Thinking on 2015

December 29, 2014 By: Jenna Category: Goals

Disconnecting from my regular routine right before the New Year has given me the time and space I needed to think about shifts I want to make to my daily life and my thinking throughout the next year. Depression and anxiety have become companions of mine, and it takes a lot of mental energy to keep them at a respectable distance so I can fulfill my responsibilities.

I felt rejuvenated like this twice before in 2014, each time when I went to Utah for photography workshops. What was it about those trips that meant so much to me? I think those are the things I need to focus on bringing into my life more often after the New Year in order to avoid the depressive bouts I’ve been dealing with.

1. Less time in front of the computer. I need to work more efficiently, and set firmer boundaries for when I stop working. Send more emails saying “I didn’t get to this today. I’ll try again tomorrow.” I’m shooting film more for this reason, because it slows me down and means less images to process.

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My Kid Chose Santa Over Mom

December 23, 2014 By: Jenna Category: kids, Parenting

We are a household that doesn’t buy into the cult of Santa, which until now has only meant that I write on my blog about how we aren’t doing Santa. Previously it hasn’t mattered to T1, but this is the year that playground gossip started shaping his worldview, and around this time of year talk of Santa is all the rage around the sandbox.



We were snuggling in my bed a few weeks ago, just the two of us, when four-year-old T1 said something about Santa. I knew that this was my chance to let him in on the Grownup Secret. I don’t mind if he believes in imaginary figures (if he references Mickey Mouse or mermaids I don’t go out of my way  make sure he knows that they are make-believe) but it is important to me that he doesn’t think that he is a naughty kid and therefore didn’t get any presents delivered via flying sleigh (can mom’s gifts wrapped in brown kraft paper really compete?). I’m not sure what the other kids are saying exactly, but it’s possible that he is absorbing messages that communicate he will get whatever he wants from Santa as long as he is on the nice list.

I leaned over and told him that I had a very special secret to tell him, a secret he gets to hear because he is so very grownup. I emphasized how important it is that he keep this secret to himself and not tell any of the other kids. When I said that Santa isn’t real, and that it’s a game that parents play with their kids, he smiled really big and immediately embraced the idea that he was very mature and able to handle the information. Throughout that night and the next morning he kept telling me that we need to make sure his little sister doesn’t find out the Grownup Secret because she isn’t ready for it yet. I smugly patted myself on the back and figured this meant one child down, another to go in a few years.

The next afternoon Santa came up in the car again, and I was informed that the man in the big red suit actually is real (along with the tooth fairy), and that he has proof. Obviously the secret my son and I shared was not kept close to the vest and was the topic of some intense playground discussion. T1 told me that Cora said that she wanted a unicorn for Christmas last year, and she never told anyone about it, and still it somehow found its way under her tree, so obviously Santa is real. There was also lots of talk bout teeth and the tooth fairy.

And so, this year when I was selecting the ornament I would give to T1 for 2014, I chose Santa and a small boy, skating off into the sunset together. To represent this year as the one where my kid chose a mythical Santa Claus figure over the being who actually has the power to hear and deliver on his heart’s deepest desires.

Think that next year T1 will also be choosing Santa Claus over his mommy? Tweet with me, @jennacole, or leave your thoughts on the That Wife Facebook page.

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I Want to See Who He Is

December 11, 2014 By: Jenna Category: kids

The night that the grand jury announced their decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson was a night I put T1 to bed with red-rimmed eyes. In the weeks since the shooting I’ve tried to read the articles and blog posts from black Americans detailing their experiences in America and I’ve tried to face down my own personal prejudices and biases. Katherine is right, racism is not over because Barack Obama is president or because Oprah gave a room full of people new automobiles. We still have a long way to go.

T1 saw my red eyes and asked me what was wrong. I told him that someone had been mean to a boy because his skin is a dark color, and that it made me said because I think we should be kind to everyone no matter what they look like. I said the boy had died and I felt sad for his mommy because she missed her boy so much. I know this explanation is reductive, and leaves out many pertinent details, but it felt like the appropriate amount of information for the stage he is in. He can explore the nuances with me in future discussions as he grows older and his cognitive capacity increases. T1 hugged me and said he wished that the boy’s mommy didn’t have to be away from her son. I agreed.

Since then T1 has brought the issue a few times, and this morning he picked it up again while watching The Colbert Report over breakfast. He asked me “Can I see a picture of that boy?”, and I was touched by his desire to find a connection with this figure he had been hearing about. I showed him this photograph and he said “He looks nice, I like his jacket.

I wondered, in that moment, what it would be like to approach every new person without the baggage we adults carry around from the things we’ve personally experienced and the things we’ve heard from other people. I think having more conversations with our kids about these difficult topics can help them continue to respond in this way, to look at a picture and see the person first, and the issues second.

How are you talking to your children about Ferguson and issues related to race in America? Tweet with me, @jennacole, or leave your thoughts on the That Wife Facebook page.

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Diversity in Our Picturebooks

December 09, 2014 By: Jenna Category: Parenting

When Christmas shopping begins I try really hard to stick to the “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read” precept that a reader introduced me to a few years ago. When I started to consider what books to get for the kids, I realized that I wanted to use this opportunity to start building up a more diverse library of children’s books. Specifically, I would like T1 (a boy, in case you’re new) to read more books about kick-ass girls, and both kids to read more books about people of different ethnicities, cultures, and races.



For the Christmas of 2014, the something to read T1 will be opening up is Rosie Revere Engineer. Not only is it a book about a girl doing something awesome, but it has a storyline that focuses on a character persevering through failure and discouragement. This is something that I see him struggling with right now, and I want him to see how someone pushes past that feeling of can’t and makes it into a success.  Read more →

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The Line Between Embracing Mediocrity and Accepting Reality

October 09, 2014 By: Jenna Category: 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

      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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