEN MONTHS.
I don’t do anything besides chores, work, school, chores, work, school.
Well, yes, I exercise, but I get up at 4:00 a.m. just to do that.
I haven’t seen adult TV since April. Period.
I haven’t done anything creative, FOR ME, for ten months.
I think that’s what has hurt the most. I’ve been holding onto a list of Things to Do that is about 100 items deep, and every time I knock enough of the things off the list and edge closer to a moment when I can do something that I want to do, SOMETHING ELSE FOR SOMEONE ELSE TAKES ITS PLACE.
Well, that’s just motherhood, hon’. Get over it, part of me thinks. You can do something for yourself in fifteen more years.
And so the fight goes on.
This is the headspace of Mother of Two compared to Mother of One.
I truly don’t know how my mom survived being Mother of Five.
She didn’t drink. She had no vices that I could see. Her weapon was optimism.
I still don’t know.
So this is what burnout looks like.
Dusting off the ole’ PS 2 (purchased in 2001…) and playing Final Fantasy VII from the beginning, this time checking off the acquisition of each and every damn Enemy Skill, leveling up the characters beyond what they need, and grinding away at enemy fights with high AP.
Burnout is reveling in the complete obliteration of fake monsters, which you’ve already beat at least five times before, mind you, (even if it was years ago) that cower with your use of Beta or Bolt 3. It is actually mentally and physically enjoyable to watch yourself knock out Boss after Boss in a few major magic attacks–when you’ve spent the entire academic year grinding away, teaching the same classes over and over again, wondering if you’ve yet told that joke to this current roster of students.
Oh, they laughed, so nope, that joke was still new to them. But you are so very tired of yourself. You don’t find yourself clever or interesting anymore. Teaching has become a bit of an out-of-body experience where you actually–while verbally giving instruction–imagine a reality in which you are finally completely ALONE in a cabin, high in the mountains, with nothing but silent snow falling all around and six more books in the Wheel of Time series to read.
That’s what I’ve been coming back from over the last two weeks.
In mid-May, I came across this blog post about the level of burnout that working moms feel, with which I wholeheartedly agree.
However, it’s conclusion was this: Hey, Moms. Be vulnerable and let people know that you can’t do it all. Be real and don’t pretend that it’s all okay.
Um. Thanks. That’s not helpful.
I’m real all the time about how things are going. A month ago, an energetic co-worker saw me in the office’s kitchen and cheerfully asked how I was doing.
I said, “Running on fumes.”
“Awww, poor thing. Sorry to hear that.”
Which, yes, is somewhat nice to hear, but it doesn’t do much. And I’m certainly not expecting acquaintances to solve my burnout problems. I might also hear or “Eck, that sucks” or the murderously infuriating, “Well, this time goes fast, so don’t waste these moments!”
But it’s not helping to be vulnerable and real with people about the stress that I typically carry when I’m working full-time and taking care of two little ones.
That’s because the problems are systemic. When you live in a country that PITIFULLY supports parents, you end up with high levels of stress and burnout among working parents. (Not just working moms, hello.)
The 40-hour work week sucks for parents because you’re probably spending an additional 3-4 hours each day just caring for kids. And when you’re done with that, you just want to sleep. So really, between working and caring for kids, you’re putting in 60+ hours.
AND THEN HERE COMES THE WEEKEND.
Only it’s not the “weekend” anymore. It’s 24 waking hours of taking care of your kids, or at least keeping them safely occupied.
And if at any point in this post, you’ve had the thought, Oh please, move on, hon. This is your responsibility–You are proving my point.
Being real and being vulnerable about these issues doesn’t help because too often society says that parents (in particular, moms) should not only selflessly accept their responsibilities–they should revel in these most sacred of moments, when the children are small. Because that is what GOOD MOTHERS do. They find endless amounts of fulfillment and life satisfaction simply in seeing their children thrive.
If that’s what a good mother is, then I’m doomed to be a Mediocre Mom.
As much as I love my kids (and I really do), I cannot pretend that neglecting myself for months on end doesn’t have its consequences.
Right now, the consequence looks like this:
Of course, it truly does help when you hear your two-year-old says this:
Okay, truthfully, that’s not all I’ve been doing. I’ve definitely needed time to myself, but I am still very much me–and there’s part of me that just cannot be tamed, I guess.
We have finally filmed a video on knife sharpening for our YouTube cooking channel, which we have been planning to film for the past ten months. I’ve laid it out. It’s edited. It’s mixed and almost produced.
There’s also another project that I’ve been quietly working on, which I’ll debut in a few weeks, if not earlier.
More to come.
And, hey, thanks for reading and not judging.
Hopefully, I’m not scorched in the comments for “being real.”
The glory of our driveway.
a.k.a. the Site of Endless Driveway Turnarounds.
This is also the reason my husband staked two steel trellises on either side of the driveway. Which, yeah, are continually knocked over by people who don’t know how to stay on a driveway.
So. A lemonade stand.
Good thing our daughter wants to be a “Lemonader.”
While I normally LOVE to be productive and useful, the past few days, I have done little else besides completely veg out.
This is what I do to myself: I do ALL THE THINGS. For months on end. (I won’t even list them out. I’m sure you have your own list of ALL OF THE THINGS).
And while I’m doing all of those things, I think in the back of my mind, When I finally have some time to myself, I’ll do X or Y. (And X or Y is usually a second-priority item from ALL OF THE THINGS that I just don’t have time for).
And then I hit a wall.
And then I do NONE OF THE THINGS.
(Are you like that? I can’t be alone in that.)
I don’t do skirts or pantyhose. Or makeup. I “sleep in” until 5:30 or 6:00. (Sad? Meh. It’s tolerable.) It’s the fluffy pink bathrobe around the house (most of the day, at least). In this week before Christmas when I’m not teaching, without a shred of guilt, I send my beautiful children to daycare.
And I am finally alone.
And what do I do?
Let’s start with what I DON’T do.
I don’t think about upcoming presentations or writing that I could be doing. I (mostly) don’t write. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s simply because after so many months of giving pieces of myself to everyone else, I’ve got to have time to turn inward and fill my own cup.
Instead, I watch movies and shows. I read books. I listen to podcasts or read articles that I’ve been meaning to read for months. I exercise when I want to. I send the cards, I dole out the Christmas bonuses to every lovely daycare teacher that deals with our kids, and I stuff the stockings.
In fact, I kind of love that part of Christmas. Because it gives me time to think about the people in my life for whom I’m grateful. It takes a village, right? Damn right, it does. And I want my village to know that I’m grateful for every blessed day that they take care of my kids so I can continue to pursue my own goals.
I also get the few gifts that we’ll give our kids. (Don’t tell them, but it’s a few small games, some Play-Doh, hand puppets, and some winter clothes.) We don’t really do many gifts at Christmas. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts. Seriously. What’s the point? Instead of gifts, what we’ve said we’re going to do for each other is give the other person a solid day of not having to take care of the kids from sunup to sundown.
(Merry Christmas, BG. Love you.)
Love my kids.
But I also enjoy such privileges like, I don’t know, setting my own agenda. Or making a decision based on what I feel like.
Guess what I discovered over the past few days while my kids have been at daycare?
7:00 a.m. is the perfect time on a winter day to go for a run. The sun is just starting to come up and the frost is still crisp on the fallen leaves. It’s light enough to easily spot patches of ice, but the sun isn’t high enough yet to blind you. And in that perfect light, your breath comes out in fluffy white puffs, momentarily adorning the air.
And I love lying still on the middle of the living room floor, eyes closed, no damn phone in my hand or notifications calling for my attention, for a solid 30 minutes.
And laughing about South Park’s Buddha Box.
And crying with PBS’ newest version of Little Women.
And thinking about Black Mirror’s Hang the DJ.
And reflecting on how much the kids have grown this past year.
So this Christmas, I’m happy to Bow Out, Sign Off, and Check Out.
And be happy to do None of the Things.
Hoping you all find your own Time and Space and Peace.
After this last month of news that American women have had, I think I can safely say…
I haven’t always been interested in space travel.
Truth be told, I’ve only recently found the idea very appealing.
I’m pretty sure the strong desire to leave this planet is emanating from a deep sense of doubt in humanity’s ability to overturn–or at the very least disrupt–rampant systems of oppression.
I could go on. I won’t. I’m sure you’re familiar with the issues.
And so. Here we are. Women are told to vote (assuming our vote makes a difference–it doesn’t always). We are told to run for office (assuming we have the means and support to do so).
Sure, I’ll vote. I always do.
But in the meantime, if I’m really being serious, I have more faith that you can get us off this planet than I do in the American electorate’s ability to consistently move our country forward. Climate change is happening fast and if we’re still having arguments about whether or not it exists…
Is that sad or cynical? Maybe.
Or it could just be a logical estimation of the possibility that enough people who disagree with the direction of the country will actually be motivated enough to travel to a polling place and cast a ballot.
Societies are slow to change.
For most of human existence, patriarchy has been systemically and structurally embedded in society after society. (Precious few have managed to organize society differently.) Now that many of the factors that originally led to the necessity of patriarchal societies have been altered (division of labor, access to education, etc.), those same underlying assumptions that supported patriarchy are being either called into question or actively fought against.
Yes, societies are so, so slow to change.
Unless, that is, the people in those societies are taken out of their cultural context–and planted somewhere else.
This is one of the reasons why New Zealand and Australia were the first nations in which women gained the right to vote (1893 and 1902, respectively). European settlers (or invaders, from the indigenous people’s perspective), removed from their previous cultural context and banding together to build a life in a new land, were suddenly very flexible on the issue of women’s rights.
Women were, in fact, key to building these societies.
The same happened in the United States.
Women in the U.S. first gained the right to vote in…Wyoming.
And so, Elon, it’s not so crazy to believe that hitching my wagon to your star is, ultimately, quite feminist.
Might I suggest that our new civilization have some political structure where 50% of positions of power are necessarily occupied by women?
Just a thought.
I know people have called you erratic for smoking pot on Joe Rogan’s show…
Really? That was the main takeaway?
You talked about so many more interesting topics than that, like your vision that AI could be used as a tertiary level of cognition. And the fact that everything we put on the Internet is “a projection of our limbic system.” (Mind. Blown.)
I watched the whole thing (in 10-20 minute snippets over the period of a whole week while I folded laundry, graded papers, and ate lunch at my desk while simultaneously answering emails…).
I think you’re magical.
PayPal wasn’t your passion. It was just a $100 million thing you did so you could sink money into what really interested you: developing real plans for getting humanity off this planet (since we haven’t mustered enough political will to seriously try to figure out how to stop completely trashing it.)
You create electric cars that can drive themselves.
You build rockets that can take off–and land back on Earth.
You dig holes to develop a futuristic hyperloop that someday might take us across the country in like, 10 minutes, or something obscenely fast.
You create solar panels for roofs and electric semi-trucks that can haul the entire weight of a diesel truck–Uphill.
And you talk about the future with not only hope, but confidence.
I dig it.
You’ve made me a believer.
When I saw Interstellar, I thought, “Okay, if I were living on a spaceship that is basically a moving city, I could totally be sold on the idea of leaving Earth.”
Let’s leave behind a world that makes fun of science and learning and instead, embraces curiosity, courage, and the path less traveled (or never traveled, as the case may be).
Let’s try once more to make a different world where systems of oppression don’t emerge because of our lack of resources, tribalism, and ingrained patriarchy.
Let’s colonize, Elon. (#commassavelives)
Maybe you can’t tell, but I have a celebrity-crush on you. One of those crushes that you have for famous people that you’ll never meet in real life, but somehow you still think that maybe there’s the very minuscule possibility that our paths could cross… And if they did…
You probably have a girlfriend. That’s cool.
I’m married. To a very great man, at that. He is extremely smart, too. He had me at his tattoo of the Golden Ratio.
(Can he come, too? Oh, and maybe my two kids? I swear I’m raising them to be decent human beings.)
Your achievements have come up in conversations among our friends, many of whom are engineers. I’m pretty sure my husband’s words were, That dude doesn’t care about money and he’s just crazy enough that he might actually succeed.
Admittedly, I am not a scientist or engineer. I did well in high school biology, physics, and chemistry (I excelled at balancing formulas.) I struggled in algebra, but I loved geometry (Proofs were fun.) But science and math were really not my thing although I have tons of respect for those who live and breathe those fields.
But your new world is going to need more than scientists and engineers who can help take us into the future.
It’s also going to need people who can make sense of our past.
And I am full of stories.
I have other qualities that make me a good addition to your “space-bearing civilization.”
My special talents include:
Thanks for giving me hope that as a species, we may not be doomed to a future in which misogynistic, narcissistic, entitled men are necessarily destined to rule this planet indefinitely, to the detriment of the vulnerable and voiceless.
People like you make me remember that there are many people in the world who are trying to improve the planet and preserve the longevity of our kind.
P.S. Can we please leave Mitch McConnell and his ilk behind? Much appreciated.
And oh, and this is AMAZING.
And for those of you who didn’t immediately get the reference in the title…
I did something stupid.
For the past two months.
It started with the idea of taking advantage of my benefits as an instructor at my university. Because as a full-time faculty member, I get 100% tuition remission. Which sounds awesome. Except for the fact that when you’re teaching double the number of contact hours (18 hours) that most other faculty members in the university are required to teach (9 hours), you often work more than a full-time job just to stay ahead.
In March, while working with the eLearning department to create some recorded videos for my class using a lightboard, I learned that our university offered courses in “Technology-Enhanced Learning.”
Not only that, I could get a graduate certificate in “Technology-Enhanced Learning.”
I had already been looking at ways of taking classes in instructional design that wouldn’t cost me much money, but I hadn’t found any free options up until then. And I certainly didn’t know that the very university where I teach offered such classes.
And all of the classes were 100% online. I could do the work whenever I could fit it in my schedule.
It seemed like such a great idea.
And, I rationalized, It’s summer. Enrollment is projected to be pretty low. And I probably won’t be teaching the full 18 hours. So…
I signed up for two on-line classes.
Then, four days before our summer term started…
I was told that I wouldn’t, in fact, have any reduction in hours over the summer. One of my colleagues took an unexpected medical leave, leaving one course that needed to be filled. Instead of teaching two classes, I would be teaching three classes. And I would also be scheduled for tutoring.
During the same time frame as the classes that I would be taking.
A smart person would have dropped at least one of the classes.
Turns out, I’m not such a smart person sometimes.
I’m a bit of a maniac. Or a glutton for punishment, depending on how you look at it.
Well, I thought. Buckle up, everyone. Life is about to get bananas.
May and June were an absolute blur this year. Most of my days started at 4:15 a.m. (so I could run or do PiYo) and ended at 8:00 p.m., leaving my husband to put our older daughter to bed. But it’s still light out! I would hear her protest through my earplugs. (Yep. Still wearing those. Oh, and an eye mask. Because at 8:00, it’s still 90 minutes away from sunset in the summer.)
I worked on classes in small bursts whenever I had time throughout the day, which wasn’t that often or very predictable. Two of my very best friends came over on Saturdays/Sundays to watch the kids just so I could have some concentrated time to sit down and work on the class projects that required full, uninterrupted attention.
I also researched and wrote four proposals for conferences next year: MEXTESOL (1), Ohio TESOL (1), and TESOL International (2).
I also worked with a colleague on a paper that we’re submitting to an academic journal.
Sometimes, part of me thinks, Why? What are you doing? Just function in first gear for a while, for the love of God.
Then, the other, louder part of me says, There is no better time than now. Things are not going to get easier. Free classes in something that you’re way interested in? Lean in and be the badass that I know you are.
And so, I have been leaning in a whole lot this year.
The Final Boss of this summer was the last week of classes and my final exams. And not because of all the additional deadlines and grading that awaited me.
It was because of the fact that my husband traveled to Monterey, California (poor thing) to present at a radar conference. For the whole week.
You know what’s not so fun? Getting two young kids to school with lunches and diapers and sheets and sunscreen by 7:00 a.m. so you can be to work by 7:45.
I have to admit, it was my turn at this. He took care of the kids while I presented at TESOL 2018 in Chicago and was gone for four days. I remember when I came home, the look on his face that said, I need to go for a long drive by myself for a while.
But it didn’t make it any easier.
Especially when the toddler’s occasional morning poop explosion turned into a five-day streak of progressively more disgusting poop explosions at 6:00 a.m. that peaked in impressiveness (seemingly with the fullness of this month’s moon?).
Nothing quite like your toddler beaming with pride as he hands you his blanket that he’s been holding so tightly…
All covered in poop juice.
Here you go, Mama! You’re welcome!
But now, The Great Exhale has come.
I finished those two classes. (And I’ve started one more, to run another six weeks.)
I’m done teaching classes for this academic year. (It’s a full two months after all other faculty in the university have been dismissed for the summer… I’ll just leave that there.)
I turned in my final exams, submitted my grades, cleaned my desk, hugged my office mates, packed up my Erma Bombeck “You Can Write” mug, and rolled out of the parking lot, music blaring.
Quite honestly, I think I’ve stuck with teaching because of the summer break. As much as I fell in love with teaching ESL and learning from my students, the job really takes its toll on you.
Fall semester isn’t so bad. I can do four months back-to-back when I know Christmas break is around the corner.
I can do it if I take in one big, long breath.
But in the six-month stretch from January to July, I find myself (quite predictability, perhaps) gasping for breath by mid-May. I’m just sooo done. Done with the manic planning-everything-for-this-new-course-that-you-need-to-teach-just-days-before-a-term starts, pondering the next lesson, the next quiz/test, is everything copied for tomorrow, did I post the homework for that class, and what about that class, the student tracking, the student tracking, the student tracking. Emails about information missing from the student tracking. Emails about my plans to professionally develop myself. I must have goals for myself, after all. And they must be measurable and demonstrated. Performance reviews that leave me wondering if any of my exceptionally good work is recognized at all. (I could tell stories… But I’ll just leave this there.)
I think you get the point. Just sooo done.
And at that point, there’s still another six weeks to go.
To be clear, I am grateful that I have a job.
I’m even more grateful that I have the time off.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I know how vastly underpaid I am for my education and experience when I talk with my peers who are engineers or program managers, or even teachers in public schools. (Not private charter schools, though. That’s what happens when teachers aren’t unionized.)
Trade-offs, I guess.
So here we are. Another summer awaits me and I’ve got plans. Here are some of the things on my plate, each included to help me fill my cup before I have to go back and pour it all out again for next year’s students.
(Side Note: We saw WellRED Comedy–the three-man group who wrote Liberal Redneck Manifesto–when they came to Dayton. So worth the cost of tickets and babysitting. If you’ve never even heard of the Liberal Redneck video that started it all, you have got to check out Crowder’s video that went viral about the transgender bathrooms ridiculousness from several years ago.)
And with this new pen and tablet, I can do awesome things like this,
Imagine that sped up to take only five seconds total. Overlay it on an image.
So much I want to do.
Let it all begin.
In that last mile, my body remembers Birth
The opening, the stretching
The pain, the power
An explosion of endorphins
Water pouring over flame
I remember Birth’s great paradox,
that very first thought with a newborn in arms,
How can so much Destruction
bring about such Flawlessness?
In that last mile, I am part Khaleesi
Circle of Fire
Bearer of Blood
Someone who burns, but is not consumed
Someone who turns nothing, into something
I remember with my body
I am the Sex that brings Life into this world,
And this is Holy to those who understand
In that last mile, I am part Mhysa
I am more than Self
Connected to all the Souls who came before me
and all those who will come after me
Life after Life after Life
Link in the Great Chain
Those whom I will never know
Will never see
Will never touch
But in this space
As my feet slow against the earth
They are here with me
In my breath
In my blood
In my heart
And this is Holy to those who understand
This part of my life could be called “Following.”
When I’m not following this tiny human around and making sure he doesn’t kill himself via stairs or light sockets or small items lodged in the throat, I’m feeding him.
Actually, a lot of the weekend is spent just feeding him. (Thank God the older one reminds me when she’s hungry. I can’t keep both of them straight.)
Offering handheld foods.
Mixing and mashing food.
Haphazard attempts at letting him feed himself
Spooning food into his mouth as he lowers his chin, head turned 90 degrees as he stares off into the unknown…
And I just think, Me too, sir. Me too.
When I’m not orbiting him around the house, he’s orbiting me in the playroom.
Because in a room of 5,000 toys, the most fun thing to play with is always, always, always Mom. Mom’s hair. Mom’s clothes. Mom’s coffee cup. Mom’s blanket that is so nicely arranged on her legs. No matter how many times I try to distract him with other things, he always comes back to me.
Over and over again, we are pulled toward each other, by the simple fact that we are existing in the same space. Either I am following him or he is climbing all over me.
And as I’m sitting on the floor of the playroom, moving my cup of coffee from left to right to left while he climbs over my legs from left to right to left…
I flip open the newest issue of National Geographic on my lap. And for a moment, both of us stare together at an illustrated image of our galaxy as it unfolds in full panorama from the magazine’s pages.
There we are, that tiny speck of a solar system in the Sagittarius Arm
A collection of stars orbiting each other, spinning by the force of their own gravity between each other
And I read about the fact that not only is Earth uniquely situated within our solar system to foster the conditions for life, it’s also situated well within the galaxy
And that our solar system exists in a relatively asteroid-and-space-junk free area of the galaxy
And that the sun actually repels harmful cosmic radiation that would kill us
There we are, so vulnerable and exposed, whether by design or by happenstance, protected from complete annihilation (for the foreseeable future, at least?)
There we are, in that great cosmic swirl around the mysterious, hotter-than-hell core of our galaxy
There we are, the tiniest of tiny of tiny in a universe of unfathomable vastness.
And I just think,
A lot happens in the last twenty minutes before bedtime.
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.
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.
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.
It turns out, I was right.
I did the 23andMe genetic test and found that I have the following ancestral components:
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
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,
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?