Quilt handmade for me by my father’s mother, my Grandma Jeanette
I turned 26 this year.
Something about this birthday, or maybe it was the birth of my third daughter in May, has made me more sensitive to the way time passes. It almost makes me dizzy, the realization of how fast it all goes. And for what? That’s the question I started asking this year.
I’m not sure I’m a person who believes everything happens for a reason. I want to but I’m just not there yet. What I do believe in is learning from the things that happen, if you can. And I also believe in rolling legacies.
Monarch butterflies undergo a yearly migration that spans three to four generations. That means the great great grandbaby Monarchs who arrive in the Spring needed their ancestors to reach a certain point in order to make that happen.
Humans are not so different. If my great-great grandmothers had not been the women they were, then surely I would not be the woman I am today. And I know they must have left behind some unfinished business; a beautiful patchwork quilt that each new generation added some pieces to. I call that a rolling legacy.
From a young age I was keenly aware of two things:
- My life is important. (self-esteem)
- Some of what I’m here to work on didn’t start with me. (responsibility to others)
Self-esteem and responsibility to others. Those two beliefs have shaped me and informed the decisions I’ve made throughout my life. They remind me to wipe my nose and keep running when I start feeling sorry for myself and they remind me to reassert my boundaries when someone mistakes my caring heart for a weak spirit.
Sometimes, when I’m at my worst, my primal need to protect my own energy clashes with my soul’s need to be of service to others. I can be pretty mean when that happens. But the good thing about those very human moments is that you find out quickly who is really in your corner and who just likes the energy you bring. It never fails.
I know that my sense of equal responsibility to self and others was not something I figured out all on my own. It was my birthright, yes, but only because of the women who came before me. Had they not loved me so deeply, I might’ve never known how to love myself. Had I not witnessed their perseverance through a multitude of traumas, maybe I would’ve never figured out that I too have a strength that nobody can take from me. If they hadn’t shared with me the stories of some of their most vulnerable moments, I might have never known it was okay to heal through my own stories. The women who came before me are strong. They are healers. They are survivors. My maternal grandma may not have survived her illness in a physical sense, but she survives in so many other ways for me. I see her sparkly green eyes when my youngest girl laughs. I feel her warm hands on my shoulders when I need reassurance or maybe just comfort. I remember her voice and the way she would say, “Keep looking up, Sweet Dani.”
I think more often now about what kind of legacy I want to leave behind for my daughters to continue working on. I also try to consider what stuff I need to work through so that they’re not left to inherit that unfelt pain.
My girls. Each one clearly her own unique person already. Yet so similar in all the ways sisters usually are. I pray I’m teaching them the right things.
I want autonomy to be their native language. It should be the most natural thing in the world for them to establish and respect their own personal boundaries and to assertively deal with people who ignore and cross those lines.
Which is why I teach them manners with a fine print footer that says “but never at the expense of your own well-being”. Contrary to popular belief, people really can fuck off if you want them to.
I want my girls to know that you can be strong and also feel pain. In fact, you probably cannot have one without the other.
I want them to govern their lives with integrity. To do the right thing and look out for others and to never expect the world to take care of them.
I also want them to know that sometimes you have to avoid people who do expect the world to take care of them (a lesson I’m still learning).
I try to teach my girls to value spiritual connection over material possessions. I think that’s an annoying lesson for them right now but one day they’ll know why we don’t buy many of the things they ask for and I have faith that they’ll be better people for it.
I want them to see that competition can be healthy and that sometimes we need to feel ashamed when we do the wrong thing. The anti-shame movement of today is definitely on the right track but that does not excuse complacency and shitty behavior. At least not in our house. (Thank you, Mom. Several of our recent conversations helped me come to this understanding).
On the other hand, I need them to understand the difference between that and someone trying to make them feel small. I want them to stand up for themselves, even when it’s confusing and hard. Scratch that, especially when it’s confusing and hard.
I want them to know, without a doubt, that their father and I are always on their side. Even when they’re wrong, we’ll be there to help them figure out how to make it right.
I want them to sense God’s mystery throughout nature and to know that they are an extension of that magic.
If nothing else, I want my girls to carry on the most basic, essential knowledge that built the foundation for my life:
Your life is important.
Some of what you’re here to work on didn’t begin with you.
And it won’t end with you either. So leave this world with a meaningful legacy.
Written with love and gratitude for the women who came before me and the ones who come after me.
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