In one of my favorite books about feminine spirituality, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, by Sue Monk Kidd, Sue talks about Matryoshka dolls, or nesting dolls where one fits neatly inside another until you get to a little baby doll. She bought one for her grandmother and mother, letting them know that all women are linked through feminine heart, memory and soul, and while we are separate, we are inseparable. She quotes Carl Jung who said, “Every mother contains her daughter in herself and every daughter her mother and every mother extends backwards into her mother and forward into her daughter.”
There is such comfort in knowing that I am a part of all the women in my life, from great grandmothers who died long before I was born to my daughters who each carry a part of me in their actions, their looks or their personality. I know that I come from a line of very strong women whose strength and determination I carry into my own life.
My grandmother on my father’s side was a school teacher in a one room school house in Nebraska. She rode horses and did many things proper women wouldn’t do. I remember her most as the cookie baker, and the scrabble queen, and the woman who had a big heart for her family. She adored the Denver Broncos and would watch games at our house every Sunday. From her I learned the love of games and cards, anything that keeps a family together.
On my mother’s side, there are stories of my great grandmother being a very staunch German catholic, surviving a stroke and having another 4-5 children after that. She bore her burdens with great strength. My grandmother was a farm wife with 11 children, of whom my mother is the oldest. Mom became a surrogate mother for many of her brothers and sisters, and didn’t really have a childhood in which to play. One day, her mother told her to make a chicken dinner which meant she had to go out and kill the chickens, pluck them, cut them, batter them and fry them up for dinner. One learns quickly on a farm where you are thrown into responsibility. I inherited my mother’s work ethic… and also her non-ability to sit and do nothing. Some things we inherit are things we want to change before we pass them along to our own daughters. And oftentimes, we seem powerless to do anything about it.
When the family had to move to Omaha to make a living, my grandmother spent her mornings making pies for a local bakery, so she could put food on the table. A rare treat for the family was a loaf of store bought bread, because they grew up on homemade bread their mother baked. Who wouldn’t love to have homemade bread everyday?
My mother’s family continues to gather each year for a family golf tournament, usually held in Omaha where the bulk of the family lives. Grandma died many years ago and yet her legacy lives on in 160+ people who are a result of her love with her husband Sylvester who died long before she did. It was her love of family that held the brothers and sisters together, who shared that legacy with their own children and grandchildren.
The women who have come before each of us have given us gifts that we may not readily recognize. Did we gain our love of reading from a great grandmother? Did we learn to love art or gardening from a great aunt? What about our ability to write, or draw or work with our hands? I believe my love of baking came from my grandmother who passed the trait onto my own mother. So much has been handed down to us from the women who went before us. Their stories thread through our lives and give us the courage to attempt new things, stand in our own strength and speak our truth. And this same wisdom we pass to our own children.
I often wonder what gifts and sometimes negative traits have been handed to my own children. My oldest is following in my footsteps and becoming a teacher. My middle child loves poetry and writing and nature. My youngest has empathetic, healing qualities that make allow her to empower others. She is often my best teacher. She is also stubborn and strong-minded like me. Just like my mother and I fought when I was young, my youngest daughter and I are the quickest to quarrel, I think because we are so much alike. I only hope that means that someday, she and I will be as good of friends as I am with my mom.
Take the time to think about the gifts you inherited from your own ancestors. May their stories strengthen you on your own journey and be sure to take the time to thank the women in your life for gifts they have given you. (Happy Mother’s Day Mom!) Positive or negative, these traits have made you the person you are today. ( We will thank dads later!) And know that you are never alone on your journey. You are one more link in the chain, and someday, someone will be looking back at your life and telling your stories. What will they say about you? !