Monday, October 4, 2010

MWKA Monday - Jen Frischknecht

This is the second in a series of interviews with moms who inspire. If you or someone you know would like to participate in this project please contact me.

Work-from-home mom Jen Frischnecht talks about juggling three kids, a marriage, home and her career, the remembered angst of getting through high school and how important humor is each and every day.

Name: Jen Frischknecht
Age: 38
City: Warwick, NY

How many children do you have and what are their ages and names?
Three kids:  Kyle 10, Ryan 8, Holly 3.

Tell me about their names, and why you picked them.
I wanted to name my firstborn after my Dad - but Dad's name is Orville. So Kyle got his own name when Steve hit on it in a names database while walking to the car after we had the ultrasound where we saw he was a boy.  His middle name, Benjamin, was chosen by my Dad in lieu of having a direct namesake.
With Ryan we just keep trying out names until someone suggested Ryan and it was just right. Ry's middle name is Steven - after his father.
Holly's name was a wrong number; we couldn't decide . I had always wanted to name my little girl Christine, after my sister who we lost just before her 6th birthday ( I was 2). Steve had always thought he'd name his little girl Samantha.  I couldn't imagine a girl named Samantha Frischknecht - too many letters! So we'd try out a bunch of names and not find anything that worked. And then one day the phone rang and it was a wrong number. The name on the caller ID was Holly - and it was the right name. We chose Christine as her middle name.

Are you married or have you ever been?
Married - we just celebrated 15 years.

Do you work outside the home?
I work for a company that exists outside my home, however I am very fortunate to do it without leaving the house.

What is your position?
I’m a Software Test Lead.

Are you doing what you want to be doing, or is it a stepping stone to something else?
That's not straightforward. I think a short answer is that I'm doing what I want to be doing  - now.  It'd be really nice to not have to work, but then I'm not sure what I'd do with my time. Probably bake all day and get really fat.

Did you go to school? When and for what?
I have a Bachelor's from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY in Computer Information Systems in '94

How did you end up in the city you reside in?
After living away for about 12 years we've just moved back to our hometown to be near family and friends.

Where else have you lived?
We've lived in a few different towns in Massachusetts, and a few towns here in Orange County, NY.

Where have you traveled?
Some domestic - Florida and California.
My favorite travel by far has been to cruise - we've now been to Bermuda, St. Martin, St Thomas, Nassaua Bahamas, and Cocokey Bahamas.
What was a typical day for you when you were 20?
I would have been a Junior in college for most of that. So I would have gotten up without having an 8:00am class having learned how to avoid those early on. Would have walked to classes, eaten lunch probably in the cafeteria, spent time with my bestest bud and then roomie Deanna, and probably some time with the boyfriend. If it was a Friday there would have been something - either heading to the mall, or out to a party. It was college life on campus.

Describe a typical day now. [continued]

I get out of bed between 6:15 and 7:00am depending on how many times I've hit snooze. Usually, the boys are up already and are eating breakfast before I even get downstairs. Holly sleeps a little later. I shower and head down for coffee. I grab a cup full and sit down with Facebook for maybe 15 - 20 minutes, check my work email and reply to anything. If there was something I'd put off from the day before that I could get started then I go ahead and do that. Especially if it's a software install - then I let it run while we finish up Morning Madness.
The boys mostly tend themselves, with lots of reminders from us. Brush your teeth, did you put on clean undies? Check your back pack. And then making sure they get outside in time for the bus.
Holly gets driven to either preschool or to my Mom's house between 9 and 9:30.
I spend a majority of the day in front of the shiny magic box - calling into meetings, planning, installing software and putting it through its paces. Trying to recreate scenarios that have caused problems.  Probably throwing in a load of laundry in between other things. And if Steve's home too, there are random conversations thrown in there.
On preschool days one of us picks up Holly at Noon, otherwise my Dad drops her off sometime after 3:00. The boys get home closer to 4:00.
I stop work at 4ish and guide the boys through homework.
I probably drive either boys to karate or the girl to ballet.
Then I usually remember I forgot to plan dinner!! Or if it's a lucky day I planned ahead and setup the crockpot and the house already smells yummy.
But probably the first choice.
So I stand in front of the fridge hopefully with a glass of wine and try to figure out how many veggies I can hide in whatever I'm going to make. And maybe they eat it, or maybe they get yogurt instead.
After dinner everyone runs off. Computers, games, reading, Holly harassing the boys until Ryan cries... that kind of thing.
We pop everyone into bed at 8:00
Some nights we watch a little TV together, sometimes I just go read with a glass of wine.

What do you like to do with your kids for fun?
I like to go out and do things. I love places like the zoo or an aquarium. Where everyone will have something they totally love and we can all enjoy it. Today we may go to 'Open Farm on the Farm' to get a tour and see the animals and what not. 
I really love the beach - there's water and sand and relaxing and sun and we all love it.  Or a water park. Or just hanging out at some pool somewhere...
And things like carnivals and the boardwalk

What do you like to do for yourself?
I like to visit with friends.  Me and a friend and a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Maybe an excellent dessert with it.  Catching up and enjoying good, adult conversation. Movies and dinner are nice, but sitting or walking with conversation is better.

How do you make new friends, and how do you keep in touch with old ones?
Making new friends is really hard for me. In fact it's one of the things I did really badly when we were in MA. I met a lot of people and was 'friendly' with them. Even consider most of them 'friends', but I never just picked up the phone and said 'hey, wanna go grab a cup of coffee?'.  I kinda feel like I should be able to do that with a friend. And maybe it's just me - maybe I need to lose the fear and just jump in and grab a friend.
Now that we're back home I do have friends I do that with - of course they never have time in their social calendars...  but that's a different issue! :o)
So I think friends with me just develop over time. I don't conscientiously reach out for them, but they happen an event, a cup of coffee, a glass of wine at a time.

Facebook has been huge with keeping in touch with old friends. I'm not a phone person (until you get me on it, then you can't get me off!) - I don't pick up the phone to call people. But email, FB, and texting keep me connected to the folks I want to be connected to.  I love FB because I can be connected as desired.  If I think about someone I haven't talked to in months, I can go tell them. Bam - connection. 

What sacrifices have you made for your children?
This is a hard one because I have to really think about it. They don't *feel* like sacrifices.
So first is time. I've given up most of the time that would be mine, or mine and Steve's together, so that I can have my family.  We do most things in life as a family. The odd night out for grownups really is odd. And rare. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
And I guess we've sacrificed quite a bit financially. It takes a bit of funding to raise 3 kiddos. Especially now that they are all getting into activities.  So I do not have a beach house in the Bahamas, and I don't have a yacht. I don't think I'd want a yacht though.
But the things that I could get if I didn't have the kids? I wouldn't enjoy them nearly as much.  If I go somewhere without the kids - I enjoy it more because it's so much more than just a vacation. And if we take them, it's that much more because we're enjoying it together and we get to see things through their eyes - which is a whole new level of enjoyment.  So we do less, but enjoy it more.
I'd say I sacrificed my shape - but round is a shape right? And I was never a svelte bikini wearing model type anyway. 
The biggest sacrifice was probably a large chunk of sanity - but I don't really miss that.

Did you ever consider not having children?
No. Never. It's what I was born to do. I was meant to be a Mom. I know not everyone is born that way. Some grow into it, and some never feel that pull at all. But I don't ever remember thinking about growing up without children in the picture.

What has been the hardest period in your life?
This is a tough one. Because of the way I am it's hard to look back and think 'wow, that was really hard but I'm so glad we got through that'.
A few things come to mind when I push through it.
I had a really hard time through my high school years. And I think those years, high school itself along with what was happening at home and a relationship that wasn't healthy at all - all pulled together to form a big change in me that formed me for later in life.   Which is too vague for you, so I'll go deeper.  But I have to go way, way back first.
When I was 2 we lost my sister just before her 6th birthday. And then my brother was born just a few months later. It was an incredibly hard time for my family.  But I was 2 and don't remember that (which is why it's not the hardest period in my life...) but it set the stage.
My Mother turned to alcohol.  And I grew up in a family where we knew about the problem and tried our best to work around it.
I don't know how the neighborhood kids knew about this. Maybe I confided in someone who told someone else. Maybe they had keen observation skills. Maybe another parent said too much with small ears around...    but there was ribbing and joking that only teenagers can really do effectively. It was mean and it got to me.
So back to high school. With hormones and boyfriends, and the drama of high school life in general I had a hard time. I do remember crying a lot. I had a hard time trying to figure out where I fit in. I generally got along with most people, but I certainly wasn't a real part of most of the 'cliques' that form. Combined with a boyfriend with whom I fought constantly - we bickered, we screamed, we slammed doors.  My stress level was way too high at 17. And I ended up with ulcers.  As a grownup I think 'no one should have ulcers from stress at 17." period. High school is hard, but ulcers? Really?

Over the next few years I ditched the boyfriend, made a few more bad decisions,  and then recovered from them - but over time I learned to let things go. Most things just really aren't worth getting worked up over.  The 3 year old just broke my last piece of crystal from my Great Aunt?  It's a sad thing, I'll miss it for sure - but it's really just a thing.  At least she didn't get a 3 inch gash that required an ER visit. 
Big decisions that tend to be very stressful become easier when I let myself have faith. The hubby and I discuss options then we both talk about what 'feels right' to us.  Amazingly, we usually agree here which makes things easier.  I manage a lot of our lives by what 'feels right'. And we've done really well with that.

Last year at Thanksgiving at my Mom's someone dumped a cup of coffee in the living room.  My Mom freaked - but I said "hey, we woke up on the right side of the ground today.  Does anything else really matter??"  She laughed and we cleaned it up.  

How did you get through the rough patch?

I kind of glossed through how I got through all of that. And I'm not positive that it's even really the hardest thing - but it sure was a turning point, so it counts in my book.
I had a wonderful guidance counselor in HS and he sent me to the regular counselor. I spent an hour a week with her for a really long time - just talking and working through my thoughts. Having a place to let stuff out helped me tremendously.   My Dad has always been behind me and I had a handful of great friends that I was able to lean on when I let myself.  My father told me once that I shouldn't ever keep strong feelings in side. If I need to throw things or scream or cry to let it out, that's OK (but to warn him so that he doesn't call in an ambulance or something...).   Mostly, I find I release in tears when it's needed.  Turning the music up loud in the car when I'm alone and letting the tears just run works.  - But I actually don't need to as often now. Now I talk about what's eating me. I have Steve and he gets almost stream of consciousness from me. He probably gets overload, but there's never a doubt about where I'm at on something. He's my friend and partner and counselor all wrapped up in one!

What has been the most hopeful period?
You ask tough questions!  I'm always hopeful for something.   Marrying Steve and really feeling like we were finally on the right road to somewhere was incredibly hopeful. Finally conceiving our first certainly was a hopeful time.  But right this second I have an 8 year old playing Wii and a 3 year old dragging the cat around, and a 10 year old 2+ hours away with another family. I adore my family and feel oh so hopeful for my babies' success. Success in school, in relationships, in life. So I think I need to say  -  now. And a year ago it was probably now then too.

What worries do you have for yourself?
Yikes. I worry about getting sick or injured and not being in control anymore (I'm a control person for sure). I worry that I'm not doing the best I can for the kids. I worry that we're spending too much money on 'x'. I worry that I'm pushing them too hard, or not enough. That I give them too much video time. That I don't get out enough with my own friends. That I'm missing out on my own personal relationships.  That I'm not giving my best to Steve who oh so deserves it.
Yeah, I worry.

What regrets?
Hmmm. Sometimes I regret things. Like maybe I shouldn't have married that first guy right out of high school. It was silly and just a bad decision. BUT regretting it means I would have something else happen, and if I did that where would I be now? What path would I have taken instead? So sometimes I *feel* regretful about something, but it very rarely lasts because the things that have happened to me have made me who and what I am and have brought me here. Why would I change that?

Are you spiritual? Religious?
Definitely spiritual. I have a hard time with religious. I try church periodically and it just doesn't hold me. My beliefs are not concrete and maybe someday I'll find something that helps me work through what I really feel. Because it's more about feeling with me and less about thinking. I mentioned before that most of our decisions in life are based on what feels right. I think the world is magical - nature is incredible. And something certainly orchestrates it all together.  I'd like to nurture my connection to nature if I could find the right place to do that.

If so, have you ever questioned your faith?
It's hard to question that things just are. I've found myself asking 'why' at several points in my life. But I can usually look around and find something so much harder, or so much more painful that someone else is experiencing, and I feel like maybe I'm going to be OK.  When my oldest was a toddler I experienced the death of a friend that I had never met in person. It was devastating because we participated in an online community and had become close. And as I was crying my toddler wandered in and did something hysterical and I laughed.  And I realized that day that there is always *something* to smile about - children are just an easy way to get there.
I've certainly had periods of time where my faith was stronger and when it was weaker, but I don't ever remember specifically questioning faith itself.

What’s your personal philosophy; why do you think we are here?
I don't know if there is some grand scheme in place and I'm here for some divine purpose. I think getting stressed out about little things is a waste of time. Doesn't mean that I don't find myself doing it anyway, but it's easier to let things go when I realize I'm doing it. There is so much bad and pain and hurt out there that really do require energy and focus for the folks involved to get through that it just seems silly to me to waste energy on what will amount to a tiny, forgettable blip in my life.  I take my children seriously and try to teach them good values. We base everything off of being kind and respectful and all the other rules we live with just kind of work right into that message. I try to be the best 'Me' that I can be and I try to help my children find their way to doing the same.

What are your main priorities?
To enjoy what I have and be happy in my life. To not fret about what I don't have. To love fully. To teach my children what it is to love and be loved.

What is your nationality/ ethnicity and what are your children’s?
I'm a hodgepodge - lots of German, some French, apparently a sprinkle of Irish, a tiny bit of Lenni Lenape Native American. The kids are all that plus a bunch more German and a bunch of Irish.

Is this something you identify with strongly?
I Identify with the German heritage but that's really just because it was sprinkled throughout my life. And my Mom didn't even really realize she was doing it. It was never 'this recipe is from your German ancestors" it was just something we ate and enjoyed that was an old family thing.

How has the economy affected you and your family in the last few years?
The increase in cost of living has had me scrutinizing our spending. Mostly, we're OK - but we've got a comfortable income with both of us working. If one of us were let go, we'd be OK. We'd have to really tighten things up, but we'd be OK.

What’s an important dream you have which you work towards almost every day?

This is a hard one. Dreams? Who has time for dreams? But I guess in the back of my head that's what I'm doing. Maybe it comes back to that repeated "I'm working on being the best Me I can" - I'm filling my life with fun things that are good not just for me as a creative outlet, but for my family. As I cook more healthy and try out new things. Occasionally make a piece of clothing or work with one of the boys to build a costume. I'm not just feeding my need to create, but I'm teaching them the joy of creating as well.

Oh - and I'm working toward actually having a garden we can eat from.  But that seems so small compared to the bigger picture.

What do you imagine for your children in the future?
I get kind of anxious and scared when I think too long about my children growing past the next few years. I realize it will happen and I plan for it and plant seeds of conversation that we can build on later in life. But I try to keep it out of my front consciousness. In reality I guess I want them to be independent people who think for themselves. To carry opinions and not be afraid to stick behind them. To make friends and have successful relationships. To find something they love that they can build on throughout their lives.

Do you have a mantra (something you tell yourself to help you get through the tough spots)?
"It's really not that bad and we'll get through it"    -  what will happen if it really is?  I'm not sure. But I've gotten this far with it.
"The sun will still rise tomorrow" - which I think I paraphrased from Sleepless in Seattle  -  basically, no matter what awful thing happened today, I still have to get up and be a Mom and get through the next day, so how am I going to make that happen?

How many tattoos do you have and of what?
One tattoo. It's a dragonfly with a little banner wrapped around it with the kids initials in it

What inanimate object would you hate to live without?
My computer - it's become the means by which I do so much.

Recommend three albums, films or books, and tell me why.
Pretties (it's actually the first in a set of 4) - it's a Young Adult book that is all around post-Apocalypse society where you are 'Ugly' (natural) until you reach the age where you have this super duper surgery and are then 'Pretty' - it is filled with all kinds of messages that would be good to come away with.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult - I totally shouldn't have read it as it comes too close to my own life - but it was very carthartic - totally bawling by the end of the book. She's an excellent writer and I recommend anything she's written - just bring a few boxes of tissues.

What and who inspires you?
My father - he's the king of not getting worked up about much of anything. He was always my rock growing up
My friends Brian and Carolyn in MA and their amazing son Ethan. Individually and as a family unit they are just amazing - they have been met with huge, seemingly impossible challenges and have risen to meet them together
My children - every time one of them makes a good decision from the heart without any prompting - my children make me want to be a better me.

Anything to add? I think you've picked this up...   I live life with a lean toward humor. Everything is funny, or at least could be.  OK almost everything.  Smiling and laughter are good for you and I try to practice them as much as possible. I'm very likely to have to stifle a laugh when my child falls on his butt, or falls off the monkey bars, even as I'm running to be sure they are OK.  Because it was probably funny (not the injury obviously). 
And my kids? They tend to react first with laughter when they hit the ground. 
I remember once when Kyle came running across the playground to me at pickup from school. He hit a rubber thing with his foot and took a hard spill.   "Kyle!!! You FLEW!!! You totally got air" and we both laughed at it even though there were tears in his eyes (and I was making sure he was still walking and using all limbs appropriately).  
It's all funny, but we don't leave out the important things, like checking to make sure nothing’s broken!!!  And we take time to grieve when we need to. There isn't anything funny in loss. Though we also take time to remember something happy or humorous in the grieving process. When we lost our pets last year (3 out of 4 in a year) we took the time to be sad. But we also remember things that were fun with them. 
And I think that's an important lesson for them - to see that it's OK to remember something and be happy in the memory even though we are sad at the same time.

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