What my ancestors did before breakfast

photo-281My baby is almost one month old. It’s been a long month in many ways. Now that I’ve been through the first month four times, I also realize that the one-month mark is somewhat of a dangerous tipping point for me. In the immediate postpartum days, I have a burst of energy that comes from no longer being hugely pregnant. There’s the excitement of having a new baby. I also have no expectations, so anything I get done is like a huge win. I wrote an article! I joined a networking group I’d been meaning to. I emailed someone to see if I could send her a galley of my book. Go me!

Then, around now, the expectations start returning. Work generates more work. All of a sudden, I’m trying to turn around edits for someone who needs them by the end of the day while trying to get a fussy baby to nap. I compare myself not to my pregnancy size, but to my pre-pregnancy weight, and feel a bit overwhelmed about how long it might take to get down there. Early morning feedings start catching up with me. I’m bored with sitting around the house, but it’s too cold to do much else.

Fortunately, it will be spring before too long. I’ve also been venturing out without the baby from time to time. Yesterday I went to my 7-year-old’s class to serve as a “banker” for their Valentine’s Day party. They had to “buy” toppings for their cupcakes out of the dollar they each had, and we did not make it easy. Frosting was 27 cents, gummy bears were 5 for 17 cents, some candy hearts were 3 for 11 cents. I would sell you 1 or 2 or 4, but you had to name what would be a fair price and tell me what I owed you as change.

Since the 7-year-old is off school today, I also gave him a reading assignment: the family history my grandfather wrote up many years ago. My grandmother passed away recently, and my 7-year-old has been quite into genealogy of late, so I thought it would be interesting for him to learn this saga. My great-grandfather was very bright but had to leave school at age 11 to care for a flock of sheep (this was in a small village in the north of the Netherlands). It involved getting up at 5 a.m. daily, but this employer provided food, which was good, since his family couldn’t afford to feed him. Indeed, the local principal came to visit his family to see if he could live at home and be tutored so the boy could go on to more education and, per my grandfather’s story, “The answer was — No. They simply could not afford to feed him.”

After this, there was much laboring in the fields of the landowners around there, harvesting grain, digging potatoes and sugar beets. Once he had his own family, my great-grandfather wanted to get out of there and go to America, and when my grandfather was 7 — just like my kid! — they did. They bought second class tickets on the ship into Ellis Island, rather than third class, because my grandfather’s eczema might have caused problems with the medical exam, and apparently there was less scrutiny for people with more expensive tickets. They were allowed in, and made their way to Michigan, and paid off the debt for travel in about a year.

They started off decently in America (for not speaking English or anything) but then the Depression hit. Various family members lost jobs, and crops failed on their farm. My grandfather finished 8th grade and then stopped going to school. His parents needed him on the farm, and he makes it sound like he was happy to be done with school, but he wasn’t really. Eventually, he got into a schedule of working from sun-up to sun-down on the farm and then studying at night. He wound up getting admitted to college without ever going to high school. He went on to seminary and became a preacher. I hadn’t really thought through the dates that my father and his siblings were born, but my grandmother had 4 children in just slightly over 5 years. That certainly puts my 7.67 years into perspective!

I was thinking that this could be a useful story for my son to read. Next time he complains about going to school (where he gets to decorate cupcakes!), or his food, I could say “Hey, you could be getting up at 5 a.m. to tend a flock of sheep so you can eat!”  Actually, when I start feeling all woe-is-me nursing a baby at 5 a.m., this might be a useful thought for me as well.

Photo: Valentine’s Day donuts. Much nicer than tending sheep at 5 a.m.

11 thoughts on “What my ancestors did before breakfast

  1. Your family ancestry was very interesting to read! I have some ancestors who went through Ellis Island, too. I don’t think about them often, but when I do, I’m so grateful for the sacrifices they made so we could live such a blessed life today!

    Happy Friday! 🙂

    1. @Christine – thanks! He describes the fog lifting as the boat is coming into the harbor and he sees the New York skyline. It’s really kind of cool to think about him as a little 7-year-old boy from a tiny village in the Netherlands seeing that.

  2. so interesting, and must be quadruple-y so when its your own family. I wish I’d thought to ask my grandparents about their stories, sadly I have none left (and I think I’ve heard all my mom and dad’s stories). I should make sure my kids ask their grandparents to talk about their past.

    1. @Ana – I’m really lucky that my grandfather wrote it down. He died when I was about 17, and I didn’t really hear any of these stories first hand. I’ve thought of this with my own journals, though they’re not written for an audience. If my kids tried to read them later on as the story of my life they’d probably think “wow, this woman has a lot of day to day gripes!” Probably I should write something more polished for public consumption…

  3. The postpartum weeks were always a struggle for me. The lack of sleep, and the inability to sleep when baby was sleeping, were mind-numbing. With my 3rd, I remember looking at the clock and being absolutely certain I saw the second hand move backward! I was always relieved to get beyond the first couple months. But, when I’m loving on someone else’s baby, those first few months are the most precious to me. Perspective! 🙂

    I only had 3 children in 9 years – and I homeschool – so I rarely had to drag myself out of the house with all of them when my 3rd was a newborn. That was a blessing because #3 was fussy! I also didn’t have a blog to keep up with back then! I’d say you are doing well!!! 🙂

    1. @Laura – I’m super impressed by their teacher. It was such a great idea. Cupcakes are a great motivational tool for math practice!

  4. What a story! I need to ask my grandmother about her life and record it. Just recently I have listened to Tim Ferris’s podcast episode with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s participation, and he had some cool stories to tell too!

    Also, it is amazing what a great life we have and how little we appreciate it. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. My aunt gave both my daughters copies of an interview with my paternal grandmother (their great-grandmother) about her life growing up. We’ve also a memoir by her father (my great-grandfather) and my grandmother’s brother (my great uncle)

    I knew a lot of the stories from talking to my grandmother (she died when I was 30). But some stuff was new. Mostly though, the stories drove home to me just how privledged and progressive that set of relatives were. The big example is that my great-grandfather bought farm land for ALL his children. My grandparents farm was owned by my grandmother – not my grandfather. Also, every one of the eight kids went to an expensive boarding school in the city for high school – even during the Depression.

    As an aside, My father & brother (and uncle and male cousins) all went to the same ‘fancy’ boarding school. And now my daughters go to the same school (the junior school is co-ed, senior school boys only).
    It’s quite nice to be able to say that my girls are the 4th generation of our family to attend the school!

  6. I’m going to have to remember the cupcake math as something to do with Little Bean when ze gets a bit older! That’s a great way to teach numbers in a practical sense and I’m sure we can come up with variations on it that would work too.

    We come from farm stock as well and when I whine to myself about early mornings or the difficulty of affording a house in the Bay Area, I remind myself that Great-Grandpa had to clear the land of trees and so on by himself before he built his own house, and Grandma worked her farm well into her 80s. It could be worse 🙂

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