Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

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.

Ramblings that End in Exasperation

I’m tired.

Most days, I’m up at 4:15 and in bed by 7:30.

On Mondays, I “stay up” until 9:00 so I can have dinner with my friends for our weekly Monday Night Dinner.

I don’t have much of a social life anymore, beyond MND and the soul-cleansing Saturday breakfasts that happen at my house when our friends come over and help me remember a time in my life before children.

Lately, my “downtime” takes place during the commute and between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. when the baby is finally asleep and I can get ready for bed **by myself.** Bonus if I’m able to read five or six pages of a book before I’m nodding off.

I’m not complaining that we have children. It’s a decision that we made with eyes wide open–and we took plenty of time to ourselves before we made that decision.

But it’s still hard.

We fight hard every day to discipline with purpose and meaning instead of flying off the handle. We fight hard to “balance” work and home life. I hate that word: balance. It always makes me think of that slowly moving two-sided scale that takes forever to equalize.

Ha.

There’s no time to wait around for that kind of balance when you have two kids under the age of five. Somehow, their needs manage to vacuum all the bits of your time that you didn’t realize were squirreled away in your day.

You’re carving out 2.5 hours of your day to drive from work to daycare to pediatrician to daycare to work for a well-child visit, only to find out, actually he tested positive for RSV, so here’s a prescription for steroids and nebulizer treatments. Administer twice daily and four times daily, respectively. And he can’t go to daycare tomorrow, so figure that out. And come back next week for the 12-month shots. And also take him to a lab to have a blood screening done for lead exposure and iron deficiencies.

And then you’re behind at work because you took off half a day and when you return, you realize 10 minutes before class starts that, oh no, I have absolutely nothing planned for the second hour of class. But you’re a pro. You can wing it. As long as your boss doesn’t decide to drop in unannounced to review your teaching performance (true story several times over, but not recently). And no big deal, you can finalize those three final exams before their deadline in two days and create three more original tests because you really can’t reuse the same tests from the last two terms, while you’re grading the most recent writing assignment that you’ve collected and planning lessons for tomorrow and the day after that…

And then it’s Ash Wednesday, a day when you remember that dust we are and dust we shall return.

And 17 more kids die in a mass shooting at school.

And instead of feeling sorrow, which is a far, far more appropriate reaction, I feel exasperation.

Because HERE WE GO AGAIN.

Listening to the snippets of the unfolding story on NPR is all I can take. I stay the hell away from Facebook this time around. I simply cannot stand to read a feed filled with posts about pro-gun and anti-gun again.

As much as I am pro-common-sense-gun-control, I cannot stomach another round of posts and comments and threads with people so blatantly and carelessly disrespecting each other on a topic that we so desperately need to figure out.

Unh-uh. Not this time.

Because at the end of the day, what are we all working so hard for if we can’t even keep them safe when we send them to school?

PoP # 6: Valentines

She was able to write the names all by herself this year.

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 # 5: Sock Plinko

You know the saying, “It’s always the things that aren’t toys that they play with the most?”

Yeah.

In that spirit, I give you, “Sock Plinko.”

For ages:

  • 0+

Time: Variable

Items needed:

  • Sock
  • Shoe rack

 

 

Pieces of Parenthood # 4: Good-bye Old Friends

A woman’s best friend in pregnancy isn’t ice cream. Or pickles. Or brownies. Or whatever other non-sense popular media tells you.

No. Her best friend is stretchy pants.

And I was lucky enough to have two best friends.

 

 

They weren’t yoga pants.

They weren’t maternity pants.

They were actually Victoria’s Secret Pillowtalk Pajamas.

These pants were truly made of magic and grace. Magic, because they transformed from Smalls to Ex-Larges, right along with me. Grace, because they didn’t make me feel like any of these changes were inconvenient for them. They moved out of the way. They said, Oh, excuse me for not accommodating you more quickly. Here you go. 

I wore them so much they frayed at the bottom hems.

I wore them mostly around the house.

I admit, I may have worn them to the gas station.

Maybe also Target.

Maybe.

***

I’m now about 8 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight (which means I’m 37 pounds lighter than my last days of pregnancy. Woot.) One more inch off my hips and I’ll be back in my pre-pregnancy pants and a whole new section of my wardrobe opens back up.

When it’s all stacked and folded like this, it feels like a geological record of the last 21 months of my life.

 

So I say good-bye.

Good-bye to all the postpartum clothes that have served me in all the hard In-Between Phases of transformation.

All those months of looking in the mirror

and not seeing myself at all

and then not really seeing myself

and then not quite seeing myself

and then kind of seeing myself

and then

quite suddenly

seeing that first glimpse of the the version of me that I used to be

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?

 

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