In the seven years since this photo was taken, I’ve added two more children to the three pictured here, and I am still a spectacle. Strangers can’t pass by me without commenting how full my hands are.
Being a mother in modern life is weird because I have these magic boxes that I put dirty things inside, and they come out clean. My ancestors personally had to scrub off every bit of dirtiness their families brought in, and it took all day long. What am I doing with the time my magic boxes give me? I spend it in front of my other magical boxes. One where I look in and just think of what I want to see, and my box shows it to me. I can see what any of my friends are doing right in this moment.
I sometimes imagine that I am in a large auditorium with eve- ry person I have ever become acquainted with in every place I’ve lived. Each of us take turns on the stage to tell every person what’s on our minds. Sharing details of our lives makes us feel a little closer to each other but the trouble is that there are a thousand people in this room, and by the time I hear from the last one, the first one has lived their lives a little more and experienced something else that they want me to hear. And since there is such a large crowd gathered, salespeo- ple also get in line to pitch their products. They don’t compensate me for listening to them, though, they compensate the builder of this au- ditorium. The builder has 65 billion dollars now, and I don’t have an- ything to show for my time. I don’t even have time.
Children don’t make it impossible to do family history, (so don’t blame them!) but they do require a bit of extra preparation. It’s just the classic jar with sand and rocks. The jar is all the time you have, and the rocks are what you have to accomplish in a day. Pro- jects like family history are the big rocks that have a certain un- changeable shape and they have to have your first consideration of how to fit them in. Other things like playdates and shopping and chores are the pebbles and sand. They are flexible, and they can go in the jar in many different ways.
I’m nursing a nine-month-old, so I spend an hour a day in my rocking chair on my phone. I used to spend all that time on Insta gram, but I’m not right now because of the Family Tree App. It’s like Facebook, but for dead people. The menu item “Ancestors with Tasks” has been finding family records for me and matching them to ancestors on my own family tree. I make sure it’s correct, and then attach it. It takes ten taps and swipes. I can do it while nursing AND reading a book to a toddler. (I trained her to put the book on the footstool and turn the pages herself. I just read whatever page is up and don’t worry about the storyline.)
Twenty years ago, my mom took me every week to the Family History Center at church to scroll endlessly through microfilms for her. I was her family history minion. I had a list of surnames and I was looking through a certain locality’s records for any mention of these families. Hours would turn up just a few matches. The app has turned the process on its head, where now I can scroll endlessly through good matches it found for me. It’s like I have my own family history minion! If a match is complicated I skip it. Without guilt. Because I have one thumb to spare for family history and there are limitations sometimes.
So go to your temple and family history consultant and say, “I’ll let you teach me family history if you’ll come to my house and bring a snack and a game for my children.” Or have your consultant come over during the time you already would have let the kids be on devices. Or bring a set of toys to put out on the carpet next to your computer, and keep the session short. We overestimate the amount of work we can accomplish in one sitting, but we underestimate the work we can accomplish in an entire month, working a little bit every day.
Susa Young Gates, the daughter of President Brigham Young, once asked her father “how it would ever be possible to accomplish the great amount of temple work that must be done, if all are given a full opportunity for exaltation. He told her there would be many inventions of labor-saving devices, so that our daily duties could be performed in a short time, leaving us more and more time for temple work.” (Archibald F. Bennett, “Put on Thy Strength, O Zion!” Improvement Era, Oct. 1952, 720).