Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: The Writing Life

Elon, Take Me Away

Elon,

After this last month of news that American women have had, I think I can safely say…

Take me away in your spaceship to the stars.

 

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.

  • Women continue to not be believed when they are sexually assaulted. Or if they are believed, their pain isn’t important enough to actually change political will.
  • Wall Street continues to do its ludicrous work even though it robbed American taxpayers out of trillions of dollars.
  • Gerrymandering continues to silence and marginalize the most vulnerable.
  • Refugees and immigrants continue to be the scapegoats for every imaginable social ill.
  • Trump. Trump. And Trump.

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)

Elon musk 2

***

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…

Nah.

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.

We need stories to help us understand who we are and where we’re going. I am quite certain that without stories, humanity is lost. Human beings need storytellers.

I am a storyteller.

And I am full of stories.

I have other qualities that make me a good addition to your “space-bearing civilization.”

  • I am curious and I love to learn. I changed my major in college to linguistics because concepts like a universal grammar and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis fascinated me. (Arrival was an amazing movie on several different levels.) Also, I loved the rule-governed nature of phonology, morphology, and syntax.
  • I’m down-to-earth (merely a figure of speech, I assure you), persistent, and hard-working.
  • I balance life between being driven by outcomes and diving into creativity for creativity’s sake.
  • I enjoy a good pun.

My special talents include:

  • writing
  • teaching
  • knitting
  • speaking in cartoon-ish voices
  • gestating life well past 40 weeks (for a few more years)
  • giving birth with no drugs

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.

Sincerely,

Me

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…

 

The Great Exhale (a.k.a Teaching Burns Me Out)

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.”

For free.

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.

burnout

***

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.

  • Web design and development class (online)
  • More videos for our YouTube channel : Smoked pulled pork, a breakfast series, and possible a series on different sauces, soups, and dressings.
  • Looking into creating an on-line course through Teachable for specialty sausage-making. Because, yeah, there are probably a good number of organic, food conscious hipsters who would totally pay us a nominal fee to learn how to make sausage in fifteen different flavors. (Tandoori or bulgogi or loukaniko sausage, anyone?)
  • Knitting something for Felicity for her first day of kindergarten (Because I haven’t knitted anything since Henry was born. And I have a kid who’s starting kindergarten?)
  • Losing the last four pounds (I’m on a roll, baby.)
  • Watching a series of lectures from Open Yale Courses, African-American History 162 by Dr. Jonathan Holloway. (Because it’s important at this point in our history.)
  • Reading books:

 

(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.)

  • Experimenting with new graphic design software that came with my new pen and tablet purchase. What do you think of this?
Felicity sketching

I used two pre-sets here: “Modern Painting” and “Pencil sketch.” (Using Clip Studio.)

 

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.

The Last Mile

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

Khaleesi

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

mhysa

PoP # 7: What Pulls Us Together

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.

Galaxy

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,

Well, shit.

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.

 

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?

 

The Big Summer Project: A YouTube Channel (and some baby pictures… and a baby on a motorcycle)

For six weeks in the summer, we continue to send the kids to daycare and I finally have time to sink my teeth into a big, creative project.

In 2014, that project was writing my first book.

In 2015, it was publishing my first book.

2016 was a bit weird. It was mostly riding the roller-coaster of early pregnancy, dabbling in writing a short young adult novel, and (admittedly) watching a lot of Netflix.

This year, the big creative project is a new YouTube Channel, featuring instructional cooking videos.

Not recipes. Think techniques.

For years, I’ve watched my husband make simple, delicious, and healthy meals. And he can do it without covering everything in butter, cheese, and ranch dressing. He cooks a large meal on Sunday night. It’s usually a huge pot of rice, some vegetables, and grilled, baked, or roasted meat. Then, he portions it out into containers that we take to work.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heated up a meal that he makes and my co-workers have been like, “Mmm… What’s that?”

This guy is talented. The food is delicious. And he understands food chemistry and can give the best advice about how to prepare food. (And did I mention that another one of his hobbies is photography?)

But he’s not great at the storytelling aspect (although, I think he’ll learn easily).

Oh. And he detests social media.

So that’s where I come in. (And did I mention that I’ve got experience with video editing?)

I remember one night when we had a group of Doug’s friends over at our apartment for a dinner party, probably six or seven years ago, and someone said, “Doug should have his own YouTube channel!”

Our response was mostly, “Ha ha. Someday, maybe.”

“No seriously. He should have a channel.”

“Yeah, okay. Not right now.”

But have you seen YouTube lately? It’s integrated with Google now. It’s getting incredibly easy to get started.

I don’t think we can put it off anymore.

So that’s what I’m working on this summer. I have never done something like this before.

But hey. That’s never stopped me before.

Also on the summer dockett:

  1. I’m hoping to release Henry’s birth story as a Kindle single, probably for $0.99 to help me recoup some of the time spent on writing it. It’s a powerful story, but nothing book-length. Stay tuned for more on this.
  2. I also have three academic publications that are in the works right now. All of them are related to an intercultural communication program that I helped design and facilitate with our university’s Department of Teacher Education. One will be published on University of Dayton’s eCommons. One will be in the TESOL Intercultural Communication Interest Section Newsletter. And the last one will (hopefully!) be with the on-line, peer-reviewed journal, Dialogues: An Interdisciplinary Journal of English Language Teaching and Research. 
  3. I seriously need to go through some boxes of old photographs and letters that my mom gave me two years ago. I’ve been dubbed the designated family chronicler, so I’ve got to make some decisions about what stays and what goes. I know the boxes are sticking in my husband’s craw.

And hey, Henry is now officially in the sweet spot of babyhood: post-newborn and pre-mobile.

June 2017 3

June 2017 4

Baptism 1

June 2017: Baptism (Doesn’t look too thrilled)

June 2017 1

 

June 2017 2

It was Splash Friday at daycare. Thus. the swimsuit.

And how about a baby on a motorcycle?

 

So hang on to your Harleys.

It’s going to be a busy summer.

 

Week 34: When My Post Went Viral

Well, that was crazy.

Last week on this blog, I published the letter that I wrote to Governor John Kasich about the Heartbeat Bill, which would ban all abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

Many of my blog posts generate about 30-50 views. My visitors are usually directly connected with me on Facebook personally or through my Becoming Mother Facebook group. These posts are not widely shared on Facebook. That’s normal.

When I write a post that catches a lot of attention, a handful of people share it on Facebook, and I’ll start getting some traffic from people who don’t normally visit my blog. A blog post like this might reach 200 views.

When I really strike a nerve, around 20-30 people share the post on Facebook and the post might reach around 500 views.

I was expecting my letter about the Heartbeat Bill to receive about the same amount of traffic that my most heavily trafficked posts have received. About 500 views.

I posted it on Thursday, December 8th, around noon. By the end of the night, it had received 272 views.

Awesome, I thought. It’s doing well.

On Friday, as I was sitting at my desk, I decided to check the post’s traffic after I finished my 8:00 a.m. class.

Your stats are booming! WordPress announced to me. Over 100 views in the past hour!

Say what?

By 10:00 a.m., that post had already received 500 views for the day.

Over the rest of the day, I kept watching the numbers climb. And climb.

600. 700. 800.

When it reached 1,000 views, I admit, I started feeling a bit of anxiety, simply because it was a pretty vulnerable letter and it was clearly getting a lot of exposure. But all the feedback had been rather positive. (With the exception of one ridiculous on-line troll who went by the name of “Poopchest.”)

So by the end of Friday, the post had received 1,309 views on that day. I was thinking, Wow, that was crazy. But things will probably calm down tomorrow.

Nope. Saturday was even crazier. It ended up receiving 1,938 views.

It wasn’t until Sunday that the visits started to slow. 649 views on Sunday.

181 views on Monday.

By Tuesday, it had dropped to a typical 32 views.

In total, my letter to the governor had about 4,400 views.

***

I’m a Facebook user, but I’m not so adept at using it that I know all the features that are available.

But my sister does.

She showed me how to search for my post and find out how many times it had been shared by individuals.

It has been shared individually about 700 times.

Here are some of the comments that people have made about the post.

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These are people that I don’t know in real life, who have never met me, and who presumably agree with my reasons for my stance on this issue so much that they would share my post with the people that they know.

I’m truly blown away by this.

It tells me that there are so many women who understand how dangerous a law like this can be to women.

***

 

In March 2016, the Pew Research Center (non-partisan and non-advocacy group) compiled data from a poll about how a cross-section of Americans feels about the legality of abortion.

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So who wants this law?

The advocacy group, Faith2Action sure does.

They say “all glory goes to God of the Impossible, praise to the name of Jesus” (Although I doubt Jesus would celebrate more women and children being driven into poverty.)

Faith2Action, trust me when I say, I understand where your celebration comes from. You have equated the outlawing of abortion with “saving innocent lives.”

But you have a short-sighted, simplistic view. In my experience, very few issues can ever be boiled down so simply.

Outlawing abortion doesn’t stop women from having one.

Outlawing it just forces it underground. It makes abortion unsafe. It kills women.

In every time and every place on this earth, where abortion has been illegal, women have still done it. Not because they are heartless, selfish sluts. But because, for many, many reasons, they cannot take care of a child.

***

If we want democracy to work, it can’t just be one side gaining power and forcing their agenda on the whole country.

And we need to learn how to talk to each other.

Pro-lifers cannot just call pro-choicers “murderers” and “selfish sluts.”

Pro-choicers cannot just call pro-lifers “delusional religious fanatics” and “misogynists.”

That kind of language gets us nowhere.

As citizens, we need more dialogue. We need to seek to understand each other and to practice compassion.

Week 23: Practicing Generosity

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Last week, I wrote about practicing gratitude.

And if you’re truly practicing gratitude, generosity is sure to follow.

In the whole first year of my book’s publication, I sold about 150 copies.

Last week, I gave away 309 copies.

***

Let me explain.

Last year, I learned the Number # 1 Lesson of baby fairs and expos.

Everyone is coming for FREE stuff.

To try to convince someone to buy something at these events is almost impossible.

People were so confused when they would walk up to my table, their eyes searching for what they were going to walk away with. Hmmm… papers with words on them… Some books on book stands… Their fingers would slowly trace the tablecloth, their brains registering the fact that…

I really had nothing.

What I had were fliers, cards, and pamphlets with information on something that I wanted them to buy.

Ha.

All the other vendors had enormous bowls of candy (regardless of the season) or little goodie bags filled with free magnets, pens, and pamphlets. The smart ones also had a clipboard to collect email addresses for “a chance to win this diaper bag” or basket of baby books, or whatever.

Smart.

So this year, my approach at this past weekend’s baby fair was quite different.

I gave away my book. For free.

Kindle Direct Publishing allows me to run a free book promotion every three months. The dates of the most recent period coincided perfectly with a local hospital’s community baby fair. So I scheduled my promotion to run for three days, from Saturday, September 24th to Monday, September 26th.

I decided that I would give out half-sheets of paper with directions about how to get their free Kindle copy of my book. At the bottom of that half-sheet of paper, I politely asked for their Amazon review if they enjoyed the book. I also invited them to follow my blog by email.

Then, I told them to enjoy the book.

Their eyes lit up, their eyebrows arched.

“Wow. Thanks!”

“Awesome!”

“I’ll get it tonight!”

***

I didn’t advertise the free book promotion at all until Sunday, September 25th. I thought there might be a few people who would come across my book and download it on September 24th, but my main reason for beginning on this day was to have a buffer period for things to go wrong (i.e., Hey, why isn’t my promotion showing up on Amazon???) before the actual date when I need the promotion to be working.

So imagine my surprise when I checked on Sunday morning to see how many free Kindle books had already been downloaded.

97.

97 Kindle books.

I wasn’t sure I was reading the graph right. I read it and reread it. I put my finger on my laptop screen and touched the line.

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Holy shit.

Who were these people? Was there some special link that Kindle readers follow to immediately download new free Kindle books?

Whatever the reason, I felt incredibly grateful.

No, I’m not making any money. In fact, I’m still about $1500 in the hole for my accrued publishing and marketing costs.

But, hey.

By the end of this promotion, I had reached 309 new potential readers. Some of them will actually read the book. Some of them will recommend it to others. And some of them might even buy a copy for a friend.

Generosity makes the world go round.

Maybe giving away all of these books will lead to this book’s next big break.

Maybe it won’t.

But I feel certain that some new mom out there will end up with this book in her hands and feel comforted by its message.

And that makes the whole endeavor worth it.

Week 18: Already?

I’ve found myself thinking this a lot lately.

I’m already 18 weeks pregnant?

I already can’t sleep on my back anymore?

It’s already time to find a doula?

I’ve already outgrown my bras?

I already have this bump? 

I’m already 150 pounds? 155 pounds? 159 pounds? 

The time from Weeks 5 to Weeks 11 was agonizingly slow, prolonged by my worries of miscarriage and weeks of debilitating waves of nausea. I could not get through the weeks fast enough.

Come on Week 7… Hurry up Week 8.

But the weeks are flying by now.

The baby is moving.

I felt its first tiny kick in Week 15 as my husband and I watched part of the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Games. I felt a lot of “stuff” before then, but that moment was the first clearly movement that couldn’t be mistaken as anything besides a person kicking me.

Life is moving, too.

My daughter is now capable of having conversations with me. In the last week, she prefaces every sentence–a question, a statement, a command, whatever–with “How about…”

  • “How about I have a marshmallow?”
  • “How about where’s the sun?”
  • “How about you hold me in the rocking chair?”
  • “How about we do a puzzle, Mommy?”
  • “How about I already take my diaper off.”
  • “How about I like preschool.”
  • “How about I don’t need to go potty!”

And the world is moving.

I woke up on Monday and noticed that our downstairs windows were not covered in condensation. It’s a welcome sign that the humid days of August are coming to an end and the early days of autumn are on the horizon.

Next to our house, a patch of land owned by the local parks department has drastically transformed in the last four months, right along with this pregnancy. After we talked with the parks Operations Manager last year, we agreed to let the land turn into a prairie rather than having the parks department mow it throughout the summer.

So the grass grew tall and brown.

Then, it died.

The crab grass took root and grew.

Now, patches of wildflowers spring forth.

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Amidst the chaos of weeds and grass.

Against the cacophony buzzing, whirring insects.

Without intervention.

Beautiful and whole.

The wildflowers grew.

 

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