“Emotionally, their mothers were wildly out of sync. At first, the kids needed the hugs badly; now they needed them to stop.”
– Columbine by Dave Cullen
Named one of "9 Women Writing Bold Memoirs" by Kirkus Reviews
“They all made a rush at Alice the moment she appeared; but she ran off as hard as she could, and soon found herself safe in a thick wood”
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Growing Up With Alice: Meditations on School Shootings from a Mom on the Firing Line
What’s it like raising and teaching students of Gen Lockdown?
In a recent PSA from March for Our Lives, we learned that children are leading experts in lock-down drills. There’s more complexity to this picture.
Children are also now being trained in active shooter civilian response through programs such as ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate). They learn to distinguish between codes red, yellow, and black. Experts train them how to tie tourniquets to prevent blood loss from gunshot wounds, and teachers fill bins with hockey pucks and river rocks for fighting intruders. “Shelter-in-place” or “Go Buckets,” filled with toilet seat covers, first aid kits, bleach, whistles, duct tape, zip ties, and crank radios supply teachers and students with the accoutrements of survival in the event of Columbine-inspired shooter storming the school. Statistics show that 4.1 million children participated in such training during the 2017-2018 academic year; other estimates tell us that 95 percent of children have been indoctrinated in some type of shooter-response training.
ALICE education might teach kids to maximize survivability, but children certainly won’t escape the irony of their time. They are simultaneously scared but thrilled, anxious but detached. Many spend hours playing Fortnite, joining the ranks of the 250 million players worldwide; it’s the most popular active-shooter video game in history. From the relative safety of their living rooms, they buy assault rifles, pump shotguns, boogie bombs, and tally their “kills” while dancing the Hype over fellow players’ virtual bodies.
Video games do not cause shootings, but they do fuel moral panic among parents. I should know. All three of my sons play Fortnite.
And in lieu of M.A.S.H, the paper-and-pencil fortune-telling game, children at slumber parties play Kiss-Marry-Kill. Parents can be overheard bragging that their schools offer the best active-shooter drills while teens debate which classmates are “most likely to shoot up the school.”
Although children are statistically safer in schools today than decades ago, everybody in post-Columbine America is racked with some degree of fear and suspicion. The 1999 shooting spree in Littleton, Colorado, spurred two decades of copycat crimes, which were covered relentlessly by the news, in turn fueling conspiracy theories and generalized anxiety. As a mother and creative writing teacher, being suspicious – especially of my sons and male students – is now my moral obligation.
I am always on edge, equal parts nurturer and police detective, raising a generation for whom we must ask:
Will they be martyrs or survivalists? How much harm is our vigilance doing to their creativity and fantasy worlds? Should our surveillance be necessarily gendered – where do our daughters and female students factor in? And as suicide rates rise dramatically, should we be guarding against self-harm as much as we are training to fight back against perpetrators with guns?
It's no coincidence that ALICE training invokes the most famous Alice in literature and popular culture. Which of Lewis Carroll’s worlds is more symbolic of what’s happened in our schools: Wonderland, that mad place where math facts don’t add up right; or Looking-Glass House, where everything happens backward or in reverse?
If motherhood is an addiction, what does Laura Jean Baker share in common with the drug dealers, addicts, sex offenders, and thieves her husband, attorney Ryan Ulrich, defends as he grinds out the grittiest of legal casework? By the time Ryan starts up Ulrich Law Office upon the birth of their third (but not last) baby, Laura Jean craves Oxytocin – the love hormone; the natural high of motherhood – as much as Ryan’s clients hanker for heroin and meth. Over the next eight years, as Ryan’s roster of defendants proliferates, so too does the Ulrich family, nearly to the threshold of everybody’s overdose.
The Motherhood Affidavits
Winner of the Norbert Blei/August Derleth Nonfiction Award
Madison NOW Book-Club Pick
radio interview with
Laura Jean Baker
by UW Oshkosh
Alum Emma Revai
“The unusual premise of linking addiction and crime with motherhood and birth will keep most readers on the line.”
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About Laura Jean
Raised by therapists; married to a defense attorney, Laura Jean Baker writes where mental health, crime, and family intersect.
She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Michigan, where she was a Colby Fellow for graduate study.
Her essays have appeared at The Washington Post, Salon, Longreads, and Scary Mommy.
Her poetry and memoir have appeared in The Gettysburg Review; Confrontation; The Connecticut Review; Third Coast; The Cream City Review; Alaska Quarterly Review; So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Literature and Art; War, Literature, and the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities; and Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women.
Laura Jean's work has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her essay “Year of the Tiger” was a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013.
THE MOTHERHOOD AFFIDAVITS was released by The Experiment in April 2018. It has been reviewed or mentioned in The New York Times, The Toronto Star, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Shondaland, Electric Literature, and Medium.
She is currently at work on her second book GROWING UP WITH ALICE: Meditations on School Shootings from a Mom on the Firing Line.
Laura Jean Baker has experience teaching English in bilingual immersion programs for English language learners; in corporate Spain; in a middle school for Gifted and Talented Education; and fifteen years now at the college level, where she is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
She continues to teach in the English Department as well as in Women’s and Gender Studies and the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, where she specializes in memoir, personal narratives, women’s literature, and picture books for children. She also teaches special topics courses on crime and motherhood. L.J. has been nominated for the Faculty/Instructional Academic Staff Advisor Award and the Honors College Outstanding Teaching Award.
Laura Jean gave birth to five babies in nine years. As of summer 2019, Ireyln “Irie” was 15; Leo 13; Fern 11; Francis “Frank” 9; and Gustav “Gus” 6. Her children are at the heart of her writing.
Laura Jean and her husband, attorney Ryan Ulrich, met on the first day of sixth grade; they were 11 years old.
These sweethearts began their lifetime partnership as viola stand partners in the middle-school orchestra, officially dating in 1995; marrying in 2001; and collaborating still today, energized by their shared commitment to family, creative projects, and romance.
Monday, October 21, 2019
Winona State University Great River
Reading Series - 7:00 pm
The Loft Wordsmith Session 2019: Writing about Family in Memoir 3:00 - 4:00 pm
McNamara Alumni Center
Sunday, November 3, 2019
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LJ Makes Impact as Professor, Author
by Kellie Wambold - October 26, 2017