09 Oct

The Line Between Embracing Mediocrity and Accepting Reality

Posted by Jenna, Under Parenting

What if we bowed out of the parenting rat race and found a way to accept that our children are going to lead wonderfully average lives? They won’t end up in jail, but they also probably won’t end up with a Wikipedia page either. 

The “rat race” in this context is defined as the modern American parenting model that fills a child’s schedule with sports, tutoring, classes, prep courses, and camps. Soon it will be about logging hours spent on Khan academy, Coursera, and writing reports on Ted talks. Jennifer Senior points out in her (phenomenal) book All Joy and No Fun that parents used to prepare their children to be a blacksmith, a farmer, a baker. Within the past 75 years there has been a fundamental shift when it comes to thinking about what our children can become, and the possibilities are presented as endless. How are we supposed to determine the best preparation for our offspring if we don’t know what we are preparing them for?

A few months ago I made a note about developing this idea into a post, but the thought wasn’t mature enough to write it out here. A recent Slate article titled “Practice Does Not Make Perfect” has renewed my interest in the topic. If you aren’t going to read the Slate article yourself I’ll give you a quick glossing. After Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers made a splash* popular thinking shifted toward the idea that everyone could be successful if they put in their 10,000 hours.  I think this idea drives the Tiger Mom/Helicopter Parent culture that we see in America today, with parents devoting more time than ever before to setting up a successful foundation for their children. The Slate article highlights some recent studies which move the thinking away from the “effort theory,” toward a combination of genetics and dedication. This approach is especially important when we are thinking about how to address social inequality; for many/most people their circumstances are not due to a lack of effort. For me the most striking point in the piece was the suggestion that instead of testing for IQ and then promoting those who are advanced into the best schools, we should be identifying those who are struggling the most and funnel them into the best learning environment possible in order to give them the kind of boost that their higher-IQ peers got from their genetic makeup.

When my kids were younger I had a sort of a Harvard-bound mentality. I wanted them to dream up unbelievable goals and put in their 10,000 hours to achieve them. I blamed my own average achievement level on a lack of resources and information due to a sort of birth-location lottery. My parents don’t deserve any harsh words for this, they did the best with what they had in a small farming town before the Internetz. I wondered what I would have achieved if my childhood had happened 20 years later,  in a 10,000 hours focused household operating during the Information Age.

Now though, I don’t think I want to set my kids up to think that they can do absolutely anything they set their mind to. The last few years as I’ve had all good choices opened up to me I’ve found myself frequently mourning the paths not taken. I get caught in these sad little whirlwinds of negative thinking and I forget to focus on the many ways that things are going right for me, and the myriad of opportunities I have**. This is one of the drawbacks of telling people that every good choice is theirs for the taking. It’s a good thing I’m thinking about these things now, while my kids are really young. That should give me enough time to fine-tune these qualities in myself so I can teach by deed, and not just by word.

Last year I heard an NPR report about a family who had decided to structure their family life around baseball, detailing the time commitment it took to keep their kids excelling in both school and sports. The kids weren’t just playing baseball, they were aiming for the majors with each and every swing. As the audio streamed I felt overwhelmed by their schedule and I’m not even the one who is living with the commitments they have! I don’t want to structure my life that way, and I’m not sure that I want either of my kids pinning their life on such slim possibilities. At T1′s last end-of-school concert the graduating kindergartners all stood up and named what they wanted to be when they grew up. When the third or fourth child named their goal as being “doctor and president” the crowd responded in a rather dramatic fashion. The following kids quickly realized that if they wanted a similar reaction they needed to name something over-the-top as well. If a child hears that over and over I wonder it must be like to one day realize that the best they personally can hope for is something that no one would ever receive applause for at their kindergarten graduation?

Instead of telling my kids to dream impossible dreams or make them think that I value the Ivy League and career/monetary success over all else, I’d like them to think about values. I want them to have a strong work ethic, to have integrity, to be self-aware and pragmatic about their potential, to view their own potential in a straight-forward way that isn’t blurred by the potential and opportunities that their peers are able to grasp. I don’t want them to encounter the parenting “rhetoric-reality gap” and think that I say I want them to be kind, but mean that I want them to be successful. I think praising our kids for their effort instead of their results/intelligence is the first step we are taking in encouraging this mindset. It’s a little bit scary to think about walking that line though, because telling them they have to aim for the stars means they will at least reach the moon. What if I don’t tell them to build a spaceship, and they one day grow up feeling, like I sometimes feel, that everyone around them is learning to fly and their mother never showed them how to spread their wings?

*Someday I will post about how reading Outliers was a springboard for my departure from Mormonism. Reading it was a pivotal paradigm-shift moment in my life

**Many of which are completely unattainable for those in different circumstances

07 Oct

One Quick Take

Posted by Jenna, Under Uncategorized

It’s October and it’s still hot! When I get the kids dressed in the morning I find myself gravitating toward my favorite pieces of summer clothing. They grow so much in a year that I know this will be the last time they wear whatever I put them in over the next few weeks.

Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be in the upper eighties, and so I’m thinking we are going to do one last warm weather hurrah. What are you planning for this weekend?

02 Oct

Cookies for the Neighbors

Posted by Jenna, Under Uncategorized

In our continuing quest to befriend our neighbors we decided to make cookies. The kids got into the Learning Tower and helped me bake three dozen, which took so long that we didn’t deliver them until right around bedtime. We had the phone numbers for most of the neighbors we delivered to and chose to ditch the cookies on the porch so we didn’t have to ring any doorbells (which might cause kids to jump up from storytime to fight for the privilege to opportunity to open the door). [Addendum: I didn't realize it wasn't clear that we used the phone numbers of the neighbors so we could text them and let them know they should check the porch when bedtime was over. I also forgot to mention that each plate had a handwritten note saying that our kids would love to get together with theirs, or that we would be happy to get together one evening for a glass of wine.]

So far it doesn’t seem like we yielded much. One family didn’t acknowledge the cookies at all, one sent us a text, one waved at us from the window. I was hoping it would encourage someone to reach out and ask us to spend time together in some way. I think we’re going to have to throw some sort of neighborhood cocktail party for that to happen.

My sister and I used to fight for the opportunity to lick the paddle after the cookies were made. My mom figured out that she could give one of us the paddle, and one of us the spatula. Personally I think the paddle was the better end of the deal.

Even though our gifts didn’t lead to any friendships (yet) I loved the whole experience. Sharing my love of food and the kitchen with my kids is such a gratifying experience, I hope both of them pick up a love for that in some way.

29 Sep

The Loneliness in Motherhood

Posted by Jenna, Under Parenting

There are weeks where I go for long stretches of time without seeing anyone except my children, husband, trainer at the gym, and the preschool/daycare staff. On Monday morning I tell myself that this is what I want (so much to do and look at all that time I have to be productive!), but by Friday evening I find myself feeling melancholy and rather lonely.

I wonder how common this loneliness is among mothers, especially in the early years when it’s so much work to get the kids from point A to point B. A few weeks ago I tried to address this by posting on Instagram that I was looking for someone to meet up with in my area, someone who would be interested in looking for a nice spot and taking pictures in the sunshine. I left late (sadly, a standard practice for me) and then took a detour because I saw the clouds rolling in and I so desperately wanted to find a spot that wasn’t overcast. I really crave that golden light of the morning and evening.

 As I wound my way back toward our meeting spot I started to cry. I was crying about the gloomy weather, but even more than that I was anxious thinking that I had missed the chance to make a connection with someone that could turn into a genuine friendship. And then I cried even more thinking about how strange it would be for her to meet up with some woman from Instagram who showed up 45 minutes late with red rimmed eyes and flimsy explanations about what was going on.  Read more →

25 Sep

2014 Family Pictures with Samantha Kelly Photography

Posted by Jenna, Under family, Photography

We haven’t had an official family photography session since Kelli Nicole (Houston) photographed us in our Chicago apartment before T2 arrived on the scene, and since that time my ideas about photography and my dream family session have changed a lot. It’s less about the perfect posed portrait with everyone looking into the camera, and more about trying to capture who we are and what we are like at this stage in our lives. The kind of thing I want to provide for my own clients.

I tried to fly Samantha Kelly (Utah) to the Bay Area by recruiting one of you to hire her as well, which I didn’t make much progress on. But then I lucked out and she was able to squeeze us in for a session during a romantic getaway with her husband. We talked about a few different settings, but I kept coming back to the beach. I wanted something that documented the glorious beauty of the California coast, and would capture how much we love living in an area that looks and feels like this. We don’t make it to the beach very often, but when we do T1 can chase the waves for hours. It took a lot of tricky maneuvering to keep him dry as long as we did!

After I decided on Cowell Ranch Beach for our location (crossing my fingers that it would be one of those rare sunny days in Half Moon Bay) I poured far too much time into putting together our outfits. I actually put together two separate combinations for each person because I wasn’t sure if it would be warm or cold, and it was a top priority for me that everyone be comfortable and relaxed. I didn’t want “props” to pose with, but I did want to bring a few things that would keep the kids engaged and distracted (before we turned our oldest loose in the waves). I packed a quilt from the thrift store, a few different headbands for both kids to play with, a cupcake sand set for pretend snack time, white and dry snacks that the kids could snack on without dirtying their outfits (tip: clear gummi candies allowed TH and I to get a few photos alone while the kids took a little snack break), and a dozen mini beach balls from Amazon.

One really important thing to note: We told her that we didn’t care if there was a single photo of all of us looking directly into the camera and smiling. That’s not what this is about for us (and it probably won’t be what any of our photography sessions are about from now on.) If you’ll allow me a moment to get on my soapbox – in the age of Instagram and Facebook, our nearest and dearest know what we look like. They see our selfies and snapshots all throughout the year. The best photo, in my opinion, is the one you look back on 50 years from now and smile on because it shows what you were really like at that stage in your life. A slightly happy polished version, but still, reality.

Samantha shot the entire session on film, and returned so many amazing photos that I had a hard time narrowing them down for this post! I can’t believe how spot on her exposures and focus were as we dashed all around the beach. We picked up the film photography bug around the same time and I’m in awe of how fast her skills are developing. I can’t recommend her enough if you’re looking for someone to photograph your family. She’s based in Utah but I know she’s interested in traveling sessions as well!

We don’t just love the result, we loved the process. Even That Husband said he is looking forward to doing this again next year. (I promise you guys, he said it and meant it.) Taking these was as enjoyable as they seem. There’s something about the bond between the people you feel the most passionate about that is hard to capture, but I think the images below come as close as I dreamed they would.
The family of That Wife Blog, photographed by Samantha Kelly Photography (Utah) at Cowell Ranch Beach in Half Moon Bay, CA. The family of That Wife Blog, photographed by Samantha Kelly Photography (Utah) at Cowell Ranch Beach in Half Moon Bay, CA. The family of That Wife Blog, photographed by Samantha Kelly Photography (Utah) at Cowell Ranch Beach in Half Moon Bay, CA. The family of That Wife Blog, photographed by Samantha Kelly Photography (Utah) at Cowell Ranch Beach in Half Moon Bay, CA. Read more →

      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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