Monday, May 31, 2010

Family Connections

Connections are important to me. Connections between people. Connections between people and nature. If we had more of both, I believe we'd have a lot fewer problems in the world. While this blog focuses on connections between kids from different cultures and kids and nature, I'd like to take a little side trip today. It may seem disconnected to you, but stick with me. I hope my comments will help you understand.

How connected are your children or students to their relatives, both dead and living? I ask this question because I believe fully understanding your family's values and beliefs enables you to make choices about continuing or rejecting those beliefs.

I am fortunate to come from a solid foundation. I grew up with my relatives nearby. When I was young, four generations lived on our farm, so I had a sense of family history.  I felt loved by my great-grandfather and great grandmother right on down to my aunts and uncles. I learned to live close to the land as I helped feed the animals, bring in the hay, and work the vegetable gardens. I learned independence romping in the woods and fields alone or building forts with my friends. I'm certain I am a naturalist because of this early beginning.

Only later, as a pre-teen, did I start to question the opinions expressed by certain relatives. I heard racial and ethnic slurs uttered on many occasions by some extended relatives. One grandfather thought women should stay home and have babies. He told my parents, "You do not waste money educating women." I didn't always like my extended family or the prejudice that existed. My questioning of that prejudice, and my parents' recognition of it, gave me the courage to grow and reach for something better. Being firmly rooted to my nuclear family and my home gave me the courage to spread my wings and fly half way around the world as an exchange student when I was just 16 years old, even when my grandfather said I belonged at home.

My parents did not want us to repeat my family's history of racism, sexism, antisemitism, etc. (you name an "-ism," it was present in my extended family). They worked hard and raised their daughters to be strong and independent. They pushed us to aim high. Each of us has studied abroad and earned Master's degrees- the first women in our family to do either.  Each of us is a strong independent woman because of our parents. Each of us views the world in a more global way than was the norm in our small home town. I am certain I am passionate about race relations and interactions between people because of the blatant prejudices I experienced as a child and my parents' critical responses to it.

The other day, as I walked in my yard photographing my beautiful flowers, all of these ideas flooded my mind. What made that happen you might ask? My strong roots, that's what. I live in the house my maternal grandparents lived in when I was a child. My parents live in my paternal grandparent's house. All around me I see evidence of my grandparents. This home is certainly ours now- we've lived here more than 15 years and made many changes to make it our own. One thing that hasn't changed is some of the gardens and plants. As I walk through my gardens, I see the flowers my grandmother planted all those years ago still blooming. Her snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils still push up through the snow every spring. Each time I see them I think of her and smile. My front garden is a riot of color right now- some of it my grandmother's plants, some of it plants dug from friends' and relatives' gardens over the years. Gardening goes way back in my family. As I walked and photographed each of those flowers yesterday, I thought of the person who gave them to me. And there's the seed of this whole post: connections between the people in my life (some living, some dead) and nature, in the form of the plants they gave me.

For your viewing pleasure... here is a sampling of those flowers and who they're from:

My deceased grandmother's clematis. This is the first time it has bloomed for me.

My grandmother's iris. Yellow was her favorite color.

Peony dug from my uncle's garden. That ant is doing it's job--soon a full bloom!

Lupine my mom grew from seed.
Geranium dug from my great aunt's garden 10 years ago.

Iris from the original plant my mom dug from her grandmother's garden back in the 60's.

I maintain strong connections to the family that nurtures me. I embrace my family’s legacy of living close to the earth- of growing food and flowers and animals-but I reject the legacy of prejudice. I can only choose to embrace or reject something once I have recognized it, considered it, and acted in response to it.

How about you? What is your family legacy? What makes you proud? What do you want to change for your children? How will you make that happen?


  1. What a beautiful and honest post. Honoring your past and rejecting the things that were wrong takes a lot of thought and consideration. Our families and the past don't have to be an all or nothing deal. I admire the way you took what was good and will pass that along to your children.

  2. Thanks, Alison. Sharing this information publicly was hard for me. I'm hoping my example may inspire others to carefully consider their family's values and beliefs.

  3. a beautiful post michelle. you did a really good job capturing the blessings and challenges of our childhood.

    i love that this is the first year memere's clematis has bloomed! i wonder what changed for it to suddenly thrive in this way.

  4. Thanks, Monique.

    I've been babying that clematis for maybe 4 or 5 years now. Before that, I wasn't even really aware of it being there because it was so puny and mixed in among other weeds and plants. I've been carefully weeding it, topping it off with compost, mulching it, and tying it up to the post. I guess it finally got the love it needed ot thrive!