I’m 33. Many people in my age group are having kids and are realizing just how bad family leave policies are in the United States.
Me? I’ve known it my entire professional career.
The US offers just 12 weeks of job protected, unpaid leave for many, but not all, mothers
Out of 185 countries, the U.S. is one of three that offers no mandated paid maternity leave
70+ countries even offer paid paternity leave for fathers
Three states offer paid leave and a joint study with CEPR, UCLA, Rutgers, and CUNY showed that for 90 percent of businesses in California, the law had a net positive or neutral impact on their profitability
The thing that is shocking to most people our age is that our mothers didn’t even have job protected unpaid leave. The Family Medical Leave Act only became law in 1993. In fact, depending on when you were born, your mother could’ve been denied or released from employment just because she was pregnant with you. That protection didn’t pass until 1978.
I’ve heard all of the arguments against paid leave. I don’t buy that the U.S. is in the right on this issue, along with Suriname and Papua New Guinea, against 182 other countries. It’s a global economy and it’s easier to be mobile than in any other time in history. At some point, it’s a competitive issue that’s likely to hurt the U.S. in the long term.
Obviously, I would’ve loved to have paid leave as would’ve my wife. She had always planned to go back to work after having our child and it wasn’t going to be a long time.
We had it better than almost everyone in our country, though. I had three full weeks of paid paternity leave. Plus, I work from home and spent the first year seeing her on demand just steps away. My wife spent 11 weeks at home getting almost her full paycheck and banking on some savings, along with a job that has her working four days a week most of the year.
We could’ve gone longer with our leaves but we chose not to. Most people don’t have that choice. Most people don’t have the advantage of substantial dual income, a parent working from home, and a wonderful nanny. People choosing between finding care for children who are just days out of the hospital are closer to the norm than our situation.
The fact is, it’s too late for people in my current generation: We’re not getting paid leave for our friends who are having kids tomorrow or next week. Just like it was too late for our mothers to get the job protection that almost everyone universally agrees is a good thing today. Maybe individual companies will continue to adopt more family friendly policies primarily catering to people who already can afford to take leave. I don’t see the tide turning that fast on any national legislative level.
So this isn’t about me or my friends anymore. It’s about our country. It’s about our daughters, sons, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. It’s about creating an environment that’s more friendly to women leaders in their 20s and 30s.
It’s about doing what’s right for people where 8–12 weeks of paid leave is the difference between taking hardly any time off for their pregnancy versus taking every single second of paid leave to soak up that time with their kid. Maybe they work in retail or hospitality. Maybe they work in an office or on a construction site. We want them back to work, sure. But according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 16 percent of mothers taking one to four weeks of time off and 33 percent taking no formal time away from work at all.
It’s an indictment on us all and it’s time to change this.
Of course, paid leave will be a pain in the ass to deal with it from the employer’s perspective. I know administering these programs come with administrative costs, the possibility of abuse, and real legal risk. I also know that paid leave schemes will likely cost companies hard dollars and cents. These are important issues which are worth acknowledging but aren’t insurmountable.
But the cost and hassle is worth it. And hopefully people in my generation will fight for it the same way our mothers and grandmothers fought for employment rights that protect pregnancy and parental leave today.
My wife and I both work. We’re not alone, obviously. But since we had a baby last year, we’ve thought a lot more about our careers. There seems to be a growing group of people who look a lot like us: two people who want to not just continue working because they need to, but two people who would like to keep moving up in their careers.
After baby arrives, some couples choose to have one spouse stay at home. We’ve had a few friends who have done that and it’s seemed to work out well for them. We know others who spent some time away from work but ultimately returned. For us, we knew early on that we’d both be returning to work.
It’s not always a perfect arrangement, though.
A little backstory
Jen and I married somewhat young compared to most of our peers (23 and 24, respectively). We’re going on ten years of marriage. Since being married, we’ve moved a lot (almost as many moves as years together). Nearly all of those moves were due to Jen’s job.
You see, Jen works in wine production. She started off as an intern in Walla Walla, became a cellar master in Portland, moved to the lab in Seattle, and then finally an assistant winemaking position in Kennewick. She didn’t have to move. But, being able to move lets you consider more opportunities. We were young and we didn’t have any kids.
Meanwhile, I started off my career in HR but after our first move from Walla Walla to Portland, I started looking at alternatives. Since 2009, I’ve worked primarily out of a home office in six different zip codes. It’s worked out really well for everyone.
It didn’t make much difference where I was or if I was even home before a kid. Now, it definitely does.
Jen’s job is fairly predictable. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, we don’t have much of a life. Jen is working 70+ hours a week plus a 1.5 hour round-trip commute for wine harvest. When it was just us, I would schedule time for me to be away constantly. We barely saw each other, anyway. The rest of the year, she works 4–10s most weeks and has a fairly light travel schedule. As she moves up, her travel schedule increases.
While I don’t travel to as many conferences these days, I have other trips scheduled either out to clients, for business development, or to visit headquarters in Texas. These are less predictable but seem to typically happen most heavily around the spring and fall (+/- a month).
Outside of wine harvest and some dates for travel that are set in stone for me, our work is pretty flexible. So, for a week I am out of town, Jen is able to get off early, grab the baby, and take care of business. When Jen travels, I’m able to mesh my schedule with the needs of the baby too.
So, last week and this coming week, I’m the primary parent. Jen went from a full week of out of town work, to a weekend class, to a week of out of town guests for blending and tasting. She said to me, “I’m feeling very work/life unbalanced right now.” No kidding!
The thing is, in June, we’ll be reversing roles. I’ll be out of town for a week early in the month and then on shorter trips over the rest of the month.
Work/life balance isn’t fair
When I look at some months, I know I’m relying on Jen a ton. She has to spend less time at work or the baby has to spend more time with someone else. Other months, I carry the torch. By the end of November, I’m spent.
It’s not fair. There are a series of compromises that take place every week to make it through successfully, though. Some weeks, it feels like I’m doing too much and others, too little.
We’ve made it work, just not always perfectly and fairly. But after more than a year at this, I can tell you the keys to success are pretty simple:
Good employers — When you think work/life balance, you probably think of flexible schedules, generous parental leave, and the like. Although a winery can’t be managed remotely (yet!), having an employer that is understanding of some of the issues that come with being a parent (in and out at flexible times, sick kids) helps take the stress out of that week to week management.
High level of awareness — Your workplace is just like any relationship, though. If you take advantage of understanding managers and coworkers without putting the work in yourself, you’ll find your career stunted. You have to be aware of what’s going on at work and at home, and make decisions based on that awareness. Sometimes, that means telling your spouse no or talking through and seeing who has the bigger priority.
Common goals — I want her to be successful, she wants me to be successful. We’ve been pretty good at simply raising the tide rather than one of us succeeding over the other. If you are honest with your spouse about your career ambitions, it’s much easier to figure out the types of jobs that will mesh well with that path as well as the awareness needed to help make him or her a success.
How to identify career compatibility
When I talk to other unmarried people who ask how you find out if someone might have a compatible career path, I shrug my shoulders. We got married in 2005, and we met and dated off and on since 2001. There is no way I would’ve been able to predict that we would’ve worked together this well. Essentially, we grew into the balance we found and the trust we have in each other to say yes and no at the right times.
The problem is, as you get older, your career becomes a bit more refined or nuanced and it’s more difficult to find someone out of the gate who might be close to perfectly compatible for your career. You add in kids, and it can become even more complicated.
Outside of a few jobs (like members of the military), I don’t think career compatibility is on the short-list of concerns for most couples. For us and many of our friends, having a spouse that takes a complementary career role when the kid comes has become one of those sneaky issues that can create a lot of stress when things are out of balance. It can create resentment from the spouse who gives up part or all of their career or from the person that would like to be spending more time at home.
It’s not just a one time conversation to figure things out, either. As careers change, priorities change as well. I don’t know if we’ll always be a two career family forever (even we both still work two jobs).
What companies can learn
What I do know is managing work/life balance is more than a slogan or a slate of benefits that an organization offers. It’s a posture that’s ever shifting to the needs of both parties.
For example, we go to great lengths to not tip over the apple cart during the fall for Jen. We try to keep her healthy, as stress-free as possible, and at work every single day. As work slows down there, her ability to flex in and out increases dramatically.
Having a manager who understands what it means to support a spouse in that situation is critical too. We’re both lucky to have smart managers who understand the demands of the job our spouse is doing. Only on the rarest occasions does a situation ever come to a head where we can’t find a solution and when she isn’t tied up, I can flex up into more work as needed and have her step in.
It isn’t always easy, perfect, or fair. But being on the same page as everyone else, with clear communication of priorities and expectations makes it about as easy as I think it can be without being independently wealthy.
365 days ago, at this exact time, I held you for the first time.
You see, your mom got you all to herself for nine months. My connection to you was through occasional viewings through creepy looking ultrasounds that just made me feel like I was watching terrible sci-fi or through putting my head to your mom’s belly. That can be uncomfortable for both of us.
So when I held you, I didn’t want to let go. Not for your mom. Not for nurses. Not for grandparents. Unfortunately, letting go is what I’ve done a lot of over the past year.
I’ve let go of the idea that I can turn back time. I can’t relive the times when you snuggled up on my chest for hours at a time while I watched NBA games, Sportscenter, or 3am infomercials.
I’ve let go of the idea that I can be there all the time for you. I’ll always try to be there for what’s most important but I’ve already missed out on moments.
I’ve let go of you being some combination of your mom and me. You’re an individual who already expresses herself in unique and new ways.
I’ve let go of the idea that I can protect you from the terrible things in this world. The best I can do is prepare you as best as possible for it.
I’ve let go of the notion that I know how to parent better than anyone else. I have learned that I’m good at improvisation and that might be better.
I’ve let go of comparing you to other kids. Okay, that one might not be entirely true. I still believe you’re smarter and better than every other kid out there but that’s hardcoded into my biology. I can’t help it.
I’ve let go of this idea that we’re running a perfect ship here. We still haven’t done professional pictures of you (oops!) and we don’t have cute little stickers showing how old you are on a per month basis.
I’ve let go of being in control. I’ve never been in control, but know how schedules change or how things work with you on a particular day have made me less of a schedule freak.
I’ve let go of thinking that you’ll always be that adorable apple of my eye. Kids can be little turds sometimes. At least right now, I know it’s mostly not intentional. Still, can’t we agree you can sleep through the night already?
Finally, I’ve let go of being a perfect dad. There’s no such thing. I wish I could tell you that I’ll always have the perfect response to every situation. I won’t. I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out how to be the right dad for you at any given moment. Whether that’s giving out snuggles, boundaries, encouragement, independence, sage advice, or trying to out stubborn you at your own game, I’m just trying to figure out how I can be what you need me to be.
I’m still figuring that last one out. Luckily, we’re in this together and if there is one thing I’ve learned over the past year, there’s no challenge too big for us to take on.
Thank you my Boo for a wonderful year that’s helped our family grow in both literal and figurative ways. I can wait to see what our next year holds.
The internet is a great place. It’s also, of course, awful.
Everyone talks about how the Internet has rewired our brains or made us lazier. Whatever. I worry more about the instant validation people can find for, quite literally, almost anything.
Elvis lives? Sure, there is a place you can congregate and talk about how you saw him in a Kroger in Texas buying chips.
Man didn’t land on the moon? Yeah, you can find a forum where you can tell everyone that your uncle’s buddy worked on the stage where it was all filmed.
Those are extreme examples, of course, but there are more worrisome examples of communities of people that go against widely accepted scientific or economic consensus. These communities of people can damage society and innocent people.
Before the internet, these groups had a tougher time getting a voice. Unless you lived in a community of likeminded people, it would be tough to feel validated.
Now validation is a click away.
Of course, there have been positives. For example, people who have diseases can easily connect with people who are also being treated. Even relatively rare diseases with only a few thousand diagnosed cases a year can have robust online communities that can provide support and informal information. It can take a relatively lonely aspect of coping and humanize it in ways that would be impossible before.
There’s obviously nothing we can do to stop an Elvis lives group from finding places to meet online. Obviously, the government and other international organizations try to take care of the unlawfully dangerous groups out there.
What can we do about the other groups?
I don’t have a good answer, but I’m trying to do my part.
For one, I want to look for truth rather than validation. I’ve built a network of people I trust and admire but I don’t have to agree with the, to earn their respect. In fact, some of the people I admire probably viscerally disagree on some really irritant issues. Validation from both parties is impossible. I must find my own truth.
The other one I’ll try is to teach my child that just because someone agrees with you, even if it’s me, doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Only the truth is the truth and she must find it.
What else can we do? Advocate for education that pushes for more critical and skeptical thinking? Maybe, but who knows how feasible or universal that can be. In any case, it’s one of the greatest and worst things about what technology can do for us.
Our trip to Hawaii was our first big one with a child. It definitely changed a few things for us.
First of all, I was never one of those guys that hated seeing kids while traveling. In fact, one of my more enjoyable travel experiences was sharing some Beatles tunes with a three year old kid off my iPhone and hearing her half-whisper the words and tunes she knew. I would tell her the names of the songs she hadn’t heard.
So being on the other end of the traveling six hours nonstop with an 11 month old wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. People around us were gracious and kind. I feel like I’ve built up my travel karma enough for a trip like this.
Vacationing with me is basically planning out what we’re going to do the night before and going out and doing it (usually leaving early). In the evenings, we would relax with drinks and food. I get super bored just sitting around reading — I feel comfortable doing this at home.
Of course, with a baby, early is still in but we’re not going anywhere quickly. We found we had either a five hour gap for activities after her first nap or through the evening if we could manage to spend two of those hours in a car or stroller where our little Boo could sleep. It obviously also limits our other activities. I would have loved to kayak out to a sunken island but it would’ve been just me and Jen, leaving the kiddo with the grandparents.
Vacationing with grandparents is great but I’m glad we’re leaving them early for three days so they can relax on their own.
I don’t feel bad for saying it: I can’t wait for our trip away from Boo in July. We’re going to be hitting a lot of places and although we’d love for her to experience Europe, we want to do it when she is old enough.
This trip had a lot of fun memories for us and she traveled really well for her age. We can’t wait to take her on another adventure as well, probably with a different set of grandparents to a new location.
A lot of conversations these days start off the same way.
Me: Hey, how’s it going?
Them: Good. Really busy. You?
Over and over again it goes. I’m busy. I’m writing a lot — for work most of the time, not for myself. When I get to the end of my day, I don’t necessarily want to spend time in front of the computer again.
I have too many built in excuses. I’m traveling. Kid time and wife time take up a majority of my evenings. I’m going to bed earlier because I’m getting up earlier. I’ve ended some days with my fingers very literally tired of typing.
“Maybe I’ll write next week.”
“Man, I just don’t have time for this.”
“I have 27 unfinished blog posts and I don’t know where to start.”
Except, I don’t say those things about feeding my daughter, giving her a bath, or reading her a story before bed. In fact, if I’m home, I can almost guarantee that I am doing one of those three things between 5:30 and 7:30pm.
Sure, taking care of your kid is different. But so is writing. At least, it is for me. I’ve been regularly writing online for 14 years. Most of it has been without compensation. That’s a long time, but I haven’t said all I want to say.
So I’m writing now, every day. Sometimes it will be here. Sometimes it will be on my Tumblr. Sometimes it will be in my daughter’s Evernote notebook. It doesn’t have to be serious. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking.
Margaret Haun was my great-grandmother. Born in 1909, she died in 2000 and she was a fairly prolific writer, especially in the latter part of her life. I’ve been trying to collect some of her works but they are scattered across many different publications. She submitted to magazines and journals and from what I can find, wrote mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s lovely storytelling that conjures sweet memories of our visits.
She did most of her writing for publication from her place in Santa Cruz, California so I’ve been able to find a few references to pieces from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
I’m putting this out there in hopes that someone else researching her writings can help fill in some missing pieces.If you have any other works I missed, please email me at email@example.com.
Luckily, some of her writings have been digitized. The Christian Science Monitor and LDS.org have been extremely helpful. I am including some excerpts and links below.
Flower for My Mother
by Margaret Walden Haun May 1988A flower for my mother Is the nicest kind of thing That I can ever think of, That I can ever bring. My mother says she loves it. I knew it all the while … From the way it makes her hug me, The way it makes her smile.
By Margaret Walden Haun May 12, 1982A trip to town when I was a child on a Western wheat ranch offered more than the excitement of venturing from country quiet to sidewalk bustle or exchanging, however briefly, the atmosphere of farmyard, barn and outbuildings for general store, hardware, millinery shop. There was the sensation of being not surrounded for a few hours by swooping, dipping, sky-carving hills that folded one into another to the distant horizons on all sides.
The front porch of our square brown farmhouse faced, across the big dry yard, beyond the county dirt road, a hill that tilted the head if one wanted to see where it touched the sky. Too steep for farming, that hillside was given over to native bunch grass. (Mama said the butter tasted best in spring when the cows ate the green bunch grass. Hot weather later rendered it dry and useless.) After the snow was gone, we children picked bluebells and birdie bills there, walking great scallops over the shank of the hill on our two-mile trek to school.
By Margaret Walden Haun October 24, 1986Our little neighborhood grocery store’s pale new hardwood floor pleases me immensely. Surely, I tell myself, this third such floor in as many decades is almost a pledge that we devotees of the ambience found here can expect our love affair with the place to continue for years to come, despite the mushrooming of sleek supermarkets all over town. My fondness for the place probably stems from my memory of the country store I knew as a child, where farm wives met on Saturday afternoons to barter eggs for calico and catch up on their visiting. For months here, I may not see an acquaintance except for chats in our store while selecting bananas or artichokes.
You might almost call us another California cult, we shoppers who feel that bigger is not necessarily better. This is not to say our gem of a store is a hole-in-the-wall operation. It has five aisles, albeit they are short. Today lettuce is cheaper up the street. But broccoli is holding its own here. We faithful have found that prices even out, and many of us no longer bother to read the ads.
by Margaret Haun November 1972″Have you ever had a moment when you felt the actual presence of God?” the television talk-show host asked his guest with a seeming wistfulness. It was a question he often asks, and I always wait with eager anticipation for the answer. Never yet, not even when the guest was a famous minister, has it been more than a vague generality, something about a “nice feeling. “
Once I would have been forced to make the same reply. But one morning changed all that. That day I got up, put on a robe, went into the living room of the small house where I live alone, and sat down in a chair. What I did next no one a few years previously could have convinced me I would ever want to do, let alone have the audacity to attempt. For I was about to declare an ultimatum to God that I would sit there until I had personal proof of his existence.
Strange as it may seem, my challenge did not seem unreasonable to me. I had recently been with others who had been touched by God’s presence, and they were neither saints nor mystics but ordinary persons like myself.
My early experience with what is often referred to as “kooky fanaticism” had been limited to roaring with laughter outside what we called a “Holy Roller” church and that was long ago. Never in a million years would their excessive emotionalism have led me to my determination that morning. It took two gentle matrons, living in my former home town, to lead the way.
Several years earlier, Barbara. Emily, and I, deploring the lack of vitality in our churches had come together to seek a deeper meaning to life. Some of our prayers were answered. A man to whom we prayed was told by his doctor that his recovery was a miracle. Things that might not have happened seemed to come about because we held them up in prayer. But with it all, for me at there was a persistent dissatisfaction. Did anyone actually listen when we poured out our heart longings? Or was God, as a friend insisted, only alive in our imaginations?
I remembered my high-school-class church-school teacher. A middle-aged, sincere woman, she confessed to us once, “I have been a Christian all my life, but I have never had a single proof of God’s existence.”
On Easter morning, when the congregation chorused loudly, “He lives! … He lives within my heart!” I sincerely hoped he lived in mine. But I never felt sure he did.
After Barbara, Emily, and I started our prayer group, I began a disciplined morning reading, meditation, and prayer period. Once in a while I seemed very near another dimension of awareness, but I could never overcome the feeling that it might be self-induced.
Eventually I moved to another state. I missed the prayer group more than my family and other friends. I had not realized how much it had helped sustain me.
On my first visit back, the next year, I noticed a change in Barbara and Emily. I detected an added enthusiasm, a barely suppressed excitement, the cause of which came out in the strangest tale I ever had heard.
With Emily’s husband and three other persons, they had driven half a state away for what they called “the laying on of hands” by a young minister, and they all had received “the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
I was appalled. We had experimented with many forms of prayer in the past — but this was going too far. Shades of the old Holy Rollers. The girls had gone off the deep end! The following year I wondered idly, when I thought about it at all, what had possessed my friends.
THIS ALL happened before the spread of the charismatic movement to college campuses had made headlines. The charismatic movement, it might be explained, is one of those periodic outbursts in the centuries since the beginning of Christianity when the scenes enacted at Pentecost and during the next 300 years are reenacted. People for some reason become discontented with both personal and universal states of affairs and this unrest seems to create a vortex into which a new infusion of spiritual life with its amazing gifts can be sent. The so-called Jesus People and Christian communes are part of the latest evidence of it.
When I returned to my old hometown the second summer, Barbara and Emily were ready for me with a tape recording. “Ignore the background,” admonished Emily. “This is an Episcopalian rector speaking to a group of Pentecostals.”
Dutifully I listened as the speaker explained how the experience that had given life and vitality to the early Christian church is still available and can be claimed by anyone today. He said people of all denominations were receiving it and bringing the real meaning back to Christianity. It was unlike any message I had ever heard.
To this day I do not know whether Barbara and Emily know that something happened to me while I was listening to this tape. Even more peculiar, I did not realize it then myself. It never remotely occurred to me to ask the girls how one came to this experience. I had a vague feeling one might be expected to work up to some frenzy of which I was not capable. So I returned home with a yearning but dimly discerned for something about which I knew almost nothing.
Glowing letters from Emily and Barbara did nothing to dispel my unrest. Members of their families were receiving the Baptism. A bishop in their church and many clergy had heartily endorsed the experience. Amazing stories of healing and guidance were being told.
“I was called to the hospital late one night,” Emily wrote. “My mother had been taken seriously ill from some unknown cause. I hurriedly dressed and as I drove across town, too frightened to think clearly, I began to pray in the Spirit. When I got to the hospital, Mother had recovered. The doctor could not understand it.”
This and similar stories sent me at last to a local minister. “Do you have anyone in your congregation interested in the new charismatic movement?” I plunged in. He hesitated so long I asked if he knew what I was talking about.
“We have no one here,” he finally said. At my obvious disappointment he added halfheartedly, “I believe there is a group at Father Paulson’s church in Redville.”
Thus I came among those who are, I often think, much like the first-century Christians must have been. Here were people praying for one another, finding release and joy and inspiration in song and prayer. How I wanted what these people possessed! But I was still too timid and too unaware of the universal availability of this baptism to make my wish known. Frankly, I could not conceive of a Supreme Being stooping to bestow such a treasure on me — maybe on others, but not on me.
By now Emily and Barbara were aware of my longing. One of them suggested that, if I needed help, a Father Irving some hundred miles from my home was having phenomenal success. So one night I called him to make an appointment. “My dear, you don’t need to come way up here. You can receive anywhere,” he said. I have forgotten what else he told me. I knew then that he would pray for me and I knew also that space is no barrier to things of the Spirit.
So there I was the next morning, sitting in my chair, my soul on tiptoe to receive this miraculous something my life was lacking. It is an awesome thing to present one’s soul naked and vulnerable to the Lord of the universe. One can never feel worthy but must come at last, humble and penitent for all one’s shortcomings, with an overwhelming desire to have one’s life become something of more significance.
After a time of quiet I recalled Emily’s saying that praying in the Spirit is mainly for one’s private devotions so I began to sing Praise God from whom all blessings . . .
And then — it happened. What someone aptly has called a “rush of love” seemed to descend and engulf me. My entire body was alive and vibrant. Here was surely the “strangely warmed heart” which sent John Wesley out to change the lives of countless thousands. I was given both a keen awareness of the presence of the Lord Jesus and beautiful words with which to praise him.
At long last I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Someone indeed is there.
It’s 5:45 in the morning and I’m up, looking out the window. The dawn is starting to break on the familiar hill above the farm. The sunlight is filtering through clouds and trees, onto a dew-covered pasture littered with cows and their calves.
The upstairs is a little cold, but I can smell the coffee and conversation coming from downstairs. I walk into the kitchen bleary-eyed to see my grandpa in his chair, drinking coffee while talking to grandma. She’s cooking eggs, bacon, and toast. I get brought into the conversation immediately, sitting on grandpa’s lap, telling him an important story about something only a seven year old (and, apparently, a 65 year old) would care about.
Days like that were made for my grandpa, Lawrence D. Shinn, who left this world at 90 years young just a week and a half ago.
On any given day, there could be any number of things on the agenda with a few constants. Maybe moving the cows to a new field, or feeding them hay. Probably cutting wood for the winter, especially in the waning days of summer or early fall. Or working on any number of barns, outbuildings, or house projects. He loved working with his hands, on his 160 acre farm north of Portland for more than seven decades.
There were the constants of food at the farm: lunch at noon sharp, strawberry jam, fresh and canned homegrown vegetables, ice cream sandwiches in the freezer, finding hard candy in random shirt or jacket pockets, and slicing apples or eating oranges in the recliner in the living room.
There was a rotating cast of characters who came and went throughout the day. An uncle or aunt. Cousins — so many cousins. A neighbor dropping by. A friend, maybe from out of town. They were always welcome. Some of them were up for a farm adventure or just visiting, but it always came back to grandpa.
He was a man with a great sense of humor and a great laugh. He made quick friends with the people who met him. He was strong but had a soft heart for his wife of 56 years, his kids, and the rest of us. He was devoted to his family. He taught us that actions spoke louder than words and that the way we treated each other was important. He was honest, humble, and he gave back what he received from this life several times over.
He was stubborn and ornery at times, a trait many of us inherited. He made sure his family made it to church, even when the roads were covered in snow and the only vehicle that could hold the whole brood was a 1963, rear-wheel drive Cadillac that better resembled a sled than a vehicle intended for driving.
He was smart and could figure out any mechanical issue with ease. He never saw problems as unsolvable and came up with ingenious ways to accomplish the challenges that farm life presented. A little cabin built decades ago was expanded again and again, becoming one of the best built Frankenhouses ever. Its halls and basement put up with decades of kids running, yelling, and spilling. Somehow it stayed in pretty good shape.
He loved the outdoors and had an appreciation for the beautiful country he lived in. He also loved traveling, especially via the road. Many of our fondest memories involve traveling the west with him. Long trips were made easier with family and easy conversation, though he truly loved getting away with grandma.
He lived a full life, shared with the people he loved, doing work that he was good at and enjoyed. And in the end, he left with little else to accomplish. A life complete. We should all be so fortunate.
The farm is a little quieter these days but the legacy of my grandfather lives on — through seven kids, 14 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, two great-great-grandchildren, and dozens of people who married in, invited themselves over, and shared a hug with him.
When I look around the family, I see parts of my grandfather everywhere. We all have our own separate pieces of his personality and wisdom. But I worry about the family he leaves behind. I wonder what happens to us when we forget that despite our differences, we’re all connected to a man who wanted more than anything for us to love each other like he loved each of us. I hope his influence doesn’t wane in us.
It’s a sad day for me because I’ll miss him being a part of my daughter’s life like he was part of mine and that the lessons and example I’ll be able to pass on can’t compare. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was perfect for us and our family.
Grandpa Shinn was one of a kind, and I’ll miss his stories, laughter, wisdom, and deep love he shared with our family and with me.
We all have a finite time here on this world and he made the most of each day in simple ways. It always started with that coffee and laugh in the morning, though. That’s what I’ll remember most.
We’re four months into our journey together in parenthood. Everything that everyone told us about it is true, too.
Babies don’t sleep well
Babies need things
Babies are disgusting
I don’t sleep well
I don’t get things
I get to clean up disgusting things
All of the good things are true, too. I mean, look at that picture of you. That’s what I wake up to at 5:00 am. That gives me the energy necessary to brew my first pot of coffee. Everything takes care of itself after that.
I’ve never been one to complain or be particularly argumentative. Fights between your mom and I are a rare occasion. When they do happen, I make it worse by laughing and saying something like, “Come on!” I’m not saying that being fairly laid back is a requirement for having an agreeable parenting experience. It does help, though.
There are still limits to that laid back attitude, though. We were visiting your grandparents down in Portland a few months ago and I set you on the couch to make a bottle really quick. I’d done it a bunch at home. Not 20 seconds later do I hear a little thud. You kicked herself off the thankfully low couch onto the thankfully carpeted floor.
I ran over to grab you and found you half upset/half startled. I picked you up, put you over my shoulder, and you started bawling. Very sad and dramatic. That was the first time that you really grabbed on to me and held me like a little person.
So, while I don’t leave you unaccompanied on anything except for a crib or pack n’ play anymore, that moment will burn forever in my head. Not because I’m an idiot, either.
I’m an idiot a lot.
But that was really the first time I saw you as something separate from your mom and I. Before that, I always just thought of you as an extension of us. You were always around us. You did whatever we wanted you to do. The limit of your emotions were around being tired and being hungry, both of which had pretty predictable cadences. That time felt like the first time you knew you needed me right at that moment.
When you’re older, you’ll be smart enough to realize that I was the one that put you in that spot in the first place. I imagine a feistier, older Elida punching my arm for that.
Now at four months, you grab a hold of me all of the time and do other things to remind us you’re really a distinct person. In the morning, after work, when you’re grumpy, when you’re happy… we start seeing little pieces of both of us independently expressed. Simple personality traits now but certainly on their way to becoming more complex.
It’s exciting. While you’re just starting to hit the fat, adorable baby stage, you’re also starting to discover your world one day at a time. Having a cute baby is nice but having one independent and observing of the world is a joy.
I never thought I would love having a baby. I always imagined that if I could skip the infant stuff and go straight to an adoring older toddler with good listening skills, I’d be the happiest person in the world. It’s great to go through this stage day by day, though. I realize why people really love it and why, in spite of crazy amounts of sleep deprivation, having another one sounds appealing. Not now, but maybe later.
There are a million things I could write about your budding personality but the biggest parts that stick out are your independence and your ease of loving anyone who takes care of you. While we have a primary nanny, we have a variety of fill in care as well as family members and the daycare at the gym that regularly interact with you.
You’re always happy to see us but you also seem content with nannies, family members, and whoever else is willing to give you some attention and laughs. No tears yet when mom leaves for work or dad leaves for a long trip. At least not from you.
In closing, I can’t wait to see what the next few months of development bring for us. We can’t wait to show you the world. And maybe we’ll start to get some more sleep? Hey, I can hope, right?