Alive and… surviving.

27 12 2016


At the end of June, we uprooted our family. Uprooted. A word that should bring me calm, like memories of my own mother gently transplanting seedlings into what would become euphoric flower gardens.  But for our family, uprooting had tangible physicality to it.  Uprooting breaks contact between the plant and the environment that nourished it.  The fine roots are the smallest, and easiest to break, but are important for nutrient and water uptake.  The coarse roots are thicker and their primary role is providing structure and some nutrients for the fine roots.  Though I doubt plants feel much, uprooting is painful.  Or so it has been for us.

We were transplanted into fertile ground. S has a job he likes, and his colleagues are seeing how invaluable his skills are.  K is in an accredited pre-school with expert teachers and has made friends with a small group of kids.  O, on the other hand, swears he has no friends and that Pullman is the worst place on the planet.  But his teacher and the neighbors report he has a small core.  Yet he misses his Fargo friends, and speaks of them daily.  I have a great job, lab, and department. My chair is kind, strong, and transparent.  My colleagues value work-life balance, are collaborative, and generous.  Our home is beautiful, the community tight, and the weather temperate.

Yet we still feel the pains of uprooting.  Daily routines, which generally bring comfort, have actually been our worst enemy.  Crockpot meals, but no one coming over with a side dish and laughter to share.  Morning trips to the park, and no one to meet us.  We still have late night giggles over games… for only between us two.  Our friendships in Fargo (and Tucson) were strong, yet formed over many years. And it will be the same here.  It is this empty time between transplantation and new growth that is difficult. Successful transplantation hinges on healthy coarse root structure, which we have, so I am hopeful. But what do I know –  I am a biochemist.

I haven’t seen my boys dance in joy since the gazebo in Island Park, but there are things here that bring us small bouts of happiness most days.  So we are alive… and surviving, with just a little growing to do. Thanks for asking.




Li’l Buckets Need Lots of Filling

25 03 2016

In the boys’ daycare and preschool we first discovered Have You Filled a Bucket Today? , a story that encourages children to be kind to others by using the metaphor of an invisible bucket that can be filled by acts of kindness. O often used narrative from the story to describe his positive (and negative) interactions with friends in the pre-K room.  We would lay in bed at the end of the day and talk about all the ways our buckets had been filled by others, and what we did to fill the buckets of our friends.  O would sometimes describe sadness about friends who seemed to be serial “bucket tippers” and we brainstormed strategies to deal with them.

One strategy is to focus on the bucket fillers, and ignore the tippers.  We would list all the bucket fillers in our lives.  O’s list included teachers, children, family, pets, and favorite babysitters (not necessarily in that order!). His list would grow so long, that he would sometimes grow sleepy and ask to go to sleep.  Indeed, the Jenkerdahls are blessed with an overabundance of bucket fillers.

This is one of the things that has troubled me about moving.  Not the selling of my dream house, not the loss of research productivity, and not even the arduous task of reestablishing a home thousands of miles away or leaving my friends behind.  I am sad because of what my children may grow to forget.  My children are loved by dozens of people who have known them since birth, extracted their giggles and belly laughs with ease, earned their hugs and snuggles, and embraced them for who they are, not who the world thinks they should be.  So very many people who have rejoiced in filling their buckets.  And as we all know, little buckets need lots of filling.

The boys will grow, as they should. And we will all make new friends. Everything will be fine in our new village.  But I do hope that on the rare occasion when they slow down long enough to peek inside their buckets, they are met with the reflection of bucket fillers past and remember how much, and by how many, they are loved.IMG_2430

Karma… she is NOT a b!tc#

27 08 2015

My 20 year high school reunion, my 10 year wedding anniversary.  My first born started kindergarten today.  My youngest started preschool.  I am in the “post-tenure doldrums” asking myself, this is it? What is my purpose?

Yes, I am in a reflective phase of my life.  The scientist rationalizes EVERYTHING.  But this other part of me, well, she believes in capital K –  KARMA.  Karma has given me peace when rationalizing couldn’t.  Oh, you borrowed my idea and called it your own? Karma will get you. Insert egregious act here?  Karma will get you.  Until now, Karma has been a bitch.  A crusader for all the injustices in the world.

But Karma is also a savior.  IMG_2324

Over a decade ago, I moved in with women I hardly (or didn’t) know at all.  We were moving into the “new dorms”, the first suite-style residence halls at MSU.  Brand spanking new, very swank, and reserved only for well-behaved upper classmen at the time.  The summer before move in, I hand quilted a pillow case for each of my roommates.  It wasn’t a big deal; I just wanted to do something nice.  Years later, my roommates have told me their well-used pillow cases are giving up the ghost.  The news has always warmed my heart.

IMG_2327That small gesture, Karma must have noticed and tucked away.  Today was
a hard day for me.  My first child started kindergarten.  It wasn’t hard because of him, or my worries about him, but because it reminded me of how quickly time passes.  And of how much he has grown.  And how much of it I have enjoyed (and missed).  It was hard because I know that time will continue to pass more and more quickly, exponentially.  It was hard because I am a mom, and I love my children.
Karma came today, and left me a package.  A small package, which went unnoticed because the nanny brought it in and left it on the bench and forgot to tell me.  A package from an old roommate.  A little parcel of love.  Enough love to refill my bucket when it really needed it.  Thank you, Karma.  You are beautiful.

One man’s bacon…

4 07 2015

is another man’s sweater?

The boys generate a lot of artwork at pre-K.  I mean A LOT.  Enough to make my crunchy, tree-hugging heart bleed a little very time I pick them up and find a cubby full of paper, some with just a single pencil mark.  My sappy inner mom, on the other hand, savors each uninterpretable-to-adults scribble.  The dialogue in my head goes something like this, “GREAT… stickers.  Oh, one sticker per sheet of paper.  Awesome.  Times 20.  Way to go Van Gogh.   Wait, what’s this?  A circular motion with a dot inside?  Is that, oh, it must be.  This is his first FACE.  Oh, this one is going in the album.  I MUST document the first FACE.  This is developmentally monumental….”   And then reality sets in as, months later, I sift through a stack of artwork wondering what the heck any of it is, when it was drawn, or by which child!

Occasionally the over-worked and underpaid caregivers at the daycare leave an identifying name or date on the bit of paper.  This is a signal to me that somehow, this must be a piece of importance.  I mean, c’mon, out of the thousands of bits of paper generated each day, if they thought it was good enough to put a name on, I should pay attention!

This one had a name on it, so I kept it.  For a month at least.  And then, just before I whipped it into the recycling, I randomly asked O to explain it to me.  “So, O, you put a dog under ‘Angry’.  Why is that?”  He replied with a very serious face.  “Because, the dog has it’s head out the window.  That is NOT a safe choice.”  Huh.  Fair enough.  “What about this picture?” My finger is on the Oscar Mayer ad; I assume he is happy about bacon.  “The man is wearing a sweater like Dad.  That makes me happy.”

Damnit.  Out of the recycle bin and into the memory box.



15 05 2015

It is a rare thing to have an evening to myself with nothing urgent to do.  Household chores are (mostly) done, it is too wet to work on the gardening, and my partner is enjoying a night out with mates.  The witching hour approaches, but I am enveloped in this tattered memory of my life before children.  Or if not a memory, at least an aura of exhilaration and youthfulness.  I am reminiscing about all those times I could do what I wanted when I wanted.  Tonight I chose watching something I know I likely won’t get to watch again, since my TV watching is limited to the small hours after children have gone to bed and must be shared with another human who also wants “screen time”.  I turned on Grace and Frankie, a new Netflix original and more of a “chick-flick” series than S would appreciate.  Ten minutes in, I rang my mother giggling.  Lilly Tomlin’s character reminds me of my Grandma Hagen.  Not because she was some sort of new-age hippy dippy woman.  On the contrary, she was a railroader’s wife, the mother of six, and one who never forgot the lessons learned from the Great Depression.

She died my first year post baccalaureate, almost 15 years ago.  My memories of her are not whole, rather they are remnants.  Impressions that awaken when I least expect them.  When I needed to buy K shoes which I knew he would never try on, I instinctively grabbed a sheet of paper and traced his foot.  As the shoe salesperson cut-out the tracing and shoved it into shoe after shoe, I remembered standing on my grandmother’s kitchen table as she traced my and my brother’s feet for new flip-flops.  When O burnt his hand on the side of the skillet, I remembered waking up on her couch with a Ziplock of cotton balls in my hand.  While I slept, she had removed the bag of ice, and replaced it with cotton balls so I would think I still was getting an ice pack.  She was clever, caring, free-spirited, full of life, but most of all she told it how it was.  I am probably romanticizing at this point, but who cares?  This Lilly’s character  reminds me of all these things.  Tonight, these memories of my grandmother are somehow stitched together with other remnants of my life, a crazy patchwork I seldom have the time to see but draw solace from in these quiet moments of solitude.

Run Like A…

11 10 2014

My love affair with running began in graduate school when my friend Ashley announced one day that she was training for a marathon.  Ashley and I were study partners for my core biochemistry coursework and both really. liked. beer.  So when she told me she was not only going to start a regular exercise routine but run a marathon I thought, why not?  If she can do it so can I.  And I did.  And I liked it.

It’s been over a decade, and I still love running.  Not for the physical release, but for the numerous other ethereal benefits. When I run on my own I feel strong, empowered, free, and unstoppable. Running has afforded me invaluable time to reflect and think generatively.  Running used to be a solo event, something I guarded voraciously.  But recently I have taken to running with other women, and my life has become enriched.  Running shoulder-to-shoulder with other women inspires me.  Their diversity invites me to think about the world in interesting new ways.  I find their strength bolstering me in times when I feel I have none of my own.

Today I raced along side one of those inspiring women for ten kilometers.  She was strong, agile and fast. She was graceful. I’ve raced with her before, but today was a little more special because she ran that whole distance carrying a tiny human inside her.  I remembered running with my own wee ones bouncing on my bladder tucked somewhere in my pelvis, and the feelings of uncertainty about being a good mother fading with each stride.  Today we ran like mothers.  And we were invincible.

Beautiful Boy

6 03 2014

I was running today, and since it was a 6-miler, I put my entire iPod playlist on “random”.  One of the songs that popped up was Beautiful Boy (by John Lennon) from the Mr. Holland’s Opus soundtrack.  Now, I have always been a big fan of Mr. Holland’s Opus. It came out the year I graduated high school (stop doing the math!) and I loved it because it reminded me of my phenomenal band teacher, Mr. Allen Slater.  His passion, much like Mr. Holland, continues to inspire me to tap into my passion as I strive for more with my own students.

But, as often happens with new stages in life, parenthood has given me new perspective on an old song.  Before, I was moved by the context in which I originally heard the song — an unappreciated band teacher, a man trying to connect with his deaf son, insert-your-obvious-plot-line-here.  The lyrics to that song have always been simple, but now they move me in an entirely different way.  I am the parent of beautiful boys, beautiful children.  I so often lose sight of that in the middle of wiping runny noses, reinforcing boundaries, ferrying to-and-fro, and breaking up “fights”.  I constantly worry about my mothering (and our parenting) since both S and I work full time.  Beautiful Boy speaks to the anxiety of many parents as we battle the internal struggle to balance the urge to protect our children with the excitement to watch them fly.

Beautiful boys of mine, let this be a record.  My greatest joy in life is watching you fly.