Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

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?

 

I Wore a FitBit for the First Year Postpartum: Here’s How Much Sleep I Lost

Over the past year, my blog post about my changing heart rate throughout pregnancy and the resulting increase in total calories burned per day has become the most heavily trafficked blog post on this site.

So I figured I’d tackle postpartum sleep loss next.

Because, guys, postpartum sleep deprivation is no joke. (Except when it is.)

So, here we go.

Last Days of Pregnancy, Labor, and Immediate Postpartum Period

I gave birth on February 2nd. You can see that in my last days of the pregnancy, I was sleeping around 6 or 7 hours at night (not pictured: the six or seven times that I had to get up each night to pee). I was also taking a nap in the afternoon since my daughter was in daycare and I was wasting my maternity leave by being way beyond my due date. (That wasn’t really part of the plan… But hey.)

Note: Dates are in descending order. That’s the only way FitBit will let me view the data.

Pregnancy Labor Immediate Postpartum Sleep

The last time that I had some solid sleep before giving birth was Wednesday, February 1st. That night, I finally went into labor around midnight (at 41 weeks, 4 days).

It looks like the next time that I slept was on the day that I gave birth.

Do not be fooled. I was completely incapacitated after giving birth and losing 1200 ccs of blood. The same is true of February 3rd. I was lying in a hospital bed, trying to recover, but not really sleeping.

The next time that I actually fell into a light sleep (definitely not REM or a deep sleep) was February 4th.

That’s a full 72 hours without sleep.

Believe it or not, this was an improvement from my first birth, when I went about 96 hours without falling into at least a light sleep. (Wednesday, August 14th, 6:00 a.m. to the night of Saturday, August 17th)

Yeah.

First Week Postpartum

Even with having the help of my husband and mother, on most days during that first week postpartum, I was getting about 5 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, but only in frustrating 1-hour increments.

Week 2 Sleep

Why?

There were plenty of times during the day when I could have let my mother do the feedings and caught up on sleep.

But honestly, during that first week, I just couldn’t fully power down. I can’t pinpoint one reason. Was it my fluctuating hormones? Was it racing thoughts? Was the stress of recovering and adjusting to life with a second child?

Sure. It was all of these things. It was probably also the additional stress of feeling like, Oh my God, why aren’t you sleeping! Everyone has everything taken care of! Use your time wisely!

Not the most restful thoughts you can have.

So I was exhausted. I hurt everywhere. The afterbirth cramps were intense. I was still bleeding a lot. Breastfeeding was (once again) complete hell and I was dealing with the emotions of stopping completely. The baby was eating every 2 hours and we were figuring out that, just like his sister, he was allergic to dairy. The house was in disorder. The other child was feeling left out. My husband was trying to keep the ship running.

And every night, from midnight to 6:00 a.m., it was just me and the baby. Although it was emotional and beautiful in its own right, it was also incredibly exhausting.

This is when intense sleep deprivation began to take hold. Not only was I unable to sleep because the baby was eating all the time, but my body began to realize that it had lost its placenta (no more all-is-right-and-good-in-the-world levels of progesterone for me anymore).

This week, by far, was the absolute worst for me. 

Some things you cannot do when you’re getting this little sleep:

  • Have a coherent conversation
  • Drive
  • Make decisions
  • Basically, anything beyond mother-infant survival is way too challenging

At the end of this week, my mom (who had mercifully been staying with us after the delivery) returned home. My husband and I looked at each other like, What now? How are we going to get some sleep and not lose our minds?

We made a compromise.

Second Week Postpartum

We decided that my husband would take the evening feedings that happened before midnight. I would get the feedings after midnight. I would try my damnedest to get some sleep before my first night feeding. In addition, on the weekends, my husband would take all of the night feedings so I could get some restorative sleep.

And because he was extra awesome, he allowed me to tag him in when I told him that I was seriously losing my mind. Because, quite honestly, sleeping like this is simply unsustainable for weeks on end.

Week 3 Sleep

Things you still should not do when you’re sleeping like this:

  • Drive
  • Make important decisions
  • Make plans (for anything)
  • Read (you won’t remember what you read)
  • Shop (you’ll forget what you bought)

Third Week Postpartum

By some miracle, our baby started to shift towards only two night feedings by this point, leaving me responsible for just one feeding since my husband took the other one. This is not a common occurrence, so if it happens for you, just express your undying gratitude to the Universe. Seriously.

By this point, I had mostly recovered from the pain of childbirth and postpartum blood loss. I had more energy and was able to independently take care of household responsibilities like dishes, cooking, laundry, and vacuuming.

This dramatically improved my mood. I mean, obviously, right?

If you’re getting this much sleep, driving might be possible, but honestly, it’s really best to only drive if you’re getting at least six hours of sleep every night.

Week 4 Sleep

Fourth Week Postpartum

After about one month after birth, we started to find our rhythm with taking care of the house, the new baby, and the preschooler. We were still doing night feedings, but they were becoming more manageable.

I need to emphasize at this point that my increase in sleep by four weeks postpartum is a direct reflection of my husband’s willingness and ability to step into his role as an equal caretaker. Without his help, I would still be getting minimal sleep by this point.

So hats off to you, Doug. You kept me from losing my mind.

Week 5 Sleep

So when did the baby sleep through the night?

Okay, first, if you’re trying to make friends with other new parents, don’t ask this question.

But I’m game for it. So…

“Sleeping through the night” was a process for us. Our baby slept ten hours in a row for the first time when he was two months old.

BUT…

… it was just a one-night reprise from the continuing pattern of night feedings that stretched on well past four months. At five months, he started to want to put himself to sleep. No more rocking or holding him while he got drowsy. Odd, but I acquiesced.

By six months, his eating schedule got all screwy and he started to develop a middle of the night feeding again. And we had had enough of it. He was a huge baby. There was clearly no need for him to be eating in the middle of the night. He was healthy. He wasn’t teething. Coupled with the crushing reality that things were not going to resolve by themselves, we made the decision:

It was time to Cry It Out.

It took three nights, but it was the best decision we made. Hands down. He dropped the night feeding and learned to tank up in his first and last feedings of the day. No one was worse the wear.

What did your average sleep look like throughout the year?

Here is what my average number of hours of sleep looked like from February 2017 to December 2017 looked like in summary, with some annotations to help make sense of what you’re seeing.

Sleep in 2017

Sleep in 2017

Keep in mind a few things:

1.) I had lots of help.

2.) I had a pretty long maternity leave (at least compared to most women in the U.S.)

3.) I did not breastfeed.

4.) I committed myself to working out in the morning because it improved my mental and emotional state. This meant that I would get up at 4:30 a.m. on most mornings to exercise before the kids woke up and before I had to get ready for work. Yeah, it was hard, but it made me feel so much better. So I made adjustments to help commit to this goal, like going to bed way early (like 8 p.m.)

5.) There were plenty of bouts of illness, teething, and unexplained fussy nights that were peppered throughout the year.

6.) Our baby did not have acid reflux or prolonged colicky periods or other conditions that made him unable to sleep for long periods of time. With the exception of the dairy allergy, he has been very healthy.

***

Postpartum sleep deprivation is real and it’s tough.

No way around it.

If you’re reading this while you’re pregnant with your first child, don’t despair. There are some things that you can do to prepare yourself for the realities that await you soon.

1.) Establish clear expectations about care-taking responsibilities with your partner.

Talk openly. Talk honestly. Agree that no one really wants to lose this much sleep, but damn it, you’re in this thing together. Tag each other in when you’re down for the count.

2.) Do not be too proud to ask for help.

You cannot do this alone. You will need help. And lots of it. You are not Superwoman and there is no glory in trying to be. Few, if any, will know of your struggles to simply get through the day. Every woman who has been through this understands the pain and exhaustion that you are experiencing. They are, quite often, thrilled to help.

3.) When it gets tough, remember that you’re not doing it wrong.

You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just plain hard. No one has an easy time of this, and any woman who says it was not that bad is airbrushing reality.

4.) Ask those who are close to you to let you know when they think you’re not okay.

Losing sleep can bring you to the edge of psychosis. If you go days and days without sleep, you will start to lose your grip on reality. And from your perspective, you may not realize that you’re not fine anymore. If you cannot achieve restorative sleep even when you are provided the opportunity, it is probably time to seek help from your medical provider.

5.) Buy ear plugs and a sleep mask. You’ll need them for daytime sleeping.

Sleep_mask

6.) Coffee.

I mean… obviously.

coffee-cup-1797283_960_720

Good luck on your postpartum journey, Friends.

It’s a crazy way to live and in the hard moments when your head is warm and fuzzy and everyone around you is so blissfully unaware of how LUCKY they are to have slept more than four hours last night… it feels like it will go on forever and you will forever be stuck in the vicious cycle of Never Enough Sleep.

But you won’t.

Press on.

Please let me know how it’s going for you in the comments below.

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

I love writing.

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

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

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

But I really love writing.

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

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

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

Admission is free.

So, here we go.

Pieces of Parenthood # 1: Infant feeding

Format: Digital picture

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

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

IMG_20171231_134852

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

Yeah, I’m a Selfish Mother: A Response to a Reader

Reader Comment

I’ve recently been called “selfish” by one of my readers for having taken my child to daycare while he had diarrhea.

Selfish.

It’s a heavy, knife-twisting word for women.

There’s nothing worse than a selfish woman.

Except a selfish mother.

SELFISH red stamp text

How dare I take my child to daycare while he had diarrhea?

I dared because there were three viruses going around in his classroom and every child had at least one of them. (And as you’ll find out later in this post–we got all of them). That’s what daycare centers are. They are veritable petri dishes of illness. Everyone who uses a daycare knows it. And none of us point fingers at each other saying, Ohhh… I’m so mad at you because your kid got my kid sick! That never happens. Ever.

I dared because I had already called the doctor and she told me that we were doing everything we could. The virus would just have to run its course. And this bug lasts about 5-7 days…

I dared because he didn’t have measles or rubella. He had diarrhea.

I dared because he was only having diarrhea when he ate, not continuously throughout the day.

I dared because his teachers said they would call me if he got worse. And because they’re an Amazing Sort of Awesome, they said, “Don’t worry. We can handle poop.”

I dared because every morning, I was up at 5:30, giving him baths and scrubbing poop off laundry before it could actually be washed another two or three times (And then I had to get another child ready.)

I dared because I had been up several times each night that week, changing vile, vile diapers, rocking him when he couldn’t go back to sleep, and then listening to his screams when I couldn’t calm him down.

I dared because I had to work. I didn’t have sick leave and I had to administer and grade final exams before the university’s deadline. (Not a task you can really hand over to a substitute.)

I dared because I was headed for a breakdown in my mental sanity.

That’s how I dared.

Thanks for asking.

***

What is it about motherhood that makes mothers so quick to point out what they perceive are another mother’s failings?

Honestly, how can you know the whole context of a situation when you’re outside of it?

You can’t.

And why is the word “selfish” just about the worst thing that you can call a mother?

As I sit here now thinking about that word, a knot is forming in my stomach and my heart is thumping.

Selfish?

Selfish!

Are you serious!?!?

But then…

Isn’t this reader right?

Aren’t I selfish for wanting someone else to take over some of the burden that both my husband and I had been dealing with all night long for days on end?

Yes. In fact, I was selfish.

Selfish in my need for self-preservation.

But should I be ashamed that I couldn’t handle all of this at the same time?

Should I be ashamed that I desperately wanted out of my life, if only for just those worst, most miserable days in the last few weeks?

I should?

Why?

***

After Henry’s diarrhea tapered off, a bad cold hit him–and, subsequently, all of us–hard. We were all plagued with it to varying degrees. Mine lived mostly in my throat and chest. For everyone else, it set up house in their noses.

And then came the Infamous Daycare Puking Bug.

Over last weekend, Henry went through it.

Doug got it.

When it hit me at 10:00 p.m. on Monday night, I was in denial at the first twinges of nausea.

Nope… Nope… That’s not what this is.

All night, I twisted and turned as the first ripples of nausea swelled into cresting ocean waves. At 1:00 a.m., I allowed myself to believe that, yes indeed…

It was happening to me.

I dreamed that instead of puking into the toilet, I puked in the shower.

When 6:00 a.m. came and Henry started crying, I pulled myself out of bed and held the walls as I walked down the hallway. From my toes to my shoulders, everything ached. All the way down into my bones, I ached. When I opened the door and smelled the poop, I turned around and told Doug that I couldn’t do it.

Unsure about what had happened the night before, I checked the bathroom. No puke.

Just unbelievable nausea.

I lay back down until Doug needed me. As I sank into the bed, I was certain that nothing had ever felt so good as to be lying there in the cool sheets, my head against the pillow. When he called for my help, I only did what was absolutely necessary.

I couldn’t hold the baby.

I couldn’t even hold the bags.

I put food in containers for the kids. I sent along extra clothes and bibs.

When they were mercifully gone, I ate six saltines and went back to bed.

I woke up at 12:45 and ate six more saltines.

Then I slept until 2.

Then I ate a banana.

And slept until I heard Henry crying.

I rolled over, blinking. The clock read 5:55. Morning or night? I wasn’t too sure.

It turned out to be night, so I helped put one child to bed.

Then I ate a bowl of cereal.

And went back to bed.

***

Was it selfish of me to send the kids to daycare while I stayed home sicker than I’ve been in two years?

Yes.

Is it selfish of me to send my kids to daycare in this last week before Christmas even though I don’t have to teach, simply because we’re paying for it? Is it selfish that I crave this time to work on creative projects that have nothing to do with my kids or my work?

Yep. It sure is. I’m selfish.

You caught me.

But here’s the harder question: Should I be ashamed of being selfish?

I think this is where I disagree with my reader.

I don’t think I should be ashamed of taking time to care for myself–and it shouldn’t matter whether my needs are physical, emotional, or mental. It’s all important. This whole culture of “real parents are the ones who always put their kids first” is setting us up for rampant depression and divorce.

I love my kids, but, nope. They don’t always come first. Especially when I’m on the brink.

I care about having enough wherewithal to get through not only the days, but the weeks, the months, and the years.

So yeah, I’m selfish.

So selfish.

But I’m not going to feel badly about it this time.

When It All Goes to Shit (Literally)

Holy Mary, Mother of God…

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

Just… Dear God…

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

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

Yes, we’ve been married for twelve years.

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

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

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

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

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

It was perfect.

Too perfect.

family

***

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

We still needed to:

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

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

Literally.

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

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

But we were on vacation.

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

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

Right?

Oh, sweet naive little Me.

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

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

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

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

“Good idea,” I told her.

And then…

It was early Monday morning.

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

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

Wait… I still think Life blows… < asleep >

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

Arghhhhhhhh!!!!!

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

Plans. Ha.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.

A midnight cry that turns quickly into a scream.

The smell.

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

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

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

There’s poop everywhere.

On his sheet. On his blanket.

It’s the definition of Lovely.

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

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

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

No.

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

All to no avail.

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

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

It makes you hate your baby.

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

It makes you feel like a failure.

***

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

He’s awake.

And covered in poop again. (Of course.)

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

And we try again.

Maybe this will be the last day of this Shit.

Literally.

From the Vault: 8 Lessons from my Childhood Diary

6:00 a.m.

Day after Thanksgiving.

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

And he’s screaming.

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

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

Today is my birthday.

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

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

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

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

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

I keep singing it until he’s dressed.

***

Moms put up with a lot.

I think our society kind of knows that.

Kind of.

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

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

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

And that lens can be pretty amusing.

***

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

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

IMG_20171124_135710

I loved this diary.

Like, LOVED.

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

IMG_20171124_135754

Cecilia Tjaden: Mother of the Year, 1990

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

Here’s a sample page:

img_20171124_135830.jpg

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

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

***

Lesson # 1: Kids Don’t Appreciate Irony

Sunday, November 11, 1990

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

Lesson # 2: Kids Don’t Really Understand Pregnancy

Saturday, November 17, 1990

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 1990

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

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

Saturday, March 9, 1991

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

Lesson # 5: Kids are surprisingly capable creatures.

Thursday, March 28, 1991 (spring break)

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

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

Saturday, July 19, 1991

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

Lesson # 7: Kids can experience hardship as adventure.

Tuesday, July 29, 1991

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

Lesson # 8: The World is Just So Unfair!

Friday, February 20, 1992

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

***

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

And thanks for the diary.

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

Love,

Sharon

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

 

Gigantic Baby

He didn’t start out that way.

That’s what everyone always asks when I tell them that I have a big baby.

How big was he at birth?

For being born at 41 weeks 4 days? I mean, okay, he was big, but not huge. He was born 8 pounds 10 ounces (which, I assure you, felt like 25 pounds, 10  ounces). Google tells me that is the 86th percentile for weight.

IMG_3823

1 week old

We’re actually used to having big babies. Our daughter hugged the 90-100th percentile growth curve since she was one month old. (She was born at 50% percentile for both weight and height.) And she’s still tall. She is several inches taller than most of the boys in her class.

When I think back to her babyhood days, I remember that she was about one year old (maybe a little older) when she started pushing me away when she was sleepy, no longer wanting me to hold her as she fell asleep.

Ouch.

But okay. That’s what she wanted. To be honest, she was getting kind of big for me to comfortably rock her anymore. By that time, she was the size of an average 18-month old. So I acquiesced.

So when I was pregnant this time around, I thought, Maybe this one will be different. Maybe this time, I’ll get to hold a smaller baby for a little longer.

Ha.

Ha. Ha.

image-20170222_145134

3 weeks old

Until he was 5 1/2 months old, Henry regularly needed someone to rock him to sleep and transfer him (in such and such way) to his crib. At first, it was rocking in the chair, his stomach turned toward mine, his head resting on the inside of my elbow.

But around 4 1/2 months, he wasn’t digging that position anymore. He would fuss and arch his back, pulling his head away from me. So I stood and held him to me again, stomach to stomach, rotating at the hips until he would close his eyes. (I found out later that his favorite daycare teacher had been putting him down for naps like that during the day. I thought that was pretty adorable.)

IMG_4210

4 months old (He hit himself in the face with his keys.)

And then at 5 1/2 months, he was just having none of it. No more rocking. No more holding. No more shushing. No more patting on the back. It was just all out screaming, his head digging into the mattress, until I would walk out the door and close it behind me.

Then, silence.

Truth be told, we still had to do the whole Cry-it-Out process several weeks later since he had developed a penchant for reverting back to night feedings, but his preferences for falling asleep just transformed overnight.

It was almost kind of like, God, Mom. Just back off and let me do this.

To which I said, Seriously, dude?  This is my last time around this merry-go-round. Don’t I get some say in when I stop rocking you to sleep?

No? 

Well, fine.

IMG_4850

Seven months old

***

I guess it makes sense, though. At 6 months, he was as big as my daughter when she wanted to put herself to sleep. (Maybe he was just getting too big for me to make him comfortable?)

Also at 6 months, he outgrew his “pumpkin seat” car seat and we had to upgrade to the monster spaceship carseat that stays strapped into the car unless you want to go through the headache of removing it.

Daycare pickup and drop-off now involves me lugging a gia-normous baby, his bag, and his sister’s lunch bag while keeping an eye on his sister (who is carrying her bag) and making sure that she’s not giving into the temptation to dawdle and pick up trash in the parking lot. Sometimes, I strap Gia-normous Baby into the stroller to manage all the weight, but geez, he really hates the stroller.

I know he’s a baby, but he’s such a baby about some things. Sudden, loud noises, riding in a stroller, an unexpected face–and joy instantly turns into terror. Because those are the only two options. Joy and terror. (If you’ve never been around babies, hunger and tiredness are expressed as terror.)

IMG_4222

8 months old

To summarize, here’s what his growth has looked like:

  • Newborn: newborn-sized clothing for 5 days, then 0-3 months
  • Age: 1 month, Size 3 months (about 14 pounds)
  • Age: 3 months, Size 9 months (about 18 pounds)
  • Age: 6 months, Size 18 months (21 pounds, 4 ounces)
  • Age: 9 months, Size 24 months (24 pounds)

24 pounds is heavy.

Especially when your baby is just now starting to crawl and cruise. I am lifting this baby all the time.

Every time he goes for a wire or outlet or approaches an ant trap. Every time he barrels headfirst toward the TV stand, where a nest of juicy, welcoming wires await his inquiring mind. Come to think of it, he loves the wires that lead to everything: laptops, baby monitors, lamps, blenders, TVs, dusty PlayStations that I have dreams of playing (When? I’m not sure I have a valid answer. Perhaps I should just box them up and give them to Henry when he descends into the inevitable phase of video game obsession that middle school boys all seem to experience?)

Anyway. Wires. He just really loves wires.

If you think about it, I’m basically lifting weights all weekend long. (I have one mean left bicep.)

But it’s his height that has really taken me by surprise.

  • Newborn: 21.5 inches
  • 8 weeks: 24 inches
  • 4 months: 27 inches
  • 6 months: 29 inches
  • 9 months: 31.5 inches

I started to really notice how big he was when I was feeding him in the glider and realized that my 7-month-old baby’s feet were reaching my knees, while his head was resting on my shoulder. And I’m 5′ 6.5.” (I used to be nearly 5′ 8″. Hey, did you know that pregnancy can rob you of height? That’s a fun fact.)

What!?!?

IMG_4895

8 1/2 months old

This huge change matches what his 6- and 9-month check-ups reported. Beginning at 6 months, he outpaced the 100th percentile curve. Now, it looks like he’s approaching 110th.

People ask us where Henry gets his height from.

Pretty sure it’s from my side.

My father was 6′ 2″. My brothers are 6′ 4″ and 6′ 7″. My mother and sister are also taller than me.

So, we’ve got another big child.

There are advantages.

When he practices his “walking” by holding onto my fingertips, I don’t have to stoop over. He’s tall enough that he can hold onto my fingers while we walk. He can romp around with his older sister without being completely overrun by her. He even finds it funny when she crawls on the floor like he does.

But, hey, it’s all good.

Healthy baby.

Healthy me.

Life is good.

Chef Henry 9 months

9 months old

 

 

Why My Kids Will Be Getting Jitterbugs Instead of Smartphones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

Students and technology

***

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

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

Among the most surprising trends that Twenge reports are:

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

But also…

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

What happened in 2012?

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

Loneliness chart

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

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

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

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

I believe it.

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

And it has gotten worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You didn’t sleep with it under your pillow.

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

***

This whole topic makes me worried.

Like, seriously concerned.

What are parents supposed to do?

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

Maybe.

I’m not opposed to the idea.

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

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

jitterburg

But I really don’t know.

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

But hormones.

And sexting.

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

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

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

***

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

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

This is how I get things done.

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

Sacrifices.

***

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

Guys, really, I get it.

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

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

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

But the TV doesn’t follow her around.

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

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

And she knows it.

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

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

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

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

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

Their brains are being wired and rewired right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It might be a soul-searching moment for me.

***

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

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

Yay, humanity…

America: Your Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough (I Swear in This Post)

Every time there’s a mass shooting in this country…

Process those words and what they really mean…

Every time there’s a mass shooting in this country…

Every time

Every time

Every time

It’s the same ol’ shit.

We’re horrified. We wonder why. We blame this and that. No, it’s not that. It’s really this.

We talk about a breakdown in decency and culture and family.

We watch the cell phone videos of the carnage until we’re numb to it.

Until it doesn’t feel like reality anymore.

We honor the victims and the heroes who saved lives. News websites post pictures of strong men holding crying women.

We change our Facebook profile pictures to some snazzy cover that announces that “our prayers are with ________.”

A few of us call our representatives and insist on changing gun laws.

But it’s not as many people as those who shout louder,

“DON’T YOU TAKE MY GUNS FROM ME!”

Gun stocks soar.

(Just in time. Because they have been dropping since Trump was elected.)

Then we shrug and shake our heads and say,

“Man, that was tragic. Some people are just crazy. But look how people are responding. The victims were so brave. First responders are our heroes. So tragic. Some people are just crazy. Guess there’s nothing you can do about it. Hope it doesn’t happen here.”

This same ol’ shit will happen again.

And again.

And again.

And we’ll keep reacting the same way again.

And again.

And again.

Sandy Hook happened. And we still couldn’t get out shit together.

Who’s the crazy one?

***

I’m so tired of trying to explain to my international students why we have mass shootings in the United States.

They think it’s crazy.

(It IS crazy).

Why do Americans need guns? They want to know. Do they just love guns? Why do they love guns?  Why don’t you change your laws? I read that most Americans want to change gun laws. Is that true? It’s illegal to own a gun in my country. Do you think there will be a shooting here?

I wish I could say no.

But schools and universities are favorite places to open fire.

Sorry, but I don’t want to be part of a tragic story. I don’t want to be a hero teacher who throws herself in front of her students to protect them (unsuccessfully, of course) from an assailant, armed to the teeth with guns that can mow down hundreds.

I have two kids. I want to go home to them at the end of the day.

So no.

If you’re a politician who says, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims…”

That is not fucking enough.

 

Do your job and pass legislation to stop this shit from happening anymore.

Unkind comments on this post will be immediately deleted.

I’m not in the mood.

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

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

I do.

But I get to decide what I’m doing.

(Kind of.)

(At least, it feels like it.)

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

Here, I can finish something.

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

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

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

***

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

Oh Bear. I love ya, Bear.

Bear is a portrait of me before I had kids.

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

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

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

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

Until you just shut down.

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

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

Oftentimes, the answer is: At my work desk.

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

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

Free. Time.

coffee cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get the picture.

***

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

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

Here, I can finish something. 

Here, the responsibilities are clear and defined.

Here, I can see be alone with my thoughts. 

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

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